WRYMWOOD – interview with Kiah Roache-Turner


“We made this film virtually off the smell of an oily rag, and we had a bit of crowd funding,” says writer and director Kiah Roache-Turner about his post-apocalyptic zombie horror film Wyrmwood, which has been described as a cross between Mad Max and George A Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead.

Shot on the smell of an oily rag, Wyrmwood is the latest exciting Australian piece of genre film making. It is the brainchild of two young filmmakers, Kiah Roache-Turner and his brother Tristan, who were heavily influenced by those two film while growing up .

Despite a sense that the zombie genre is overpopulated and has almost reached saturation point (The Walking Dead is immensely popular on television) Roache-Turner still believes that there is a loyal audience and fan base out there. “The zombie genre is about as oversaturated as it’s ever been,” he admits candidly. “But the good thing is that people have always liked zombies, and there is a core fan base of people who love to go see them, so I’m not too worried.”

The filmmaking siblings have spent the better part of the past three and a half years working on the film. They first envisaged the project as a kind of Australian zombie Taxi Driver. “I was talking to somebody the other day and I described the writing of Wyrmwood as a car crash in slow motion spread over a three and a half year period,” Roache-Turner describes the creative process.

“My brother and I were always discussing films like Dawn Of The Dead, Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead while we were growing up, but we were also waiting for someone to make a film like Mad Max again, because Australia virtually invented the post-apoocalyptic genre. And when no-one did we thought that we should go out and do it ourselves. And we did. We took these two films that we absolutely loved when growing up – which were Dawn Of The Dead and Mad Max – and melded them together, and thought what would happen if you took the aesthetic of these two and mix them together in a sort of genre mashup. And we got Wyrmwood.

“This version evolved over a long period,” he continues. “It started out a lot darker. We wanted it to be a bit more of an adventure, so we loaded it up more and threw more characters in, and rewrote and rewrote, reshot scenes, and cut more scenes in, and so it kind of evolved over the entire process. We were still writing right up until the final scene, so it was a very organic process. But it was interesting. Someone once said that to know how to make a film you have to make a film. And we certainly had no idea how to make this one.”

Roache-Turner comes from a background in advertising and music videos. He worked for Aussiebum for six years, and he admits that experience gave him the skills to work on a low budget film where you are forced to shoot very very quickly. It was a very creative environment, he explains, and he was basically able to bang out commercials week after week after week. “We got some quite nice looking high end stuff,” he continues, “so I got very used to working with small budgets very professionally against tight deadlines.

“I’ve never had budgets,” he continues, “there’s not a lot of money around unless you’re either very lucky or very smart, and so I’m very used to working very fast and on no budget, and able to make a lot from very little. And that was a very important aspect, because we had nothing and we made this film virtually off the smell of an oily rag, and we had a bit of crowd funding.”

But Roache-Turner and his small but dedicated crew broke virtually every rule in the book of low budget filmmaking to complete his vision. They shot outside, they shot on multiple locations when tradition says you should just do one location. And in low budget films you’re not supposed to show the monsters that much, you’re supposed to keep them in the dark and only have a couple of scenes with the monsters. Defying convention, the brothers shot the film outdoors on multiple locations in the hot Australian sun and made the monsters very visible.

“It was very difficult,” Roache-Turner admits. “We shot the film over a three and a half year period. We did it on weekends. We were trying to shoot four or five big scenes in literally just two and a half days with a full schedule. We were doing a hundred set-ups a day. I don’t know if you know much about set-ups, but the average for a big Hollywood film is about seven. So were doing about 10-12 times the average amount on a film in a single day.”

Instrumental to the look of the film and the grisly special effects – including exploding heads, which are almost obligatory in any zombie movie – was special effects and make up artist Lisa Cotterell, who actually used to work in a morgue. She knew what a contaminated body looked like, and she brought a total realism and professionalism to the film, enthuses Roache-Turner. “I was really very lucky to get her. She is probably one of the most talented make-up artists in the country. She basically signed on for deferred payments for a project that had no studio backing, no government backing of any kind. That speaks volumes about her and to the fact that we gave off a sheen that we knew exactly what the hell we were doing.

“We had everything storyboarded and we had a big catalogue of scenes, so when we came to her with the project, she was able to go: ‘Ok, we have got everything, I’m going to work for you guys for free just because you guys appear so passionate.’ A lot of the head explosions in the film – some of it’s practical, done with a clever use of cutting and with a huge blood gun that Kevin Kyle, our special effects supervisor, was able to use, and a lot of it was digital actually. A lot of those head explosions were done by some very talented people in Australia.”

The central character of the film is Barry, a mechanic and family man whose life is torn apart on the eve of a zombie apocalypse. His sister Brooke is kidnapped by a sinister team of gas-mask wearing soldiers and experimented on by a psychotic doctor. The filmmakers wrote the role of Barry specifically for actor Jay Gallagher, with whom they had worked with in 2007 on a film called Roadrunner. “He’s a very talented actor,” elaborates Roache-Turner. “He does anger better than anybody I know, he’s got a rage about him on screen that just explodes out of him. Barry was always going to be this passionate, angry, shouting character, so I wrote that for Jay. He’s really a hero of the film. But he was also a hero of the production as well because he’s the only actor who has been working on the film since 2010. He’s in almost every scene and he had to keep a fever pitch performance over a three and a half year period. So it was really intense, and he had to give up a lot of weekends over that period. And if you look at the film he’s pretty consistent.”

Berynn Schwerdt plays a psychotic doctor who is experimenting on zombies in the back of a well equipped truck cum mobile laboratory. His character was created as a deliberate counter for the zombies, who mainly lurch around moaning and eating people’s brains, which can become a little boring, says Raoche-Turner. “You have to have some baddies in there to give it a bit of juice. So we have this evil doctor, who is just an insane baddie. One of the films I just absolutely love is Mad Max. I guess one of the characters we based the doctor on was the Toecutter from Mad Max, who is such a larger than life and clearly insane character. He’s just fun to watch.

“I don’t know that it’s torture porn, but he is a bit mean, but he doesn’t really saw off any arms or anything. he just goes about his business, and he dances to disco on occasion. I guess he does enjoy it. He’s certainly a fun character and Berynn Schwerdt was a bit scary on set, and some of the other actors were a bit nervous around him, I can tell you that.”

One of the biggest and most expensive props in the film is the “zombie truck”, an armoured vehicle that looks like something out of Mad Max or The Cars That Ate Paris. The brothers put it together outside their house in suburban Rosehill with a bunch of mates who came over and soldeed spikes onto a four wheel drive vehicle. “And we got some very unusual looks from the neighbours I can tell you that,” he recalls. “They never actually said anything, which was funny. So you can build a post-apocalyptic truck in a suburban area of Sydney and nobody says a word! That was our big prop.”

Greg spoke to director and co-writer Kiah Roache-Turner to find out a little more about some of the challenges in making this wild movie. You can listen to the interview in full here:



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