We all know that we have to pay our dues in order to reach up to the top, achieve our goals. Through that journey we meet memorable people, soak up great experiences and overall become better prepared people when we make it. A fortunate soul who was able to glide up to his dreams in a wonderful way is Douglas Aarniokoski. The man spent years as a second unit and assistant director working with the likes of Robert Rodriguez, Terry Gilliam and Jay Roach, just to name a few. Between his experiences and his own personal talent, he looks to impress many with his own movie “The Day.”
“The Day” isn’t no ordinary movie. It’s a gruesome tale of survival as we center on a group of people desperate to live amidst the post-apocalyptic landscape. There are many terrors that threaten their existence including starvation which created the large group of cannibals that comb through the woods looking for their next human prey.
During our interview with Mr. Aarniokoski, he went on in great detail about creating the world of “The Day.” He also goes off about his great experience with a particular director who helped mentor him and what we should expect from the director next. Believe us, you’ll be interested in it once you find out what movie it is.
You’ve worked with so many great directors and now you’re coming out here with “The Day” and then “Nurse 3D.” It seems that everything is coming up roses for you.
Douglas Aarniokoski: Yeah, it’s been a fun year to have I must say. I feel very, very blessed. The fact that I get to work in the film business is crazy enough. When I first started I was looking to do anything. I would’ve been an electrician, in catering or even driven trucks. I was a PA for years and I love, love love filmmaking so much. It’s like being in the circus. The fact that we actually get to tell stories now and work with incredible directors and talented crew, cameramen, cinematographers… Yeah, it’s a dream come true. It really is. I say that in all seriousness.
I totally believe it. What’s the difference between when you were working as a second unit to becoming the lord and director of “The Day”?
Douglas Aarniokoski: Second unit is a tricky job because you really have to shoot scenes that are obviously very pivotal to the movie, whether it’s a car chase, foot chase through the city or Milla Jovovich fighting off zombies. But the thing that’s tricky about being a second unit director is that you have to make sure that that sequence, that scene fits in seamlessly with the film that the director’s making. You can’t pull off half-cock, do what you want, shoot it however you want kind of sequence. It doesn’t fit with the movie. I think as a second unit director, you have to be very aware of what the first unit director is doing, be very collaborative with him so that you can help him tell his vision. Because that’s what you’re basically doing, helping the director tell his vision. By shooting a sequence that first unit doesn’t have the time or the resources to do on their own really.
And now you’re able to just go buck wild with “The Day” because obviously it’s your film, your baby. Did you take any little advice or tidbits from any of the previous directors you’ve worked with? Like did you integrate a little bit of their work into your own style of filmmaking when you made this?
Douglas Aarniokoski: Having worked with Robert Rodriguez for so many years as his AD and his second unit director… he was literally my film school. Robert threw a camera on my shoulder, said go out and shoot this stuff for “The Faculty.” I said well, I’ve never shot anything before but he said that well, nobody has until they’ve done it. That’s how you learn. I remember him learning how to use the Steadicam on “From Dusk Till Dawn” in between setups. He’d run over, throw the Steadicam on and figure out how to do it. Guys would be chasing him around making sure he didn’t run into stuff, but that was how Robert was like. If you wanted to do it, you’d have to do it and I’ve never forgotten that.
To be able to run out and make a movie like “The Day” with it’s crazy schedule and it’s really trunicated, trying to accomplish twice as much stuff as you have time for, it was really a lot about getting in there, rolling up your sleeves and doing it. Just do it. Just get in there, fight your way through it, figure out what’s working and what’s not, and never stop shooting. That’s really the key I think at the end of the day because you’re looking for footage and you’re looking for those nuggets. You’re looking for those moments in the editing room that help you convey the story to the audience. The more footage you have, the more chances you’re going to have to succeed as director in the post-production process.
Yeah, and actually come to think of it I can see little smidgens of Robert Rodriguez’s directing style in your own. That’s pretty cool.
Douglas Aarniokoski: Oh thank you, that’s a compliment. I’d love to have many smidgens of his greatness woven into the movies that I do. I love that, thank you.
You’re welcome. What is it about post-apocalyptic tales like this one that tickles your fancy?
Douglas Aarniokoski: You know I love a good post-apocalyptic movie. I’ll say the one unique thing about this one was that it’s the kind of film I’ve always had hoped a lot of the post-apocalyptic films would become. I love the world, I love the back story, I love the barbaric setup and surrounding. I’ve always hoped for a little more madness in the past few years. I’ve hoped for a little more brutality, a little more survival, a little more fight or die. When this script came to me, it was all about fight or die. It has these great characters, this great conflict built in and at the end of the day these five people it really does become fight or die.
I have to say too, was it easier getting them into the mindset of this kind of a world given the fact that the story takes place in this single location that looks like it’s isolated from everything else?
Douglas Aarniokoski: Yeah, it was great because we shot in autumn. We found an abandoned farm house literally in the middle of nowhere. There was no one for miles. We had to drive out there over an hour everyday, each way just to get there. We really felt like we were abandoned. We had no cell phone service, we had no trailers for the actors. I set a mandate where there were no visitors on set. Everybody had to loose weight. Everybody had to get really crappy haircuts. It was that type of organic environment so yeah, it made it certainly easier for me because the actors had so much to use every single day when they showed up on the set.
These actors were just incredible. They just threw themselves into the role and got ready for it, prepared on their own and they brought their own back stories. They all created journals where they came to me and talked about who they were and what lives they used to lead. We were the only ones that knew it, just me and the individual actors. We didn’t share with anybody else, we never rehearsed with anyone. We never rehearsed on the set. We would talk about what the scene was and then we’d start shooting. It was like a dance. All the cameramen, cinematographers, they all had to be ready to go at any direction at any given time because if the actor felt like he was going to walk through that door and goes left and then back out the door again, then that’s what he was going to do. We didn’t dictate to them what they should do, we just said this is A and this is B. We need to get you from A to B. However you get there is up to your character. So it was really a fun process in that regard for myself and certainly for the crew and hopefully for the actors.
Wow, that does sound like a lot of fun!
Douglas Aarniokoski: It was really cool. The other cool thing was a very conscious decision. We shot the movie in script order. The first day of filming was the first page, and we just went through and shot in order. For the last day of filming was the last scene of the movie. It was amazing in that respect because nobody ever gets to do that, so the actors felt like they were doing a play. Everyday they would just pick up where they left off. You knew sort of organically where the flow was going so you didn’t have to guess huh, I’m jumping to this scene, why am I upset here? Because of what happened back there but I haven’t filmed that yet. We filmed it all in continuity order, it was crazy.
Wow. I’m sure it helped them too when they got towards the climax. They were already towards the end of filming so you’re already pretty tired as it is.
Douglas Aarniokoski: Yeah, absolutely. They were completely exhausted, that’s exactly right. And when people died, they were gone and that was it. Like they didn’t come back the next day and shoot an earlier scene. When they were dead they were out, they were done. So you show up the next day and you’re like that guy’s gone? Remember that I just worked with him yesterday and now he’s gone, know what I mean? So there was no oh yeah, my friend’s coming back tomorrow. They were out, they were gone. They were dead, they were done.
That’s a really cool way in just keeping everybody in the zone.
Douglas Aarniokoski: Yeah, it really was. You never get to do that often because of actors’ schedules, locations and all the other logistical nightmares that go along with filmmaking. Because we were pretty much in one location almost eighty percent of the movie, we were able to do that. It was really beneficial for us.
Cool! And what do you hope audiences will love the most about “The Day” aside from the exuberant amount of carnage?
Douglas Aarniokoski: You know what, I hope they dig the story. I really do. I think it’s a really unique story, there’s a lot of conflict, a lot of twists and a lot of turns. This has just fantastic character arcs, great performances and there’s a hell of a lot of carnage, a lot of blood. I hope that when they show it they get something that maybe they didn’t expect. Maybe they show up just to see a shootout, a blood bath, maybe a “Thunderdome” situation and realize wow, these characters are really interesting and cool. Maybe for a moment it makes them think. Listen, we’re not trying to make “Sophie’s Choice” here but there are some interesting choices about what would you do? What would you do if you were in this world? What would you do if gas prices went through the roof and nobody could drive anymore? What would you do if there was Mad Cow disease that spread through the entire world and people couldn’t eat red meat? What would actually happen if there were solar flares? Where would you go? What would your mind do to you? What choices would you make? That’s really what we’ve always talked about with these actors is that it’s all about choice. Some people are choosing to live a certain way, some people are choosing to live a different way. Some people are choosing to find, hunt and kill and some people are just choosing to stay alive, not kill and hope for a better tomorrow. It’s all just about choices and I hope that comes off in an entertaining way for the audience.
I’m sure it will. And I must admit I’m a bit curious to find out more information about “Nurse 3D.” Honestly I’m not really sure what it’s about because the only thing I’ve seen is just the poster which of course every other guy I know spread it around like wildfire.
Douglas Aarniokoski: It’s crazy, right? But that’s the whole point. We’re trying to tease everybody right now, wet with anticipation.
Yeah, you definitely are doing that for some people out there. [laughs]
Douglas Aarniokoski: Good, well there’s a lot more to come and believe me, when I say a lot more to come you can tell what I’m talking about. It’s a bloody sex fest if you will so it’ll be fun. It’ll be a crazy ride.
“The Day” is out in limited theaters now.