Grippingly making an independent movie filled with harrowing visual effects that are fueled by a frighteningly realistic subject matter about the perils of science can be a horrifying prospect for some filmmakers. But ambitious director Kaare Andrews drew on his expansive artistic experience, including illustrating such comics as ‘The Incredible Hulk’ and ‘The Amazing Spider-Man,’ for his helming effort on the new horror sci-fi thriller, ‘Cabin Fever: Patient Zero.’ The elaborate production design and make-up of the prequel to ‘Cabin Fever’ and ‘Cabin Fever: Spring Break’ helped infuse the origin story of the virus outbreak with an ominous feeling and foreshadowing of what was terrifyingly set to come.
‘Cabin Fever: Patient Zero’ follows the seemingly deranged title patient, Porter (Sean Astin), who’s brought to an isolated research facility in the abandoned woods of the Dominican Republic. The fortune hungry Dr. Edwards (Currie Graham) transports his uncooperative subject, who’s the only known carrier of the deadly virus who has managed to remain asymptomatic, in a crate to the bunker to test his blood for a vaccine. Dr. Edwards also elicits the help of several nurses, including Bridgett (Lydia Hearst), who wish to keep the virus contained, albeit for different reasons.
Meanwhile, back on the mainland, the soon-to-be-married Marcus (Mitch Ryan) prepares for his bachelor party with his wild younger brother, Josh (Brando Eaton), best fried, Dobbs (Ryan Donowho) and Josh’s girlfriend, Penny (Jillian Murray). Unbeknownst to the group, they sail to the remote island where Dr. Edwards is testing Porter for a night of partying before the wedding. While Marcus copes with his pre-wedding jitters, and his brother and friends’ fear they’ll lose him after he gets married, the group soon begins developing the telltale red skin blotches that are the initial symptoms of the deadly virus. The friends must not only figure out what’s causing their rashes, but also how to stop them from spreading, and how they can escape from the island alive.
Andrews generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Cabin Fever: Patient Zero,’ wich was written by Jake Wade Wall, over the phone. Among other things, the director discussed how he became involved in helming the horror prequel after speaking with one of the film’s producers, Evan Astrowsky, who liked his ideas for the story and character arcs; how he fit the movie into the ‘Cabin Fever’ universe, but also made it a stand-alone movie with unique characters and an original story that didn’t have any connections to the other films, especially after ‘Cabin Fever’ director Eli Roth encouraged him to make the film his own; and how the filmmaker was grateful Astin accepted his offer to play Porter, because he wanted an established actor to help give the sci-fi thriller some credibility.
ShockYa (SY): You directed the new sci-fi horror thriller, ‘Cabin Fever: Patient Zero.’ What was it about the script, which was written by Jake Wade Wall, and the franchise overall that convinced you to helm the film?
Kaare Andrews (KA): Well, the writer of the project, Jake Wade Wall, developed the script with one of the producers, Evan Astrowsky, who was also one of the producers of the original ‘Cabin Fever.’ I had the same agent as Jake at the time, and I was sent the script and put up for the job. I had a small conversation with Evan, who liked what I had to say, and he basically offered me the job. It was very simple, straightforward and fast process.
SY: Speaking of the script, what was your working relationship with Jake as you were working on the film? Did you collaborate with him while you were filming?
KA: Well the script was generated without my involvement, and became what it was before I was even made aware of the project. So I didn’t have a fundamental involvement in the writing of the project.
But the first draft I was sent is very close to what we ended up with on-screen. Some of the things changed just because of the situation. We were a very low-budget movie, so we had to alter some things.
For instance, there was a set piece in the first draft where the characters board a ship with kids, and they come across this floating research vessel full of corpses, and they barely get out. I thought that would be amazing to film. But there weren’t any ships like that in the Dominican Republic, which is where we filmed the movie. We didn’t have the money to build sets, or use CGI to recreate those sets. So a lot of things changed in that sense.
I did work with Jake a little bit to develop the script. Part of the things I was focused on was making it feel a little bit more like a ‘Cabin Fever’ movie. I tried to add some more humor and increase the sexuality and gore.
The first ‘Cabin Fever’ was like ‘Porky’s’ for the first act. Although I didn’t want to make a movie that directly replicated ‘Cabin Fever,’ but I wanted it to feel like it was in the same universe. I think we ended up with a movie that was a lot more serious than the tone of ‘Cabin Fever.’
In this movie, we deal with a guy who’s confined against his will, and is transformed into something else. I took specific steps to try to use some of the ideas that were already in the ‘Cabin Fever’ universe, and apply them to this film.
SY: You shot the movie independently, like you mentioned. Did that pose any challenges while you were filming, or did it add to the story’s creativity?
KA: Well, filming in the Dominican Republic was an experience. It’s a beautiful country with amazing people.
Half our crew had never even shot a commercial or music video before, so it was a challenge. But we had some experienced people as department heads, but we also had a lot of people who just didn’t know the jobs. So it was a challenge to train people while we were shooting on a short schedule without any money.
During our first day of shooting in the Dominican Republic, we filmed outdoors at night. We had to build rain towers, because you can’t rent them out there, as they don’t have them. We built 10 rain towers, as well as flame throwers, because you can’t rent them from prop shops. We also had dogs and full make-up effects.
While we were filming, Hurricane Sandy hit the country, so we couldn’t even use our rain towers. If we combined our rain towers with the hurricane rain, we would actually start flooding the entire village we were filming in.
But we kept filming, because you can’t stop filming with this kind of budget; you just push through. We shot 1,000 frames per second on a Phantom camera, and we only had it for one day as a favor, and it was flown in from New York. So with everything, we just had to get it down. So we shot through the hurricane on the ocean and in underground caves, and in just about every situation you can think of. So it was crazy in the good and crazy sense. (laughs)
It’s a beautiful country, but there are a lot of guns. So it wasn’t always the safest situations, and it was crazy. I think some of that crazy energy helped the movie
SY: The movie is a prequel to the 2003 horror film, ‘Cabin Fever,’ which you mentioned earlier, and its 2009 sequel, ‘Cabin Fever: Spring Break.’ How does entering an established franchise influence the way you directed the film?
KA: Yes. Like I said, I really tried to put it into the ‘Cabin Fever’ universe. But it was also meant to be a stand-alone movie in that universe, with stand-alone characters and a stand-alone story that didn’t have any connections to the other films. So we were already our own, isolated movie. But I really did take time and care to make it feel like it fit into the universe. So I increased the horror, gore, humor and sexuality.
There’s one thing I did a direct call-back to. At the time, I refereed to it as the finger bang backfire scene with Ryder Strong in the first film. I did my own take on that scene as a way to point out that this is a campier movie, and an evolution, of that 11-year-old original film. That scene was a direct call back to the original movie. I think it helps viewers enjoy the rest of this film as its own thing, now that we established that connection.
I got a nice email from Eli Roth before I started shooting, and it was very encouraging. It basically said, “Welcome to the project and the ‘Cabin Fever’ franchise. It can withstand as much crazy as you can throw at it. So feel free to go nuts.” So I really chose moments to really go for it.
The Bridgett and Penny fight scene was something I had never really seen before, so I really wanted to do that and go for it. We shot that scene over the course of one night with our two actresses. It was Lydia Hearst’s last day of shooting, and Jillian Murray’s first day of shooting.
We put both of them through nine hours of make-up, and started shooting at midnight. They were both in full body make-up, and neither of them are stunt performers, but we worked with our stunt coordinator (Trevor Addie) to see what they could do.
We ended up building this fight on a beach beside a propane fire, and they were rolling around in the sand, and they were tearing each other’s skin off. We filmed that all in about six hours, until the sun came up. We actually got a few more shots in after the sun came up.
At the end of that scene, when the sun was up in the morning and everyone was cleaning up, my Director of Photography (Norm Li) and I stared at each other in glazed disbelief that we made it through that night. We shot as fast and furiously as we could, just to get it done.
That’s the nature of these low-budget movies-you have to make them with complete reckless abandon. You just have to go for things everyday. Whether we were borrowing helicopters from the owners of the banks that financed us (laughs), or we were shooting overnight in underground clubs, or shooting through hurricanes, there was no stopping. We couldn’t reschedule a day of shooting on a low-budget movie; you just have to make it work.
SY: The film’s cast includes Lydia Hearst, Jillian Murray and Sean Astin, who you mentioned, as well as Ryan Donowho, Brando Eaton, Mitch Ryan and Currie Graham. What was the casting process like for the main characters?
KA: Well, everyone read for the film, except for Sean Astin, who we approached, and Currie Graham, who played the doctor. Mitch Ryan, who played Marcus, Brando Eaton, who portrayed Josh and Ryan Donowho, who played Dobbs, were also given their roles. I actually worked with Ryan on my previous film, ‘Altitude.’ All the other actors were brand new and showed up for the auditions, and won the roles.
We actually made an offer to Sean, and he accepted. We were actually looking for someone like Sean for the role of Porter. We wanted an established actor who had some residence and a fanbase, and could give us some credibility. It just so happened at the time we were casting, he was looking to do a war movie. He had never done one before, and he was very curious and interested.
He loved doing low-budget projects. I think he had done so many large projects, that as an actor, he began to feel like a gear in a machine. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but he told me something to the effect that on a low-budget movie, he can contribute in a way that there’s not enough room for in a giant machine.
He was crazy, and helped out with everyone. (laughs) He was helping out with the wardrobe, make-up and stunts. He had so much energy everyday. We took one day off, and he took some of my crew and went and shot his own short film, just for fun, and because he was so excited about filmmaking.
The stuff he left me with in the editing room was awesome and really cool. It was so good to work with an actor of his experience. He’s been doing this since he was about nine-years-old. He comes from a family of actors, so it’s in his blood. So it was exciting for me to work with someone like Sean. It was a different experience than with the other actors, only because he has such a resume and level of success. He’s a cool, good guy, and I would love to work with him again on another project.
SY: Besides directing, you’re also a comic book writer and artist, and are known for your cover work on ‘Incredible Hulk’ and other comic books published by Marvel Comics. How did being a comic book artist influence the visual effects, including the cinematography, set design and stunts, on ‘Cabin Fever: Patient Zero?’
KA: That experience must have influenced me, but I don’t really think about it too much. I apply those art skills to every aspect of filmmaking, from storyboards to set designs to make-up effects. I also did some visual effects myself in post (production). I really do use those art-making skills a lot when I direct a movie. If you can’t use those skills as a director, you don’t, but if you can, you do.
When I’m on set and getting good work, I feel like I’m painting with people. The actors are my paint, and the crew are my brushes. I really feel a strange synergy to when I’m alone at home, drawing on paper or painting on canvas. I feel that same vibration in the universe (laughs) when I’m on set, leading people towards a moment in a shot. It’s a very parallel energy, and it’s interesting to me
SY: ‘Cabin Fever: Patient Zero’ is now playing on VOD and in theaters. Are you personally a fan of watching films On Demand, and why do you think the platform is important for independent films?
KA: I do like VOD, and think it’s a good way to go. There are these giant movies people are making, like ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ which is playing on about 5,000 screens. But when I was a kid, the theaters played a lot of different movies. So it was rare and unique for one movie to play on two screens at the same theater. So there were a lot of movies being made, and being shown in theaters.
But these days, the rise of the VOD market is just accelerating every year. That’s in part because these smaller movies are being choked out by these larger box office movies that have to be shown on 5,000 screens to generate the profit they need to make money for the producers and the studios. So a lot of little movies end up getting squeezed out of the market.
But there is a place for the smaller films. We did a premium VOD release first, which, for a little more money, allowed viewers to see it before it was distributed into the theaters. We’re also having a small theatrical run if viewers want that experience. If audiences are in a smaller town or city that’s not showing the film in theaters, they can buy the normal VOD or Blu-ray experience.
I would love it if every little film was screened theatrically, and think that’s the perfect experience for any movie, but I would much rather have the little movies available to everyone, even in another platform, whether it’s on their iPad, TV, computer or even phone.
I think it’s a good thing, and am interested to see where it goes, and the effects of the rise of the VOD platform, and how theater owners are going to keep people in seats. Theaters have been struggling for years just to survive.
But I think movie watching is best when it’s a communal experience, and you’re watching it as you’re surrounded by hundreds of strangers. But it’s not the only experience, especially if it’s a genre movie like ‘Cabin Fever,’ where it’s a crazy and intense ride. Maybe it’s even better if it’s you and some friends, watching it at home on a big TV, instead of with grandmas and moms and whoever. (laughs)
SY: ‘Cabin Fever: Patient Zero’ is the second feature film you directed, after the 2010 horror thriller, ‘Altitude,’ like you mentioned earlier. Are you interested in making more horror, and what is it about the genre you enjoy so much?
KA: Yeah, the cool thing about horror movies is they tend to do quite well at smaller price points. Horror movies trade up on the things I love most about movies, which is the visual and visceral experiences. They’re creative movies that really focus on excitement, visuals and horror, and is why I’m drawn to them, in the same sense I’m drawn to science-fiction. I love that genre of filmmaking, and it really gets me going.
In terms of making more horror movies, sure, I would love to make more. But I would also like to make films in other genres. My favorite filmmakers are the visualists, like David Fincher, Ridley Scott and Darren Aronofsky. They have all done horror and science-fiction movies, as well as other genres. So I would welcome another horror movie, if it was a cool project. But I would also welcome other projects.
Right now, I’m developing a next level martial arts action movie that I pitch as if ‘Blade Runner’ was a ninja movie, set in present day, without any ninjas. So it’s noir, thrilling and exciting, and next level physicality. So I’m interested in making any kind of movie where I can focus on the visuals and the visceral experiences, whether it’s horror, science-fiction, fantasy or even a drama that could be done in a creative way, like ‘Requiem for a Dream,’ and that’s what I’m really looking forward to doing.
Written by: Karen Benardello