Check out our roundtable interview with “Daybreakers” directors The Spierig Brothers (Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig) at the ACE Hotel, New York City, Wednesday, 1/6/10. “Daybreakers” stars Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Claudia Karvan, Michael Dorman, Vince Colosimo, Isabel Lucas and Sam Neill.
Question (Q): Are you relieved that after making this movie two-and-a-half years ago (during summer 2007), that it’s going to be in theaters?
Answer (A): William (M) Yeah, it’s a good thing.
Q: What was the reason for the delay? Did you not have a distribution deal when you made it?
A: Peter (P) No, we did. Basically, what happened was we had a release date in September, but it became such a crowded month.
Q: That was last September?
A: (P) Yes.
Q: But that was still a long, long time (between filming and release date).
A: (M) Well, what also happened is that we test screened the movie, and it tested fantastically well, and so Lionsgate (the film’s distributor) wanted to make sure that it was the right date that we could have a chance of playing.
Q: You didn’t want it to open and be dwarfed by something like Avatar?
A: (M) Yeah, well the irony in that now.
Q: An academic book came out a few years ago, talking about horror movies and the Holocust and how they relate to each other. Then in the (19)80s and 90s, a lot of horror movies were a metaphor for AIDs. What would you say your film is a metaphor for?
A: (P) Well, I suppose it can be seen as a metaphor for a lot of different things. You can certainly throw in the AIDS analogy, or the oil analogy can be a good one. And we talked a lot about sucking a resource dry, and vampirism is definitely a great way to have that metaphor without it having it to in your face. That was our intention as well, we knew we were going to have that element of bleeding something dry. We also wanted to maintain the fun and excitement.
(M) I remember having this debate with a critic of why a society would allow humans to virtually become extinct. What, are you kidding me? Look at what we do. Are you serious?
Q: But since we’re so overpopulated, wouldn’t it be good to lose?!?
A: (M) I mean, I think overpopulation is ultimately what’s going to kill us.
Q: Can you talk about the process about writing this together, directing this together? Did one of you ever say, no, I don’t like this?
A: (P) We spend a lot of time prepping before writing. We’ll sit in the room and write a lot of things down on index cards and just do very basic plot outlines. We’ll discuss everything, the characters, the scenes. We wrote a very detailed history of our world, and drew a time line. We do a lot of prep work before we write anything, and so that way we’ll have exactly the same kind of intentions. When we get on set, we’ll storyboard the movie from begging to end, we’ve talk about what the scene’s about, how we’re going to execute it, so when we get to there, there’s no arguments, no confusion. I mean, occasionally we’ll have that little argument, but it doesn’t end in a fist-fight. It’s the preparation beforehand. It’s all brotherly love that makes it flow.
Q: The Coens famously live together. Do you live near each other?
A: (M) At the moment we’re living together again.
Q: Did you have to cut the amount of blood and gore to get the rating?
A: (M) There was never an issue here with gore.
(P) That’s not true. In the UK, we had to trim the film by a few seconds to remove a bit of blood, but Lionsgate isn’t afraid of blood. I get quite sick of looking at real violence, blood and guts. But when it’s rubber heads and corn syrup, it doesn’t faze me.
Q: What exactly was trimmed?
A: (M) A bit at the end, with the vampires attacking each other. There’s quite a bit of blood and guts in that sequence. It’s very minor though, I watch it and can’t even tell, see it. It’s so minor.
(P) I don’t really understand how pulling that is going to change a single thing, in terms of people’s reaction to it.
Q: Is it for (age) 18 and over over there?
A: (P) No, it’s younger. I think we got a 15.
(M) No, it’s 17, I think.
(P) No, I think it’s 15.
Q: What about casting Ethan Hawke?
A: (M) Well, Ethan was somebody when we wrote the script, we kept saying we need an Ethan Hawke-type. Like a venerable, intelligent guy who can still play an action hero. Well, we figured Ethan hadn’t really done any horror films. I mean, early on he did a film called Explorers, and he did a science-fiction film called Gattaca, which were all good, but he’s never really done a horror film. So we never assumed he’d be interested. But we sent the script to him, and he really liked it. The way we took this genre, he really liked the allegories. He really connected with the script. He thought it was something different. He said yes, and once he said yes, it opened the door, it sort of defined what the film was, in the terms of the quality of the actors we could get. We went after all the other actors we wanted, like Sam Neill and Willem Dafoe, and a wonderful Australian cast as well. So we’re very lucky, and we owe Ethan a lot.
Q: There are a bunch of films now, like Avatar, that are tearing up the box office that are about corporate society, and how the corporations are exploiting the masses, and how we can never believe anything they say. Is that your take on corporations?
A: (M) Pretty much, there are there are different types of corporations. Yes, I would say yes. The corporate creed has been done many times before, it’s been done throughout the decades. I would say yes.
Q: One of the things people are really thrown by, or really excited about, after the trailer came out, is the tone and the colors you choose to use. Was that always the plan, to always do that?
A: (P) Yeah, that was always the plan. I mean, we had an idea that the vampire world would be cold and blue. A lot of the sets in the vampire world have a hard set of lines, there’s a lot of hard surfaces. Once we get to the human world, it’s warm, and there are a lot of earth tones, and there’s brick and wood, and things like that. So it’s all very conscience. One of the other major decisions in the vampire world, there was no windows. So instead of windows, we had light panels. That was sort of our way of creating fake sunlight, I guess, in their houses.
Q: Why did you decide to make their eyes golden?
A: (M) We just thought it would be the easiest way to let people know that they’re a vampire, that you’re looking at a vampire. At the end of the film, and not to give away the ending, there’s a scene where the vampires turn human again, and with the yellow eyes, it’s easier to differentiate the humans and a vampire.
Q: Well, it’s obvious that you guys put a lot of thought into the world-building. Every little detail is stressed and mapped out. There’s so many colors for vampire eyes, and so many colors for science-fiction eyes, and the Cullens (in Twilight) have a golden eye. Were you worried about having golden eyes, and the reference people would make?
A: (M) No, Twilight has not been the first vampire film ever made, and we hope that we show people what vampires should be more like.
(P) And the other thing you have to keep in mind is that we started making this film before the first Twilight film had been announced. So our decision to use those contact lenses, I don’t think the first Twilight film had gone into production at that point.
Q: Edward (Ethan’s character) is a chain smoker. Why is there smoking all the time?
A: (P) First of all, with smoking all the time, there’s a big controversy with that, smoking in movies. Our attitude is was that they’re dead, and if you’re dead, there’s nothing that you can do to poison yourself, why wouldn’t you take up all the vices you can possibly take in? We have kids smoking in our movie. We’re not promoting smoking as a good thing, we’re just saying these people are dead, so there’s nothing that affects them anymore.
Q: There’s no fat vampires. Is there a vampire diet?
A: (P) Yes there is (fat vampires), the detective. There’s quite a few fat vampires.
Q: There’s a black comic tone, except with the scene with the subsiders (during their execution). How did that scene come about, and did you worry it would take away the black comic touch?
A: (P) No, I didn’t think it would. The idea is that that’s the moment when Michael Dorman’s character realizes he’s gone down the wrong path, and chosen the life that’s not what he thought it would be. We thought that would be a strong, dramatic moment where he turns that corner and redeems himself. We thought it was a good tone, where he could redeem himself. If a character’s going to shift like that, it needs to be quite dramatic.
Q: Did you research certain Holocaust movies for that scene?
A: (M) No, not really. We thought it was more slavery more than the Holocaust, with the chains. But I understand the Holocaust reference.
Q: It kind of reminds me of Coma, the scenes were the humans are lined up on the racks,.
A: (M) I’m glad you said that, and not The Matrix, because everyone keeps saying it’s The Matrix, and I said, no, it’s Coma.
Q: You’re from Australia. Now that you’ve had this, and it looks like it’s a success around the world, have you heard from major Australian stars who want to work with you? Has (Sam) Worthington called?
A: (P) I actually had a couple of beers with him a couple of weeks ago. He’s a great, great guy.
(M) We had known Sam for quite a few years, before all this craziness happened with him. He was just another good Australian actor that hadn’t really been discovered. He had been in television and in films for years, and it’s crazy how he’s just exploded.
Q: Would you shoot with him in Australia?
A: (M) Absolutely, without a doubt. I know he would like to shoot back home. We’re both in agreement.
Q: Do you have any ideas for future work, any more science-fiction work, or something else? Because he’s being grabbed up as the new epic action star. Have you passed around any ideas (for an action film in Australia)?
A: (M) Not yet, no. We’re always kind of working on ideas. We’re almost finished writing another script right now.
Q: An original (script)?
A: (M) Yes, original.
Q: Can you tell us what it’s about?
A: (M) No, not yet. But it’s more science-fiction. While Daybreakers is a horror film, I consider it more of a sci-fi film than a horror film, and I think our interest is more in making science-fiction films than horror films.
Q: Can you talk about the difference of making Undead (2003), and maxing out your credit cards, and selling your car, and making this bigger picture?
A: (M) Undead was one of those films where, I don’t think anyone who had worked on Undead had ever been involved in a feature film before. So it was a completely new experience, and none of us knew what we were doing. At the end of the film, it felt like film school, and now we know how to make a feature film. We were shocked that it actually got released. It was a huge surprise that that film got any sort of release. This film was completely different because we knew, that unless we completely screwed this thing up, that it was going to get released. We did have a great cast. It just felt like Undead was training, and this was sort of our first real movie.
Q: What about that idea about showing up without worrying about how you were going to get the next week to pay everybody, where you had your financing all set.
A: (P) Daybreakers felt almost the same financially. It really did. I mean, Daybreakers was a pretty low budget movie (approximately $21 million) for what we tried to achieve. William and I ended up doing 350 visual effects ourselves on Daybreakers, because we ran out of money. So it felt exactly the same. Instead of getting local actors from the acting school down the road, it was Ethan Hawke and Willem Dafoe, that was the difference. It was such a wonderful group of technicians that we were working with, it felt the same in many respects.
Q: So there were some authentic effects, instead of all CGI?
A: (P) We really wanted to try to make it more about guys in suits than CG creatures. It’s harder to shoot, it takes a lot longer, and you put the poor actor through hell. But the great thing is that you’ve got somebody physically there on set, they’re interacting with they’re other actors, and I think you’ve got greater reactions that way. The actors really appreciate it to, when they have other actors to work off of, not just a tennis ball on a stick.
Q: What about the two of you working together? How do you direct? Do you both argue in front of Ethan Hawke about the way he reads his lines? Do you try to settle it while he’s waiting to get a cue?
A: (M) We both talk to each other about what we felt worked and what didn’t work before we go over to the actor and discuss it with them. We didn’t really argue on set at all. It’s so thought out before we go on set. Usually what happens is that we’ll watch a take, and we’ll usually react exactly the same. With the changes we want to make, one of us will go up to the actors.
(P) Sometimes if there’s confusion, if Ethan’s not liking the take, both of us will go up there. Instead of just one person’s opinion, it’ll become a discussion. If we have two people, we’ll have my opinion against yours. But if we have three people, we’ll have a better sense.
(M) The other thing is that since we shot it very quickly, it was shot in 40 days, which is really quite quick for an action/effects picture, we would split up into two units. Peter would be off filming Ethan, and I’ll be off directing Sam Neill and Isabel Lucas. We’ll go and do separate units occasionally to try to get everything done.
Q: The core of the film is the love-hate relationship between two brothers, one who betrays the other out of love. Which of you had betrayed the other?
A: (P) That would be me. We always got along. We’re twins, we grew up with the same influences, we had a lot of the same friends. If we hated each other, we wouldn’t be working together, that’s for sure.
Q: Did you think there would be this fascination with vampires?
A: (M) It’s interesting. Like Peter said, we started working on the script in 2003. We shot it in 2007. Now we’re in 2010, and there’s this onslaught of vampire material out there. We had no idea. But there’s always been a lot of vampire material out there. People seem to forget we had Buffy, Underworld, and Blade. We always had this big onslaught. The only thing’s that’s changed now is that vampire audiences have gotten younger. Twilight had brought in the pre-teens, and brought them into this traditionally older-type genre. Usually it’s older teenagers or whatever, but it brought it to this younger audience, this whole new audience that we haven’t seen before. The vampire films and TV have always been around, since the beginning of cinema. Thank you for your time.
By: Karen Benardello