After checking out Daybreakers and learning I could chat with writer-directors Michael and Peter Spierig, I was looking forward to it. They took time out of their busy interview schedule and I managed to snag a slot with them at the end of a marathon day of interviews for them–so thanks to them for hanging in there. They warned me at the beginning that I wouldn’t be able to tell them apart on the recording–so we apologize in advance if we make a wrong attribution or something.
WIDGETT: First of all, congratulations on Daybreakers. I did see it in the theater and it was a lot of fun. There’s two things I think I’d like to say on behalf of people around the world: one is thank you for giving us non-sparkly vampires in a world that seems to be populated with the sparkly kindâ€¦
PETER SPIERIG: You’re welcome.
MICHAEL SPIERIG: I don’t know what you’re talking about, by the way. Are there were sparkly ones out there?
W: I’m afraid soâ€”it’s a dangerous world out there.
W: Some people do, so we’ve given them the nomenclature of “sparkly” so we can keep them separate from the others.
W: The second thing is a question, actuallyâ€¦I wanted to know if at any point during the proceedings of making the film…if the two of you looked at each other, shared a look or actually voiced aloud…the realization that you had Martin Scorsese’s Jesus playing a car-racing, crossbow-toting ex-vampire named Elvis, and how cool that actually was.
PS: Absolutely, by the way.
MS: We actually did.
W: Because that alone was worth the price of admission for the film, so congratulations for that as well.
PS: We got Jesus to play Elvis, isn’t that great?
W: I think it was fantastic. In fact, once the character’s name was given, I knew we were in for something with that. So, what I really wanted to talk to you guys about, and what struck me most about the film, was I came away thinking of two films: one was Near Darkâ€¦
PS: Never seen it…. No, it’s a great film.
MS: I actually had this debate with Lions Gate, who we have a great deal of respect for, but they re-released Near Dark on Blu-Ray recently, and the cover looks like Twilight. I actually spoke to the designer and said, “What the hell?” I mean, Near Dark is one of my personal favorites–I love that movie. Kathryn Bigelow is an amazing filmmaker. But yes, I love that movie.
W: I think also thank you on behalf of the world for speaking up about that cover because many of us were also a bit perturbed. Although, think about the fun of the Twilight fans renting that thinking that it was Twilight and what would happen next. So maybe it’s just subversive and we should actually thank them.
MS: Maybe. They’re re-educating people who have been tarnished in many ways.
PS: He’s such a nice guy in that film.
W: The other film I thought of, honestly, when leaving the theater after seeing Daybreakers was Avatar, because it took Jim Cameron 300+ million dollars to build a world–which he built literally–but I was very impressed with how you guys, on obviously on a much less than 300 million dollar budget, managed to build a complete world with mostly cleverness. The example I give people is: I knew I was in good hands when the film started and the text came on the screen and I thought it was your traditional expositional text like Highlander or Star Wars where it’s going to explain everything, and then it faded into the debate on television and it’s closed captioning, and I thought, “oh..that’s really cool.” So I wanted to ask you about working on a budget where you can’t make everything happen just on a whimâ€¦.how do you think that fuels your creativity and makes you come up with things that you wouldn’t otherwise?
PS: The way it kind of fuels your creativity is you say, “Okay, I’m going to have to do all of these visual effects myself, because we can’t afford it.”
MS: I think that we’ve never really had a lot of money ever for our projectsâ€¦we’ve always come from low-budget; it’s just where we sort of trained, and I think that often when you have lots of money, you’re obligated to appeal to the masses in a way that perhaps hinders your storytelling or not let you be wild and crazy in the way you would want to be, and when you have a low budget–and Daybreakers is a relatively low-budget movie–it kind of frees you up to do whatever you want. That being said, you have to collaborate with people who are really resourceful and clever, and one of our great assets was Steve Boyle who was our makeup effects artist, who also did our first film Undead. We started out doing short films together , so he gives us lots of stuff at cheap prices. So you really have to collaborate with really smart people, and the other thing you really have to do is to plan very, very carefully. We storyboarded the whole film, we did a lot of animatics for the film, and we planned it out very, very carefully, and that sort of helps you save money and only shoot what you absolutely need. We’ve got no deleted scenes on the DVD, simply because there weren’t really anyâ€¦it was a pretty tight shoot.
W: That’s an extreme contrast to what I’ve heard where some directors will show up and just sort of decide on the set when they’ve got actors sitting around and crew sitting around and say, “well, why don’t we try the shot this way?” which has kind of always perplexed me.
MS: Well, sometimes that can be a great way to work. I know that Cronenberg has done that recently on his last two films and his films are always interesting, and it just depends. But I think you cannot have that luxury when you’re on a really, really tight budgetâ€¦you know, as soon as you get on set, you’ve got to start getting shots, so the luxury of being able to walk around and make it up on the day is something we haven’t had the opportunity or the pleasure of attempting yet.
PS: Well, one of the things too that you do is you plan every detail really quite meticulously so when you get on set you can have this grand plan and everyone knows it, but the great thing about that is you can also kind of divert from that plan tooâ€¦.you know it so well and you know what has to be achieved, and once you get on set and you see something differently when you’re physically there and it changes your perspective, you’ve also got a very clear plan of what needs to be achieved so you can sort of be influenced by what’s going on on the day too. So while we do have a very, very clear plan, we don’t always follow it to the letter–there’s the chance to kind of change things. And when you work with great actors, they’ll suggest things that may be the best thing for the scene, so you’ve got to be open to those things as well.
W: Right, and the other thing you said about having to do the visual effects yourselves, I’m sure that you’re bearing that in mind and saying “Well, we could do that, but you do realize that means we’re going to be up until three in the morning on some day working on a visual effect on it.”
PS: Oh, yeah. We knew that when we were going through the production that we were basically on seventeen-hour daysâ€¦almost seven days a week during post.
W: Wow. And it wasn’t a short post-production period, so I hope you’ve at least had a nap or two since then.
PS: One or two, yes.
W: That’s good. Now, the other thing I thought was interesting and I wanted to ask you where the idea came from, was apart from one or two news broadcasts about the ongoing breakdown of the society that happens, most of the story about the outside world is told in microcosm through the coffee stand, and how kind of civilization breaks down at the coffee stand–which I thought was fascinating, and I was wondering where the idea for that came from. Not only because I write for a site about coffee, but also as a writer, because I thought that was a fascinating way of depicting what was happening.
MS: Well, what is often common in these types of films is you have the breakdown of society happening from the lower class and that sort of thing, and we certainly had that, but when you start seeing the breakdown of society happening within the “sophisticated” element of societ–the businessman, the commuter, the professional person–when they start causing riots and de-evolving, then the breakdown of society is pretty clear, and we thought that a pretty good avenue for it was the coffee stand. And you also have to think of things that are contained (and when you’re working on a low budget, things that can be done relatively easily) and also things that are also relatableâ€¦.I mean, everybody goes and has a cup of coffee in the morning on the way to work, so it seemed like a really interesting avenue to explore.
W: Right–even the people who don’t drink coffee are at least familiar enough with Starbucks to know what a coffee stand is supposed to look and feel like.