A mysterious—and possibly mythical—monster menaces a pair of brothers, and their good-looking friends, in the Australian outback. That’s all we know about Red Billabong, an in-the-works horror thriller from director Luke Sparke. But as huge fans of creature features, that’s enough to get us excited.
Sparke was in Los Angeles this week from his native Australia, and we caught up with him to talk about his upcoming release.
io9: We’ve only seen the trailer so far. What is Red Billabong all about?
Luke Sparke: Red Billabong is a really fun action adventure flick that intertwines Australian mythology and indigenous themes for one roller coaster ride. We’re keeping a lot of it under wraps for a reason.
What stage are you at in production, when do you think it will be finished, and how will it be distributed (particularly in the US)?
We’re on the final post production stretch in sound and music, and continuing the creature VFX. We’ll probably have the VFX fully done just a week or two out from release, to give the guys as long as they can. Pinnacle Films will be helping release it across Australian cinemas, and our sales agent will be showing the whole film off at Cannes for American buyers, then we can lock a release date.
Were you always a fan of creature features? What are some of your favorite monster movies, and did any of them influence your work on Red Billabong?
Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and more recently J.J. Abrams are my idols, so I guess when you’re really passionate about something it does drip into your own work. Jurassic Park was a big influence on this one. Part of it is me wanting to make a mature “Amblin Film”: what if the kids in Spielberg’s ’80s films were a little older? It allows for swearing, sex, etc., but [we’re also] keeping it about family, brothers, and old relationships.
What are the challenges, and also advantages, of making a creature feature in the 21st century? How important are CGI and special effects to the film?
I’m a huge fan of practical effects, and tried to use them wherever I could. The sets we built were full 360 degrees, especially the large caves that we can quickly see in the trailer. They were awesome to walk around in but really hard to get right—the crew did a really good job getting them just right and making the alive. Apart from “him” everything was shot in camera.
CGI is a tool to be used, and we aim to use it well. Once we had the design sketches of the creature I knew we could never do it practically—so we built parts of him for close ups, and had our VFX team on set for the wide shots. Once we’re at the end of the film—and there’s crazy stunt sequences going on all around him—he’s all CGI. You just have to find the right balance with VFX so you don’t overindulge yourself, and make sure it’s there to tell the story.
We only get a glimpse of the monster in the trailer. What are its scare tactics? How does it take down its victims? What’s motivating it? Will we root for it, or the human protagonists (or both)?
All of that is a spoiler! But I’ll give it a go. We worked on his look for a long time, making sure he fits in with his surroundings of the Australian bush so he could stalk victims without being seen. Played with a lot of sound—not just his, but what do the other Australian animals do when he’s around? Small things that may go unnoticed, but are there.
The red eyes on the poster do have a lot to do with his design but also his motivation. I took ideas from the mythology and also a few crazy stories I’ve heard firsthand from guys in the dark outback. But in the end, he’s just a big guy doing his thing and the characters just fall into this mythology story. There are other forces at work pulling the strings ... ones that might be human. To use the quote from this week’s 10 Cloverfield Lane, “Monsters come in many forms.”
I’m a huge fan of horror movies from Australia: Wolf Creek, Rogue, The Babadook, etc. What do you think sets these works apart from horror films made in other parts of the world, and how does Red Billabong fit into the tradition?
I think they are made just matter-of-factly. There’s no hamming it up most of the time. We’ve tried to do the same thing but look at things a little differently—the cast don’t ham up the Aussie accent, they just talk as they do, which is more metropolitan. And I’ve definitely infused some Spielberg influences in there, which will be a slight departure for an Aussie film.
Red Billabong will probably be the first Australian film that uses a fully CGI original creature as one of the “leads,” and it’s one of the most action packed Australian films this year—both of which were something I actually never set out to do, but it’s a little daunting to have that on our shoulders. I’m really happy with the final cut. And being a massive film buff growing up, I hope that if I’ve made a film I enjoy, hopefully a few others will too!