Interview with Infestation writer/director Kyle Rankin
27th Aug 09
Kyle Rankin is the director of the up and coming lighthearted creature feature Infestation, which premieres at Frightfest '09, with a DVD/Blu-Ray release on 7th September. We caught up with him recently to talk B-movies, special effects and how to insult Bulgarian photographers.
EMB: First off, congratulations for not only making a hugely enjoyable B-movie, but also one that actually has a lot of intelligence. Does the tag B-movie annoy you, or was it always your intention to make a smart film that still plays to B-movie fans?
KR: That label doesnít annoy me at tall, as some of my favorite films could be considered B-movies (and many of my favorite songs are B-sides!). I think B-movies got their name because the distributor would piggy-back a bigger budget film with name actors (the A movie), with a lower budget film to create a double-feature (the B-movie). It was my intention to make the smartest/funniest giant bug movie I could. It excited me to tell a creature tale, while at the same time putting in small, quirky, character moments (like Cooper using the dictionary). I like movies that take the time to remind us weíre all flawed and silly at times - so to do that under the guise of a horror interested me.
EMB: Was Infestation a pitch project, or was it developed in association with a studio?
KR: I wrote the script as an speculative project (meaning I didnít know where it would go of if itíd ever get made), and then sent it to Jeff Balis (whom Iíd worked with on The Battle of Shaker Heights). Jeff and his partner Rhoades pitched it to Mel Gibsonís Icon, and they decided to fund it. We shot it in Bulgaria in the late summer of 2007, and didnít know if or when itíd actually find a home. Iím stoked to have it finally coming out on DVD and Blu-ray!
EMB: You've written and produced a lot of your own films through your production company Newborn Pictures. Are you keen to carry on developing projects of your own from the script upwards?
KR: Itís my goal to have some kind of hand in the writing (or rewriting) of everything I direct. Not only do I want my personal stamp on things, but I donít think Iíd serve a project well unless I know it inside and out. To do this you need to live with the story... and the best way to do that is to write it.
EMB: The film has been compared in some areas of the press to films like Shaun of the Dead and Black Sheep, yet also reminded me a lot of Eight Legged Freaks. Did any of these films have any influence on you when writing the script?
KR: Iím embarrassed to have Shaun of the Dead on that list, because itís truly brilliant. I respect all of those movies, but I wouldnít say any of them helped me make Infestation. I find influences from older, random sources and then PULL them into the horror or sci-fi genres. I believe itís the only way to arrive at something fresh, fun, and cool... to start back several cinematic years. Otherwise Iíd just make a lackluster imitation of a favorite flick.
EMB: Who are your biggest influences as filmmakers?
KR: Capra, Lynch, Fellini, Peckinpah, and the Coen Brothers.
EMB: Although you wrote and directed Infestation, for one of the first times you werenít directly involved with the production. Did you find this freed you up to concentrate on the creative processes for the film and as a result do you feel the film is better for it?
KR: Early on, I asked to see the budget and my producers wouldnít let me. I was upset...till I realized it wasnít really my job to handle the money. This freed me up to constantly complain about how many shooting days I had while demanding lots of expensive equipment! Seriously though, it was nice to have ALL of my brain dedicated to working with my DP (Tom Ackerman ACS), and my cast. Years ago, Iíd be doing that while also worrying about how I was going to pay for lunch, or who had to be picked up from which hotel, etc.
EMB: Did you have anyone in mind for the characters when writing the script? I understand youíve worked before with the legend Ray Wise (on previous films Pennyweight and The Battle of Shaker Heights), so surely he was always in your mind to play Cooperís father.
KR: Ray is always in my mind when I write... but heís the only actor I think about. For the rest of the characters, I tap into my acting background and try to write roles I think would be fun and/or rewarding to bring to life. Ray has become a kind of muse for me Ė heís so unique and hilarious he inspires me to write characters I think will make him laugh.
EMB: Christopher Marquette is great in the lead role of Cooper, a prefect balance of naivety, ineptitude, rebelliousness and gutsy bravery. How was it working with him, and did he bring anything new to the character whilst on set?
KR: Chris bought a lot to Cooper, and I enjoyed the hell out of working with him. Our collaboration was smooth. We were usually on the same page. Even when we disagreed, or Chris needed more explanation than I felt I had time for... it forced me to really think about what I was doing. Like most great actors, Chris embodies dichotomy: heís confident and insecure, silly and serious, frightened and brave. He gave me a lot to work with and he made the movie better. Iíd work with him again in a heartbeat.
EMB: Iíve heard the film was shot in Bulgaria for budgetary reasons (in much the same way that Bruce Campbell shot his film Man With The Screaming Brain). How was it filming in Europe, and do you have any interesting / amusing stories to tell (preferably one that hasnít been told before!)?
KR: Thereís a line in Bruce Campbellís ĎMy Name is Bruceí where he assures the frightened people of a small town by saying something like: ďThis isnít scary, try shooting a movie in Bulgaria?í Before I went, friends whoíd been there told me: ďYouíll love the women and hate the food?Ē (better than the reverse, no?) They were right: the food was awful, and the women were gorgeous. The local crew we assembled was very talented, and we cast several speaking roles with U.S. Ex-pats now living there. My funniest memories come mostly from the language barrier. By the time I went back to LA, I realized I knew 47 Bulgarian words and phrases. I became very fond of jokingly screaming the Bulgarian version of ďF**k your Mother?Ē on set. This always got a laugh... but one day the set photographer pulled me aside and said, ďYou should not say this thing... itís very insulting.Ē He and I already didnít like each other, because Iíd told him that if I heard his camera click one more time in the middle of a take, Iíd break his legs. Needless to say... I went on swearing, to the joy of (most) of the crew.
EMB: There's a line in the film where Cooper states that he had always fantasized about a cataclysmic event happening. Do you think the dream of apocalypse is a common fantasy for people, and if so, what do you think that says about the human condition?
KR: Itís always been a fantasy of MINE, and Iím discovering than when I write from an honest place... people relate to it. I find this touching and affirming... to realize weíre not so different. The thing I like about the idea of an apocalypse is that the rules of society and social order would suddenly flip and/or be rewritten. If the shit were to hit the fan on a global level, would you rather have a plumber or a psychiatrist in your group? In the world now, a psychiatrist works less and makes, say, five times more than the plumber. In a potential Ďnewí world, you can imagine how thatíd flip. I believe what draws people to post apocalyptic stories is that most of us feel special in some way, and often that our special-ness goes unnoticed or un-rewarded. In a potential post apocalyptic world, some of us could be given the chance to truly blossom!
EMB: The special effects in the film, a mixture of real effects and CGI, are of high quality. Are you pleased with the way they turned out, or are there any moments that you wish you could have pushed that extra mile if the budget had allowed?
KR: I always wish we had more time and money to push things and make them perfect. Thereís that oft quoted saying about how a film is never truly finished... just abandoned. That said, both the practical (Jerry Constantine) and the digital (Efram Potelle & P.J. Foley) teams did an amazing job. We had 270 effects shots... a film with a budget of 80 million might have this many too. It was a goal of mine and the producers to make a film with a small budget but high-quality effects. We accomplished this by making our own digital FX house and hiring our own artists. What eats up the budgets of bigger, studio movies is paying a separate company gobs of cash to make their film look good.
EMB: Without wanting to give too much away, the last scene of Infestation ends brilliantly - are there any plans for a sequel and if so, do you have a clear idea of where you will take it?
KR: Thanks for saying itís brilliant -- the ending has been a point of contention among fans! Given the chance, Iíd love to make a trilogy Ė there are plenty of places I want to bring these characters, and lots of challenges Iíd love to see them face.
EMB: The film is due to screen at Londonís FrightFest in front of 1300 dedicated genre fans. Are you nervous about how the film will play to the hardcore British audience, or are you pleased that it will be shown at such a renowned festival?
KR: Thatís so cool. Iím not nervous... just excited itís finally getting out there and hope itíll be enjoyed. Itís like your child getting the lead in the school play, you love them... so all you can do is hope other people do too and not throw things.
EMB: Do you have a particular affection for the horror genre, or do you see yourself working across several genres in the future?
KR: I see myself straddling genres, because this interests me more than anything else. We donít live genre-based lives, so I find mixing things up to be the most realistic. This is frowned upon within the studio system because marketing departments have a hard time publicizing mixed-genre films. A lot of times when an admired filmmaker makes a film they really care about, youíll notice itís a mix. Do we all want cut and dry entertainment, or is that whatís being made for us? Which comes first: the genre-specific demand, or the genre-specific marketing!?
EMB: Lastly, Eatmybrains is God and has placed you on a desert island for eternity that, as luck would have it, has electricity, a TV and DVD player. Which three DVDs would you take with you to spend eternity with and why?
KR:Itís a Wonderful Life, because it perfectly captures the Human Condition. The Big Lebowski, because itís awesome. And 8 Ĺ... to remind myself what it felt like to be a man when I was part of civilization.
EMB: Once again, congratulations on making an extremely fun movie with a lot of smarts and heart, and we wish you all the best for future success.
KR: Thanks so much for your thoughts and interest!
Infestation is released on DVD & Blu-ray on September 7th by Icon Home Entertainment
8th Jun 04 The film opens with a very similar voiceover narration to the original (see Trivia) but with different footage as we tour the furnace room, all fingernail scratches and blood-clotted hair, of the Hewitt residence.