Back in June at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, David Watson caught up with an old film school buddy (who’s far more successful the bastard) for a pint, writer/director Steve Barker, on the eve of the UK premiere of his new zombie romp, The ReZort. 

The following interview may contain spoilers and has definitely been edited for libel…

 

Steve Barker: It’s odd. I finished this beginning of July last year. All the business, it always takes time, it’s just taken a lot longer on this film. It’s odd, I’ve come here to watch it, haven’t seen it in a year, and it’s like I thing I did when I was younger. 

David Watson: Well…you were younger.

Steve Barker: (Laughing) Absolutely! When you first finish it, you’re just glad it’s over to a certain degree, you’ve made it to the end and you’re alive. About a year later you watch it again and you’re like “Fuck! What’d I do that for? Why did you do that? What were you thinking?” And I’m already into that kind of phase, I hadn’t seen it for a year and I watched it, figuring I should before I came up.

David Watson: So, do you need to wait another year before you like it?

Steve Barker: No! No, no, this is it! It’s just doomed now! Same with all my films, it’s just doomed, it’s dead to me! I hate everything I do (laughing) pretty quickly, I dislike everything. But there’s a lot I’m proud of, it was a tough film to make for the money and I think it looks, it looks like it cost way more than it did.

David Watson: It looks good, the film looks great and it must’ve been good not to be shooting in a cold, rainy wood in Dumfries? 

Steve Barker: Yeah, although 45 degree heat in Majorca was pretty punishing, to be honest. We shot all the stages, all the sets were shot in Wales. All of the exteriors were in Majorca. And the whole thing was posted in Belgium. I was in Belgium for like nine months. I was in Brussels for nine months, like cutting, bizarre, and doing all the VFX there.

David Watson: Still gotta say, better than Dumfries.

Steve Barker: (Laughing) Yeah, you’re probably right. Yeah. But Cardiff? Cardiff on a Saturday night?

David Watson: Cardiff on a Wednesday night. It’s just bad. Cardiff’s just bad. Couple of years ago there was a film, Perfect Sense… 

Steve Barker: Yeah, the David Mackenzie film…

David Watson: …Which basically had the end of the world happen in Glasgow. And there was this huge scene of rioting and it was just about the same time they shot World War Z there…And to be honest, both films just looked like Glasgow on a Wednesday after an Old Firm game.

Steve Barker: I actually went on the set of World War Z. It was insane! They had, like, 17 cameras down by the City Chambers shooting 2nd unit and they’d turned over twice the entire day because they were waiting for the light to match when they’d shot Brad the day before, in a car. They’d shot his close-up, in a car, and they were waiting with 17 cameras and a million extras and cars for the exterior light to match when they shot him in a car.

David Watson: Yeah. It’s Glasgow. The light’s never the same… 

Steve Barker: …From moment to moment!

David Watson: Something that occurred to me watching the film. A couple of years ago, I interviewed Max Brooks for something, and there’s this real split in the horror community between fast zombies and shuffling zombies…and you kinda have your cake and eat it…

Steve Barker: Totally! Totally! And it was a very, very self-consciously…we can do both! That’s the whole point, we can do both! It was one of those unique propositions that we could actually do something with. It’s odd because there was a lot of that in the film, and some of it works incredibly well and works to the film’s advantage, like where you have your cake and eat it. But, at the time when we shot, and all the way through the edit, there hadn’t been anything that had that Michael Crichton/Westworld/Jurassic Park thing for about 15 years.

And so we were actually having a lot of fun playing in and out of that. And then, literally I remember, we were two thirds of the way through cutting, the teaser came out for Jurassic World and there’s a shot in there of Bryce Dallas Howard, and it’s from behind her, and she’s got her arms folded and these screens in front of her, and I’m pretty sure it’s even on the same lens as a shot I did of Claire Goose, like a year earlier. And I started to worry, particularly now that it’s been a year, that people might think we were just ripping it off…

David Watson: Nah, if you’re ripping off anything, it’s definitely Westworld rather than Jurassic Park…

Steve Barker: Exactly!

David Watson: Because that’s one of the things that really strikes me about the film – there is a long, slow build up where you create this believable world. And what’s also interesting about that is this is a post-apocalyptic zombie movie that happens after the zombie apocalypse. The world is back on it’s feet, more or less… 

Steve Barker: And that was why I agreed to do it! I…(pauses)…I was about to give you a stock answer there, which is really weird because I know you…

David Watson: Well, you can give me the stock answer and then give me the good one…

Steve Barker: Genuinely, what happened was they called me, it was the first film I’d done where I hadn’t instigated it in any way. And what I loved about it was and I called a couple of mates and said “I’m going to tell you something and I need you to talk me out of it.” Because in my head, I couldn’t do another zombie picture. And I couldn’t do another horror picture, I’m not even that into horror pictures. And yet, there were these possibilities… Like, everything these days is kinda like Lord of the Flies basically, it’s like stripped back, what happens to the world when the rules are taken away? And what I loved was, the very nature of this, it’s set up immediately, is we are so much more terrifying when we win.

And the odd thing is, I was talking to them about this in November 2013, and I mention in the very first phone conversation with them that I saw it as a film about the disenfranchised and I mentioned Syria. And at that point, I was talking about how Syria was a humanitarian problem that had just turned into a political football and was a year and a half away from turning into the clusterfuck it is now. And that was the big thing, it had that slightly Romero-esque mirror to the world thing that was naturally part of the story and you didn’t have to graft it on. As it is, I personally think it’s probably a bit too…it’s less than subtle and it’s pretty heavy handedly in your face and that mostly happened through the amount I was shifting the pace around in post.

David Watson: To be honest, I agree with you. It isn’t subtle but I like that about it because zombie films, the good zombie films anyway, there’s always a political subtext, you mentioned Romero, there’s always that level to it, whereas you’ve kinda framed that front and centre…

Steve Barker: (Laughing) This is what it’s about…

David Watson: Take a look at the world now!

Steve Barker: Well, if I had one big worry it was that I finished it in June (2015) and the headlines started about a month later. And we’d already committed to, I mean originally the ending was going to be a full on sequence which we couldn’t afford and I had to drop that much like there was some stuff at the beginning got dropped for the budget, you have to just go with character, the central part of the movie. But the idea of them walking out of the sea. Then it took a while for the film to start being screened and I started worrying that people would think we were being exploitative. At the time we were making it and doing it, it was more like “Look at what could happen to the world!” We weren’t thinking, three months from now it was going to actually start happening! What’s odd is, everyone I spoke to today, everyone’s picked up on it. I mean, I know it’s not subtle, but I imagined everyone would just ignore it or dismiss it and be like ”Yeah, right, whatever…” And the odd thing is, it came out in Spain and my editor was Spanish and translated some reviews and the two bad reviews we got were from people who were on the political side of “Who are these left-wing types coming over and talking about us? Our country’s dying! They should be killed!” And I was like, “Do you have any idea how much you’re making the point for me here?”

target_practive_the_rezort

David Watson: It’s definitely a film for the EU Referendum! But I like that about it. I dunno if this was deliberate, but by the end of it, Claire Goose kinda looks like Katie Hopkins. A sexy Katie Hopkins. I mean, was that a conscious decision or, again, just good luck?

Steve Barker: That was total luck!

David Watson: When she’s kinda bedraggled and her make-up’s run and got the wild hair, I thought, fucking hell, he’s really going for it… 

Steve Barker: I’d love to take credit for that one. I’d love to! But no. That mostly worked because of Claire. And Claire’s lovely. And she was someone who was just sort of presented. They were looking at other people and either the people who wanted to do it were too much money or the people we wanted weren’t available and so I was already well in prep and never met her, we just talked on the phone, and I was really nervous ‘cause I actually thought “She’s too nice! And I don’t really want to be subtle on this, I just want her to be a flat-out…”

David Watson: Cow? 

Steve Barker: Yeah, just like a full-on successful businesswoman who’d show up on Dragon’s Den or The Apprentice. A full-on capitalist, like “Capitalism works no matter how many apocalypses we make!” And actually, my favourite line of the movie came from a mate, Rae Brunton who wrote Outpost with me, who took a look at the script for me and said “Every apocalypse deserves an afterparty!” which is my favorite line in the movie, which isn’t to disparage Paul who wrote the film, it was just a mate said it and I thought “What a fucking line!”

David Watson: It’s a great line.

Steve Barker: And that was the line I gave her, it wasn’t in the script at that point, I just told her it down the phone and she just kinda got it! And what I love is she is adorable, she’s so lovely, and strangely she probably went through as much discomfort as some of the zombies. We wanted her to have this completely pristine look and that dress she’s in, she couldn’t sit down, it would instantly crease. So she’d be in rollers and they had like these C-stands…

David Watson: So she was rolled to the set like Hannibal Lecter?

Steve Barker: Pretty much. It was really, really incredibly hard for her. She went through a lot and was great. She’d also never died before, I think in that way, and really gave it up in the sequence where she dies at the end. She was a bit befuddled by what I was doing because I had this huge Dario Argento flashing red light behind her, for no reason, and was telling her “…you’re gonna be there and we’re gonna do this and there’ll be blood…” and you could tell she was thinking “You’re all mad and I’m loving it!” She was great! I can’t even take credit for her, I just remember one of the producers calling me and saying they were thinking about Claire Goose and I thought “Really?” But the more I thought about it, the more I thought that could work really well ‘cause she’ll be surprising. Whereas a lot of the rest of the cast were…I mean, Dougray was somebody we obviously offered it to…

David Watson: He’s great! There’s always been that real laconic…

Steve Barker: He gives great close-up!

David Watson: Especially now he’s got older and his looks have started to go a little bit, he’s got the crumpled visage…Plus for a Scotsman, he’s fucking tall! Most of us are wee guys about my height but he’s a big guy…

Steve Barker: And he plays Clint Eastwood very well!

David Watson: Which is what he’s doing!

Steve Barker: Yeah, I just told him “Be Clint Eastwood.”

David Watson: But it’s an interesting cast…

Steve Barker: Jessica’s a belter!

David Watson: I actually saw her here last year in Cut Snake. How did you find her?

Steve Barker: I’ve not seen that. Literally, she was one of those that Gema Sykes who was casting showed me. What happened was Jess is Australian, she’d gone to the States, she’d done Arrow, she was quite big in that…

David Watson: See, I’ve never watched Arrow…

Steve Barker: Me neither! Well, I hadn’t seen it. And she’d done Dracula with Jonathan Rhys Meyers and was the lead in that. And she’d obviously made a load of mates here, British, while shooting that in Hungary, I think they shot Dracula in. So she came here for the Summer, and while she was here, her management in the States said “You might as well go and see a few casting directors, you never know, there might be something…” And Gemma phoned me and said “I’ve found her!” And we hadn’t even started casting yet! She was so confident, she was just like “I know it’s her!” And she kept showing me pictures. And I thought she was too classically beautiful, the character was very girl-next-door and I couldn’t imagine Jess as a PTSD case, she is like five foot ten, athletic Australian goddess. And she came in and read for us, she was like the second girl to read, and Charlotte, the producer, and I just looked at each other and thought “It can’t be this easy!” We sort of then, half-heartedly, saw a bunch of other girls, one of whom it was really lucky because one of the people we had read for that role was Elen Rhys, who ended up playing Sadie and had such a grasp of the script and the tone, everything that we were like…we already had our hearts set on Jess for Melanie, so we went to Elen and said “It’s not the lead but…” And she’s phenomenal!

David Watson: She’s sassier!

Steve Barker: The thing I didn’t know was we cast her and then the day she was doing costume tests, Ally Mitchel sent me the costume tests and literally, as I was looking at them, I looked up, and I was watching World War Z ‘cause I’d not seen it and I needed to know whether or not I was going to inadvertently rip it off and El, literally I looked up from the photos and she was in it and hadn’t told us she was in it, she’s the stewardess on the plane who turns into a zombie and causes the plane to crash. Didn’t know! Said to her “You didn’t tell me about any of that…” She thought that if she had form in zombie pictures we wouldn’t go with her.

The rest of the cast came in, Jassa who plays Alfie, I wanted from the moment he came in and did two readings, in completely different accents, and he was awesome from the moment he came in, really clever lad. Same with Lawrence. Only change we made was giving him the big glasses. Martin McCann, we were really close to using someone else as the boyfriend, and we’d tested him with Jess and done chemistry tests and all that kinda stuff, we loved him, and he pulled out at the last minute because he was offered the lead in a seven-part TV show. So Martin McCann came in who’s great, a proper actor, but he’s like this big next to Jess (indicates a height around his chin). Jess is up here and Martin’s down here. He’s phenomenal.

People like Jess and Dougray have a certain star quality where you imagine them in the right movie, whereas there’s that true character acting chops that you want to pick up, put in your pocket and take on every picture with you. And that’s Elen and Martin and Jassa. They’ve just got that where you’re like “Please come with me on everything ‘cause you’re just phenomenal, you’ve got that thing!” They were awesome.

David Watson: The great thing about Martin is, he’s got both sides to him… 

Steve Barker: There is a bit of sympathy with him!

David Watson: You can believe him when he’s doing the heroic stuff and the killing zombie stuff but then when his nerve goes and it’s survival of the fittest, he’s out the door.

Steve Barker: That was one of the hardest and most enjoyable days I had on the whole picture was doing the final scene between him and Jess because we ran out of light and I had to start dropping so much stuff, dialogue, it became a massively condensed version, and yet they found it! And what I realised in the cut was, in the end, all I needed was those two making it work. There’s so much running and shouting and shooting in the last half of the picture, it’s actually nice to get a bit of respite where they bring it all without any dialogue…and Martin’s very good at that, he’s very intense. Very focused, doesn’t fuck around. I thought the balance was nice in the cast and in the characters. I liked the idea, what we wanted to get to was the point where they felt like archertypes in a world no one had shot before but you got it. There was like the kids who’d grown up afterwards who saw it all like a video game and it just had no effect on them…the PTSD case…the Clint Eastwood who would walk through any of these films and survive no matter what…the human version of that, who tries to be a reformed man but will actually revert to every man for himself when it gets to that…and then there was the scientist guy who was just a lovely, lovely man. It was really, really sad killing him.

David Watson: This is the first thing you’ve done where, I’m not saying you were a gun for hire, but it wasn’t self-generated – you didn’t do any of the writing. Were you tempted?

Steve Barker: I think having someone who’s used to creating their own projects and coming in and being a director-for-hire, effectively, on it was a harder experience on Paul the writer than it was for me. And I think that was totally me learning to work, you know, to play with others. There were certainly teething problems there, none of which were Paul’s fault in any way, but I think what I found liberating about it though was when you’re free from that sense of…I mean, I was never into the auteur theory anyway. I think once you’ve been on enough sets and seen how collaborative a process it is…Yes! There is an identity to a movie but unless you are Fincher and you can shoot 75 takes until it’s exactly what you’ve got in your head or Kubrick of old…plus I don’t really want it to be that way! The whole point is, I hire these people because they’re better at it than I am and…

David Watson: They make you look good…

Steve Barker: Yeah! Exactly! And I take all the credit for it! You just, you do your thing. I like that you have just the one basic thing and then you say “How can we make this better?” The hard part was, that being the way, me coming in to a situation where the script had already been under development for a year and a bit and I did that absolutely classic director/wanker thing of “I think it’s great! Lets change everything!”

David Watson: So, after two Outpost films and this, have you got zombies out of your system?

Steve Barker: Oh yes! I swore I’d never do another…

David Watson: No The ReZort 2 then?

Steve Barker: Well, never say never…but I think I need to try and get all the other stuff out of my system really.

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.