AUSTRIAN SLASHER CINEMA - Interview with Andreas Prochaska
At the 25th Brussels International Film Festival I had a chance to sit down with Andreas Prochaska on his Austrian slasher film "Dead in 3 Days" aka "In 3 Tagen bist du tot." Me and Todd (Fantasia notes) both seemed to be pleasantly surprised with this film. A real gem of the 2007 films I've seen and it didn't feel like a throwaway "I Know What You Did" type movie. For my tastes it was a horror movie with a beating heart that I could get into with a leading character in Sabrina Reiter that I really cared about. Having a chance to chat with Mr. Prochaska on this film was a real highlight of me for this year. He is a director that isn't about maintaining the status quo or not taking risks, he wants to use cinema as his expression for his own personal stories and in his own exploration of it without being confined to regional commercial demands. I would put him in the current crop of directors taking risks like 70's directors did in not conforming and in pushing the limits of what good cinema is one picture at a time, regardless what genre it fell into. "Dead in 3 Days" while not a classic is certainly a good film for those willing to give it a chance and the start of a filmmaker giving it a go with something new for Austrian filmgoers.
Note from Christian of the European Fantastic Film Festivals Federation (EFFFF):
Dead in Three Days will be screened at Lund International Fantastic Film Festival, and director Andreas Prochaska will attend. The film won the Méliès d'Argent at BIFFF and will as such compete for the Méliès d'Or - Best European Fantastic Film 2007 at the Award Ceremony in Lund on September 16th.
And now onto the interview (SOME SPOILERS)...
BLAKE: What led you to do an Austrian slasher film?
PROCHASKA: I always wanted to make a horror movie. I wanted to show that it’s possible in Austria to make a horror movie. The average Austrian movie is an arthouse movie about personal, social, problems with people killing themselves and things like that, definitely non-entertaining. I thought there was this vacuum in Austria so I tried this experiment to make a horror movie in our country and it worked pretty well. The second thing is if you have this movie and if it’s a good one, the audience [still may not] believe that an Austrian director [can] make an entertaining or a good horror movie. So we had to make a lot of effort to convince the audience that this could be a film that they [would] like. This was an interesting experience in a lot of ways.
BLAKE: Any initial resistance or extra hurdles to getting the film green lit?
PROCHASKA: To be honest not really because even the people from the film fund were happy that somebody was doing something different in the film scene. This was something that gave a lot of energy to the whole project. Even the guys from the lab were happy to see some different dailies. It was a challenge from every department because there is not so much experience in making that kind of movie. Everybody [took] the challenge and [worked] endless hours shooting [it] because the money was in fact not enough for this project. We knew this before and [yet ended up] working 16 hours a day shooting for 29 days, which was very self-exhausting. [Fortunately] the people still [came] the next day and [didn’t kill] me for shooting so long.
BLAKE: How has the reception been for the film so far in Austria?
PROCHASKA: First I thought they were going to slaughter me [for] making an American-styled movie in Austria. The film was invited to the Locarno Film Festival. It was screened there at the Piazza Grande and ended up getting very good reviews. The press was good for this film because what they appreciated was the authenticity of the characters. [The cast] was mostly first time actors. The leading girl,we found her in a disco and it was her first appearance in a movie. [The press also] liked the language because [of] its Austrian dialect. Even with this press, we had to make a big campaign to convince the audience this might be something worth seeing. It ended up being the most successful Austrian film last year. It was great and very encouraging.
BLAKE: With the success of your film, will it open up the Austrian film scene for even more change?
PROCHASKA: Maybe, I don’t know because all this depends on the directors, writers and producers and what they want. I often [get] the question, “Why did it take so long to make a film like this?” It’s not because people aren’t able to but maybe they aren’t interested in making films like this. I don’t know but it definitely opened doors for me and we are working on the sequel now.
BLAKE: The actress that played Nina was a great find. In the best horror films, the lead character is someone I can identify with regardless of what happens or how ridiculous the hurdles are that they have to go through. So that by the end I actually care and give a damn about what might happen to them, Sabrina Reiter, who plays Nina, certainly did a great job of making me feel and care about her character throughout.
PROCHASKA: To be honest this film is nothing new. For me [Dead in 3 Days] was an Austrian version of an American pop song. It’s just interesting to do this movie if you get very good actors [who] you can identify with. And the thing was that the Austrian kids are much closer to the actors in this film than to any American actors, it could be themselves who are on the screen. It was very thrilling to find this cast because acting students you can forget. Everybody who wants to learn acting at this age is acting. Acting was the last thing I wanted for this movie. I wanted authentic people who were able to bring authenticity to the screen.
After casting all the students we went to public places, discos and radio stations. We asked people to come to the casting. Finally somebody found Sabrina Reiter in a bar and put a flyer in her hand and said come to the casting. Now she’s in New York doing a Lee Strasberg workshop which she got after she won best debut for a female in the Undine Awards. She was the needle in the haystack. I really got encouraged by watching something like American Idol in Austria. There is an Austrian version of this kind of casting show. I thought if there are people who are able to sing, then there might be some people who are able to act, we just have to find them. And we found them.
BLAKE: Talk about the challenges of making a horror film – lots of blood, practical effects, etc.,
PROCHASKA: There are not so many effects in it.
BLAKE: True, but you do have that “NECK” scene in it (laughs).
PROCHASKA: That is something (the neck scene) that the DP felt very sick during shooting. It’s nothing that is too complicated. We had two good makeup people for this particular part. It’s definitely all a matter of editing. You can’t stay too long on this shot because then you see the fake. We had some guy from Hungary for the skin face and the chopped off head. It was very important that skin face looked really good because if it looked ridiculous then the whole movie would be ridiculous. It was a very tough process to get this part really good. We had to do some,--not re-shooting,--but when we got the skin for the first time we had to paint it in a different way. We did a mix of the real actor and the mask.
The tough part is the first time when you see the rough cut of the movie. It was really terrible for me because I thought, ”This is the end of my career“ because that didn’t work out at all. So I knew the producer would want to see the rough cut of the film three days after I went to the editing room just to get an impression. So we worked day and night to cut it down and get the first right pace for the film. After that I started to believe again. Every film is like this, when you start the journey you don’t really know where it’s going to end. Until you have the first public screening, its weird.
BLAKE: So in many ways in the editing process you have to find the film itself?
PROCHASKA: Definitely. You have to find the rhythm of the film. For me it was crucial that this group of people works as a group; that those five kids then [don’t come across as just] five actors and [that you] believe they are [actually] friends. We did this in the preparation of the film. We put them together for three weeks in a flat so they would live together. As it ended up, two of them who are couple in the film are a couple until now. [They are] together and in love and everything.
Also in the editing process we had to find the right length of the scenes to get this feeling that they’re really caring about each other. Sometimes in horror movies after a killing [or when] somebody is dying, nobody [in the audience] really cares. This was something really important for me that these are friends who are really sorry for things [that are happening to each other].
BLAKE: Did you always have the multiple layers of the story being revealed or was that something that came about from the editing?
PROCHASKA: What was your impression? Was the film very predictable for you?
BLAKE: No, not in comparison with most recent horror films I’ve seen.
PROCHASKA: Oh really?
BLAKE: Usually in the first 15 or 30 minutes in recent horror films we are told exactly who the killer is and how they are going to go after each victim. So much information on the killer is given that there really isn’t much left surprise or tension that is left to be had. In Dead in 3 Days you don’t really know the whole back-story. You sort of foreshadow it at the beginning but for different parts of the film we get a convention killer who is on the rampage and may or may not have an ulterior motive.
PROCHASKA: What was interesting for me in developing the script and the style of shooting, was to [get the audience] as close as possible to the characters; to mostly tell the story out of their point of view. [Throughout the film] you’re mostly on the knowledge of the characters and this was the feeling that I wanted to get - [that something] was happening to them and nobody knows why and nobody knows who is going to be the next one and if they are on the list of somebody. It was interesting to see if this would work out in the end. There was one really important point when she thinks the person who did it and then you get the information that this person is not alive. I don’t know how the audience is reacting at this point--if they are thinking, ”Is there maybe a dead person killing somebody?--I don’t know; but, it’s interesting to play with those elements.”
BLAKE: Talk about the location where Dead in 3 Days was shot; it had a beautiful backdrop throughout it.
PROCHASKA: It’s in the center of Austria, its called Salzkammergut. You may even know the sissy films with Romy Schneider. Very famous films of the fifties were also shot in this area. The beautiful lake is called Traunsee. It’s the area where I grew up. The school you see in the film was the school where I graduated so it was kind of autobiographical in that way.
BLAKE: How is international distribution for Dead in 3 Days?
PROCHASKA: In terms of sales it’s very good. Celluloid Dreams has the film in their program and has sold it to 28 countries now. There is not a ton of money coming in but it was very interesting to me because the concept was just to make the film for the Austrian audience. After, there was this invitation to the Locarno Film Festival and then I saw that people from other countries [were] responding to this film. This was very thrilling to me [because] you do something and you think, “Ok it’s a small Austrian film” and then it starts to get bigger in a way. After I had a very good review in Variety (read review), I got calls from American agents and it was very exciting.
BLAKE: What extras can we expect on the DVD release?
PROCHASKA: The Austrian release is out (came out in May). It’s going to be a very pretty DVD because we have a lot of deleted scenes. There is one scene that I would have loved to be in the movie but we had a test screening and people had real problems with this scene. It’s a very good scene if you just watch the scene. It’s about Nina when she’s in the hospital and she’s saying goodbye to her dead friend. We [also] have on it a director’s commentary, which is ok but the commentary with all the actors [is even nicer]. They are just talking through the whole film and it’s really funny to listen to them. We also have a special [with the cast] from the premiere. There is one scene in the film where that one actor is playing air guitar, so they were all on the stage and that actor was in his underwear with the band performing a song. We also have a teaser trailer and a making of.
BLAKE: Will it be a longer cut of the film or the same theatrical cut on DVD?
PROCHASKA: It’s the same theatrical cut. These directors’ cuts often are not as good as the released film. Especially with Aliens for example, there is only one thing that I thought was worth being [added] to the movie and the rest it was good that it was not in the film. I’m talking as a director. You may fall in love with some scenes and you think the film really needs them; but in the end, it turns out that nobody needs them except maybe you. If you’re not making a very personal film and you’re making a film for an audience--which is still personal but you don’t have to follow your audience in every way—but if there are really warning signs that there might be a mistake in the film, you should eliminate it.
BLAKE: Any chance for English subtitles on any of the extras?
PROCHASHKA: We have subtitles for the film on the DVD but unfortunately not on any of the extras.
BLAKE: Will you immediately be filming a sequel?
PROCHASKA: I’ve been thinking for more than half a year on [whether to do a sequel] or not. I said, ”I’m not doing a sequel if it’s just another bunch of young people getting killed.“ On the other hand, I wanted to tell a new story with the surviving characters. I really liked those characters and we came up with an idea that I think will work out as it reflects the condition of the main character after all [her] experiences in the first film. I also want to make it some kind of a snow western. Snow and mountains [are] always something special for Austria.
BLAKE: So you will be making it more like an actual western or like a spaghetti western?
PROCHASKA: More like a spaghetti western. I’m also a big fan of Sam Peckinpah. We were thinking of [adding] some things that are really mean. The kids are going to be meaner but most of the kids are … no, no I’m not saying any more. What I like about it is that you can have a film that is the basis for the second story that is not using the same elements and you’re following a character into a new nightmare.
FORGOTTEN FILM RECOMMENDATION
BLAKE: Any personal favorite film of yours that you feel is under appreciated that film lovers should rush out and see?
PROCHASKA: Wolfen. I really loved this movie and I saw it in the cinemas in Austria when I was 17. I was always wondering where this director disappeared? He made Woodstock and then he made Wolfen and you’ve never heard from him again. It would be interesting [to know] where he ended up. Wolfen for me was an interesting and well-made film. It was also very innovative in terms of shooting. Do you remember all those steadicam shots with the change of colors and sound? Have you seen it?
BLAKE: I’ve seen it.
PROCHASKA: Albert Finney is a great actor and it was the first time I’ve seen a policeman going to the morgue, drinking his coffee [and] eating his doughnuts and you have the dead bodies right beside [him]. Nowadays everybody does it; but, at the time it came out, it was something new, to see somebody acting like this. It’s a film that deserves to be screened again.
I would like to thank the KING OF INTERVIEWS Michael Guillen for providing copy editing assistance for this interview.