A few years ago the film Outpost was released to great critical acclaim. This atmospheric and dark piece gave the Nazi Zombie genre the serious kick that it needed.
Now the characters are back in Outpost 2: Black Sun so we decided to talk to the writers Steve Barker and Rae Brunton about this and future Outpost movies.
HC: How did you two first meet?
RB: Well, I had written a half-hour script called Karma Cowboys, which was commissioned as part of a series showcasing new talent on Channel 4 and I first met Steve when he was brought aboard to direct that. Out of all the writer and director teams put together on that series, I think we were the only two who genuinely got along. When Steve moved to Scotland, I rode shotgun in a car full of all his belongings and - between him listening to cricket on the radio and me nearly getting us killed on a slip-road near Glasgow - we talked about doing something else, feature film shaped. It always seemed inevitable that we’d work together again…
SB: I think Rae's summed this one up perfectly, other than that it was probably my fault that we nearly died on the slip-road.
HC: Where did the idea for the original Outpost come from?
RB: It was kind of born out of necessity. Steve had moved to Scotland with the intention of making a film there with our producers, Kieran and Arabella. Film financing being what it is, though it’s very hard for first-time film-makers to get stuff off the ground. When one project stalled, Kieran was casting around for other ideas and, because it's often the way that low-budget genre movies are many people's route into film-making, he started toying with horror stories. So the original idea for Outpost came from Kieran. He came up with this very simple high-concept of a bunch of modern day soldiers who find themselves surrounded by an army of undead Nazis. Within those parameters, Steve and I were invited to do pretty much whatever we wanted. I came up with the idea of this weird machine that gave the story an engine and the whole thing grew from there.
SB: Wow, Brunton's answers are unusually thorough today. That's exactly what happened.
HC: Did you decide that from the start it would be a serious Nazi Zombie movie?
RB: I think so. As a writer, my instinct is always to try and mine a bit of humour but, while they were never against the odd laugh, I remember that Kieran and Steve were both keen that Outpost should never be tongue-in-cheek. And I agreed with that, because, unless it's done with surgical wit, I tend not to like stuff that winks too hard at its audience. All three of us absolutely revered the whole kind of B-movie horror that we were working in - it was exactly the kind of stuff that had thrilled us in the past - and I think we wanted to honour how seriously all those films took themselves. And in an odd way, I think playing such a lunatic story with a straight face is actually its own kind of fun.
SB: I think simply because I saw the initial concept as something that would give me an opportunity to make a love letter to certain movies I loved as a kid, it genuinely never crossed my mind for a second that we would do anything other than play it straight. At the time we made the first movie the torture-porn explosion was in full swing and I really wanted to make something the harkened back to early John Carpenter or Alien, something that did everything with light, shadow and suspense so the idea of going for a more Sam Raimi, Evil Dead 2 style or what the Dead Snow guys did later just never came up. That tone worked so well in those movies but at the time I don’t think we ever even discussed going that way.
HC: It was a critical success so why a four year gap between that and the follow up Outpost: Black Sun?
SB: There's really no one simple answer to that. At first we never really considered the possibility of a sequel and for maybe a year we looked at doing other movies, then when the first movie turned out to be a bit of a success, not just in the UK but also abroad, then people started pushing for it. After that it became a long to-and-fro around writing the script, where the money would come from, and how much money we'd eventually have. All of which would always mean looking at the script again. Then finally, at the end of all that it took about a year to actually make the movie. The film industry and independent film financing in particular has always be very unpredictable so when you factor in that this film got put together in the midst of a global economic meltdown and then the recession that followed I'm still a little amazed that we got there at all.
HC: How did you approach writing this much anticipated sequel?
RB: Well, it's awhile since we wrote Black Sun now, but as I remember it there were a lot of different ideas kicked around. The one thing we all agreed from the outset though, was that we wanted our sequel to be distinct from its predecessor. None of us wanted to do a simple, bigger and badder re-tread of the first film. We wanted to expand the world some, reveal a bit more about the history of the machine and, I think in general, deliver something that felt altogether more epic in scale. Early on, we didn’t even know whether we wanted to go back to the same bunker at all. We had ideas for an entirely new story set elsewhere. In my initial treatments, Wallace was very much the lead. It was very much Steve’s idea to run with a female protagonist and all the Nazi Hunter stuff that fleshed out Lena's character came from him. After that it was a thousand conversations and just as many rewrites…
SB: Like Rae says, all the initial ideas came from not wanting to repeat the first movie. In that film we’d tried to use mystery and suspense to steadily crank the atmosphere through the first half of the picture and we could do that because the movie was fresh and the audience wasn't entirely sure what was coming. Going into Black Sun my feeling was that if I simply tried to do that again it would quickly become tedious because the audience had already seen what was ultimately around the corner. The sequels I've always admired are the ones that try and do something new, you risk alienating your original audience but I thought it was a risk worth taking, so once we’d decided to shift genre slightly and try something that was tonally different it became about trying to introduce elements into the narrative that would force us keep those promises to ourselves. So the character of Lena came from the fact that there were no female characters and there were no civilians in the first movie. Simply having her there was going to force us to write and shoot things differently. So yeah, pretty much everything in life that caused Rae pain around that time was totally my fault. I'm frankly amazed that he still talks to me, although I didn’t get a Christmas card this year.
HC: Did you have more budget for this instalment?
SB: We had a tiny bit more. Unfortunately the film was so much bigger in scope that it always felt like we had less. It really was an insanely small budget for the kind of scale we were trying to put on screen and it's a testament to the dedication and skill of everybody that worked on it that people seem to think that it cost five or ten times more than it actually did. In the end I think we made the movie for less than an episode of Doctor Who.
HC: How did you go about casting?
SB: Well outside of Julian Wadham and Johnny Meres coming back we had to find a new cast since we'd killed everybody in the first movie. We cast Lena first and I probably saw 70 girls in 2 days for her, but Catherine came in on the first morning and just smashed it. Richard Coyle was somebody I'd loved in so much other stuff and the financiers let me offer the role of Wallace to him. He was away shooting Grabbers at time so we couldn’t meet, but thankfully it turned out that he really liked the first movie and after we’d had a long chat on the phone he took the role. I think everybody else auditioned in the traditional way and just like the first movie I think we got really lucky with who we got.
HC: It retains the very dark and intense atmosphere of the first, was this hard to achieve?
RB: I can't speak to the production or directing side of things at all, but in terms of the writing, once our story was set the tone was pretty much dictated. We had a Nazi army on the march in modern day Europe - the atmosphere couldn’t be anything but dark!
SB: You'd think that making something that dark would be easier but actually it's really hard work. You have to be very careful about the colour palette which means production design, costume and even make-up have to work very closely together and be planning way ahead of the shoot. I also tend to use a lot of smoke (probably because I saw too many Ridley Scott films as a kid) and that’s really time consuming on a tiny budget. Add all that to the fact that the script was so different and I started out feeling pretty nervous about the tone on this movie. Then it became obvious that my usual DP, Gavin Struthers who shot the first movie wouldn’t be available because he was already committed to a long running job and I got really scared. Thankfully the brilliant Darran Tiernan rode to my rescue. I'd seen two movies he’d shot and even though they looked nothing like I imagined this film looking it was obvious that he had a wonderful eye. Thankfully he really liked the first movie and from the moment we met all of my nerves simply evaporated. What I love about his work on this movie is the way that without ego getting in the way he seemed to instinctively understand where we should retain ideas about light, colour and shadow from the first movie and where to bring something new to the table. I really do think that he’s an amazing talent.
HC: What was it like shooting this and the third part back-to-back?
RB: In fairness, there has actually been a substantial gap between the production of the second and third film, almost a year between shoots.
SB: I'm not making part 3 and what's cool is that since Rae and Kieran were writing and putting it together whilst I was away finishing Black Sun I’ve managed to stay pretty much spoiler free. That means I'm finally going to be able to watch one of these films like a regular movie rather than something I'm sweating or agonising over which is pretty exciting.
HC: When part 3 is released will you move away from horror for a while or will you stay within the genre?
SB: Well I've just finished one script and am about to start work on another. Neither are straight horror but both certainly contain very, very dark elements. I've always loved genre movies and my instincts usually take me towards dark thrillers, sci-fi and horror so I think that even if I move away a bit, the work will probably still be within spitting distance.
HC: Are you nervous about the movie showing at FrightFest?
SB: I am literally too frightened to properly answer.
HC: What advice would you give to people wanting to make their own horror movie?
RB: None. I'd wish them the very best of luck!
SB: Always make what you want to see, not what you think others might want you to make. And then give it all the love, thought, care and attention that you've got.
HC: Steve Barker and Rae Brunton, thank you very much.
SB: No, thank you