LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS Interview with Chee Keong Cheung, director of Redcon-1
By James Whittington, Wednesday 17th February 2021
Fast-paced British zombie thriller, Redcon-1 will be having its UK TV premiere on Horror on Saturday 20th February so we decided to chat with its writer and director Chee Keong Cheung about this acclaimed movie.
HC: Where did the idea for Redcon-1 come from and are you a fan of zombie movies?
CKC: I'm a huge fan of the zombie genre and in particular, Danny Boyle's '28 Days Later', Zak Snyder's 'Dawn of the Dead' and of course George Romero's original works which helped to pave the way for the genre and was a real inspiration for me growing up. I remember watching 'Saving Private Ryan' and 'Black Hawk Down' on TV and had always been drawn to the men on a mission style movie. The idea of individuals sacrificing themselves for what they believe in and for the greater good. From there the initial idea for 'Redcon-1' was born, the story of 8 soldiers who are assigned on a suicide mission amist a viral outbreak to find the scientist who may be responsible for the outbreak and the key to finding a cure. I wanted to create an enemy these soldiers were confronted with that would be unlike anything they had ever seen before. What initially starts as an invasion movie gets turned upside down, however when the soldiers realise that the enemy they are confronted with is not quite what it seems.
HC: Did the script take long to complete and how much did it change from first draft to last?
CKC: The first draft was written in a few months, but the re-writing took much longer, working and re-working the script over a year along with my co-writer and also co-producer Mark Strange and also writer Steve Horvath as well as working on the challenges of putting the film together, finding the right partners who connected with the vision and also figuring out the right locations for the tone of the film and creating the set pieces that what was on paper. I also had the entire film storyboarded. The script I'd say changed more when it came to the shooting and the practicalities of trying to fit everything in and executing the ambitious and grand scale on paper along with some of the action set pieces which we weren't able to fully incorporate due to budget restrictions but I think that's the nature of independent filmmaking, you have to be flexible and amenable and be able to adapt to the surroundings and the resources available to tell your story. The essence however didn't change in terms of the journey of the soldiers and the core relationships with the soldiers and the survivors they encounter which I feel is the heart of the film.
Was it written with a cast in mind?
CKC: It wasn't written with anyone specific in mind as I was keen to keep an open mind on the casting. The challenge I knew was the balance of finding a cast for the 8 soldiers who could both deliver the acting performance as well as the physical aspects of the roles such as the stunts and martial arts. I didn't want to use doubles and was keen for the cast to be able to execute themselves where it was realistically possible. I spent around 8 months looking for the cast and the core team. It was a real ensemble. That process was a movie in itself. I saw literally hundreds and hundreds of showreels, CV's, working alongside the casting director Gaby Kester. I was really pleased with the cast that came together for the film from Oris Erhuero, the lead who plays Captain Marcus Stanton who I felt brought great charisma and empathy to the role particularly with his relationship with the young talented actress Jasmine Mitchell who plays Alicia in her debut film role. Other cast included Carlos Gallardo who is perhaps most known for his iconic role on Robert Rodriguez's 'El Mariachi' which was amazing to have onboard, Mark Strange who I'd worked with on my previous two films I'd directed, 'Underground' and 'Bodyguard: A New Beginning' and most recently seen in 'IP Man 4', Katarina Waters (former WWE and TNA wrestler), Joshua Dickinson (Mirror), Akira Koieyama (Street Fighter Assassin's Fist, Sense8), Martyn Ford ('The Nevers', 'Final Score') and Michael Sheehan ('River City'). Other cast included Douglas Russell ('Let Us Pray') and Euan Macnaughton ('Pride and Prejudice and Zombies') and Robert Goodale playing the scientist.
HC: It's a bold movie, action-packed with plenty of special effects, was there a moment where you thought you'd been too ambitious in your vision for the movie?
CKC: That tended to be a thought I had every day on set. I think independent films can sometimes be a little safe and I wanted to make something which could be a real calling hard and push the boundaries of independent filmmaking and what's possible. There were certainly enough people telling me what I wanted to achieve was impossible and I had endless meetings with people trying to find the right combination to help bring the vision alive. I was fortunate that along with Mark Strange who I had worked with on my previous films, I also had Producer Ioanna Karavela who I knew back from film school join me on this crazy ride to make the impossible possible as well as Carlos Gallardo joining the team and supporting. Carrlos was a great source of inspiration with his film 'El Mariachi' and what he had achieved with that in making things happen and that became a driving ethos with 'Redcon-1'. The crew were really key and in particular my DOP, Lorenzo Levrini was instrumental in capturing what was in my head so vividly and with a strong visual style, along with our Make Up and SFX Designer Agnieszka Kukulka and her extensive team which included Make Up Supervisor Keleigh Thomas and also Special Make Up Effects Artist Dean Garner working alongside Special Effects Co-ordinator Mike Knights. There was no shortage of fake blood used in the making of Redcon-1. Literally gallons and gallons. Every day was surreal, whether it be hundreds and hundreds of extras on set, to tanks, helicopters, hummers, speedboats to explosions and blowing up cars. I guess I was keen to try and make as much noise as possible. We had over 1500 extras in total playing a mixture of survivors, soldiers and zombies and filming across 14 different cities in the UK and a 12 week shooting schedule. I think what also key to making the film possible was the tremendous amount of goodwill and support from each city we filmed in and the local communities and all the incredible background artists who came out to get made up as zombies. That was a tremendous feeling seeing everyone come together and was also very humbling. I can't thank them enough. They were all so generous with their time and so many great friendships were developed through the process. We even had two zombies find love on the set of Redcon-1 and I believe a Redcon-1 baby was delivered the following year. That's the great thing about filmmaking. It's not just about one person, it's a collective pulling together to make things happen and I'm very proud of what we all achieved together and thankful and grateful for the faith and belief people had in me and for being part of this crazy journey.
HC: Without giving too much away, which sequence was the hardest to shoot?
CKC: Every day was tough and presented its own challenges but one day in particular I remember a sequence involving a helicopter or lack of. Often on shoots, you plan and plan as much as possible but things can conspire against you. On the day the helicopter was supposed to arrive sadly it was grounded and couldn't reach us due to the weather. We filmed the reverse side with the actors where they see the helicopter (on a bright sunny day) and thought we'd return and film the other side on a later date. When we returned it was pouring it down with the rain and we had zombies and a helicopter that we only had a limited time with. That was pretty manic but you just have to roll with the punches and be creative to get the shots needed. On another day during filming in a quarry, heavy rain caused some of our set to get washed away. It started to feel a little like Terry Gilliam's 'Lost in La Mancha'. It tended to be usually down to the external elements.
HC: Did the cast have to train for their roles as you put them through the mill a bit!
CKC: Yes, the cast got quite a work out. They were put through two weeks of training. One week was military based, going through movement, handling weapons trained by our military advisor Terry Crosby, a former Sergeant Major in the British armed forces who served in Iraq. We also worked with Jason Rhodes on the training. The second week was martial arts based training with Mark Strange and Kiran Pande, crafting a style for each of the 8 soldiers. The training (and the shoot) wasn't easy and I certainly asked a lot of the cast and was pleased and grateful for the level of commitment they all showed. It definitely wasn't for the faint hearted. For our zombies, we had set up zombie training camps working with various scare event companies to help deliver. There were a few overly ambitious zombies. I think one of our key cast actually got bit for real during one of the action sequences. He was fine though. Our zombies were a great group of people who came from all walks of life, from doctors, accountants, teachers, lawyers, forensic detectives. A lot of families came down and took part. It was a real community feel and it was nice to see people helping each other, and giving the support and confidence. It's not easy initially as everyone gets a little self conscious when they get asked to play a zombie but once they got over it, they all had a great time.
HC: You must be pleased Redcon-1 is having its UK TV premiere on the Horror Channel, how would you sell it to our audience?
CKC: It's an incredible honour. I'm so grateful to the Horror Channel. As a filmmaker you always hope that when you make a film, people will get to see it and I'm thankful we have such a tremendous platform as the Horror Channel for the UK TV Premiere to reach audiences. As to how I'd sell it, I'd say it's an action packed, roller coaster ride filled with a lot of action, blood, guts (literally) as well as a lot of heart and humanity.
HC: You're a man of many talents; director, writer and producer to name just a couple, do you have a favourite role?
CKC: That's very kind of you to say and it can certainly be a challenge juggling all three and wearing multiple hats. I do really enjoy Directing and the creative process but often the roles of a director and producer can go hand in hand particularly on an independent film when one has to be more aware than ever for the need to adapt and find creative solutions to problems but it's a great feeling taking a film from conception to script to onscreen. Seeing everything come together and come to life after years of planning and development is incredibly rewarding.
HC: So, what are you up to at the moment?
CKC: I've been writing a few screenplays and I have two feature projects I'm attached to direct which I'm really excited about, one in the US and one in the UK and hopefully they can start soon once things ease with Covid.
HC: Chee Keong Cheung, thank you very much.
CKC: It's been a real pleasure and I'm grateful to you James for the support you have shown for 'Redcon-1' as well as being one of the first journalists to get behind and review the film, so thank you!
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