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Interview With Eitan Gafny Writer, Producer And Director Of Cannon Fodder
By James Whittington, Saturday 24th August 2013
Cannon Fodder is a powerful new zombie movie from Isreal. It deals not only with the horrors of a zombie outbreak but the emotional consequences of loyalty and politics. Here the multi-talented Eitan Gafney chats about this superb film which is showing at FrightFest today.
HC: Have you always been a big fan of horror movies?
EG: Yes, although I'm a "spoilt" horror fan - I give a lot of attention to the cinematic work, and I really don't like "torture porn" horror, except a few gems. My favourite horror director is John Carpenter, and I watch his films over and over again, to learn whatever I can from them, and I enjoy them a lot. Having said that, I will never decide not to watch a movie based on a misguided premise - and that goes to all genres, not only horror. In fact, one of my favourite genres is Romantic Comedies, I'm a sucker for them.
HC: How did you get started in the movie business?
EG: Since I was 5, I knew that I wanted to tell stories. I guess it was after watching Jaws, Halloween, Jurassic Park, Vertigo, Citizen Kane, North by Northwest, The Exorcist, E.T., Pale Rider and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (all that before the age of 10), it was then I realized that I'm going to be a film director. I studied film in High School, and after 3 years in the IDF as a combat fighter, I spent a year in NYC. and that's when I decided to take my first steps into real filmmaking. When I got back to Israel I directed 2 independent shorts, and some other stuff, and then went to film school, to polish my skills. During Film School, I continued to make a lot of shorts, and always trying something different. After I directed a 45 minute romantic Horror Comedy called Open Stitch, I decided to move on to my first feature film, which is Cannon Fodder.
HC: Where did the idea for Cannon Fodder come from?
EG: When I was 11 years old, after watching George A Romero's Night and Dawn of the Dead, I thought to myself: “Wouldn't it be cool to see IDF soldiers fighting Zombies in Lebanon?". Fast Forward a few years, and I've finished the first draft of a feature film which I thought would be my first feature, but then I realized it will too expensive and too complex (theme in story wise) to be the first feature, so I sat down and wrote Cannon Fodder as a simple, small movie. Reality turned out to be a bit more difficult, and Cannon Fodder transformed to be very complicated movie when you take in consideration the fact that it was made for a very small budget, and has way too much ingredients that can or can't - on the paper - blend in together with that budget, but we succeeded in that, and the film is out there, as kind of a "Calling Card" for me and my partners.
HC: Did it take long for you to write?
EG: Not that long. The first draft was written in 2 weeks, and then it went into rewrites and etc. If I had to sum up the entire time I've worked on it (including rewrites and script editing) I'd say about 3 months.
HC: How did you go about casting the movie?
EG: When I write, I try to imagine actors I know can pull off the different characters. Sometimes I write for specific actors, and of course it helps a lot. In Cannon Fodder, I wrote Noelle's part for Yafit (then my girlfriend, today my wife) who also went on to be one of the producers of the film. The part of Avner was written exclusively for Gome Sarig, a good friend of mine and one of the best actors I've ever met. After the first draft, Yafit asked me who should play Doron, the lead, and I said "It wasn't written for him because I don't know him, but it's obvious that only Liron Levo can pull it off", and we were lucky that Liron did play that part. Yafit was the one who recommended Roi Miller for Daniel. They went to Acting School together, and she vouched for him (and she was so right) and Roi was the one who recommended Emos Ayeno for Moti, and I'm so glad he did. With Gideon's character, played by our script editor Amit Leor, it was a different story: Amit began as an actor, and moved on to screenwriting, and now he's the chairman of Israel's screenwriters guild. We thought of a number of actors who can play Gideon, and met with a few when all this time I knew it should be Amit, because he was really right for it. Eventually, I decided to ask him, expecting a "NO" (because he's busy and all that) but we were really happy when he agreed and he really nailed it.
HC: There is a lot of social comment in the film, was it important to you that the film contained such elements?
EG: Of course - It's a Zombie film! All good zombie films have a social commentary in them, and I really wanted Cannon Fodder to be more than just another zombie film - otherwise, what's the point, right? I also mentioned that I love Carpenter's films, and he never made a film (except maybe Dark Star) that didn't say something, even if the commentary was very subtle. In addition, it was important to me that if I'm making a zombie film, it should be rooted in contemporary Israel, and the characters should represent different aspects of Israeli society - again, like in Romero's films, for instance. So yes, it was a conscious effort. No one is kidding himself - we know we can't change the world with a small, low budget horror film from Israel, but we do believe that we can make a stand through it, and we feel that the overall message of Cannon Fodder is a positive one (in a weird twisted way) so it was important to us to make that statement.
HC: The film is very serious and at times incredibly bleak. What was the atmosphere like on set?
EG: Well, if to continue the last topic, Cannon Fodder does have its bleak moments, but it was said in a number of films - "It's always darkest before dawn"... Put that aside, and you have to remember that it's a low budget and ambitious film, and we all had to be super prepared for anything that might go wrong. And as it always goes - a lot went wrong. But we had an amazing crew and cast, and everyone knew we're doing something special, and we shot almost everything we had to in order to make the film work and live up to the expectations. The atmosphere on the set was all about working hard and achieving our goals - all the actors knew everything they had to know, they were all super professional, and we had our own humour and vibe to everything. So even the bleakest moments were all about having fun and doing something that no one has ever done in Israel so far, but in the same time, we all took it very seriously. It helps when you have a great crew and great cast, but it's even better when some of them are really close friends and consider themselves to be part of one big family. That was the case in Cannon Fodder - one big, screwed up family.
HC: There are some quite impressive SFX scenes, did these use up much of your budget?
EG: First of all, thanks. And let's say that if we hadn't done our research properly, it would have taken a huge chunk of the film's budget. Luckily, the script was written with SFX in mind, so every scene was written with knowing what can or cannot be achieved with SFX. So when it came down to shooting a scene with a lot of effects - practical or CGI, we we're very much in tune to what we should do and how. So when we came to work these effects in the movie, we had little, if any, surprises. We always knew that the budget for this film won't be high, and we knew where we're going with the genre and it's requirements, so we knew when to push the envelope and when to let go because we're running out of money.
HC: What is the horror movie scene like in Israel?
EG: At the moment, There's no Horror industry per say, but there some exceptions, and I hope the future will bring new and good things. The closing film of Frightfest is Big Bad Wolves, which is the second feature film by the guys who made Rabies (the first real Horror film in Israel), and after Rabies, there was an attempt to make a trashy horror films like Peter Jackson's Bad Taste, and now there's us with Cannon Fodder. So no, there's no Horror industry, but there are attempts. I know there's another Post Apocalyptic Horror film Being made in Israel, and some friends of mine just produced a "Found Footage" zombie film in Jerusalem. We have a lot of talented film makers in Israel, and a lot who want to make Genre movies (Horror, Action, Sci fi and more), and you revolutions take time, but we feel that there is a small revolution coming to Israeli cinema, and it's only a matter of time until it happens.
HC: Are you nervous about the movie getting its European premiere at FrightFest?
EG: No nervous but kind of overwhelmed. It's a huge honour for us to be a part of one of the world's most prestigious horror festivals, and we're really excited to be a part of the Frightfest family. It won't be a European premiere, since Cannon Fodder was screened in a number of film festivals in Europe (and even won an award in Russia, one of four), but this is the big league, and I'm very honored to present my small and crazy film in such a platform. I just hope that the British crowd will find Cannon Fodder to be a fun movie, and I hope it will get a good reception and reaction from the crowd.
HC: So what projects are you working on at the moment?
EG: I'm polishing the script I wrote before Cannon Fodder, and this will be our next project. After that, we have another horror/fantasy film in the works, after that a comedy, after that a drama, and we hope that while doing all that, we'll get working on our kick ass television series that we're developing, and maybe even Cannon Fodder's sequel, which requires about 10 times the budget... Cannon Fodder is just the beginning for us at White Beach Productions, so beware world! :-)
HC: Eitan Gafny, thank you very much.
EG: Oh no, good sir- Thanks you!
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