After taking a unique approach to zombies in 2015's Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, co-writer/director Kiah Roache-Turner and co-writer Tristan Roache-Turner deliver a decidedly new spin on ghosts in their latest effort, Nekrotronic. With the horror comedy looking to haunt theaters, VOD, and digital HD on August 9th from Momentum Pictures, we caught up with the filmmakers in our latest Q&A feature, and they discussed how the screenplay changed drastically over the span of two years, working with a talented cast including Ben O'Toole and Monica Bellucci, reteaming with cinematographer Tim Nagle, and they also talked about their plans for a potential prequel to Nekrotronic.
Let’s start off discussing the story of Nekrotronic. We’ve seen supernatural movies before, but you guys went at this in a very different direction than I have ever seen before with this. What was the inspiration behind the story and the world-building that we see in Nekrotronic?
Kiah Roache-Turner: It started off with just kind of wanting to do a Ghostbusters-type thing, I mean, we’ve done zombies, right? So, let’s try ghosts! I had this idea to make a movie about extracting human DNA from ghost ectoplasm and using a machine to "grow" a physical ghost into this plasmic monster that would then stomp around killing everyone. It was a much smaller, edgier, weirder "indie" idea back at the start. Then Tristan came in with demons and plasma rifles and 3D printers and our production partners started pushing us in the direction of a much bigger Guardians of the Galaxy-type deal and here we are! The script went through HUGE changes and permutations over the two or so years that we worked on itit was a very organic, twisty/turny process and lots of people threw their hats in the ring. In the end, it turned into this crazy Matrix meets Alice in Wonderland story… with shotguns.
Tristan Roache-Turner: I’m a massive fan of Evil Dead 2, especially the insane personalities behind the demon-possessed, I also love the gadgetry used in Ghostbusters, and I’m a fan of chunky shotgun action scenes. I was super keen to mash all of these elements together
Much like Wyrmwood, this one is also infused with some humor and a high-energy approach. I’m a big fan of it myself, but I was wondering if there was something you enjoy in particular about blending together genre elements and a comedic undertone?
Kiah Roache-Turner: We’ve always been a huge fan of mixing tones and genres. Some of our favorite films do this beautifully. I mean, Goodfellas is effectively about a gang of violent killers but it’s HILARIOUS. Mad Max is set in a horrifically brutal post-apocalyptic future wasteland, but it has an anarchic, almost tongue-in-cheek feel to it sometimes. I’m a HUGE Tarantino fan (who isn’t?), and he does this really well. He’ll set you up in a genre brilliantly and then BAM! He’ll take a hard left turn into another sub-genre then steer you back on track. It’s a great way to keep the audience guessing as to which way the story is going to lead them next. I also suffer from "viewer A.D.D." and tend to get bored very easily in a film, so my movies tend to be set on rollercoaster mode most of the time, which can get tiring for some audiences, but I love it—I love a storyteller who just gets to the point quickly and doesn’t mess around too much. And as for humor, who doesn’t love a good joke?! I find in films, as in life, if you can get someone laughing, they’re usually on your side pretty quickly.
Tristan Roache-Turner: I’m a fan of situational humor based around epic violence, and people accidentally f*cking up with comically dire consequences. Bruce Campbell in any Sam Raimi film and Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona always seem to pop into my head when creating characters.
Let’s talk about casting—everyone is great, but a lot of this rides on Ben [O'Toole]’s performance as this reluctant hero coming into his own. What was it about him where you knew he was right for this role? And of course, we should discuss Monica Bellucci who makes for an excellent villain.
Kiah Roache-Turner: Ben was great. A genuinely funny, fun, and warm-hearted dude who also happens to be one of the hardest working actors in the country and, in my opinion, one of the BEST young actors working today. He has the charm and the looks to pull off a hero lead like this, he’s got the sense of comedy to pull off the physical gags and the crazy humor you mentioned, he’s got the training and craft to deal with the difficult sci-fi, gobbledygook exposition required, and he’s got that deep rage and intensity required to project the "danger" of someone who might have a dark side we need to worry about. If you think about it, that’s a LOT to ask of an actor who’s only got 95-ish minutes to get all that across to an audience, and he pulled it off on his ear. That guy is going to be a BIG star. We were lucky to get him.
And as for Monica Belluci? Well, it’s MONICA BELLUCI! What can I say? She’s one of the most iconic stars on the planet. A true cinematic screen goddess. They do NOT make them like her anymore. She’s the Sophia Loren of our time! I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming when she said she wanted to do it! I could go on and on about how wonderful it was to line up a close-up on her every day, but, to be perfectly honest, my favorite takeaway from the Belluci experience was just how down-to-earth, accommodating, and downright kind she was. It’s always nice to meet someone with that much power who is literally just all about the work, about making the best damn movie we can, who works their ass off to get every shot and who isn’t afraid to get a little dirty to get the job done. I found her really inspirational in that regard and she was the only person who referred to the script as "intelligent," which made me fall in love with her IMMEDIATELY.
Tristan Roache-Turner: I saw Ben’s shotgun handling skills in Detroit and was immediately sold on him. Monica is a goddess and I still cannot believe I’ve made a film with her. She is a true professional and an awesome villain.
There’s a great visual style to Nekrotronic on display. I know you worked with [cinematographer] Tim Nagle again for this one (who also did Wyrmwood); can you discuss your working relationship with him and how you approached the cinematography for this film?
Kiah Roache-Turner: Timmy’s like a brother at this point. We’ve been working together on ads, music videos, shorts, and now features for ten years now and we’ve never had a tense moment or a bad word to say to or about each other. We share the same aesthetics, lots of primary colors, neons, smoke, lens flares, all that stuff. We both love intense photographic choices and we tend to get on the same page VERY quickly when it comes to the look or feel of a project. Tim has a background in editing and VFX, so he tends to shoot with that stuff in mind, which saves me a LOT of headaches in post. We knew we wanted a very saturated, comic book feel for Nekrotronic; lots of Dutch angles and a constantly moving camera. From memory, my palette reference for Timmy was Blade Runner by way of Evil Dead 2.
I think the main difference between the way we work and maybe other DOPs and directors is that Tim is not just a great friend, but also, for me, a genuine artistic collaborator in the sense that he’ll read drafts of scripts sometimes years in advance and I try to get him involved at all levels on every aspect of development so that when we turn up on set, there really isn’t anything to talk about. We just get on with the job and mostly communicate with looks, mumbled half words, and subtle hand gestures. Next to my wife and my brother, it’s probably the best relationship I’ve ever had with another human being in my life. He’s going to be so embarrassed that I said that…
Tristan Roache-Turner: Tim’s the man..
It seems like there’s much more to this world to explore. Have you guys discussed whether or not there might be more stories to tell in the Nekrotronic universe in the future (via a sequel or other means)?
Kiah Roache-Turner: Oh, man! That’s a hard question to answer! Are we allowed to answer that? I mean, there IS an answer, but it’s so secret that if I told you I might have to, you know… shoot you with a plasma rifle. Oh, hell with it! The short answer is YES, there’s definitely more story to tell here. We’ve written a really, really awesome treatment for a prequel that we’re both super excited about that tells the story of how Finnegan went bad. It’s set in Eastern Europe in the 1980s and features Cold War spies, military-funded supernatural demon hunters, and the birth of the internet, and I would shoot all sorts of things with a high-powered plasma rifle if it got me two steps closer to telling THAT story!
Tristan Roache-Turner: It’s much more serious in tone, less silly, and uber-badass in execution. Think The Conjuring meets Atomic Blonde with dark magic and demon-hunting Lethal Weapon kind of cop partners.