"WHO has the blood spray? We need more blood spray!"
It may be the last thing you would expect to hear in Woodford on a late-autumn afternoon, but when it’s a film director yelling it across a pop-up set on Park Street, it is almost surreal.
The film is Wyrmwood, the story of a desperate bid for survival in a post-apocalyptic universe. Described as a cocktail of Mad Max, Bad Taste and Dawn of the Dead, director Kiah Roache-Turner says the seed for Wyrmwood was planted in his and his brother Tristan’s youth.
“Our take on the genre is very much rooted in our childhood obsession with Mad Max and the quintessentially low-budget, Aussie action classic,” he says. “Basically it’s the Road Warrior meets zombies with a whole bunch of crazy, ‘Oz-ploitation’, Terry Gilliam-informed insanity thrown in for good measure.”
Now, the two siblings — Tristan is co-writer — are powering through production on this zombie film entirely on their own.
A scan of the film set ends abruptly when I spot Neville, played by Penrith resident Adam Sanders; just one of scores of zombies that populate the post-apocalyptic new world that is Wyrmwood. Sanders’ Neville is the key figure here in the Woodford scene and as the final touches are applied to his makeup, he is looking remarkably zombie-like.
Chief makeup artist Lisa Cotterill, a one-time forensic scientist, says her craft is essential in a film about zombies.
“It’s so, so important. It is crucial to get make-up right because the key is suspending disbelief,” she says. “We’ll have people watching this who will know when something doesn’t make sense from a forensic perspective. So we have to ensure we get the little things right.”
Sound engineer Nate Watkins adds that consistent natural sound is just as vital.
“We haven’t learnt how to trick the ears yet. [Our eyes] adapted to black and white, cartoons, 3D ... but sound has to be consistent, whether it’s high quality or not, in order for us to suspend disbelief.”
This is where the Blue Mountains setting is so valuable. Zombie films have seen a resurgence of popularity lately, but the quintessentially Australian nature of this particular offering sets it apart from the rest. The bushland that defined homegrown classics such as Picnic At Hanging Rock and Ten Canoes is now the backdrop to a whole new take on the in-demand genre.
“The film is intrinsically and unapologetically Australian,” says Watkins. “That being the case, the Blue Mountains will, in its own way, add to that authenticity.”
Roache-Turner says the area offers a unique quality that has made filming in Mount Victoria, Blackheath and Woodford a special experience.
“There’s something about the area that has a magical, mysterious quality. The landscape can be epic and eerie at the same time and the light quality is fantastic. When I see sunlight punching through the trees illuminating a crowd of zombies charging through the bush, I wouldn’t want to be shooting my film anywhere else in the world.”
Aaron and Samantha Hajinakitas own the Woodford property that was inundated with the ‘undead’ for two straight weekends.
“It’s been a lot of fun” Hajinakitas says, a sizable gash streaking down the right side of his face — the couple happily leapt into roles as zombie extras. “Our friend’s son applied to be a zombie and he told us they needed a big shed with similar surrounds to what we have here, so we threw open the doors.”
Location aside, Wyrmwood’s production involves many other Blue Mountains elements. Cinematographer Aleksei Vanamois lived in the area for 20 years. As second unit director of photography, he is often getting his hands dirty on set, literally.
“I’ll be shooting various stunts and action that wasn’t filmed while the main unit was in production,” he says.
After moving away in 2010, Vanamois is thrilled to be back in his “wonderfully beautiful stomping ground” again.
“The locations in the Blue Mountains have a remote and isolated feel where the dense bush closes in — you wouldn’t know a zombie could descend upon you,” says the former Glenbrook resident.
“There are pockets of areas that have been left derelict; these locations lend themselves to the idea that the post-apocalyptic world has been overrun by zombies and civilisation as we know it has ceased.”
Roache-Turner maintains that the Blue Mountains is a rich resource pool to draw from. “One thing about the Blue Mountains that consistently amazes me is the huge amount of creative talent that seems to exist in such a relatively small area. We issued a call-out on social media and folks just seemed to find us,” says the 34-year-old director from Rozelle.
But for the majority of the film’s viewers, the Australian touch comes from the actors. Complete with colloquialisms, dry humour and a dirty word or two, Wyrmwood’s script is still sensitive to international audiences to ensure clarity for each of the more than 500,000 people who have already viewed the trailer on YouTube.
Keith Agius, who plays good guy Frank, is a seasoned actor but astute local audiences will remember him from his performances in the Leura Shakespeare Festival at Everglades.
While he admits it is leagues apart from any project he’s ever worked on, Agius believes the fundamentals are important.
“The basics are the same,” he says, “but we have a lot less rehearsal time and there’s more improvisational work to nut out the script because it’s certainly not Shakespeare we’re doing here.”
Roache-Turner says Wyrmwood is on track to premiere by the end of the year.
“We’re over halfway there. The hardest part is done [and] we’re very committed to getting this out by December so I’d say Australia is looking set to have a very bloody Christmas this year!”
Check out photos, videos and follow the film’s progress on Facebook.