Your movie PURGE - in a
few words, what is it about?
The rediscovery of emotions like love and caring in a world
where such things are meant to have been eradicated.
Basic question: Why make your lead character a sex-worker?
Sex work – and the depravity
of warped sexual desires - goes to the very core of the problem with this
society: that people are no longer meant to love or care for each other.
Sex is just a commodity sold on
the basis of wealth and status. Most people have to make do with various
levels of cybersex. Only the very rich and powerful can access the
services of live sex workers, and they prefer variations of bondage, discipline and
Layla is meant to be a ‘machine’ that
supplies these services. Her fall from grace effectively shows what such a
society will do to ‘machines’ that fail. Her occupation,
and the fact that it is a respected occupation, also reveals how
depraved sexual desires become the ‘norm’ when love and caring are
being set in a
dystopian alternate reality - how far removed from our own reality do you
see your film?
It’s 2013 now but cars still
run on four wheels and combustible fuel. People still look like people and
still wear ‘normal’ clothes. Ditto for
Another similarity: people are
socially programmed to be the way they are. They may not be bred in test
tubes and programmed by teams of specialised programmers as they are in PURGE,
but they might just as well have been.
In Australia, for example,
there’s considered to be something radically wrong with you if you
don’t want to make heaps of money, buy a McMansion, a four wheel drive
and a whopping big boat to prove how good you are. Never mind what you do.
Bricklayer or doctor, professor or steam carpet cleaner – how much money
do you make? That people regard this mindless quest for status symbols as
normal shows the breadth and depth of social programming.
Times, Charlie Chaplin suggested, in only the second shot of the
film, that most people are sheep. And how long ago was that?
Aldous Huxley warned us in Brave
New World. People said, ‘Oh, that never happened’. They
didn’t get that – short of people actually being bred in test tubes -
it was already happening in
Huxley’s society back then. People sprouted slogans without thinking
about what they meant or why they were spouting them. Still do. People
won’t think and see for themselves. It’s too hard. They let social
conditioning take over and go along with what everyone else thinks, says,
Repeat often enough that those
who don’t fit in are ‘bad’ and should be cut up for spare parts, and
eventually people would think that’s the way it should be.
I’m just one more artist trying to make people
aware of it. But they’re too wrapped up in trying to fit in and be like
everyone else to be aware of anything, Just as Layla is.
What were your inspirations when writing PURGE,
and what can you tell us about the writing process?
My literary inspirations were
the likes of William Gibson and William S. Burroughs. And films like Jean
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and George Lucas’sTHX
The writing process went from
the middle of 2002 to the end of 2004. Then I did another dozen drafts in
pre-production and shooting. Altogether, I did about 18 drafts.
I was mainly guided by the thought that no matter
how hard some people try to fit in and be like everyone else, they will
always be outsiders. And ultimately, they’re
the ones who will see what society really is.
features about a gazillion unexpected twists and turns - seriously, were
there any instances when you found yourself lost in your own story?
No, seriously, never. I’ve
always had this ability to have a grand overview of every single aspect of
a story from start to finish, no matter how complex or multi-layered.
It’s like I can see different levels at the same time. I never get
confused. I never had any problems.
I was always cutting in my head when shooting. I
always knew exactly how every shot and sequence was going to cut with
every other shot and sequence, where we were in the story, and what the
meaning of any given shot, scene, or sequence was at any given time. I
seem to have that innate ability.
Due to the complexity of the script, was there much improvisation on
set or did you religiously stick to the written word?
Every single line of dialogue
and every single action in the script is in the film. Actors may have
added or changed a word here or there to make it more comfortable to say
but basically, what was in the script is what was said and done in the
But that doesn’t mean we
‘stuck religiously’ to the script. I always told my actors, “nothing
is written in stone.”
We had the freedom to explore,
to try different things in different ways. But it quickly became obvious
what would work and what wouldn’t, and we only ever went with what
would, and that was generally what was in the script. So, although we were
open to discovering new things, we always seemed to end up with what was
what can you tell us about your rather eccentric directorial style?
I didn’t know it was
eccentric, but it’s a label I’m happy to live with.
I tend to like very
precisely-framed and well-lit visual compositions. I also like the often
extreme angles found in Japanese anime. I like atmosphere, but it has to
be appropriate. If a room would be bland, we light it bland. If it would
be sepulchral, we light it sepulchral. But that doesn’t mean realism. I
often light a set how I see it in my mind rather than from any given or
perceived source of actual light. When it comes to acting, I tend to like
quasi-theatrical, over-the-top styles.
Two of my main strengths as a
director, I think, are composition and mise-en-scene.
can you tell us about your two leads, Sarah Breen and Meda Royall, why
exactly them, and how did you find them in the first place?
The moment 20-year old Sarah
Breen walked in the door of the casting room with her motorcycle jacket
and tousled long hair, I knew she was Layla Jane Thomas. I just knew. She
hadn’t even acted in a film before. She was an award-winning drama
student with no real-world experience. But she had some ineffable quality
that screamed, this is HER! PURGE was her very first
Because it was shot over two
years, she gained experience on short films and theatre projects while we
were still shooting. She went from being a naïve young wannabe to someone
who would routinely challenge me on all sorts of things. She grew on the
film just as she grew in the film. To this day, I cannot imagine any other
actress in that role.
Meda Royall wanted the chance to
audition for what she called an excellent script. She never expected to
get the role. I was interested in her. I felt she definitely had
something. But at the time, it seemed we had many other options. One by
one they fell away.
You see, I needed two actresses
who could be available on and off for a long period of time. It turned out
to be two whole years.
We had actresses turn down the
role because they could only spend between four and eight weeks on the
project before they would have to leave for something else.
I kept thinking back to Meda and
finally decided to offer her the role.
She, too, turned out to be
perfect. Unlike Sarah, who would rock up, chat with the cast and crew, get
the makeup done then switch on the character pronto, Meda liked time and
space to prepare. Because we couldn’t always accommodate her, she became
progressively sick and tired of the whole thing. But that was part of her
role, the journey her character was on.
At just about every stage of the
film, she captured perfectly what Peta was experiencing – the artifice,
the frustration, the anger, the feeling of being constantly compromised -
because that’s what she herself was going through.
I cannot imagine anyone else in
the role of Peta but Meda Royall.
The thing about these two actresses is that they
had to spend up to two months off the set between shoots. Up to two months
of having to go about their everyday lives, forget all about the film,
then – on my call - come back and try to remember who they were supposed
to be and where they were supposed to be emotionally. I did everything I
could to help them, but the work was theirs alone. I can only salute and
Sooo - two
years is a long time to shoot a film ...
I had no money. I was on a
pension. I could pull together enough money to shoot this scene and that
and that, and then have to break for a month or two while I paid off the
costs and recouped the money to shoot some more.
There was always the question of
whether or not the film would ever be completed. But there came a time
when everyone knew it would be because we had passed the point of no
There was no way I could afford not
to complete it.
few words about the rest of your key cast and crew?
I was fortunate to get actors
like Michael Cahill (Harmon Cleves), Randall Berger (Garbutt Foreman), Joe
Clements (Richard Ralston), Frances Marrington (Tanya Thomas), Damon
Hunter (Det-Sgt Peter Jacks), John Francis Howard (the Underground
Doctor), and Tweed Harris (Salon 61 client) - all professional actors who
joined the film because they liked the script, or segments of the script
they saw. Not many people ever saw the whole script.
Others like Mark Doggett (Marty
Boon), Erin Walsh (the Face of Ecstasy), Cassie Chan (Higeo), and Brendan
Kaufmann weren’t actually professional actors but were also great to
work with. Just as good as the professionals, in fact.
All were on set for between one
and three days at most so none had the challenges of the two leads who had
to return again and again over two years.
From the crew, I would select
Shane Mengaziol (cinematographer), Eleni Tzaros (key makeup artist),
Darren Maxwell (lead sound recordist), Andrew Gordon (1st
assistant director), and Andrea Parke (my personal assistant and also in
charge of catering) as the people who gave the most support.
In post production, Johanna
Craven did a great job composing
over 30 original scores which I mixed with music from Mushroom Giant and
two other composers to create an uber-original hybrid.
Adam Clarke astonished me with
his 3D animation (the genetic engineering factory was the most complex
work he had ever done) and After Effects (the all-white cells), and Gavin
Anderson lifted the level of the whole thing with his 2D animation and
motion graphics in the news and interview scenes and the mock commercials.
David Streefkerk also deserves a
mention for cleaning up the soundtrack and giving us a 5:1 sound mix for
far less money than it would have normally cost.
Overlooking it all was executive producer Lindsay
Saddington, without whom the film couldn’t have been made. For he
provided not only most of the sets and equipment for free, but also found
many of the actors and outside locations.
can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the onscreen atmosphere?
Because there was no money to
pay anyone, I had to do a lot of things myself. I think, sometimes, the
actors were worried when they saw me setting up lights and scaffolding and
operating the camera. Or erecting sets, hanging blue screens, arranging
There was a perception that you
should have people to do these jobs for you, that it can’t be a real
film if one man is doing all these things. But I think they also probably
thought, “Let’s see how it turns out”, and in the end, they were
pretty happy with the way it turned out.
I was just lucky I had the
experience of doing these all things from my early days.
Back in the 70’s, a lot of
people worked in theatre and films for the love of it because it was a
very creative time. And everyone tended to pitch in to do a bit of
everything on a no-budget film. But by the mid-noughties, people had
developed the attitude of ‘that’s not my job’. They expected a
professional industry set up when
PURGE was an experimental
underground no-budget project. That’s another reason why I had to do a
lot of things myself.
Still, Andrew Gordon (1st Assistant
Director) was one person who would cheerfully turn his hand to just about
anything that needed to be done, often without even being asked. And he
was there nearly all the time. If it hadn’t been for him, it would have
been a lot harder.
film was eventually picked for distribution up by legendary
production/distribution company Troma
- now how did that happen?
Dutch film writer, Ton van Rooij
saw a DVD of PURGE, loved it, and tried to get it seen as widely as possible.
Two people who saw it and also
loved it were Frank Schonewille, (features programmer of BUT Film Festival
in Holland where it screened), and Lloyd Kaufman, president of Troma
Entertainment, New York.
Lloyd saw it when Ton gave him a
DVD during the Tromathon in Eindhoven which Ton organizes with partner
Ronald Simons, and which Lloyd attends every year.
Lloyd watched the film, declared
he loved it, and asked his team in New York to see if I wanted them to
I knew I had made a niche film,
so was astonished to be asked such a question. Of course, I said yes. Who
What can you tell us about
audience and critical reception of your movie?
There have always been people
who love the film and people who hate it.
I was talking the other day to
an actor in England who declared PURGE
to be an amazingly well-evolved, well-constructed, and intelligent film.
And I saw a review on Cinegore
which gave it three out of 10.
Frank Schonewille, now head
programmer of the BUT Film Festival and editor of the website Topoftheflops, declared PURGE
to be ‘a must-see for lovers of cyberpunk’.
The website Zombies Don’t Run said it was dull and boring.
You described it as a ‘pretty
good movie’, and praised its cinematography and twists and turns.
A dozen people bought the film
privately before its release, declaring it ‘excellent’,
‘though-provoking’ and the like. None of them were friends or
acquaintances of mine when they bought it, but it’s notable that nearly
all were teachers, writers, filmmakers, or artists.
It’s a question of what sort
of film do you like? If you like an intellectual film which also has
emotion and wears its stylistic techniques on its sleeve, you’ll
probably like PURGE.
If you want bums-on-seats, popcorn-chomping
visceral entertainment (the sort obviously preferred by Zombies Don’t Run and Cinegore),
you’ll probably hate it. And that’s fine. Everyone has their own
tastes and opinions.
back to the beginnings of your career: What got you into filmmaking in the
first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
I first became interested in
filmmaking in 1968 when, as a 13-year old school boy, I was taken with a
school group to see Stanley Kubrick’s 2001:
A Space Odyssey.
Until then, I had no interest in
cinema or films. But that film just blew me away. I walked out of the
cinema saying to myself: “I want to do that!”
It wasn’t until I was at
university around ‘74 that I actually had the chance to do something
Encouraged by a drama lecturer
(I was in a writing course), I borrowed a 16mm Bolex camera and a handful
of photoflood lights from the audio-visual department and press-ganged my
fellow students into working as cast and crew on my first short film, Daffy - a bizarre black
comedy which was subsequently rented to schools and universities and made
back every cent of its cost.
I never had any formal training.
I learned everything from books, from watching films, and from actually
Every week, the student union
would screen arthouse films from all over the world. The local Pix Cinema
also put on a lot of interesting films. I was exposed to films by Leone
and Peckinpah, Kurosawa and Kubrick, Andy Warhol and Vilgot Sjoman. Pier
Paolo Pasolini and Lindsay Anderson. Ken Russell and Jean-Luc Godard.
Michelangelo Antonioni and Luis Bunel. Federico Fellini and Alain Resnais.
Francois Truffaut and Orson Welles. Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Werner
Herzog. I saw avante garde and underground films, German expressionist
cinema of the 1920’s, and the silent films of Chaplin, Keaton [Buster
Keaton bio - click here], Abel
Gance, D.W Griffith and others.
I saw treatises on filmmaking
which showed how editing, sound and music worked, and the enormous
difference lighting could make.
I hung out at a film studio in
Melbourne where I was allowed to sit in on the making of TV commercials,
to learn every aspect of filmmaking by helping out on the set and in the
editing suite, and by asking questions, always asking questions.
Later, I worked at a friend’s film studio and
got a job as chief cameraman on a sports film unit. I wrote scripts for
television series that were sold all over the world and worked with
commercial television producers and directors. All this was my training.
can you tell us about your filmwork prior to PURGE?
A complete filmography can be
found at www.innersense.com.au/mif/king.html.
Just briefly, in the early to
mid-70’s, I made two short narrative student films, Daffy
The Student, and several
short documentaries. I hung out in commercial film studios to learn, then
got a job as cameraman with a sports film company. In the early 80‘s, I
was a scriptwriter for the ABC TV drama department. I also co-wrote and
co-edited the low budget rock’n’roll sex comedy feature film Coming Of Age, produced
and directed by Brian Jones.
In the early 90’s, I was a
journalist for newspapers and magazines, then started a small media
business which produced corporate videos and innovative community
announcements for TV.
I returned to independent
filmmaking in the late 90’s with the short film Enigma
which screened at festivals in Europe and Australia. I followed it with my
most successful short film to date, The Job which screened at over 25 international festivals and
screening venues in Europe and Australia between 2002 and 2010. Then came PURGE.
Since then, I’ve released two short
experimental video works, Dystopic Overload – which screened in Mexico city, Morocco,
India and the USA, and What
If You Woke One Day.. ? which has just started on the festival
future projects you'd like to talk about?
love to talk about one in particular, but I’m afraid that if I do, I
will jinx the whole thing and it will never get made.
How would you
describe yourself as a director?
Filmmakers who inspire
All those I mentioned previously.
Plus David Cronenberg, David Lynch, Mike Figgis, Takashi Miike,
Jean-Jacques Beineix (who made the superb Diva),
Andrei Tarkovsky, Terry Gilliam, Fritz Lang, Peter Greenaway, Francis Ford
Coppola, Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano, the
guy who directed Lives Of Others (whose
German name I can never quite recall [Florian
Henckel von Donnersmarck]) and the Coen-brothers. Oh, and the
early George Lucas, but only for THX
1138. Recently, I added Neil Slavin to the list. His first feature
was just brilliant.
Your favourite movies?
about anything by any of the filmmakers I’ve mentioned, with the
exception of the later George Lucas.
... and of
course, films you really deplore?
Just about anything with
zombies, vampires, or werewolves although there are some exceptions.
I dislike sci-fi films like Star
Wars – ray guns, light swords, and battles in space, and also
high action sci-fi. I prefer sci-fi of a more cerebral nature.
I also turn off anything that
depends on guns or gratituous violence, preposterous car chases, insane
carnage, or films with buckets of blood and gore, or gratitituos sex and
I prefer subtlety and suggestion
to being bashed over the head and poked in the eye. Intellectual
stimulation to visceral thrills.
So it’s funny that I should
end up being distributed by Troma, given the films they mostly release.
But then, Troma
said they were seeking to go in a new direction...
website, Facebook, whatever else?
have to ask Troma. They run all that now. There’s an IMDb-site and I
don’t know what else – Facebook, I think. I did have a website for PURGE
which Lloyd Kaufman said was one of the most elegant film websites he and
his wife Pat had ever seen. But it was costing too much to maintain, so I
shut it down about a year ago.
Anything else you are
dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
The word ‘movie’. It
suggests bums-on-seats, popcorn-chomping, mass appeal, visceral
isn’t that kind of film. It’s a niche film, a cereberal and
experimental film. A film for people who like something different and who
don’t mind having to think. But no hard feelings on that score.
Two, PURGE should be spelt with capital letters because it’s an electronic
warning that goes off when someone is to be purged from society.
for the interview!
And thank you for the opportunity.