Recently Dread Central was invited to take part in an Q&A for the film Primeval (review here). The film’s director, Michael Katleman, joined us to answer some questions we threw at him while the film was running. The experience of actually talking to the director while the movie was playing right in front of us was unique, and hopefully we will see more junkets like this in the future.
Q: Since this was based on a true story, what kind of research did you do to help make the film?
A: First, I watched the National Geographic documentary. And thank god for the Internet because there’s a wealth of information out there.
Q: Typically, movies about real-life killers are made after the killer has been caught or passed away. Did you have any qualms about making a movie about a killer that is still at large?
A: No. It actually made it more exciting for me knowing that this animal is still out there and real. But, obviously, we took a tremendous amount of creative license.
Q: Has the controversy surrounding the marketing campaign (serial killer as human/superhuman/animal) detracted from the film or affected how it has been received by critics and the public?
A: Unfortunately, I feel it has detracted. I thought it was a noble attempt at getting the audience intrigued, but the result was that the audience felt that they were deceived.
Q: As a former musician, did you place special emphasis on things like sound design and editing? Does it bother you that most viewers (like those of us watching right now on our laptops) won’t get to experience the audio as you intended?
A: Absolutely. I really wish that everyone had the opportunity to not only view this on the big screen, but hear it in the theater as it was intended. We put a tremendous amount of work into the sound design and the music. But, having said this, it is pretty damn cool that we can watch a movie on our computer, don’t you think?
Q: Is this a monster movie? a human drama? I know it’s all of the above, but as a director, what was the essential nugget of the narrative that guided you through production?
A: I think the nugget that was going through my head and guiding me was “everything is not as it seems.” I think that notion speaks to both the monster element and the human drama.
Q: Since the horror genre has been overflooded with zombies, vampires and ghosts do you think it is time studios started going back to some big monster/animal features?
A: I think that if it’s a cool story, you should tell it, regardless of who or what is in it.
Q: Were any locations problematic to film in?
A: They all had their challenges. Working in water is always difficult. When we were on land, we had to deal with snakes, rhinos, etc. And doing stunts outside in the jungle has its own set of challenges as well.
Q: As a director, what did you do to help get the actors into their scenes. This is a very physical shoot and outdoors.
A: To be honest, I just really talked about who their characters were with them, and how they would react to the situations that presented themselves. Once you thoroughly understand who the character is, it makes it easy to figure out how they would react to a given situation.
Q: The combination of Orlando Jones and Dominic Purcell is an interesting one. What led you to cast these two actors in the film?
A: Well, they both seemed to really grasp the characters and had a chemistry that worked well with each other.
Q: Is the design of the creature based on actual footage of the croc?
A: Yes. The jumping off point was Gustave. From that point, I set out to create a leaner, meaner croc. When you look at the real Gustave, he is sort of big and fat. I tried to make a scarier version of this killing machine.
Q: How do you quantify the validity of truth behind the story since there are many legendary cases of giant crocs, sea monsters, etc…?
A: The only true part of this story is that Gustave has been killing people for between 80 to 100 years, and they estimate he has killed up to 300.
Q: Between this and Prison Break, I am curious: Is Dominic Purcell capable of buttoning his shirt?
A: It was actually in his contract that it had to be unbuttoned, so I’m not sure what comes next for him.
Q: How did you gauge the gross-out and gore factor? Did the direct-to-DVD idea emancipate your imagination?
A: Ouch. It wasn’t direct-to-DVD. But, to answer your gore question, I just wanted to make every kill different from the next, and if I didn’t squirm when I first saw it, I knew it wasn’t enough.
Q: If this is based on a true story, why haven’t there been more media stories in the States about it?
A: I have no idea. There was a National Geographic documentary that plays on the Discovery Channel frequently.
Q: At which point of the production did you think about the DVD extras?
A: We actually started thinking about it on our first surveys to Africa. We started filming some behind-the-scenes footage of Africa, of the making of the animatronic, basically the entire process.
Q: When casting comedic actors like Orlando Jones, who have some genre film experience with actors associated with dramas mostly, is it hard to keep the comedic actor’s wit from overpowering the presence of the other actors?
A: Yes, it is always a balance. You want to make sure that the scene doesn’t become about a joke, but that the scene remains about the initial intent.
Q: How much stock do you take in what the film critics have to say? It seems like a lot of critics had diverse reactions to the film.
A: Well, that’s tough. It’s a drag because obviously, you would like everyone to like the film that you have worked tirelessly on, and I’m very proud of the film and how it turned out. But that’s the beauty of film; there’s something for everyone, so I can’t let it bother me.
Q: I think it’s awesome that you chose to shoot in Africa, as opposed to Vancouver or whatever. Was there pressure to shoot elsewhere? Was shooting in Africa something that you insisted on from the beginning?
A: There was talk for a second about trying to shoot it in Australia, but everyone realized pretty quickly that to tell the story properly, it had to have been shot in Africa.
Q: How’d you do that helicopter shot?
A: I’m glad you pointed that out. It’s one of my favorite shots in the entire film. Actually, Steve Boyum, my second unit director shot that scene, so props go out to him. It was done with mounts on a helicopter and an extremely wide-angle lens, and we just followed the cage procession going through the field.
Q: Do you think having PRIMEVAL out there will inspire more crews to head out and try to capture Gustave?
A: No, I think if anything, if they saw the documentary, they might want to go capture Gustave, but I think people realize that this is a Hollywood film, loosely based on facts.
Q: Have you seen Lake Placid, also about a giant croc?
A: Yes I did. But, isn’t Lake Placid about an alligator?
Q: How long did you shoot in Africa? Was the entire film shot there or was some of this type of stuff (on the boat) shot elsewhere?
A: We shot for about 7 weeks in Africa. Everything was shot in Africa.
Q: What’s scarier, a rhino or a studio exec with notes on your dailies footage?
A: Definitely the studio exec.
Q: How do you market a film like this based on a true story so someone doesn’t look at it and say, “Oh this is like one of those SCI-FI Channel original films they show every Saturday or films like it released on video every few weeks?
A: You just have to put the cool parts in the trailer and hope people want to see it.
Q: I’m sure you have a lot of vivid memories from this being your first time as a director. What’s your best memory and your worst memory from the shoot?
A: My best memory is the day that I realized I got to shoot my first film. My worst memory is probably running out of time when you know you don’t have it the way you want it.
Q: Did any of the people involved with the real killings have any part in the development of the script and/or filming?
A: No, not in person. Obviously, we read about all their stories so they did have a huge impact.
Q: What was it like working with a legend like Jurgen Prochnow? Was Das Boot an influence on your style?
A: Jurgen was a true pro. He brought a lot of experience and had a strong grasp of his character. I would jump at the chance to work with him again.
Q: How did the locals react to a film like this being made?
A: They were all very supportive.
Q: Did Orlando ad-lib a lot of his lines, or was the character written to be sort of a wise guy?
A: The character was written to be sort of a wise-guy, but having said that, Orlando did ad-lib a large majority of his lines. I have to say that was probably one of the most fun parts – turning the camera on, saying “Action”, and seeing what came out of Orlando’s mouth.
Q: Was there a debate about CGI versus animatronics when it came to the design of Gustave?
A: We went down both roads, and CGI won out. It was far more flexible and gave me a lot more latitude in editing to manipulate the crocodile and make it scarier and more aggressive.
Q: Is the croc a mechanical thing, a CGI creation, a man in a suit or a real animal? If it’s all of the above, which technique did you enjoy working with the most?
A: It’s all CGI. We shot plates, sometimes a barrel in the water to cause water movement. Back in Los Angeles, I worked with Luma, who did all of our visual effects, to create the scariest croc I could imagine.
Q: Is it hard to direct from someone else’s screenplay? Have you ever considered writing?
A: It’s actually quite fun to direct from somebody else’s screenplay. As soon as you read it, your imagination takes over, the visuals come to you, it formulates inside your mind, and it becomes your own. You are constantly re-writing the script during the process, so by the time you start filming, it pretty much becomes your own.
Q: Which deleted scene did you feel sorry for the most to leave on the cutting room floor?
A: I actually don’t miss any of them. I deleted them myself because I thought that doing so made the film better. It’s all a process, and the film is constantly evolving – from the script, to in front of the camera, to the cutting room. I think you just have to sit back, look at the whole project, and do what is best for the film.
Q: Have you seen Blood Diamond and The Constant Gardener by Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles? They also tackle important issues about current political situation in Africa.
A: I did see both of those films, and I like them both. But our film is to be taken far less serious. We touch on the political climate in Africa, but it really was meant to be a fun, scary ride.
Q: What do you find more frightening: a killer crocodile or these humans that execute innocent people?
A: Obviously the humans that execute innocent people. A crocodile is doing what it was meant to do by nature.
Q: What has it been like working with Disney and BHVE? They seem to really throw their support behind a film when they sign on for it.
A: I can say nothing but positive things about Disney and BHVE. They have been supportive through every step of the process and continue to be.
Q: Who did the makeup effects?
A: They were all done by the local make-up artists in South Africa.
Q: Was there ever a feeling that this film and “Rogue” (from the “Wolf Creek” guys) would step on the toes of one another, in promotion and in audience?
A: That is actually what influenced our decision on rushing our post schedule; we really wanted to beat that film out of the gate to be the first croc movie, not the other croc movie.
Q: What are some of the other extras on the DVD? Will the Blu-Ray version have exclusive extras?
A: I believe they are the same. From what I understand, there is Crocumentary, Deleted Scenes, and Commentary from myself and Paul Linden (our visual effects supervisor).
Q: Jaws triggered a massive shark industry that’s now endangering several species. Are you worried about villifying the crocodile?
A: I hope this film is taken purely at an entertainment level.
Q: Did you hold any screenings in Africa? If so, what was the general reaction?
A: We did not hold any screenings in Africa.
Q: You said this was shot entirely in Africa. As a director, what is more preferable: a set where everything is comfortable, but fake, or a real location that is full of life but possibly with uncomfortable shooting conditions?
A: It depends on what kind of film you are making. For Primeval, no question, a real environment, despite the potential for unfavorable conditions. It forces the actors to deal with nature. It makes it all more real. For photographic reasons, it is far more advantageous as well. Having said that, if I were shooting a film that took place all in interiors, I would prefer to build the set – making it much more accessible for camera, lighting, etc.
Q: Why “Primeval” and not “Gustave” for the title – what does the name “Primeval” dictate or require?
A: To be honest, it was titled “Gustave” for a very long time, but nobody really knew what that was or what it meant.
Q: I know I’m thinking ahead here, but what would you like to direct in the future? What kind of films?
A: I really just want to direct films with compelling stories. Something that speaks to me. I’m open as to the genre, but I need to connect with the material.
Q: Which sound was used to make the croc’s jaw snapping?
A: We used a series of sounds. There is some wood snapping, elephant sounds, snake sounds, croc sounds, and anything else that was cool. We looked at the dinosaurs from “Jurassic Park” as a template. They managed to make the sound frightening and give it personality all at once.
Q: How difficult was it to create an entirely CGI character for daylight shots? You don’t see that a whole lot.
A: It was definitely challenging. The nighttime is much more forgiving. What added to the level of difficulty was putting the creature in water during the day. It just requires a lot more time and a lot more patience.
Q: Have you had a chance to pinch yourself? You get to see your name up in lights under “directed by” and take part in a Q and A about your film.
A: I’m loving every second of it. This is truly a dream come true. Thank you.
Q: I’m not sure if you have answered this question yet, but how did this opportunity to direct this film come about for you?
A: The producer, whom I had worked with in the past, brought the script to me and offered it to me. I read it, and having been a huge fan of Brancato and Ferris, having enjoyed “The Game,” I jumped at the chance.
Q: Was there ever an ending where Gustave was killed?
A: No, because he is alive, and we did want to stay true to that part of the story.
Q: Are Range Rovers really that durable? All I ever see is soccer moms driving them in LA.
A: You would be surprised how destructive a soccer team can be. Yes, they are that durable.
Q: What are you hoping people take away with them when the credits roll?
A: That they had a fun ride, and for the hour and thirty minutes, were able to forget about the outside world.
There you have it. The film itself stands tall and proud over the creature feature crowd that Sci-Fi has been swamping us with over the past few years. Primeval may be flying under the radar, but that does not mean it is a film to be missed so we suggest you click here to buy it!