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An Interview with David King, Director of PURGE

by Mike Haberfelner

March 2013

Films directed by David King on (re)Search my Trash

 

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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 sado-masochism.

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 eliminated.

 

With PURGE 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 PURGE.

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.

In Modern 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, and does.

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 Luc-Godard’s Alphaville, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and George Lucas’sTHX 1138.

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.

 

PURGE 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 film.

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 written.

 

So 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.

 

What 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 film role.

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 thank them.

 

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 return.

There was no way I could afford not to complete it.

 

A 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.

 

What 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 props.

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.

 

Your 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 distribute it.

I knew I had made a niche film, so was astonished to be asked such a question. Of course, I said yes. Who wouldn’t?

 

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.

 

Let's go 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 about it.

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 making them.

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.

 

What 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 and 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 circuit.

 

Any future projects you'd like to talk about?

 

I’d 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?

 

Totally focused.

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

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 Focus was just brilliant.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Just 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 nudity.

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...

 

Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?

 

Feeling lucky ?
Want to
search
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The links below
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Find David King
at the amazons ...

USA  amazon.com

Great Britain (a.k.a. the United Kingdom)  amazon.co.uk

Germany (East AND West)  amazon.de

Looking for imports ?
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Thailand  eThaiCD.com
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Something naughty ?
(Must be over 18 to go there !)

x-rated  find David King at adultvideouniverse.com

You’ll 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 entertainment. PURGE 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.

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

And thank you for the opportunity.

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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Thanks for watching !!!



 

 

On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide
WHICH IS WORSE!!!

 

A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
starring
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

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