Published on April 3rd, 2014 | by Biz Books0
The Biz Interview – Derek Lee and Clif Prowse of Afflicted
Vancouver natives Derek Lee and Clif Prowse have been making films together since their high school days. With the theatrical release of their new horror film, Afflicted – which they wrote, directed, and starred in together – they have taken their filmmaking pursuits to a new level of accomplishment and acclaim. We caught up with them to discuss Afflicted and the journey from concept to theatrical release.
Can you briefly walk us through your creative process for AFFLICTED from the early stages (initial ideas, writing, etc.) all the way to post production?
About 3 years ago, we decided we were ready to direct our first feature. We had written a script, but it was a huge action movie that was WAY too big for us to do as our first feature film. We knew, even if the script was good, that people would look at us like “who the hell are YOU? And you want HOW MUCH money?” It’s pretty hard to make The Bourne Identity as your first feature. We needed a script that we could shoot for cheap and under the radar. We wanted to keep it to an amount we could conceivably raise ourselves. But we’re also genre movie guys – and we knew we wanted it to be action packed.
When we came up with the concept of a film that was a travel blog that turned into a “supernatural documentary”, we thought this could be really fun and something we could pull off on a low budget. The style of the film meant we could shoot with minimal crew and gear, and put what little money we had on screen.
Specifically regarding the process, we basically do everything together. For writing, it comes down to mapping out a detailed look at the entire screenplay and then having one of us go off and write that draft. We then review, make changes, and repeat until we’re happy.
The same goes for directing except that on this film we were both in it as actors which complicates things a great deal. Most of the time one of us was holding the camera so that at least gave us the ability to have one director guiding the actor in the scene. The scenes where we’re both in the shot were a lot tougher and required us to shoot multiple takes, review as directors, and go again with adjustments. It took time, but there wasn’t really any way around it. What we never wanted was a situation where either actor felt judged by the other actor in a scene. We had to put our director hats to the side, focus on the scene as actors, and leave the judgmental part of being directors to the review process after.
Finally, in post production, there’s a constant conversation between us and our editor, Greg Ng. As co-directors we’re never in a position to make unilateral decisions about the film as there’s always at least one person (the other director) that you need to convince. No matter how good we think an idea might be individually it’s not going to fly unless we can communicate that idea to the team and convince them it’s going to be best for the project. While it can be frustrating when words start to fail us and we’re exhausted, it almost always leads to a newer and better idea that was borne out of brutal scrutiny from the whole team.
At that point, it’s time to show it to our producers, distributors, and audiences and make adjustments based on some fresh outside perspectives.
What themes and ideas do you want the audience to think about from watching the film?
Friendship, death, and accepting your fate.
At its core, Afflicted is a film about two friends who are beset upon by the most insane and deadly of circumstances. It’s the friendship that makes them stronger and brings the audience into the movie, but they are battling elements of mortality that push them past the breaking point. For Derek in particular, the journey of Afflicted is about understanding and truly accepting your fate before it’s too late. He isn’t able to do this until the very end of the film and it costs him almost everything.
Also, we really just wanted to reinvent the creature in our film and make it scary again. Too often in the current landscape of horror, the creature in our movie is portrayed as an emotionally troubled super-being that lives forever with almost no consequence. It very much ceases to be scary in any way. So for us, we really wanted to make being afflicted with this disease a curse. You can’t escape it. You will be party to terrible violence. And you had better come to terms with your predicament before you destroy everything and everyone you love.
You worked with a relatively small budget to create a very impressive debut feature. What steps did you take to maximize your budget?
First and foremost we had a very small and very mobile crew of extremely dedicated and multi-talented people who could all wear many hats. On average, our crew size was around 7 people including the directors which meant that, as an example, our editor, Greg Ng, was also our sound mixer/boom op, props master, and occasional stunts assistant. Everyone on the team loved the project and believed in team enough to work obscene hours in often difficult conditions to help us realize our dream. Were there some touch-and-go moments when we were scrambling from train to train while hauling four suitcases behind us each? Sure! But that’s part of the fun, right?
Shooting in small town Italy for the majority of the European shoot was also key as they were actually excited to have us there. The help we got from the locals in Vernazza, Corniglia, and La Spezia was other-worldly and truly instrumental in getting the film finished. It helped us keep the permit costs low and meant that people went out of their way to get the film shot no matter the obstacle.
Who and what were your major inspirations for becoming filmmakers?
We both grew up pretending to be Transformers, Jedi Knights, or Indiana Jones. Loving movies was part of our DNA from the start. The spark that got us on the path of making movies was Desperado by Robert Rodriguez. That film was so jam packed with action, music, drama, and style we went back and saw it four more times in theaters. And learning about Rodriguez’ history with that film and El Mariachi, well, he made everything seem possible. So we grabbed our parents’ handicams, put on some ridiculous costumes, and set about making our first short films as Deperado-tribute pieces. Some of those old movies made it into Afflicted to help set the stage of our friendship in the movie so that our embarrassing pubescent teenage forays into film-making could be immortalized forever.
While there are too many filmmakers that we love to list here, we really want to follow in the footsteps of some of the greats who have done or are doing amazing work across a wider field of films. Ridley Scott and Danny Boyle are two of our very favorites and we’d love the opportunity to make such amazing and diverse films as they have.
Are there any authors or specific books that have been influential in your development as a filmmaker?
Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriguez for obvious reasons! Again, that book is so inspirational because it empowers the young film-maker to just go out and make a movie! After reading it, we went out and shot our first “real” short film on 16mm back in 2002.
Directing Actors by Judith Weston and Save the Cat by Blake Snyder were also hugely important to us in terms of creating a solid technical base from which to work. Cracking open Save the Cat even helped us solve some pacing issues in post-production on Afflicted because it helped us identify some redundant beats in our narrative.
On a creative level, Philip K. Dick stories were big for us in terms of genre and tone. And Guy Gavriel Kay is a master of the fantasy and historical fantasy genre.
What is the biggest obstacle facing independent filmmakers today and what advice would you offer to aspiring directors who are looking to get started in the industry?
With technology taking huge leaps in the last couple of decades, indie filmmakers today are able to realize their ideas to a more and more elevated level of quality and polish. We think there’s a really bright future for us and other aspiring film-makers to go out there and make almost anything you want. With social media and the internet, getting your vision out to the public is also getting easier and easier which is really exciting.
Having said all that, one of the major obstacles to think about it is making sure your concept is something you can execute really well for the resources available to you. As in, don’t write your first feature screenplay as a twenty million dollar film (like we did). The worst thing you can do at that point is then go and try to make that film for half a million instead and fail to hit your own expectations. Getting frustrated and discouraged can be a dream killer. Instead, we’d suggest coming up with an idea that you can execute without the caveat of “Oh, well done … Considering your budget, that looks great!” The piece should be able to stand on it’s own without the qualifiers and that will hopefully show the audiences and the studios that you’re ready to take the next step.
Are there any upcoming projects that you’re working on that you’d like to mention?
We’re actually in the writing phase of our next project right now! It’s an action movie set in a darker horror movie setting and we’re really looking forward to getting back to our cinematic roots. While the documentary style was absolutely the right call for Afflicted, we want our next film to showcase our love of highly stylized cinema.
Afflicted opens in theatres across North America on April 4th, 2014. For more information on the film, please visit Afflicted-Movie.com.