Sandy Collora is perhaps best known as the man who directed the cult short film Batman: Dead End, praised by Kevin Smith as “possibly the truest, best Batman movie ever made”, albeit before the Nolan era.
Now, seven years later, Collora has thrown off the shackles of his short film career with the release of his debut feature film Hunter Prey, a science fiction spectacular with the same heart and soul as the glorious Sci-fi of the mid 1980’s.
HeyUGuys were fortunate enough to grab some time with the much-celebrated director and FX designer to talk about his new film, working with bigger budgets and the state of science fiction films today.
You’re perhaps best known as the man whose created not one, but two cult comic book short films in Batman: Dead End and World’s Finest. Have you ever found it frustrating that audiences are less aware of your tremendous work as a FX designer on some truly groundbreaking science fiction films such as Predator 2, Robocop 2 & Jurassic Park – To name but a few?
No, not at all. Working on all those films was a great experience, but I look at them more like stepping stones to the director’s chair. Just like I view Hunter Prey as a stepping stone as well. It’s something you need to do, to get you to the next level of your artistic and creative development.
And with that experience you must have learned a great deal in your time working on this wealth of films. What was the most important rule/trick/tip that stuck in your mind?
Always listen very carefully to the director and give him the respect and support to achieve his vision for the film, no matter what that is. Put your personal feelings aside and be professional. Do the job you’re hired to do, regardless of what you’re getting paid and do that job to the absolute best of your ability.
Well said! Clearly that experience paid dividends when it came to making Batman: Dead End, which was tremendously well received. But having spent so long living in the shadow of the film because of its huge cult status, how did it feel to finally release your latest project and debut feature?
It was a great relief. Honestly, it was almost like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. Firstly, because so many people were waiting to see what I’d do with a feature, and secondly because I was quite anxious to step away from Dead End. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for all the compliments I’ve gotten on that little film, and I’m very pleased it became the cult hit it has, but that was over seven years ago now. Dead End is my past and I’m trying to look forward to the future. I’ve got so many films I want to do and ideas I’d like to realize. If a studio Batman or superhero film is in my future, that’d be great, but I’m not making any more shorts.
Watching Hunter Prey, it’s fairly evident to see the influences you’ve drawn upon, namely science fiction of the mid seventies to mid eighties. When it came to writing and visualising the project, exactly how difficult was it for you and Nick Damon to create something that felt unique, something that was yours?
Not difficult at all really. I mean, all the influences you speak of are there on purpose. Those are the films and the era that inspires me as a filmmaker. The difficulty came more in making what we wanted to do, for the budget we had. It’s always hard to write high concept stuff, for a budget. Last I looked, the budget for Hunter Prey was $425,000 dollars, give or take. It’s a joke, really because there’s no way that’s even near enough money to try and do something like this. I had to squeeze everything I could out of every dollar and beg favors from everyone. So originality, for me, isn’t the difficult part, it’s getting someone to give you the money for the original idea.
So you didn’t find that you had to alter your approach to directing the film at all compared to how you might have approached directing one of your short films?
No, not really. It was just a longer schedule. I just wish we had more shooting days, but I did what I could with the days I had and I think we did quite a lot for so little. I’m really looking forward to getting out of this micro budget filmmaking world. I think I’ve taken it to my own personal limits and pushed it as far as I can. Personally, I think I’m ready to make a much higher budgeted film. I’m not saying I need 50 million dollars, but five or six million would be nice. It’s time to evolve. Move forward.
You’ve mentioned in a previous interview that you have an “Untitled Sandy Collora Project” which had previously been known as Hunter Prey. Have you given this mystery script a name yet and are there any details you could divulge?
Well that script is now called ‘Hive’. It’s about an alien presence on Earth. A little bit like Men in Black, but with a much darker and much more serious tone. It’s a cool project, but whether I get to make it or not, isn’t up to me unfortunately.
I think it would probably be fair to say then that you are a fan of science fiction and you list some of your favorite films as Blade Runner, Aliens, Logan’s Run among others. What is it about this genre that seems to infuse you with such creativity?
That’s a bit hard to quantify because I just love that stuff. I grew up on it and it’s what I still watch on my DVD player today. If I’m honest, I’m not a huge fan of most modern genre films. Of course there are the rare exceptions like Pan’s Labyrinth or MicMacs, but those aren’t really studio movies. One thing is for sure, the industry will never see another 1982 ever again!
What then is your opinion on the current state science fiction films?
I think with exception of last year, which had Avatar, District 9 and Moon, the current state of sci-fi is nowhere even close to the period you’re referring to. That era was just a really, really different time in the industry. From what I was told by the filmmakers that were there, it was pure magic. Studios were a lot more willing to take chances on original material and unproven directors, but there’s no way a studio would ever make a film like 2001 or Close Encounters of the Third Kind in this day and age. Nowadays, it’s all about sequels, remakes, re-imaginings, and re-boots. Hopefully that will change someday soon, but I’m not holding my breath…
Last month we reported news of Melissa George’s next project, the ominously titled A Lonely Place to Die. The film, directed by Julian Gilbey, whose previous outings include the tense thrillers Rise of the Footsoldiers and Rollin’ With the Nines, centres on a group of climbers who discover a young girl buried in the Scottish mountains who is victim of a kidnapping.
We were lucky enough to catch up with Melissa George on set and the Golden Globe nominee revealed all on her dislike of Scottish rivers, how Martin Freeman thinks she’s a closet drinker and why she would happily work with Benicio Del Toro.
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As far as roles go you’ve never really tried your hand at a full on, straight up action film before, so what swayed you for A Lonely Place to Die?
Well, after Triangle, I’d started work on a broad comedy with Martin Freeman, then I had In Treatment which was very dark and intense and I’d been working on Grays Anatomy for 8 months, so when I suddenly got this action role, I thought why not? Great director, a great script, a really good cast and I knew an action flick would be an amazing change. Also as a female, I wouldn’t be playing the silly wife, it’s your film and I think that was another big reason why I took it on.
So what are you most enjoying about the experience of filming A Lonely Place to Die?
I think it’s just great to see me looking strong and dynamic on screen. I mean the shooting has been great too, because the surroundings are amazing, but they’re really hard to shoot in. We’re climbing up 900 meters only to have a small boulder fall down on us and then the team has to go all the way back down again. So sometimes the terrain has been a little difficult to work with.
Have you tried you hand at any of the stunts?
Sort of, I mean I have a stunt girl who is phenomenal, and she takes the skin of her arms for me, but I did do some of the water stunts! But I said to Julian Gilby straight afterwards that I’m never going back in the Scottish rivers again, because it’s like minus 20 in the water! And of course my character obviously wouldn’t have a wetsuit on. So I’m in the water and I’ve got a t-shirt and I look around and the whole crew are wearing like three layers of wet suits (laughs!). I just couldn’t speak it was so cold. Saying that I’m glad I tried doing them.
So how have you found working with Julian Gilbey?
He’s great! I mean him and his brother are just geniuses. They are editing it themselves, they’ve written it, they’re directing it together, they are such a dynamic duo and Julian really knows how to pull out a performance. I love how kind he is explaining everything as shooting is going on, so I knew exactly how everything was going to look on screen and no director has ever done that for me. So he was fantastic.
So would you say the film has been the exhilarating experience you was looking for?
Oh definitely. All the climbing and helicopter shots were incredible. Those moments when you’re looking around for a handhold and the rock is hot and you’re not quite sure if you’re going to make it. It was all just such a rush and more than I possibly could imagine when I took the role on.
Looking forward, you’ve also got a comedy with Martin Freeman coming out later this year called Swinging with the Finkles, what was it like working with Freeman on set?
He’s just an extraordinary human being and I kept laughing all day long. The way he performs and the way he delivers a scene is just incredible and his comedic timing was just perfect. He was so sure that I was drinking in my trailer because I was honestly delirious all day (laughs). You know when you laugh too much and your head goes a little woozey, well it was like that, but all day long and it was, without a doubt, the most fun I’ve ever had on set.
Your website says that your rumoured to be involved with a project called Sisters, is there any information you could give us about that?
Ahh, yeah Sisters and Stolen.
Yeah, that’s another film I’m involved with. I can’t really say anything about Sisters though.
And what about Stolen?
It’s a British film shooting in New Zealand in September and it’s about a very wealthy English women living in New Zealand whose baby is stolen at birth and she spends two years trying to find her baby. I’m going to be starring with Keisha Castle-Hughes from Whale Rider and Mads Mikkelsen.
Where did the motivation come for that?
Well it’s a fantastic script, set in the 1850s, and I’ve really wanted to do a period piece. I want nice clothes and I want beautiful landscapes with well thought out and carefully written scenes and that’s what it’s bringing me.
So a nice change to all the running around and rock climbing your doing right now then?
Oh yea definitely, I’m very excited about it and I can’t wait!
You’re also rumoured to be working on a Christian Filippella film as well called White Widow, could you shed any light on that for us?
No never heard of that one (laughs).
Apparently you’re starring alongside Benicio Del Toro, Michael Madsen and Tommy Flanagan…
(laughing) Oh well that’s nice tell them thank you. I mean it sounds great and Benicio is a great actor but no body has approached me.
Is Benicio someone you’d perhaps like to work with?
Yeh definitely, I mean if they want me I’ll do it, obviously if it’s a good script
From what we can tell its about a young woman who finds herself with a cache of stolen diamonds and is on the run from mobsters. Is that something you’d like to try, perhaps in keeping with your mantra of playing strong female roles?
Yeah why not right? We don’t all want to be those little fluffy wife roles do we, so why not. If they offer it, that would be great yeah. We’ll see.