Spotlight

Interview with LIVING SPACE Writer/Director Steven Spiel!

01 March 2018

Award-winning writer/director Steven Spiel is the twisted mind behind one of the most anticipated horror films of 2018, LIVING SPACE, which features a slew of Aussie screen talent both behind and in-front of the camera. Steven’s debut feature is a supernatural horror that pits its protagonists in a game of psychological warfare with malevolent forces lead by an undead Nazi general.

Cult of Monster‘s David Churack caught up with Steven recently to find out what audiences can expect when LIVING SPACE rolls into cinemas for a series of Special Event Screenings with Filmmaker Q&As – as well as talk about his favourite horror films, and why exactly terror and Nazis go hand-in-hand!

CULT OF MONSTER: Firstly Steven, I have to ask, what appeals to you about the horror genre?

STEVEN SPIEL: Horror to me has always been the genre that I feel best elicits the most emotion – that of fear. I find horror fun and, to me, the most enjoyable film genre. To be able to create a horror film that can be enjoyed by many has always been a goal of mine.

COM: Your feature debut, LIVING SPACE, has been categorised as ‘naziploitation horror’. What do you think about this label and is it an appropriate way to describe your film?

SS: To be honest, I disagree with the label ‘naziploitation horror’. LIVING SPACE has characters who yes are Nazis, but the film itself is a supernatural horror. It has what I see as a compelling story which reaches a lot further than just Naziploitation. At first sight I can see how people may label the film this, but after its release I feel this view will drastically change.
COM: Heavy themes the film tackles like Nazis and the evil of fascism are very timely now with the global rise of nationalism and white supremacism. Is there a deliberate political resonance to this film?

SS: In no way did I make this film to raise any political views. LIVING SPACE was created purely as an enjoyable, fun supernatural horror. When writing the film, I was thinking of who I would be most fearful of, and decided the lead antagonist was to be a German Nazi Officer purely as I see them as fearful and ruthless.

COM: This is your feature film debut, yet you’re working with some recognisable faces from the Australian film industry, such as Wentworth’s Georgia Chara, Home and Away’s Leigh Scully and Wolf Creek’s Andy McPhee. How did you manage to obtain these actors, and what did they bring to your film?

SS: Myself and producer Natalie Forward discussed casting heavily – I knew it was one of the most pivotal parts of making the film a success. I watched WENTWORTH and saw Georgia portray the character Jess Warner. Although the characters are very different, I saw Georgia’s talent and knew I needed her to play Ashley in LIVING SPACE.  I approached Georgia with the script and she accepted. Leigh Scully was cast based off an audition where his portrayal of Brad was exactly in line with my vision. Andy McPhee needs no introduction, he is one of Australia’s most talented actors and he was always on my ‘dream board’ even before casting started. It was lucky I knew a mutual friend. We had come Skype calls about the film from LA where Andy is based and he accepted the role.
COM: You’ve previously stated that you deliberately placed your actors in roles that are different from what both they and the audience are used to. Why did you make this choice?

SS: That was mostly in regards to Jolene Anderson (Officer’s Wife) and Emma Leonard (The Housekeeper). Both are amazing actors who have been – or are currently – on very popular Australian dramas. I presented them with something unique and challenging, and they both had exactly the look I was wanting for each character. I heavily discussed the characters with them both and found very quickly that we had made a good casting decision. For both of these amazing actors to enter the world of horror as ‘evil’ characters was definitely the opposite of anything they had done before, and I feel Australia and the world will see them as even more versatile actors now.

COM: You also have noted Australian special effects artist Steven Boyle, from films like THE MATRIX and STAR WARS: ATTACK OF THE CLONES, which contributes to some of the amazing special effect set pieces in the film. Can you talk about the importance of these effects to the overall film, and why you chose to go the practical route over CGI effects?

SS: I knew for the film to be considered as high-quality production we needed the best SFX artist. I was lucky enough to send Steven Boyle the script and he instantly took to it and sent me the most amazing SFX designs. I knew at that point we had to have him on board. It is just so important for any horror film to have quality SFX, and to have one of the best artists in world work on LIVING SPACE was amazing.  I chose to go practical as I always believed this was the most efficient and ‘controlled’ method. I also believe it helps actors to work with physical props and SFX makeup. It allows them to truly become the character.

COM: Can you give us an overview of some of the Australian or international genre films that have influenced you as a director?

SS: The films themselves may not be considered “Australian” but the amazing Australian filmmaking team of James Wan and Leigh Whannell definitely influenced and inspired me with the creation of the SAW series. Support was limited here in Australia at that time, and for them to take the script to America and have it made was a true accomplishment. As for other films, creatively speaking I always enjoyed horror films such as I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER & FINAL DESTINATION. I feel they definitely influenced me to reach a wider audience creatively, and I believe LIVING SPACE has some similar characteristics that make it a fun and commercially enjoyable film.
COM: While the film is set in Germany, it was shot primarily in Geelong—how did you negotiate substituting Australia for Germany?

SS: This was definitely one of the biggest hurdles we had. Ideally we would have loved to have shot it in Germany, but due to budget restraints that wasn’t possible. Geelong offered the closest landscape we could find. I am honestly amazed how well the landscape has compared to Germany. Working closely with the colourist, VFX team and Director of Photography we were able to achieve amazing results. After a test screening I was even asked ‘How was it shooting in Germany?’ from someone who recently visited the country. This gave me confidence we had done it justice.
COM: The central house of the film is stunningly atmospheric and was an important part of the film’s success in my eyes. How did you find it, and what made you certain this was the house for your film?

SS: This is truly an amazing story. I was actually contacted by a local Geelong family who said they had a house that may be suitable. We knew the Geelong landscape was needed already, so to have someone approach me with a suitable house – it was fate. I viewed the property and knew straight away that this was the main location for the film. The house is scary on its own and little needed to be done to increase that…

COM: What, in your mind, are the key ingredients to a successful horror movie?

SS: I believe it’s truly a combination of all aspects of filmmaking, although sound and music play a huge role in the success of a horror film. Our sound and music team did an amazing job bringing the house and the suspense to life. It’s also important in my eyes to have high quality SFX hence bringing on Steven Boyle to assist with that.

COM: Not to get too deep into spoiler territory here, but I wanted to touch on some of the ways you play with time towards the end of the film. Briefly, can you let us know what your intentions were behind this?

SS: This is most likely what sold most of the cast, crew and investor on the script, and is really what the film is all about. Without giving to much away, I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve when writing the script, and provided the audience with clues along the way as to any twists. The film is heavily layered and can be re-watched over and over with new things picked up each time. This will hopefully fascinate the public and give the film more depth with each watch.
COM: What would you say to audience members who maybe aren’t that familiar with the horror genre but are considering seeing your film?

SS: I would say that LIVING SPACE was made to entertain all viewers. It’s like a rollercoaster ride of emotion straight from the start.  It’s scary at times, it’s confronting at others, but there’s nothing to too scary to watch. You can feel comfortable that you will watch a high-quality film that has a story that will hopefully intrigue fans of all film.

COM: You’re just finishing up on Living Space now – any idea what’s next from Steven Spiel?

SS: I’m currently really excited to share LIVING SPACE which has also recently gained amazing traction and distribution overseas. In saying this, I’m also working on further scripts – one in particular that may include a return to the German countryside and provide further insight into the horrors surrounding our favourite characters.

LIVING SPACE will have its World Premiere at MONSTER FEST TRAVELLING SIDESHOW on Saturday March 10th at Event Cinemas George St and will be followed by a series of Special Event Screenings across Australia.

SCREENING DATES, VENUES & TICKETING

SYDNEY (World Premiere)
Saturday the 10th of March 7:30pm – Event Cinemas George St
Filmmaker Q&A with writer/director Steven Spiel, producer Natalie Forward, cinematographer Branco Grabovac & actress Emma Leonard.
Tickets

BRISBANE
Tuesday the 14th of March 7pm – Event Cinemas Myer Centre
Filmmaker Q&A with writer/director Steven Spiel, producer Natalie Forward, cinematographer Branco Grabovac & SFX artist Steven Boyle.
Tickets

MELBOURNE
Thursday the 15th of March 7pm – Cinema Nova
Filmmaker Q&A with actors Leigh Scully, Georgia Chara & Andy McPhee, writer/director Steven Spiel, producer Natalie Forward & cinematographer Branco Grabovac.
Tickets

ADELAIDE
Friday the 16th of March 7pm – GU Film House (Hindley Street)
Filmmaker Q&A with writer/director Steven Spiel, producer Natalie Forward & cinematographer Branco Grabovac.
Tickets

GEELONG
Monday the 19th of March 7pm – Village Cinemas Geelong
Filmmaker Q&A with writer/director Steven Spiel, producer Natalie Forward & cinematographer Branco Grabovac.
Tickets