Although not scheduled for a UK DVD release until next year (March 2010), UK genre fans will be pleased to see THE HORSEMAN - a welcome return to form for the classic revenge road movie genre - get a theatrical release in UK cinemas from October the 30th thanks to the fine folk at Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment and to note the occasion SGM's Stu Willis kicks back with writer/director Steve Kastrissios to discuss the film and his career in general…
SGM: Hi Steve, congratulations on the film. Can you tell readers a little about your background and how you initially broke into making short films?
Steve: I've been making films since I was fourteen beginning with stop-motion animation with GI:Joes and later moving into wedding and sports videos to finance my short films. I did every genre and often did all the technical things so I taught myself how to shoot and edit etc. We always lived a long way from the city and my friends, so it was a great way to spend alone time. After high school I went to a small film school where I met Rebecca Dakin, who produced the film with me.
SGM: 2006's short film "The Horseman" was met with acclaim. Can you tell us how the story was developed to feature length? What possibilities and problems did this evolvement present?
Steve: I wrote the feature script first and then re-developed the opening scene as a stand-alone short film. For years I developed various concepts to make into a low-budget feature, but it wasn't until the idea of doing a revenge movie came up that everything clicked. So I worked backwards knowing that the hero would be a middle-aged average father. It all vomited out of me very quickly. I based the leads on my father and my girlfriend at the time so I knew the characters very well.
SGM: How was the feature film financed?
Steve: It was an investment my family and I made with some very generous tax breaks the Australian government was offering, so it was win-win. Keeping the finances 'in-house' meant I had full control of the film which I know I'll probably never have again. It meant we could really push things beyond what most Australian financers would be comfortable with in terms of shooting lots of action without millions to blow on boring things like safety.
SGM: Of all the experience you gained while making your short films, what do you feel was the most invaluable piece of knowledge you could put into practice when making your feature debut?
Steve: Well it's difficult to pick one thing. It was through years of shooting sports videos and then short action films that I learnt intimately how to shoot and cut action and also how to push the actors to get the best out of them in the drama.
SGM: Landing Pete Marshall in the lead role is a major coup. How did this occur?
Steve: He just walked into the audition along with everyone else. I knew he was the guy when he did this little beat that nobody else did and it was right there on the page. It showed me how much the other actors weren't paying attention to the script and he had thought it through.
SGM: Pete's performance is blistering. Can you discuss how you and he worked on his character? What methods did he use, and how did he cope with what must've been such an emotionally draining role?
Steve: His method is there is no method. He's been acting for a long time so he just walks in turns it on and when he hears cut, he goes out for a smoke with a smile. We did all the usual things before a show; we talked, we rehearsed and we gained each other's trust.
SGM: What doors has the film opened for Pete?
Steve: Not enough just yet, because the film hasn't come out yet. The first release is in UK cinemas on October 30th. Australia's release is next year.
SGM: Aside from Pete, there are some truly intense performances in the film. Can you tell us a little about your relationship with the cast?
Steve: I try to keep it light. I do my homework and try to build trust by spending a bit of time with them in rehearsals and really trying to welcome a sense of play. When you have actors putting so much work into your script and they're bringing it to life for you, it's both flattering and exciting and actors thrive off seeing their director like that.
SGM: What was the biggest headache of the production?
Steve: The shoot actually went fairly smoothly. We had a kick-ass little unit and we powered through it all. Everyone was energised by the results we were getting. It was trying to get the film into festivals and released that has been the headache. But it's basically all come together now.
SGM: And what's your fondest memory from the shoot?
Steve: Probably finishing. Knowing that we had made it through to the end on schedule, under budget believe it or not and I couldn't wait to start editing. But first we had to have a massive wrap party at my house, which ended with Peter Marshall and I climbing the tree in my backyard and watching the sunrise. Actually we drank for another four hours after that.
SGM: The film is based around an extremely emotive subject matter. This has resulted in a film that seethes with fury. Was there any point where you felt you'd gone too far, or anything you'd written but decided not to film?
Steve: The first cut went too far. It was an hour longer and it was punishing to get through, so I cut it back. But in terms of the violence, nothing was cut for that reason. Only when certain effects didn't look right.
SGM: Can you elaborate on the religious connotations that run throughout the film?
Steve: There's not too much, just the title and the hero's name, Christian. The title refers to the Book of Revelations 6:8 - the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. You could read into more things in the film, but I'll leave that up to the audience.
SGM: The film draws comparisons at various points to other works such as "The Virgin Spring", "Hardcore", "Death Wish" and "Dead Man's Shoes". What/who were your major influences?
Steve: Major influences were Dead Man's Shoes and The Limey. I'd never seen Hardcore or Death Wish before making the film, but was relieved when I saw them. They're all revenge/vigilante films, but they're also very different from each other and my film. We have a lot more action then my main inspirations, but I liked the tone they went for.
SGM: Which genre of film do you class "The Horseman" as being? While it is most obviously taken as a revenge thriller, I see elements of classic Westerns, as well as action movie-style sequences and - of course - a level of violence that shows a strong affinity to the horror genre.
Steve: It's an action-revenge-thriller-drama-horror-Western. Or maybe just a Revenge-thriller.
SGM: The film has been very well-received at numerous film festivals internationally. Have you attended screenings and, if so, can you speak a little about those experiences?
Steve: I went to SXSW in Austin, Texas and it was the perferct place to launch the film internationally. The locals ate it up as you would expect in Texas.
SGM: Of the awards the film has so far won, which do hold dearest to your heart and why?
Steve: Winning awards it great, but I find it's best to give them to my mum who puts them in the toilet for decoration. You don't want to have gold statues above your bed -isn't that one of the ten commandments?
SGM: How do you answer criticisms about the film's extreme violence? Do you agree with some reviews that accuse the film of approaching "torture porn"?
Steve: The film is violent, but it's the realism and the performances that create that illusion. There's plenty of violence that is done off-screen and most of the more intelligent reviews have mentioned that. I think you'd have to be quite squirmish to be blinded by that fact.
SGM: There seems to be quite an exploitation film revival in Australia lately. What's your take on this and where do you fit in?
Steve: Time will tell where I fit in, but that's not important anyway. What's important is supporting local cinema worldwide. In terms of the revival that's been reported, it's simply not happening at the box office. Wolf Creek is the only film that's made money even though there's been some standout films.
SGM: The 70s Aussie exploitation scene is enjoying a fresh appraisal on an international level now, thanks to the documentary "Not Quite Hollywood" highlighting the pleasures of films such as "Turkey Shoot" and "Stone". What are your own recollections of the Ozploitation scene of yesteryear? Do these films hold a special significance for you?
Steve: They do and my favourite is Mad Max 2 although it wasn't mentioned in the doco perhaps because it was funded my Americans I believe.
SGM: Finally, can you give us any early news on forthcoming projects from your production company, Kastle Pictures? - PS it's Kastle Films
Steve: I'm writing a creature-feature with Nathan Vanderbyl. Think Ghostbusters meets Aliens in the outback.
SGM: Thanks for your time and good luck with the continued success of "The Horseman".
Special thanks to Steve, Kaleidoscope Home Entertainment and Alex at Organic Marketing