Having come up with concept of Outpost and then being involved with the first two movies in the series, Kieran Parker has finally taken the directorial reigns for Outpost III: Rise of the Spetsnaz. We spent the best part of an hour chatting to Kieran, discussing the inception of the Outpost idea, what’s next for the series, the delights of video nasties, and we put the world to right on the subject of remakes and reboots.
Starburst: You came up with the initial concept of Outpost then worked as a producer on the first two movies. How did you end up directing this time out?
Kieran Parker: There was a very short film that I’d written that was supposed to be my first directing gig, but it never actually happened. I always loved that idea that was there, which was basically what happens in that brief moment between life and death. That was an idea that always stuck in my head. When that film didn’t happen, I started writing it up – I’m not a writer by any stretch of the imagination, I wouldn’t claim to be, but I can sit down at a keyboard like most people can – so I started noodling this idea. Before I knew out, I had a 10 or 12 page treatment, which I would guess you would pitch as a kind of The Sixth Sense meets Platoon. It was kind of a mile high massacre in Vietnam, where these American soldiers get away with war crimes. As they’re legging it through a forest, you don’t realise, but the background changes quite a lot and they end up in this compound where they end up getting picked off by what turns out to be these S.S. soldiers. You were in the jungle, American G.I.s being killed by S.S. soldiers from World War II, so you’re like "what the fuck is going on?" At the very end of the movie you have this super evil S.S. officer who kills the main American guy, then you’ve got this Michael J. Fox character from Casualties of War. He witnesses this German soldier pull the soul out of this American G.I., then it cuts to the Michael J. Fox character being resuscitated on the battlefield. Then he realises that the whole story you’ve seen has taken place in this Michael J. Fox character’s mind’s eye as he’s dying. That was the story I’d drawn up, then we developed that into Outpost. Steve Barker, I was in art school with in Blackpool in 1990. I started talking to him about it – he’d never done a feature film, I’d never produced a feature film, our wives had never produced a feature film – and we all pooled our thoughts and ideas, and Outpost was born. So rather than have this idea of what happens in somebody’s mind’s eye, we noodled the idea of what happens if the Germans invent machines that bring people back to life, and the whole mercenary thing kind of came to it. That was where we were. Arabella , who had written the first two movies, he and I just got together and we had a set standing up and we walked around it. The big thing that I brought to the table was, because Steve had set these movies in the present day, I wanted to respect the world that he had created but also selfishly wanted to have my own world that I could work with or I could reinvent or I could set up my own rules. There were a few things that I realised didn't work in the first movie and there were things that I thought really did work, so I think Outpost III is different to the first two movies. Obviously it’s set in the same world, but for me I wanted to make it more visceral and make it more action-packed, more exciting. Which is where I want to go as a director. So I think that’s why setting it 40 years earlier allowed me to do that; it gave me a clean page to work from.
So directing is something that you’ve wanted to do from the beginning then?
I wasn’t sitting on it or hissing at Steve, going “I can’t believe that son of a bitch is doing it before I am.” It wasn’t that case. I always wanted to be a film producer because I always wanted to be involved in making movies. I’d never actually considered the whole directing thing. For me, you need to be a really good producer before you can be a director, and I’d never even thought that far ahead. Now we’ve done the movies, and I was in a situation… actually it was Arabella; she was the driving force behind doing a third film. As soon as she said I should direct it, it was like “fuck, of course!” It wasn’t like I was hiding somewhere, but as soon as I was offered the opportunity I jumped at it. The really nice thing about it was it was the same financiers, the same sales guys behind it. So as soon as Bella raised that awkward question, where they could have quite easily have gone “fuck off, not a chance,” they were quite happy to let me go off as they’d seen me in the pitches and talking for hours and hours on end about this world. They’d already been exposed to my pitch for the last 6 years, so they probably just said “yeah, as long as it gets him to shut the fuck up.” It was really, really nice to be thought of that highly and be trusted that way. At the end of the day, it’s not particularly big budget but it’s a fair amount of money if you stuck it on the end of somebody’s table. It’s a sizable lump of cash, and you can’t mess around with that kind of thing – it’s people’s livelihoods – so we had to take it all kind of seriously.
You touched on it earlier. It was quite surprising to a lot of fans, given how Outpost II: Black Sun ends, that the third film went all the way back to World War II. Were there any thoughts about continuing that initial story?
I suppose this is the curse of being a producer, but we had discussed about where we were going to take a third film that directly followed Black Sun. That was probably more in the time where we were developing Black Sun. The problem with the ending of Outpost II is not that they destroyed the bunker, but also at that point the film, as an audience member, you’re gasping to get out of the bunker. And that creates a whole different agenda as far as story-wise, location and budget. Of course, we could have taken it out of the bunker and done a whole host of things, but the reality of the situation was we had the sets already set, we knew full well that we could do the third film for significantly less than the first two films. And that was a question that I was never going to ask again; I was never going to question that. I kind of liken it to those cooking shows, where somebody goes “right, you’ve got a tin of tomatoes, a tin of tuna, an onion and chilli – make me a five-course meal.” And we’d already been presented with the ingredients. The challenge was to go off and make something that was interesting and not very different to those movies but also different stuff for a different director to get their hands on. It was really nice to be challenged that way. There’s only a certain amount of guidelines. Of course, if somebody said you can do whatever, there’s a million story ideas that we’ve got for the Outpost franchise. I think that the reason why the Russians are involved in the third movie is because a lot of our conversations about out of the bunker and in the present day involved Russians. There’s a huge world that we’d like to explore with it, but it’s down to money and it’s down to time. So yes, we had those conversations about continuing from the Outpost II world but they didn’t last for a long time, they didn’t survive.
The third movie is very raw and with an aggressive feel to it. Were they elements that you wanted to make prominent from the get-go?
Yeah, I think, again this comes with the producer’s hat on and it’s not a comment on Steve’s films at all, I had watched the films again before we started writing the third film and I looked at them and went “what are the questions that we’re not asking here and what are we not fulfilling for the audience?” Obviously Steve is his own man, his own director with his own ideas. I looked at them and asked what did I want to do and what was the kind of director I wanted to be. Was it somebody that just wanted to ramp it up and make it a good old fashioned romp? I think there’s also a big thing to be said about making a third film in a franchise. You’ve already got an audience who like the movies and who will watch the third film. For the people who are watching it for a third film, there’s no point going into a third film and just recycling the characters from the first two movies. I watched the first two films and said “ok, these work as movies, but what would I bring to this to make itinteresting?” Then I realised that what we hadn’t done is, I wanted to make essentially a heist movie. And if you think about it, it actually is. I likened it to in Die Hard you have Bruce Willis who ends up, without realising it, with all of the detonators in his bag. That’s why the bad guys end up chasing him around the tower block – it’s an incidental thing that turns in to a movie. If he didn’t have those detonators in his bag then they wouldn’t be chasing him. That’s what I kind of liked about it. I’m certainly not saying that Outpost III is Die Hard, but what I did like about that idea is that Dolokhov was in the forest just to fuck the Germans up. That’s what he did as a soldier, he was just in the forest at that time when there was a convoy coming across the road. He thought “right, let’s fuck it up” and then happened across some information and he goes “this looks important but I have no idea what it is.” Me and Bryan, Bryan Larkin, the actor who played Dolokhov, we talked about it a lot. Bryan said, “Would Dolokhov know what this is?” I said, “Jesus, I’ve worked on three movies and I don’t even know what it is!” But he was bright enough to know that it was important. Then after there’s a big fire fight and they all get captured. All he knows about it is that other people on his side would like to know what it is, so it was really important that he survived. And that, for me, was enough for a straight-line story for a character to give him an excuse to go out and beat the shit out of a load of Nazis. And that’s really the fun aspect to it. Obviously when you’re directing a movie, it’s utterly terrifying, but what I really liked about the process is that I think I’ve done a good enough job so that people can get what I was trying to do in the first place. I wanted it to be a fun ride, I wanted it to be super violent, super gorey, super action-packed – just really ambitious. I wanted people to just enjoy it, and I think across the board that it looks like I seemed to have done. The majority of the people that have reviewed the film have done so positively, and a lot of the decisions I’ve made people get.
You mentioned Bryan Larkin, he did a great job of anchoring the film as a true badass. How impressed were you with him?
There’s a great story. I’m Glasgow-based and Bryan is a Glasgow-based actor. He came in to audition for Outpost II but he didn’t get the role at the end because we had Ali Craig – we’d already cast Ali Craig, who was a Glasgow-based actor – and we didn’t want two Glaswegian accents in the movie. We’re a Scottish-based company but we didn’t want the obvious Scottish voices turning it into a Scottish movie. Of course Bryan or Ali could’ve done different accents but it was just one of those things that we never got to. As time passed, Bryan was gutted he didn’t get Outpost II but when we decided to do Outpost III, I didn’t know him that well, but I decided to meet up with him once or twice in between Outpost II and starting Outpost III. It always stuck in my head, because I was gutted for him when he didn’t get Outpost II – not that that’s the reason why he got Outpost III. He did a film called Battleground, which was made in Canada, and he worked really well. The thing that impressed me the most about his work was his accent. But we just went out one night and got really drunk, and I really he liked him; he’s so ambitious, so keen, so dedicated to his craft. We just started talking about it, and it was a very selfish thing to do but I told Bryan about it, but I really wanted to spend a lot of time with my leading actor. If Bryan was stood in front of me now, one of the big reasons that I wanted Bryan to do it was that he was local. I knew that the film was going to happen about 3 or 4 months prior to us actually shooting, and Bryan was local to me. We would get together, we’d talk, we’d watch movies, we’d walk around the sets – I had the sets already standing – and we’d just spend a lot of time together. Bryan helped me through the directing process an awful lot, because Bryan directs as well, and he brought an awful lot to the table. For me, that was a huge asset. You asked before about the transition to directing, and Bryan was a huge, huge, huge asset for me as he allowed me to explore my fears before that first day on set; I got to talk through everything with Bryan. He anchors the film and I talked through everything, every line of the script, several times before we started turning over. Not many directors out there can just rock up to pictures and make them work – it does take a lot of work, it does take a lot of prep. For me, the big thing was that we’d spent so much time together and we knew the film before we started making the film. If you can have that with your actor before you go into it, you’re on to an absolute winner. And I think it shows in the film because his performance is outstanding and I think he completely owns that character. I think he benefited from me, and vice versa.
You said before that the first Outpost began life as an idea for a short. What inspired that idea?
The story behind that was, there’s a short story out there called Incident at Owl Creek. I had written this story about a Scottish clansman who lived in the Highlands in the 13th Century. And he ends up getting arrested by a bunch of English Red Coats for killing a stag. The film starts where he’s being escorted through this park land, where he’s tied up with him and his mate. Imagine Rob Roy, imagine Liam Neeson being pushed along the road by Tim Roth and all these English soldiers dressed up to the nines. You’ve got big Liam Neeson with long hair and a kilt, with his hands tied together, going, “All I did was kill a stag to feed my children.” Then you’ve got the English going, “How very dare you?! You’re going to fucking die, you peasant!” So they take Liam Neeson’s character, they take him to a bridge and they put a rope around his neck. They throw him off the edge of the bridge, as he’s falling off the bridge, waiting for the rope to tighten, his partner, his buddy, kicks the person holding it, grabs a sword and chops the rope before Liam Neeson can choke on the end of it. The partner gets shot and killed, and Liam Neeson’s character falls into a river and gets carried away at a rate of knots. The English jump on their horses and chase him down the river, then there’s this huge action-packed chase sequence. He gets out of the river, then they’re chasing him and chasing him through the forest. It’s this long sequence and he’s trying to get away from his oppressors. As he gets further through the forest, he starts screaming the name of this woman – for argument sake, let’s say Mary. So he starts screaming this name. “Mary, Mary, Mary.” He’s running through the forest. Then after a period of time, you cut to this little tiny cottage on the edge of a field by a forest, where there’s this woman sitting a table crying with a young daughter around her. Then you cut back to Liam Neeson in the forest screaming “Mary, Mary, Mary!” Then you cut back to the woman at the table and she hears gun shots, then she hears the shouting. We cut back to Liam Neeson and you realise that he’s running towards this woman and that this woman is running toward him. What you’ve got is him running through the forest, her running through the forest towards him, and the English trying to shoot him. The music’s rising, there’s big action, but you realise that these two people are trying to run towards each other for the last time. Then you have a big wide shot and they see each other, running towards each other screaming for each other. Literally, just as they’re about to touch and the music rises, the drama, the excitement, just as they’re about to touch, you cut back to Liam Neeson falling off the edge of the bridge and the rope coming taut, killing him and breaking his neck. Then the last shot of the movie is him, hanging off the bridge with his neck broken. That is the whole version of the short film that I’d written, Incident at Owl Creek. So the whole idea is where his mind took him in that distance from when he was pushed off the bridge to when the rope went tight and broke his neck. The whole story takes place in that split second between life and death. That was the idea that I took forward and started writing into a feature idea, which was pitched as The Sixth Sense meets Platoon where the Nazis police hell. I loved the idea that these Nazis, for the crimes that they’ve done, police hell. So if you go to hell then you’re going to get fucked up by a Nazi. Wouldn’t it be cool if we had mercenaries going up against Nazis? You’re the first person that I’ve told that story all the way through to. And that is how my creative mind went, to move from one thing, from Liam Neeson in a kilt to Michael J. Fox in Vietnam to Ray Stevenson in Outpost.
Since Outpost, and even before Outpost, there’s so many throwaway zombie films out there. The Outpost series are some of the movies that stand out, along with Dead Snow. Were you conscious of making something a bit different to the usual fodder that these films can become?
When we first did Outpost, it’s strange to think… we didn’t invent Nazi zombies, but we were the first of the new bunch. Outpost, if you look at your film history, it came out before Dead Snow, before Iron Sky, before Frankenstein’s Army, before this bunch of new zombie movies. That’s not a big thing, but we’re hugely proud of what we’ve done with the films. I really, really love Dead Snow but, to be honest with you, I didn’t like Iron Sky. I hate Eurotrash, no disrespect. One thing we did when we did the Outpost films, was that we made a conscious decision to keep it straight; we never wanted to wink at the audience, we never wanted to make it camp. This is the nice thing about the world we set up, for right or wrong. What we had to our advantage is that a lot of people know that the Nazis were into weird shit during the war. So we just ran with that. Everybody knows that the Nazis had a super weapons division, and we just ran with the idea of that. We were very, very keen and insistent in keeping it as real as possible because, for us, it was about making it grounded and keeping it real. We wanted to make it painful and real and nasty and horrible. We were all 33 and 34 when we made the first Outpost. We were guys who had been brought up on Ridley Scott and influential movies like Blade Runner and Alien. We were super keen, super ambitious, but we wanted to ground things. I think what James Cameron did with the Terminator films is that he always wanted to keep it serious, to keep it believable. James Cameron can be accused of many things, but what he does is he makes everything in reality. That’s a huge thing for us. James Cameron needs to believe that this thing exists, because that’s what make this thing all the more terrifying. And that, for me, is why The Terminator works so well as an idea. It’s grounded. It’s crazy but it’s grounded. It just works, and we love that. That was a big, big thing for us. We love to call ourselves filmmakers, and we love designing things, making things. We just took this really, really seriously, and we wanted the audience to get that. What we certainly didn’t want to do was belittle or make a joke out of what the Nazis did, because that was certainly never on our agenda; we were very cautious of that, very aware of that. We wanted to kill as many of them as we possibly could!
As a big fan of the genre, what kind of films influenced you as kid?
To be honest with you, my initial diet of movies was through my dad. This was the early ‘80s and horror movies, in those days, were just coming to VHS. The first thing I saw on VHS, on video, was Rocky II. Horror movies only came in after that. Evil Dead was famous for being banned and you had fucking no chance of seeing Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Those films only came in to the public domain, in terms of seeing them easily, much later. My diet up until that point, or until I could see those films when I was old enough to go the video shop and rent things myself, was war movies, stuff that my dad had been to see when he was younger or that was just on TV. In the ‘80s there was three channels and the most terrifying thing you got was at 11pm, when they’d maybe show Alien. Maybe. Up until that point, you’d get Where Eagles Dare, you’d get Kelly’s Heroes, you’d get The Longest Day – all that stuff would show on a Sunday afternoon. Those were the movies I was raised on, the commercial-fare studio movies of the ‘50s and ‘60s that were passable on regular daytime TV. Horror movies were much later. As filmmakers, that generation were only exposed to it when video caught up. Whereas nowadays, I spend my time worrying that my 6-year-old kid is downstairs watching Evil Dead! When I was that age, I couldn’t access it.
Out of interest, have you had chance to catch the recent Evil Dead reboot and how did you get on with that?
Yeah, it’s kind of like a lot of these remakes. No disrespect to the directors, but anybody could remake it because it’s a great film. You sit and watch the great bits and go “well, I could do that!” If somebody had erased my mind of all previous Evil Dead experiences, I would have watched it and gone “that’s quite a good film, that.” Instead I watched it and went “meh.” It’s kind of like the remake of Carrie. It’s a perfectly good version of it, but, for fuck’s sake, it should be, because they’ve got a great film to work from. I watch them with one eye open, thinking it better be good but it’s not going to impress me in any way. Sure, the gore’s good, sure, there’s a few more tits or the camera will fly around a lot more or the score will be good. Everything will be at a “better level.” But as far as the film’s concerned, it won’t do the things that the first film did – that’s why the first film’s a classic. That’s why I’d hate the idea of being involved of one of those soulless remakes, which is just a bunch of people sitting round a table going “yeah, it really makes a load of sense to reboot the Spider-Man films because it’s been 4 years since we made the last one.” These days you can afford to miss a film because they’ll remake it before you need to bother about seeing the last one. I say “better” but I don’t mean better, because of course they’re not better. Yes, I’ve seen them, I watch them, because I feel like I have to, but I don’t feel any better for it. If somebody was to ring me up tomorrow, not that they would, and said… I’m trying to think of a film…
Jaws! If they wanted me to remake Jaws, my mouth would be going “of course I will because you’re paying me loads of money to make a film”, but of course I wouldn’t.
Like a bizarre moral compass?
Exactly! The weird thing is, Jaws is the only film I can think of that would really benefit from one of those CG reworkings. I read somewhere that Spielberg was so disgusted at himself for having done it to E.T. that he would never again; because E.T. was so horrendous, that CG version. I read somewhere that he was so appalled with himself for letting that happen that he would never do it for Jaws. Weirdly, Jaws is the only film I can think of that could be made interesting to watch.
That’s one of the few reasons to do a remake or reworking, when there’s been such advancements in technology that allow you to remove certain shitty elements.
As long as they didn’t change the rules; as long as they didn’t bring the shark in earlier than you should be seeing him. Not that bit, the classic shot at the beginning, if you were to see him swimming through the water or during the opening attack on the girl at the beach. You don’t need any of that – that’s the genius of the film. If all they said to themselves was, whenever you see that crappy puppet coming out of the water, we’re just going to replace that, then I’d be really up for it.
There was one moment in a Jaws deleted scene where the shark looked quite good…
Is that the one where the boy’s being carried? It’s in the water, isn’t it?
Yep, the sharks gone for Michael and someone gets in the way.
I understand it was cut for gore, I think. There’s loads of really great storyboards on the Blu-ray release, like where the sharks circling around the little boy on the life raft. Really, really cool stuff. He just didn’t have the technology to do it, but that’s the genius behind it. As far as those remakes are concerned, I appreciate they’re not being made for my generation and I kind of get them.
Definitely seems like a generational thing. Having taken in a cinematic anniversary showing of Jaws a few years ago, seeing people of 18 and 19 leaving the film early just blew my mind.
You’re not the first person I’ve heard say that! For people who haven’t seen it, it just doesn’t really work as when that shark comes out, it’s not really a shark, is it? That is sad. It’d be interesting to see if they ever do a redoing of it.
Back to the questions at hand, though. When you discovered horrors films, which ones really freaked you out?
Obviously Jaws did. That was the big one and it freaked an entire generation out. There’s a film called The Medusa Touch – The Omen freaked me out, too. I was raised a Catholic, so The Omen freaked me out. Then, still the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, there’s The Exorcist. I’ve actually got a copy of The Exorcist on my shelf, but it’s still in its wrapper as I’m still so fucking scared of it. The filmed called The Medusa Touch, my dad took me to the cinema to see it. It was released in 1978 or 1980, but I was no more than 9 or 10 when I saw it. It’s about Richard Burton, who as a child had the ultimate ESP, that he could move objects. But his was super strong; he could make planes crash or buildings fall over. So he was a super gnarly little kid who murdered his parents.
Like an extreme Carrie?
Yes, but with a great British character actor. After he’s toppled, I think, York Cathedral – he’s dropped York Cathedral on the Queen’s head – he’s killed his parents, he’s crashed a plane into a building to impress his girlfriend… he ends up getting really badly injured. At the very end of film, he’s lying in a hospital bed and this policeman, who’s been investigating him throughout the film, asks him why he’s done this and what’s all this about. And he hands him a pad, with Richard Burton lying on this bed and covered in bandages. Richard Burton’s hand grabs a pencil and he scribbles on the pad, he scribbles Windscale and it cuts to a shot of Windscale’s nuclear powerplant. What you have to realise, I was watching this in a cinema in Whitehaven, which is on the Cumbria coast, and Windscale was about 6 miles down from where I saw it. It completely fucking blew my mind, because Richard Burton, having dropped a large amount of concrete on the Queen’s head, was now going to blow up a nuclear powerplant by my house. So that was the film that really got to me, again because of that whole video generation thing. All the Evil Deads and Halloweens, all of those movies were being made but were at the cinema, and I was too young to see them at that point. So I caught up really, really quickly with those movies but only when I was 16, 17. But I was born and raised on war movies and action movies because I had quite polite, white middleclass parents.
Obviously there’s a rating system in place on these films, but there’s a certain mystique that’s added to them when you’re 9, 10, 11 and unable to see them.
It doesn’t happen anymore! It was a huge thing to go to the video shop and hire the video nasties. The Evil Dead was banned for years! Absolutely! Strangely, I remember watching Cross of Iron, the Sam Peckinpah movie. My dad let me watch Sam Peckinpah movies when I was about 8 because it had Germans in it and was about war. I guess for those guys, it was more of a war generation and maybe war needed to be taught. I don’t quite know how that worked out. I guess what they thought, because it was on the tele it must’ve been alright. But I was born and raised on the war movie side of things rather than horror, but I quickly came to horror. Outpost III is definitely a bastard child of my upbringing of war movies and later horror movies.
So you’ve done the writing aspect, you’ve done the producing aspect and you’ve now done the directing aspect. Where do you see yourself going from here?
We’re going to continue on how we are. I run the company with Arabella, my dear wife, we produce, and we’ll continue to develop projects. I’ve got an action movie, which we hope to do in the next year or so. In the meantime, we’ll keep on producing. Steve Barker, who did the first two Outpost movies, we’re doing his next film – it’s a big action, vampire movie. We’re just happy making movies. Long may it continue. It’s tough to do it; you’ve got to keep plugging away and see what comes next. We’ve got 4 or 5 films, and eventually we’ll hopefully make all of them.
To wrap things up, what’s next for the Outpost series?
I could tell you but then I’d have to kill you. There’s definitely something in the mix. We’re working on something. I’ve got great designs, I’ve got a great treatment. We’re working on something but I guarantee it’s not what you’re thinking.
You mentioned how when you took on Outpost III, you wanted to leave the narrative of the first two movies alone. Is there any chance of that initial story being picked up from the end of Outpost II?
That would be the least likely, to be honest with you. It’s a budget thing. If I was to do another Outpost film, I’d do a World War II thing. I don’t think Steve would do another Outpost film. But there are ideas and bits and pieces that we’ve got going. It doesn’t mean that the Outpost world is dead.
Outpost III: Rise of the Spetsnaz is available on home release now. Described by us as “a gore-soaked, action-packed battle of the species that triumphs,” you can find our full review of the movie here.
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