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William Eubank • LAND OF BAD

Written By:

Andrew Dex

Thrown into a high-level military rescue operation at the very last minute, Land of Bad sees Sgt JJ Kinney (Liam Hemsworth) navigate a deadly and brutal mission, with the help of drone pilot Reaper (Russell Crowe). As events escalate and the stakes become higher, we witness a fantastic acting performance and dynamic from the two main leads. STARBURST talks with writer/director William Eubank (The Signal) to uncover the origins behind this original drone warfare-based idea, what the cast was like to work with, and how he went about capturing epic special effects for an action movie of this level…

STARBURST: We read that you came up with the story of Land of Bad some time ago; can you talk about how it first came to be?

William Eubank: Yeah, it was a long, long time ago. We were doing The Signal with one of my co-writers [David Frigerio]. Drone warfare, MQ-9s, and all of these different unmanned planes were really falling more into the public eye at the time. The Signal was such a crazy, quirky, sort of Lynchian, weird film. So we thought, “Man, we need more of a straight actioner to follow The Signal”. You’re always worried, especially on your first film, “Am I ever going to work again?” I felt because The Signal was so quirky, we kind of not over-corrected, but we thought “Let’s follow this with a more, straightforward action film.” And then, because other things happened, the movie was taking so long, and I got involved in another movie. At some point, we had been contacted by an actual JTAC [Joint Terminal Attack Controller], who had heard that we were writing a JTAC movie. He was a JTAC instructor at Point Irwin, and he wanted us to come out and see what they really do, and how they do it. That experience changed how I thought the movie would go. I learned how the guys worked, heard their stories, and saw how they worked together. We were like “Oh, gosh, we’ve got to start this script over.” So we really re-tooled it, and changed it to be really based around these guys and how they really work. Even the main character, Kinney, was actually named after the guy who had contacted us. The film isn’t a true story or anything, but Kinney was our advisor, really, as a JTAC, throughout the entire film. When it finally came time to shoot, all these years later, I wish I had the pictures. Kinney, on his Instagram or something, I look like a little kid at Fort Irwin. It was so many years ago. And then now, we’re both like overweight dads, working out in Australia. It’s crazy how times change, but it just goes to show how long a project can kind of sit on the back burner, and then finally, hopefully, it finds the light of day.

We love how before there’s even any action at all in this movie, as a viewer, you really feel on edge. There’s a tense atmosphere there. How did you capture that feeling of unease?

A big part of that is the jungle. You get all of those sounds out there; there are so many trees to hide behind, and there are animals. We were really in the jungle, and we would always wait a lot for the sun to go behind a cloud. There’s always a lot of patchy clouds in Queensland, Australia, where we shot. Not only does it look better, but it also feels denser not to have this bright, poppy sunlight. So that helps with the dread a lot. Another tactic is that we would lay tubes of death; it’s just a giant tube on a smoke fog maker, and you just roll it way out. I’d go in with the effects guy, and be like “Alright, I’m going in these directions, only shoot these directions” so they would go. There would always be a guy in the background running one of these tubes of death, creating a really heavy fog. It created a hazy smoke, which would hang in the jungle and really add to that feeling of dread. And it also provides a little bit of movement out there. So that was another big technique that we would use a lot.

Before the mission starts, JJ Kinney is really at the centre of the story. What did you want viewers to take from him at a surface level from the moment we see him?     

The movie opens with him making a silly choice if you will. You want to know he’s green and a little over his head. Being pulled onto a mission at the last second like this is a bit overwhelming, and you’re just going to be trying to catch up the whole time. Obviously, it’s really about looking to the guys you hope will look out for you. Hopefully, they don’t wind you up too much, but at the end of the day, if you’re going to have to step up, you will have to step up.

From the start, there’s an interesting dynamic between Kinney and Bishop [Ricky Whittle], where Bishop almost sees Kinney as beneath the rest of them for using drones in combat. Can you elaborate on that writing idea and maybe what it brings to the movie?

You just felt like you had to say something about it in the movie. This was written so long ago that it was just a thought we had back then, but obviously now, it’s like, “No, duh!” I saw that Boston Dynamics has a brand new humanoid robot that they unveiled, and they’re retiring the old one that would jump around and do flips. The new one is like a contortionist, you’ve got to watch the video, it’s so crazy. It stands up in a way that no human could ever stand up; your legs would never move that way. It’s just terrifying and really scary. So, the tech vs the human element of warfare is such a, I mean, you can’t really watch the news these days without thinking about it to a certain degree. So, Bishop is really just saying, “No matter what you do, it’s not making it any better; it’s still killing.” We were stating the obvious, but I felt it was important to say in the movie, just with where we are and everything like that. Try not to be too political or anything, and just feel like, with drones and people on the ground, it’s worth mentioning or at least showing the different sides of this viewpoint and whatnot within the film.

Can you tell us a bit about what it was like working with Russell Crowe and what he brought to the character of Reaper?

I love Russell. He is the best. First off, he brought so much characterisation, so much humour, and so much light to the movie. What I really want to say about Russell is that he loves to work. He won’t be satisfied with anything, which is so cool. I kind of feel that way, so to work with such a pro, and to see him feeling the same way, at the highest level, for a role where we don’t need him for the whole movie, and for him to work that hard for it, is amazing. When you get someone great and big, you never know, and you don’t want anyone to phone it in or do anything like that, and that’s always the fear you have as a filmmaker. Russell did the opposite; I would go, “Oh my god, Russell, that’s amazing! Alright, we got it!” and he’d be like “, William, please, two more takes! Please. I promise it’ll be 15% better” I’m like “Oh my god, it’s so good already! What does 15% better look like?” So, he was awesome, and he worked so incredibly hard. He brought so much life and humour, and I want to say, kind of like hope to a movie that can obviously be pretty dark at times. I’ll say this: at the very end of the movie, without giving away any spoilers, that was his idea at the very very end of the movie. I remember him talking about it, and I was like, “No, that’s not going to be the end of the movie!” then we shot it, and people were emotional. And I was like, “That’s probably going to be the end of the movie!” I totally thought it would end in a helicopter, and when I saw that, I was like, “No way, that’s so cathartic.” He is just a genius. He really is. I was so lucky to work with him; hopefully, I’ll get to do more stuff with Russell in the future.

Sounds like what one might expect from an Academy Award-winning actor!

Yeah, there were many times when I was at the monitor, thinking like, “This is why he is an Academy Award-winning actor!” You know, you’re really thinking that. Just seeing how solid he is, how he works, how he just pieces together each take, you’re just like, “Damn, this guy is an Academy Award-winning actor! This is what you get!” It was pretty amazing.

What did you want to see from the dynamic between Reaper and Kinney, and how did you want it to progress through the movie?

We would always joke, “The next movie is going to be called Land of Dad.” Reaper has so many kids or whatnot. But, we were sort of saying it’s a little bit like a father and son relationship, to a certain degree. This person is looking out for this other person, and they’re trying to keep a watchful eye on them. That’s a little bit of the dynamic. It’s not really the whole dynamic, but that’s a hint of it. They become friends. In a situation where you’re really in over your head and where things are all going bad, you are hopeful that whoever the eye in the sky is is looking out for you in an emotional way. To really have your back. It was cool that Liam had just made another film with Russell, so they knew each other well, which helped. You didn’t have that early period where the guys are getting to know each other, they really, already knew each other and had a great relationship. And they were able, it’s much easier to pretend like you don’t have a relationship, just like Liam and Luke Hemsworth [Abell] do in the movie, and then, bring it in, and sort of connect through the film.

As a director, what was it like to capture a back and forth, where these two characters aren’t even in the same scenes or rooms together? What were the key points to making that feel realistic and grounded?  

A lot of reading early on. In fact, I think Russell was doing The Pope’s Exorcist at the time. He was calling in at weird times from Ireland all the way to Australia to do readings in the hotel where we were staying with Liam. We knew we were obviously not going to be able to shoot them at the same time, so we wanted to identify any big changes that needed to be made. Because once you shoot the one side of the conversation, it’s very hard to change the other side. We did a lot of reading and got it all sorted, and then we would shoot the action stuff first with a drone; then when we were shooting all of the drone stuff later, Liam was able to be in another room on a headset, just sitting on a couch, relaxing. Unless he had to pretend stuff was going on, and then he’d be jumping around! Giving his dialogue. Russell was able to watch the drone footage, and he had a joystick, like, it was crazy, because in his bay, the art department built it so he could really control the footage from his joystick. Zoom in on it and move around like he was flying the drone. It’s really cool. It was a really cool workflow that was unique, enabling us to make the movie for a price. So, I’m sure on a giant movie, you would go back and forth and do it all at the same time. We did ours, action first, drone second.

Throughout your whole career, you’ve worked pretty heavily with practical effects, so with Land of Bad, what did you want to see from the practical effects within the movie?

I’m not making gigantic movies, I’m sure if I was doing one hundred million dollar movies you get like the same person doing all of your pyrotechnic every time. On this, you’re meeting your new pyrotechnic, special effects guy for the first time, you do a test with them, and you’re like, “Alright, show me what you got!” it was so funny. His name was Julian Summers, and he was from Australia. I swear to god, I want to use this guy in everything; he was so great. He was like Cody [Danny McBride] in Tropic Thunder. Julian was insane. He’d be like “OK, here’s a grenade” I’d be like “Woah, dude! That was not a grenade that was like a building size explosion” he was like, “Oh, you think that’s too big?” “It was gigantic!” He’d be like, “Hmm, I don’t know if you want to see the RPG then!” I’m like, “Alright, let’s see it!” and I’d say, “This is crazy!” We’d be like half a mile away from a scene, and he’d be like, “Alright, you might want to get behind a car, just in case anything goes flying”, and you’d literally feel a heat wave blast by you, and these were just his tests. Throughout the film, his explosions kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. By the end, it was just so massive. It was just crazy, he was setting trees on fire, we’d have to have fire trucks. But I really loved this guy; he worked his butt off. With some of those night scenes, and with the crazy explosions, when cars are flying off the cliff, he would emerge from the end of that night covered in black soot. He’d have big explosive chords wrapped around his arms. He’d be like “Alright man? Was it cool?” and I’d be like “It was unbelievable!” but yeah, Julian did such an amazing job. I really want to use him again on anything else that has explosions on it. I’m flying him out of Australia. He’s great, a really good dude.

LAND OF BAD is available on Prime Video.

Andrew Dex

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