Craig Anderson on directing E.T.’s Dee Wallace in debut slasher Red Christmas
Red Christmas is the feature debut of Aussie actor-director Craig Anderson, known for the likes of Double the Fist and Black Comedy.
The film premiered at the Sydney Film Festival on Saturday, with another screening this Friday night.
Anderson's reaction to his SFF berth was "unsure", he told IF.
"I couldn't quite believe or understand it, only because horror in this country is usually not received well here until it's proven overseas."
Written by Anderson himself, Red Christmas stars E.T.'s Dee Wallace as a widow defending her daughters against a stranger with an axe.
"I liked the idea of picking the stupidest thing I could think of and trying to write a movie based on that."
The director was inspired by Lake of Fire, a documentary made by American History X's Tony Kaye about abortion.
"It's a two and a half hour doco he made over fifteen years. He's a nutjob filmmaker who always gets into fights with studios in the Hollywood system, and you can see why when you see this doco. He features three abortions in it, and covers both sides really well."
"I decided I'd try and use horror and in particular the slasher sub-genre as a way to deal with the abortion debate, because horror can often bring up shit that you would have trouble bringing up with a drama or a comedy."
"It took in total about two years to write, including lots of discussions with women about the abortion subject. I did a first draft that was kind of a ridiculous comedy-horror where something runs around killing the family that rejected it. But then I decided I needed to make it more serious, so it took another year to write that version."
Anderson started the process of producing the film himself early last year.
"It's written in a house, and designed to be shot very cheaply. It was private investment, myself primarily. Plus everyone investing their time became shareholders in the film, which was great. I convinced thirty professionals I'd worked with before in television to do that."
The shoot lasted fifteen days, with the official budget just on a million.
"We shot on an Arri Alexa mini, which had just come out mid last year, and we used some awesome Zeiss lenses that were super fast, because we were shooting at night. We decided we'd spend big on the camera and lenses and less big on the lighting."
Anderson wanted to cast a scream queen from the 70's and 80's because "horror audiences are very loyal to the films from the past."
The first-time filmmaker approached Halloween's Jamie Lee Curtis and Blade Runner's Sean Young before connecting with Wallace.
"Dee got a hold of the script, and got it straightaway. And she was excited for the challenge, because all those women, once they're over sixty, they don't get exciting action roles anymore."
That coup also proved tricky: "Being such a famous actress, Dee had no frame of reference as to how low budget a film could be."
"She's done over 180 films or something, and she knows what low-budget is in America, but there was no way she could quite get what the hell we were doing. We looked like we were on a school camp. There were no vans, none of the things she's used to."
"She's also 67 years old, and she's out at 3am, freezing, lying on asphalt. So she was only keen to do one or two takes. And she's a brilliant actor who only needs one take, but we had no money for a stand in or for 3rd ADs. So she's standing around, and then our DP had to pray he got the focus right on the first try. In the edit, occassionally the focus goes in and out, and I guess that's what you get when you shoot so cheap."
The vagaries of indie film insurance was another source of stress.
"It was very scary because we don't have a grading system in Australia, so to speak. In America I did an ultra low-budget film as an actor, where they have an award wage that gets graded based on the total budget of the film, that works to make everything legitimate. So someone will come on for $100 a day as an actor, but they'll be insured, they'll be registered with the union, everything's above board and everyone feels safe."
"Whereas in Australia you pay the full amount upfront, proper fees to everyone, but if you want to do a deferment or split deferred payment, it becomes a little tricky, because it was hard to get insurance. It was hard to do everything properly, and that makes it scary."
The director describes a feeling of "horrible tension" that something would go wrong.
"I'm in a house shooting all night, and if someone's Mum came out to help cook food for us, and she went to Woolworths and accidentally backed into a pram, which nearly happened, I would be the guy getting sued for that. So it's horrifying to think about. We don't have the processes here."