Receiving bad news is never easy, especially on your birthday.
For Melbourne director S.K. Dale, turning a year older last year coincided with the news that production on his feature directorial debut Till Death had been suspended as a result of COVID-19.
“We were preparing to shoot in March 2020 and then it was my birthday when they said, ‘Sorry, we have to shut down the studio and everyone’s flying home,'” he told IF.
“At that stage, we had no idea what was going on and I wasn’t sure if that was the beginning and end of my film career.”
Fortunately, production on the action thriller resumed a few months later in August and is now set for a worldwide digital launch following a US cinematic and digital release earlier this month.
Written by Jason Carvey, the story follows Emma (Megan Fox), a young woman who wakes up one morning handcuffed to her dead husband (Eoin Macken) in their secluded lake house. Trapped and isolated in the dead of winter, now she must survive the two hired killers who’ve been sent to finish the job. Starring alongside Fox and Macken are Aml Ameen, Australia’s Callan Mulvey, and Jack Roth.
The film was produced by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick alongside Millennium’s Tanner Mobley, Les Weldon, Yariv Lerner, and Rob Van Norden. Millennium’s Avi Lerner, Trevor Short, Boaz Davidson, Jeffrey Greenstein, and Jonathan Yunger served as executive producers.
Dale, whose previous work includes shorts The Coatmaker and Tommy, said he was immediately drawn to the project after coming across the script in 2018.
“It was a script that was sent to me through my manager. I thought I’d just read the first 20 pages and go to sleep. I ended up reading the whole thing until 2am,” he said.
“I called back my agent and said it was something I would definitely love to be a part of.
“From there, it was about 30 meetings with the producers over the course of a few months.
“There were some in Melbourne, and then eventually I went to LA to pitching how I wanted to shoot the story to the whole team over there and they trusted me enough to let me take the reins.”
Shot in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, Till Death was one of the first productions resume following the spring COVID lockdown.
The delay meant Dale was faced with the challenge of making the middle of summer seem like “freezing cold winter”.
The director also had to figure out the best way to tell a story that, for a large part, features only the protagonist and the dead body she is tethered to.
“There was a lot of storyboarding, especially through lockdown, where we storyboarded about 60 per cent of the film,” he said.
“There were many challenges because we were playing with the tone on set as well, trying to see how far we could push it with some of the comedic elements and some of the dramatic elements.
“Also, because it is such a contained thriller and we are going through this house and certain rooms a few times, we had to try and figure out ways to make it fresh every time we go into another room.”
While the production overcame the initial COVID disruption, the crew was forced to navigate further lockdowns during post-production, which took place in London.
The shutdown put Dale back in Melbourne, where he edited “from about 7pm until 4am” with an editing team already split between London and Paris.
“After that, I couldn’t really go back overseas for such a small amount of time and, so it became about working with the sound design team in Bulgaria all online,” he said.
“It was quite difficult not being there and instead having to put out a detailed list via email, which I hoped they would understand.”
The collaboration on the project would prove to be one of the highlights for Dale, who described the production as an “incredible experience the whole way through”.
“You spend so long developing a script and you’ve got the film inside your head and you bring on these incredibly talented people, who have their own film inside their head, and it’s trying to find that middle ground between everyone that created something special,” he said.
“There’d be certain scenes where I wasn’t sure what they were going to look like and an actor would come in and do something incredible and I would think, ‘That’s it, that’s what is going to make this good’.”
Defiant Screen Entertainment will launch Till Death on Apple TV App, Foxtel Store, Fetch, Google Play, Telstra TV Box Office, Amazon Prime, YouTube Movies, Amazon Prime Video, Blu-ray, and DVD on August 4.