Interview: Luke ShanahanOctober 25, 2017
Recently we had the chance to talk to writer/director Luke Shanahan about his new movie Rabbit and his experiences in the world of film.
So was getting into the movie business something you always wanted to do or did you discover this later, like one of those wonderful happy accidents?
Luke: No, I was pretty lucky, from the get-go I wanted to be a filmmaker. I had that Star Wars moment, I was young, watching it on a re-run at the cinema and going to your dad, how does that happen, how do you do you do that, can I make stories like that? So all through school I was just making stuff, writing stories and then when I was old enough to get camera’s, filming them. It is pretty much I cliché story, really, through high school, I wanted to be a director, came up as most kids loving the Spielberg and Lucas worlds but also loved the horror world. I did finish school, I went the film school route which I don’t think is as important today, but when I finished, in 2005, 2006 it gave me useful contacts. I came out of film school and did some short films, they did well, picked up an agent for commercials, sort of went that commercials route for money in between trying to develop long-form projects and yeah, here I am.
You’ve done both writing and directing. Do you have a favorite between the two or do you like doing both, especially when it’s contained in one movie such as Rabbit?
Luke: Yeah it’s funny, I’m being sent some projects now that I haven’t written and I haven’t directed anything I haven’t written up until this point. I’m very open to that, I’ve always been a writer, but it’s really nice to write something and then go shoot it and not have to rely on anyone else, so when you’re starting out it’s obviously the easiest way to go. I guess I want to direct, I don’t want to sit in front of a computer for a couple of years writing my next opus, for it to formulate in my head, I’ve sort of got the directing on set buzz. Now that’s not to say I won’t direct my own words again but if somebody landed a script on my lap and it was perfect collaboration would be really cool.
Ok, so let’s get to your movie Rabbit. Now, where did the idea come from for a film like this because this is definitely not the average movie you expect to see at your local movie theater?
Luke: Yeah man, it’s not. The idea came from a set of twins that I’m very close with and they’re not close and it’s as simple as that. I was sitting at lunch with one of the twins one day, I knew they were close but they didn’t get on, if that makes sense, and I said so how’s Rachel doing overseas and she said oh, typical Rachel, she’s so annoying, I’d even feel it if she was being tortured. That was the line and that was an incredible thing to say about your own sibling, your identical twin, and she said I love her to death but I can’t escape her. So I guess the nucleus of the idea for the film came from just because you are ninety-nine point eight percent DNA linked, could there possibly be a way where that kind of intimacy was debilitating? Could someone call out for help and some group try and harness that kind of telepathic power? It’s getting a great response and its funny, at a Q&A in Spain there was a stunned audience just kind of sitting there. I think Q&A’s right after a film sometimes don’t really work because the films need to wash over you and I think sitting in a Q&A immediately after the film and getting an audience that is sort of taking it in, some of which may not fully understand what’s happened yet, and asking my what kind of lens I used or what influenced me, it’s kind of weird. You giving me this interview makes more sense, I assume you watched the film a couple of days ago or whatever, and even if you haven’t watched the film it makes more sense because I don’t think Rabbit is an impulsive sort of film, where you ask your girlfriend well, what did you think of that, you get back to your life, I think it’s coffee table discussion over a glass of wine or dinner
There is a wonderful sense of dread and unease that hangs over the film from start to finish. Was it hard to keep that consistent without getting too complacent or going too dark?
Luke: I’m really proud of that and it’s funny, there were a couple people involved that said we need more monster moments because really, what is Rabbit? Horror, thriller, art film, psychological drama…I just well, it’s Rabbit. It was a conscious decision to make it like that, like films I like, you see it a bit more in European horror films although American films are going that way with the likes of It Follows, Get Out, films that I guess you don’t know where they’re going to go so that was our biggest strength we had to hold on to, that feeling of dread going the whole way through and it’s an unsettling film, it really is. It’s not really horrifying or scary but just that sense of heightened unease you have the whole way through, I love those experiences.
Keeping on the topic of dread, the booming soundtrack and eerie cuts to complete silence are definitely important to the overall feel of the film. How did you decide to go this route musically?
Luke: Yeah, we decided that right from the get-go, and thank you for that. We had two people at a screening in an agency in L.A., only two people, and they said it was too loud. When did scores have to be seen and not heard? This is deliberate, no one accidentally fell on any buttons and pushed the mix right up. When I wrote it with that sense of dread through the film it needs to be at this level and there are abrupt, abrasive music cuts and it cuts from loud to soft. The seventies stuff that I was drawing off of, like Dario Argento’s Suspiria with the Goblin score or even going back to early Polanski or Bernard Herrmann’s score for Psycho, it’s when music was in your face and the music for Rabbit, I wanted it to be a character, for the audience to feel it was always there. You know something bad is going to happen, I don’t think the loud music is going to change things, I don’t know, I dig it. I like films like The Shining and Jaws that take me viscerally and smoother me and I’m really proud of the score.
What was the biggest challenge for you in getting Rabbit made?
Luke: Oh, the weather. We shot in Southern Australia and I wanted that bleak, almost Scandinavian look and the sun didn’t come out. If you know Southern Australia that’s very unusual, it’s usually hot, dry but for September and October of last year it decided to not be hot and rain for a month. We shot for twenty-five days and it rained every day, except for one day where I think you can see some blue sky, other than that it was miserable. It really helped because we doubled Southern Australia for the German stuff at the front and just put a few German actors in there. It sort of gave a wonderful look and aesthetic to the film but the rain, that was the biggest challenge.
It goes without saying that Rabbit is not an easy film to digest and this is great in so many ways, especially because you can’t pigeonhole it into a specific genre. Did the movie end up the way you thought it would or did it change a lot during the filming process?
Luke: It changed a lot and that’s a really good question, I haven’t been asked that. I think it got much better and I will credit the actors for this. The character of Nerida was pretty underdeveloped when Veerle came on board, she was just an archetypal villain. When she came on board, we only had about five days of rehearsals, she just brought layers, man. I wrote what I thought were some good words but the cast brought everything to it and so that was the development. I think my ability as a director is knowing how to collaborate, it’s not me saying oh, you can’t change the script, the script is God, I was like no, that sounds better, say it. We really evolved together, working during the day, getting on Skype at night and throwing around ideas, changing the script. I guess I saw the movie as a straight-up genre thriller but there’s a depth to it that probably wasn’t on the page, to be truthful.
You talked a little bit about Rabbit on the film festival circuit. Do you have a hard time marketing the film because it is so unique?
Luke: Yeah, I’m not saying we still are but it’s like people love it but they’re going ok, where do I put it? That’s its strength and I won’t say weakness but from a marketing perspective, no one is questioning the film-making, the craft, the acting, the directing but they always ask ok, what kind of film is it? When you do the festivals, especially when you have horror attached to your film, you’re judged sometimes by the grossness of it but it opened at the Melbourne Film Festival which is quite a highbrow type of festival but then we also just played Fantastic Fest to rave reviews so yeah, when it comes to marketing it’s a tough one, mate. It’s opened a lot of doors in America, even though people come out and look at me and say ok, wow, ok, so you’re a really talented filmmaker, now how are we going to market it? It is definitely harder than your standard sell, that’s for sure.
So what projects do you have coming up next?
Luke: I have two scripts in development that I’ve written and that’s simply because I like writing but I’m also looking at two other scripts as well. I hooked up with a manager in the States which is good, it wasn’t just a rush to get a manager it’s hey, big picture, and I want to do the right thing and it’s funny, I didn’t think I’d be in the genre world, man. I really like it and now coming off the month film festival tour, I love the people, I love the family, the two other scripts I’m looking at are genre films, one of mine is and one is more of a family drama. It’s funny, I come from a great family, I’m really close with my mom and dad and sisters and brother but I love writing about dysfunctional families, I don’t know why, some weird sort of juxtaposition.
I want to thank Luke for taking the time to talk with us