Interview: Kriv Stenders

Kriv Stenders, Jamie Crooks, Geoffrey Simpson & Michael Kissane on the set of Kill Me Three Times. (Photograph by David Dare Parker.)

Kriv Stenders, Jamie Crooks, Geoffrey Simpson & Michael Kissane on the set of Kill Me Three Times. (Photograph by David Dare Parker.)

“I think the whole apparatus of theatrical exhibition is being dismantled. It’s not a sustainable business model. It’s twenty dollars to buy a ticket for god’s sake.”

Does it feel good to finally be showing Kill Me Three Times to Australian audiences? It feels like it’s been a long time coming.
It’s great. It’s a funny game. Every film is different and goes on its own little journey. It’s like a child, in that you bring them into this world and not one kid is the same and they have their own little pathways. It’s great. Kill Me Three Times is here now and I’m glad. To me it’s sort of a relief because it’s the end of a very long journey.

Is it a relief to get the film off the festival circuit?
Yes it is. On the surface the festival circuit always seems very glamorous and it seems very exciting. They’re very important, especially for films like ours because we get to make sales through it but it can also be a real grind because you’re part of a conveyer belt of movies so your film screens one day and very quickly you’re shunted away and along comes the next film. When you’re travelling overseas and you’re jet lagged and you do interviews and drinks and premieres it’s very fatiguing. You really have to brace yourself for that part of the process. Without sounding like I’m moaning, it does get in the way of what’s important which is being a filmmaker and making films and developing them. Doing it rather than talking about it.

Kill Me Three Times is writer James McFarland’s first film. When were you first introduced to his script and what was your first impression?
Well I’ve never met James. I still haven’t met him. We met over Skype because he lives in London and he’s a recluse. A lovely man who’s very accommodating. I read his script and I loved it. I read it immediately and thought it was one of those very rare scripts that only come along a few times in a career where you read them and they leap off the page. This one leapt off the page, grabbed me by the throat and wouldn’t let go. I knew immediately that this was a great piece of clockwork, a great piece of carpentry. If I likened myself to a carpenter, it was a great set of plans that I just couldn’t wait to put together. It was so clearly laid out and so well plotted and wonderfully timed. When I read it I thought it was perversely funny and ultimately I found it absurd. The fact that it was a genre film that referenced the genre was part of its fun. I believed there was a way we could enhance the humour a little bit more and the producers agreed. I also told them that if we were going to do this and make the film stand out then we needed to cast a comic actor as the hitman, because I believe that comic actors make the best villains. The producers agreed and that’s how we ended up with Simon Pegg.

Simon Pegg as Charlie Wolfe in KILL ME THREE TIMES - Photograph by David Dare Parker

Simon Pegg as Charlie Wolfe in Kill Me Three Times. (Photograph by David Dare Parker.)

Did Simon take much convincing to come on board?
Well that part was relatively easy because Laurence Malkin, who’s a great entrepreneurial producer, very aggressive and a real sales man, went out there and he got the script to Simon. Simon loved the script and understood its potential and agreed to do it but the problem was that Simon had a very short window of opportunity to shoot the film. Basically, Simon was shooting four films back to back at that point and told us that he had two weeks before he had to go on holidays. His family told him that if he could make the film in two weeks then he could make the movie.

Back in the day, a film going straight to video or DVD without a traditional cinema release typically meant the film wasn’t very good. Do you think audiences today are still of this opinion when a film is released exclusively to VOD and other digital platforms or have audience evolved beyond this perception?
That’s a really good question because I do think audiences have evolved. I think the whole apparatus of theatrical exhibition is being dismantled. Look at how much it costs to go to the cinema. Seriously. It’s not a sustainable business model. It’s twenty dollars to buy a ticket for god’s sake. It’s another fifty dollars to buy dinner and find a car park. It’s close to one hundred if you’re a parent. So to me it’s a no brainer to release on VOD. There is an audience that goes to the cinema but in Australia there are only two types of audiences. There’s an ageing audience who go and see what I call baby boomer films and then there’s the blockbuster audience. eOne came to me and said they could spend a million dollars releasing this film or they could reverse engineer it and flip it on its head by giving the film a small theatrical run and get it seen in cinemas and talked about then release it on DVD, VOD, Blu-ray on the same day and have it seen by the widest audience possible. An audience that actually watched this film when they want to watch it, how they want to watch it. To me it’s a complete no-brainer. I think we’re at this very critical turning point. I love going to the movies but I’ve got my own home cinema which I love. Ninety nine percent of films I watch at home and to me there’s no difference to listening music on my headphones or on my stereo. A film is a film is a film and a screen is a screen is a screen. eOne convinced me that my film would be seen by more people through this method of distribution than if we released theatrically and I said, “Bring it on.”

How has filmmaking changed for you post Red Dog and how does your career compare now to when you were making films like The Illustrated Family Doctor and Boxing Day?
Well obviously Red Dog was seismic. It was a great opportunity and it was a great result. Success is relative. David Lynch said once that successes are just as traumatic as failures. [Laughs]. I finally understood that after making Red Dog. After a success like Red Dog I thought that I had the world in my hands but I didn’t because the film business is brutal. It’s very fickle and it’s very unpredictable and ultimately all you can do is follow your instincts and follow your heart. Just because you’ve had one success doesn’t mean you’re entitled to more success. It’s great to have success but it’s also very important to stay grounded and to realise that this is a long marathon. I want to be doing this for a long time. I don’t want to retire from filmmaking. I love it. Red Dog was great in that it gave me some opportunities like this one but it’s funny because sometimes the opportunity you think you’re going for isn’t that opportunity and out of that opportunity is the opportunity that happens which is wonderful. [Laughs]. If you embrace it and open yourself to the unpredictability of it then you can have a fun time. The minute you try to plan and scheme and create a business plan for yourself you’re doomed to fail because the film industry doesn’t work like that. Every other industry does which is why people become rich. I don’t think I’ll every end up being rich but I’ll always be happy.

And that’s obviously more important to you.
It is. I’ve created a creative life and that’s my choice. Film is my mistress and I’m lucky to have a wife who tolerates her. [Laughs].

Is there such thing as a rich Australian filmmaker?
Yes there is. I think people like George Miller and Baz Luhrmann are fantastic and it’s wonderful that those guys are doing what they’re doing. I’m not saying that I’m poor but to me it’s about the long term. As long as I’m doing what I’m doing then to me that’s being rich.

Kriv and his cast on the set of Kill Me Three Times.

Kriv and his cast on the set of Kill Me Three Times.

There’s a lot more violence in Kill Me Three Times then some of your other films. Is that fun for you to do a film like that?
Yeah. [Laughs]. Kill Me Three Times is a cartoon. This isn’t how people live in Western Australia. It’s not Animal Kingdom. [Laughs]. This isn’t an exposé of the criminal underworld on the west coast of Australia. The violence in it is deliberately operatic and it’s deliberately high key. It’s got the reddest of red blood you could every imagine with the bluest blue sky you could ever imagine. It’s vivid and I really hope from the first minute audiences realise this film was built for them to enjoy and not to take seriously.

Sometimes I feel like Australian filmmakers are forgetting how to make films for people who enjoy the movies and are too occupied with personal agendas and the technicalities of filmmaking. Kill Me Three Times comes across as an exception to that. Was that the intention?
Yeah. I always say to people that unless I can find that key or unless I can find that hook I can’t make the film. When I read Kill Me Three Times I thought, “Oh my God. This is just such a hoot.” Once I realised that then I knew that that was my in. That was my entry point, my vehicle, my machine that allows me to make the film. It was so much fun to let go and embrace all the things I love about movies and all the movies I’ve grown up with and primarily 80’s Ozploitation films which is what inspired me to make movies in the first place. As a kid, to see all these great Australian films made in Australia for an international audience was very inspiring and the film is very much a tribute to that era of filmmaking. They would make local films with international stars in local settings which literally is what Kill Me Three Times is. Those older films were made knowing who the audience is and with a sense of purpose. They were commercial and they were made with commercial imperative.

A lot of those older films are really hard to come by nowadays which is a shame.
Well what’s great about it is what I mentioned in your question earlier about distribution and VOD. I think it’s great now that there are these film libraries and I think that these films are being rediscovered and rereleased by forward thinking distributors. To me it’s like archaeology. There’s gold in them hills and you can find that stuff. Cinema will evolve more online than it will in an actual cinema and I think the desire to rediscover and reconnect with older films is always going to be there and as long as we remind ourselves that those films exist we will always try to seek them out.

Kriv Stenders, Jamie Crooks & Geoffrey Simpson on the set of KILL ME THREE TIMES. (Photograph by David Dare Parker.)

Kriv Stenders, Jamie Crooks & Geoffrey Simpson on the set of Kill Me Three Times. (Photograph by David Dare Parker.)

What can you tell us a bit about your next film, Danger Close?
Danger Close is very much still in the balance. It’s an ambitious film and it’s very difficult to raise the finances for. We can’t make this on a low budget and it’s just the basic market demands that are placed on films like Danger Close. There’s a little bit of sunshine over the horizon somewhere but watch this space.

You’ve shot three films in WA now. Have you considered taking up residence in our fine state?
[Laughs]. I’d love to. As long as ScreenWest keep inviting me over I’ll be here. It’s a great place to make movies.

You can watch the film now via http://www.killmethreetimes.com.au

One thought on “Interview: Kriv Stenders

  1. Reblogged this on Backing The Battler and commented:
    This is an amazing interview with Australian writer and director Kriv Stenders (Red Dog). He talks about distribution, and Australian filmmakers becoming too occupied with their own agendas and technicalities of filmmaking.
    Thanks Cinema Australia!

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