Go behind the scenes of Drakken in our interview with filmmakers Matthew Wilson and Justin Robinson.
If you enjoyed the Prototype film Drakken, let’s take a look behind the scenes with Matthew Wilson and Justin Robinson, who co-wrote the script which Wilson directed.
Q: Who worked with you on the project?
A: I got to work with a lot of my friends and family on this project. I knew that I could call on them and they’d help me. It’s great to work with people you know because you have a short-hand while you’re filming and when things get difficult you know you can count on each other to get things done.
And there was a lot that needed to be done. All the costumes, sets and props had to be created specific to the world. We had to find a location that’s out in the middle of nowhere, where there’s no signs of modern civilization, and build a village there. We really needed people who were willing to work hard.
The phone call usually went like this, “Hey, I’m making a short film. It’s about a guy who wears a snakeskin mask and eats scorpions and there’s gonna be some sword fights… this is going to be a challenge but I promise it will be fun. Will you help me? Also, will you convince some other people to help me as well?”
The good news: when you ask that of a friend, they always say, “Yes!”
Q: How did you pick out the cast and crew?
A: We filled most of the supporting roles with talented actors I had worked with on other films.
Casting the lead was more complicated because I wanted to find someone who was a good actor but could also do their own stunts. When an actor can do their own stunts it opens up a lot of options for how you can film an action scene, mainly because you don’t need to hide a stunt double. I also wanted someone who was an expert at sword fighting, which is a relatively rare skill.
Luckily one of our executive producers introduced me to Stephen Dunlevy. I instantly recognized him as the Egyptian from “Spartacus” and I thought to myself, “This guy is perfect.” Stephen has a very unique look and though he’s a charming guy, he can be very menacing too. That’s how I envision the character. It worked out perfectly that Stephen is also a badass sword fighter and stuntman. When I saw him wield a sword in rehearsal, I knew he was the right person to play this role. I got the general sense that he could kill me within seconds if he wanted to.
The young girl is played by Airis Garcia, my friend Vanessa’s daughter. Airis is a first time actor but she’s a complete natural. While we were on-set, everyone was amazed at how talented and professional she was. I think she’s gonna be a big star one day.
For the crew, I was looking for anyone that had a strong artistic sensibility to match the film, which meant they had some kind of dark (almost Gothic) quality to their work.
Q: Where did the story concept come from?
A: The whole thing started with Justin Robinson and I sitting at restaurant in Eagle Rock. Justin’s one of my best friends from childhood and just happens to be a very talented novelist (he’s got 8 books in print). We often hang out and spitball ideas. So that’s what we were doing and, eventually, one of us said, “Has someone ever done a post-apocalyptic fantasy story?”
Usually, post-apocalyptic movies are set in modern day or the near-future and they center on a zombie outbreak or nuclear holocaust. We wanted to put a twist on the genre so we started talking about how the apocalypse might happen in a fantasy setting. We decided on necromantic magic. A horrible ritual goes awry and creates a pestilence that spreads out across the land, killing many of the plants and animals and making everything infertile. There’s a giant smoking sinkhole that opens in the earth and starts leaking out death-energy.
This part of the story isn’t fully explored in the short film, mainly because I didn’t want to spend time on a lot of time on exposition, but it might explain some of the details like the massive smoke column, the boils covering the marauders and the main character’s unusual interest in Ziusudra.
Ziusudra, the woman who lives in the village, is a priestess who worships the God of Life, the mother goddess, who has blessed her with a child (children are a very rare thing in this world). Our main character worships the opposite, the God of Death, a serpent god, who has also blessed him… but in more sinister ways. For example, he’s immune to snake and insect venom which is why he covers his weapons in it.
Q: Did anything in particular inspire this short?
A: Justin and I are always talking about how we want to see more dark fantasy films. We feel like they don’t get made often enough. Castles, knights and dragons are way more common (and also very cool), but that’s different than dark fantasy. Dark fantasy has a specific tone. Take a look at the art of Brom or Frank Frazetta or read some Robert E. Howard “Conan” stories to really get a sense of what dark fantasy should be. It often has a wasteland feel to it. The people are uncivilized. The world is a frontier.
My favorite dark fantasy stories usually feel like westerns. The two genres share many themes. They also have similar character archetypes: The Mysterious Loner, The Man With No Name and The Dark Rider.
Justin and I were itching to write about a character whose intentions are not always clear and who walks the line between being a good guy and bad guy. Drakken was born out of that.
From a directing point of view, I was inspired by the grim, barbaric and sometimes brutal aspects of the genre. What I love the most about it is the savagery you see in both the characters and the environment. The world is portrayed as an overwhelmingly harsh place and the people trying to survive in it are usually vicious and immoral.
Q: How long did it take to write?
A: Justin and I wrote the feature treatment for Drakken over a few weeks between some other assignments we were working on. The actual script for the short film took me a weekend. I picked a piece of our story that really showcased the world and the characters and wrote it into a short film format.
When our producers asked me what the most important scene in the film is, I said, “The fight.” This is an action movie first. If we did our job, the audience will watch that final fight and say, “That was intense!”
Q: How long was the production overall?
A: Overall, it took 5 months from start to finish. We shot principle photography over 3 days in February. We knew it was going to be a challenge because February has short days and most of our scenes were daytime exteriors. The sun was like a ticking clock reminding us we better get our shots fast. Plus, the forecast for our 3rd day said there was an 80% chance of rain (it’s hard to tell but it’s raining during one of our scenes).
Because we had such a limited amount of time, we really had to keep a tight schedule. We shot from sunrise till sundown. We were able to make it work because we spent a lot of time planning our shoot.
During pre-production, one department was working on the fight choreography while the other departments were crafting armor, forging weapons and building a small fantasy village. We wanted to be as prepared as possible before we got on set so we could really make the most out of our time.
Q: Where did you film?
A: We filmed in the desert outside of Palmdale, California, on a beautiful vacant lot we rented for one week. We spent 4 days before our shoot setting up the village. The whole process was really crazy (mostly due to the weather). The temperature kept shifting from freezing cold to boiling hot. Our art department was living in a motor home on the site. They’ve got some interesting stories about that whole experience. At one point, 40 mph winds almost ripped our entire set down.
We also had to drive up a sand hill to get to the lot, which was a pain in the neck because our grip truck and production vehicles kept getting stuck in the soft sand. A couple of times we had to carry all of our grip and camera equipment up and down the hill on foot. In the end, shooting on location in the desert was much harder than we anticipated but, looking back, it was a great adventure and we had a lot of fun.
Q: Do you have a favorite scene?
A: My favorite scene is the scorpion at the beginning. I think it really sets the tone of the film and establishes that the main character is strange and dangerous.
I get asked a lot if the scorpion is a 3D visual effect. No, that’s a real scorpion. It was important to me that we use a living scorpion. It gives the actor something to interact with and feels more tangible on screen.
We got the scorpion by hiring a “bug wrangler” named Jules Sylvester. He brought the scorpion to our set and taught us how to handle the animal so we wouldn’t get stung. The first time I saw that enormous shiny black creature, measuring more than half a foot long, I was so excited. The thing looks prehistoric. I was a little nervous to pick it up and I knew if I was having that reaction, the audience would too. That’s why I shot it in a close up.
If you look closely, you’ll notice that the scorpion grabs a spike on the gauntlet. It happens very briefly in the film but in reality, after that take was over, we had to spend about 15 minutes coaxing the scorpion to let go of the spike. Their pinchers are very strong and he had a really good grip on it.
Q: What about a favorite memory from shooting or production?
A: There’s always a magic moment during filming when everything suddenly comes to life and you feel like you’re in another world. On day two of our shoot, spirits were high because we were getting ready to film our big fight sequence. When the metal weapons came out and the stunt team set up for the long steady cam shot of the fight, everyone was waiting with baited breath to see what this battle was going to look like. The actors did a quick run through and then we started rolling.
When the fighters went after each other and their weapons started clashing and people were falling all around, it gave everyone on the crew a massive adrenaline surge. It was like watching a real combat. The sound of metal blades hitting really gets your blood flowing.
Q: What was it like to film and choreograph the action sequences?
A: It was a blast. I had a great stunt team led by Diana Lee Inosanto and Ron Balicki. I talked to them a lot about the style I wanted for our fights. Western gun fights happen fast and end after a quick series of attacks. I wanted to capture that same effect with hand weapons. The main character is so proficient with weapons that he can easily kill his opponents in one or two movements.
Once Diana and Ron knew how I wanted the fight to play out, they found interesting ways to make every attack as dramatic and unique as possible. Their choreography combines elements of Filipino Kali, Indonesian Silat and Thai Krabi Krabong and features some unusual weapons like the bull-whip and the sarong. I think the interesting fighting styles they used really enhanced the film.
They also built an amazing team of stunt actors. Interesting fact: Robert Vaughn, the first marauder to die, holds the world record for cutting through ropes with a katana. Another marauder, Matt White, is the Cold Steel Challenge World Champion in knife and spear fighting (I’d also like to give a big “thank you” to Cold Steel for their support). We’ve even got a professional MMA fighter, Krzysztof “The Polish Experiment” Soszynski.
Matthew Wilson (Co-Writer & Director)
Matthew Francis Wilson was born and raised in Los Angeles. He is a writer, director and graphic novelist. He draws his inspiration from genre movies, off-beat characters, counter-culture hobbies and underground art. His graphic novel “Fluorescent Black” was published periodically in Heavy Metal Magazine and later released as a collected edition in 2010. “Fluorescent Black” was nominated for the Grand Prix de l’ Imaginaire award for best comic and voted #3 of the 10 best collected editions of 2010 by MTV. He also spent three years working in writing development at Imagi studios were he worked on feature film adaptations of properties like “Gatchaman,” “Astroboy,” “Macross” and “Ultraman.”
Matthew has written and directed several award-winning horror, fantasy and science fiction short films including “The Final Moments of Karl Brant” starring Paul Reubens and “Lullaby” starring Tobin Bell. Matthew also directed 2nd unit on the feature rock documentary “No Room For Rockstars” which debuted at Slamdance Film Festival in 2012.
Fluorescent Black Soft Cover
Matt’s Vimeo page
Justin Robinson (Co-Writer)
Much like film noir, Justin Robinson was born and raised in Los Angeles. He splits his time between editing comic books and writing prose. Degrees in Anthropology and History prepared him for unemployment, but an obsession with horror fiction and a laundry list of phobias provided a more attractive option. He is the author of seven novels and two original graphic novels.
Published Works: Amazon