Three filmmakers are reaping the reward of contemporary ‘on screen fashion’, after the release of their first feature film Plague. The plot follows a group based in post-apocalyptic Australia, trying to survive a zombie-type virus that has spread across humanity.
Zombies are in – on the big and small screen. The popular series The Walking Dead is in its fifth season, and last year Brad Pitt starred in World War Z, a film about an ex-United Nations representative who faces the stark mission of finding a cure for a disease that wreaks havoc on the planet.
The filmmakers of Plague, co-directors Kosta Ouzas (29) and Nick Kozakis (30), and producer Alexandros Ouzas (26), believe the zombie genre offers more than just gore, blood and guts. They say it is a platform, that studies the semantics of intangible foundations societies build themselves on.
Based in rural Australia, Plague challenges some of the social constructs that have guided humanity for millennia.
“It sets an environment where society breaks down completely. Usually when you’re watching a zombie film the institutions we trust have all disappeared and I think we are at a time where people have distrust in these economical and political systems, and the zombie genre for people is really to confront those themes head on,” Kosta says.
Kosta, as the film’s screenwriter, toyed with the idea that there are two survival instincts once institutions fail. The first is the ‘dog-eat-dog’ concept – where a lack of laws and social constructivism leads to total anarchy. The second is the idea that there is an ‘innate goodness’ in people, that despite the lack of institutions, humanity still has a role to play. He plotted the two ideas against each other, through main characters ‘Evie’ and ‘Charlie’, the former of which plays the role of the ‘good character’.
The project began in March 2013, and after a few months of script writing the three regrouped six months later to reach out to potential talent before shooting began in January 2014, for just over two weeks.
The film was privately funded, with a budget of $150,000, because, Alexandros explains, there are a number of hurdles preventing the granting of public funding.
“As first time filmmakers, without a star lead actor the public knows, it’s very difficult to get government funding, or funding from investors. Really, as a producer, to go to Screen Australia without a credit next to your name is impossible, but we were at the point where we all wanted to make the feature film and it really was ‘let’s put our money where our mouth is, let’s take a risk, put it all on the line, put trust in ourselves and our ability, and see what we come up with’.”
And because of the small budget, they invested in novel ideas to breathe uniquity into their feature film, Kosta says.
“Because of the budget limitations we don’t actually have that many attacks from zombies, it’s very much what’s happening with the people. When I was writing the script I always imagined that this could have been in a little village in a war. This story is quite universal, it’s really particular to the horror genre.”
The three men have known each other since Nick and Kosta studied at Swinburne University together. They got involved in film making when Kosta approached Nick with the idea of creating a feature film, and then reached out to Kosta’s brother Alexandros, who had experience producing short films.
Their intentions were always ‘big picture’, their dream is to forge a career out of filmmaking.
And Nick explains working together was an “amazing experience”.
“It was completely fluid, we all knew our roles. Alexandros had produced to a point where everything went like clockwork. Kosta and I as co-directors separated the roles equally and we were able to turn it around in such a short amount of time, because whilst Kosta was focusing on the story elements and directing the actors, I was sitting there with the cinematographer and the camera operators and most of the crew getting the blocking right and making sure the shot was telling the story from a visual perspective. In order to give justice to the amazing script that Kosta had written, it had to translate over just in case you put the film on mute, you still had to be able to tell the story visually. From a work ethic we all came in and put in an equal amount of work and never had any problems. And if anyone’s ever needed a hand, we’ve always been able to transcend from our role to help one another out.”
Alexandros says the film has received glowing reviews, especially after a private screening in Melbourne which attracted 750 moviegoers. Accordingly, most of the reviews relate to the film’s ability to challenge gender roles, primitive thought and tribalism, because of the inclusion of a female protagonist.
The filmmakers say the success of the production and the finished product has spurred them to create more films together.
“There’s a couple of ideas we have, the way we look at it is that it is an exciting time for the horror genre because of the times that we’re living in at the moment. There’s so much uncertainty about the future and there’s so much going on in terms of environment and all these potential risks, and I think there’s a collective fear with people to worry and I think the horror genre allows these genres to manifest themselves. We’ve got a couple of ideas,” Kosta says.
Plague will feature at the A Night of Horror International Film Festival in Sydney on November 22, and at Monster Fest in Melbourne on November 30.