In Joshua Waller’s Raze, superstar stuntwoman Zoe Bell goes in front of the camera again to play Sabrina, a prisoner in an underground fight club made up entirely of captive women. Overseen by a maniacal pair (the marvelously-cast Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn), Sabrina has to fight her fellow captives to the death or watch her loved ones be killed instead. Waller and Bell’s film had its Windy City premiere at the Chicago International Film Festival and the pair sat down to talk about their grindhouse flick, the balance of extreme violence within it, and the importance of a little movie called Kill Bill.
FEARnet: Can you speak a little bit about the importance of film festivals in bringing a movie like this to an audience?
Zoe Bell: They’re key. They’re the lifeline for movies like this. Movies like this being movies that can’t afford to promote on billboards, TV, etc. Also, I feel like the film festival world is such that no matter the genre of the film festival, film festival goers are the sort of breed of person – the movie lover. You go to Fantasia Fest and, obviously, there are genre fans, but you bump into the same sort of people, same journalists, people in the circuit, filmmakers, fans – you meet other filmmakers that kind of help. I think it’s the lifeline, especially in a day and age when you need a BIG amount of money to compete. Word of mouth being so prevalent with the internet and social media – this is where it starts. If you get the people who are WATCHING films to love it than who gives a shit with the critics think?
Joshua Waller: It pays off. Not only the film festivals but us traveling. Raze is actually playing at Sitges tonight. We wanted to go but we couldn’t but I think it’s important to try and make every festival that you can, no matter how small it might be. “That one’s too small.” Forget about the size of it. Someone out there gravitated toward something that YOU made and thought it great enough to be a part of something that they’re going to put on and promote their own product. That means a lot. “Thank you. In return for doing this for us, we will do our best to come and promote your festival in addition to promoting our film.”
Do you guys like Q&As? Do you like talking about your work with audiences?
Zoe Bell: I LOVE Q&As.
This is such an in-your-face film, have you had any unusual responses in Q&As?
Zoe Bell: There have been plenty but I love that too. We were hoping to polarize. Rather polarize than…
Joshua Waller: Ambivalence. I want people to walk out of the theater and I want them to either love it or hate it. I don’t want any in between. If they love it or they hate it, they’re going to talk about it. If they just go “meh”?
Zoe Bell: Also, if we made a movie about women brutally killing each other and they went “meh”?!?! It either makes them a serial killer or we REALLY fucked it up. I think also with the film festivals, the joy we’ve had with social media, there’s something to be said for a personal connection. People give a SHIT. People connect with me and now want to watch the film that might not have ever wanted to see women killing each other, necessarily. I love DVD extras. I love when I would watch outtakes. It made me love things more when I see the human side of who’s involved. Festivals are the best way to do it.
Some of the questions…One was in Aruba, where this woman says, “I just have one question – I just want to know why you had to be so aggressive?” We were like, “Well, the subject matter kind of calls for women to slaughter other women – aggression is just kind of part of the parcel, really.” I didn’t feel the need to be snarky. And it wasn’t like I was offended. We were just kind of like, “It would be, um, hard to do it with no aggression.”
The dialogue version of Raze.
Joshua Waller: “Stop, stop. No. No. Don’t touch me. Stop.
Zoe Bell: “Stop it. Stop it!”
You just insult each other for 90 minutes.
Joshua Waller: “Is that REALLY your hair?”
Zoe Bell: “Really?!?! THAT is how you’re going to wear those track pants?”
Let’s talk aggression. Was there ever a point where you worried that you did push it too far in terms of violence and gore?
Zoe Bell: We did during shooting. There were times when someone would be like, “She should pull her leg off and hit her over the head.” “Yeah, we don’t need to go that far.” So there were definitely those conversations.
Joshua Waller:I don’t think that was between us though.
Zoe Bell: Kenny. Kenny always wants more blood.
Joshua Waller: Kenny, our producing partner on this, doesn’t count. Anyone who knows Kenny Gage knows he’s a sick fuck. He’s the best guy you could meet but yeah.
Zoe Bell: That’s the brilliant thing – the line we found was finding each other in the middle.
You guys do find a balance. It’s not torture porn.
Joshua Waller: If we were going to show any graphic violence, we were going to be VERY specific about when we did and be sure that it had to do with the storyline and the emotional arc of the film. And it had to look real. And you also don’t need to show too much. The actual gore that we show is SO little and done in brief flashes but the emotional life makes it seem like it’s so much more.
Zoe Bell: It’s the same as when people watch Kill Bill. I get it all the time. “There was SO much blood.” There’s so much blood in that Crazy 88 fight but there’s an element of surrealism to it that allows the audience to keep watching. We do FAR less – like 5 beats of that fight outweighs our whole movie in terms of limb removal – but the emotion behind ours…there’s nothing disguising it.
Joshua Waller: It’s uncomfortable. We try to take the Psycho/Jaws approach – you don’t really see the knife going in or the shark. It’s implied. We tried to imply more often than not. The gore stuff becomes overkill. There’s only so many ways you can kill a person with your bare hands. Even the stuff with punching skulls, that would do a pretty significant amount of damage…
Zoe Bell: You would not be fighting. If you’re breaking bones, your bones are feeling it.
Joshua Waller: You don’t need to see it every time.
Zoe Bell: But I think the times where we did see it, like the first fight, the person who is inflicting the damage is often seeing…the times that we flash to it is what SHE is seeing and experiencing. This is what she’s reacting to this way. That’s why it’s in there. That’s what I’m witnessing happening. When it’s in there, it’s for that effect rather than to just gross the audience out.
Ten years ago yesterday, Kill Bill came out. I’m sure you know that.
Zoe Bell: I didn’t. Kind of freaked out a bit because it means I’ve been living here for ten years.
Can you speak a little bit about what that did for your career and how important it was?
Zoe Bell: It introduced me to Quentin and it took me out of New Zealand. It was instrumental in massive ways. It took me out of New Zealand and I had never worked outside of New Zealand and it took me into the world of features. It introduced me to Quentin, and I’ve now worked with him on every movie since and he put me in Death Proof, which was my first acting role. It’s made a life for me here. It’s huge.
I walked into the audition and being like, “Huh, I think that’s Daryl Hannah from Splash. And Ethan Hawke from Reality Bites. Where the FUCK am I right now?” I didn’t see famous people. I didn’t recognize people from movies I’d seen. And I totally had a crush on Ethan Hawke when Reality Bites came out. I remember being like, “He’s on a treadmill with a sweatband. What world am I in? What the Hell? Splash and Reality Bites on treadmills!” It wasn’t like…the only time I was remotely star struck was Tom Cruise because, I mean, hello, come on. But it wasn’t a matter of “Oh my God” more just “What?!?!” It felt like if I was going to be around famous people there should be cotton candy clouds and midgets and unicorns and shit. Somebody should have a martini or something. Now, there are unicorns in my life daily. (Laughs.)
What was the most difficult part of this production?
Zoe Bell: Working with that guy. (Laughs.)
Joshua Waller: The time frame. That’s the biggest issue. The shoot was relatively difficult but it was tough. It put strains on all of our friendships for the time being. Not as artists. When you make a film, you go to battle. This film was a fucking battle. We had to really busy our ass. We had 30 days to shoot 19 action sequences. Frequently, we went over on our days. But, at the end of the day, we look back on it fondly. We can now. That was the biggest issue for us.
Zoe Bell: We working our asses off. We had done a lot of preparation. It was more like, “If we just had a little more time to give to this…” The one fight in the elevator…we decided last minute to do it in the elevator to mix it up and we were like, “Why wouldn’t they start fighting in the elevator? Why would they wait?” We did that fight in the space of about 40 minutes or something. We would have loved to give it half a day. Between she and I, we could have. That could have been the most EPIC fight ever.
Although sometimes those quick shoots give you energy that you wouldn’t get with more time and I see that in the final piece.
Joshua Waller: Oh, I agree.
Zoe Bell: Don’t get it twisted. The energy would have been there regardless. The reality is though that it would have been a different movie.
Joshua Waller: Pretty much anyone you would ask, that was our biggest hurdle – time. Time which is connected with budget. We had to do what we had to do. We knew it was ambitious and we knew we would go over and we knew it would be a bitch but we were just like, “Fuck it. Let’s do it.”
See what they did when Raze opens in limited release and is available On Demand on January 10, 2014.