Q&A: Director Kieran Parker on “OUTPOST: RISE OF THE SPETSNAZ”
From creating the story of the original film to now taking the reins of the series behind the camera, there are few people as instrumental to the OUTPOST franchise as Kieran Parker. A longtime and active producer on the films, Parker steps directs for the first time for the prequel, OUTPOST: RISE OF THE SPETSNAZ. Lean, intense and as bloody as the Nazi zombie madness that came before it, RISE OF THE SPETSNAZ is a worthy entry, offering insight to some of the key mysteries of the first film while providing a wealth of material which could be explored in future OUTPOST films. As the film makes its VOD debut, courtesy of XLrator Media, Parker spoke to FANGORIA about going back in time with this third offering of OUTPOST…
FANGORIA: What inspired you to take this direction with the OUTPOST series and allow the Spetsnaz to be the protagonists of the prequel?
KIERAN PARKER: I don’t know how much you know about the first two [OUTPOST] films, but I produced them with a very good friend of mine from art school, Steve Barker. When it came to doing a third film, what was most important to me, as it was my first run as director, was that I didn’t step on Steve’s toes in terms of the world he created in those movies. But selfishly, as a first time director, I wanted my own world to be able to play in. So when it came to coming up with a storyline for the third film, it made a lot of sense for it to be an origin story, or prequel.
When we started moving ideas around, we came up with a bit of structure for the story, and a setting in World War II. Certainly, we wanted to bring special forces into the film and obviously, that term was invented around that point, and the Spetsnaz’s origin had been in World War II, as had most special forces. I liked the idea of bringing in a new bunch of soldiers to go against our Nazi zombies, and the Spetsnaz were a hard bunch of soldiers. I wanted to bring some foreigners into the series and I think they were a real cool group of people to bring into the movie.
FANG: By setting the film in World War II, did that complicate the narrative justification for the Nazi zombies? The first films were justified by the machines and the supernatural aspect while this film takes a much more medically informed approach to these brutes, even though the film still hints at the supernatural aspects.
PARKER: Well, the nice thing about [these zombies], especially as set in the prequel, is that the machines from the first film don’t work properly. Of course, in the first film, the zombies were more like spectral entities. Obviously, we spent some time thinking about what worked and didn’t work in the first two films when we were coming up with this [film]. What’s different about this movie is that you can see these machines while they’re quite young and the Germans haven’t perfected them yet, so the [zombies] were much more physical entities.
In the other two movies, it was like, “Are they ghosts? Are they zombies? What are they?” I mean, they could appear and disappear, and I think that was something we could get into so that the zombies in the third movie would be very physical and very present. We delivered a very streamlined action movie and as a director, I wanted to get into a much more action-packed kind of movie. So I think what I wanted to do, from pretty early on actually, was to make the zombie threat very physical, so the machines that turn them into those entities would have different types of success and failures in the movie.
Obviously, we didn’t have a particularly high budget, but the idea of those successes and failures benefitted the film. We have these big, hulking superzombies, and then you have these insane ones that are locked in cages, and then sometimes the experiment doesn’t work at all and people just explode inside the machine. It was fun to open up the gamut of threats to our heroes, because in the first two films, the [zombies] were a little bit more structured as opposed to this film, where they’re all over the place.
FANG: Was it your intention to include protagonists who are almost as physically imposing as the Nazi zombies themselves?
PARKER: Well, I think there’s a huge difference between somebody getting paid to go off and pick a fight, like a mercenary does, as opposed to somebody who is thrust into the middle of a war situation. It’s obviously very different for our generation because there aren’t just things like conscription, whereas in World War II, people were just taken out of their environment and just thrown into this world where if they didn’t become an instantly brutal and savage individual, they were going to die.
I don’t know what it is about the Russians and the Spetsnaz and that whole kind of thing, but before the war, these guys came from different places in life but none of them were very good; a few of them were criminals. We’ve talked a lot about Dolokhov as a lead, and we’ve always thought that he was probably the nicest guy before the war started amongst the guys who had come on the mission. But the Russians actually did put together units of criminals and soldiers who had records with the police. I just loved the idea, especially in the OUTPOST films, that you don’t have to have lead characters that you really, really like. I think it’s more important in these movies to have characters that are interesting.
I think I’ve said this before, but a big influence on me coming into this film was Sam Peckinpah’s CROSS OF IRON. I saw that film when I was really, really young; too young, actually. But the idea for me, when I was eight or nine and watched it, was that it was cool that I recognized the lead actor, James Coburn, but I didn’t understand why he was wearing that German outfit and speaking with a broken accent. I grew up on those films and even at that age, I could understand that the bad guys in those classic movies could actually be the good guys. That stuck with me, so when it came around to creating the heroes of all of the OUTPOST films, they’re all likable characters but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good guys. I think Ray Stevenson’s character [in the first OUTPOST] was probably the nicest guy out of all the OUTPOST movies.
For the third movie, one big thing that appealed to me was that the Russians were really in a shit situation in the war, so when they come up against these Nazi zombies, it was well within their skill set to fight for their lives. I thought that was really cool, especially with the Dolokhov character played by Bryan [Larkin]. He was really keen to put weight on and bulk up for the movie, but I didn’t want Bryan to have a modern, six-pack, ripped appeal. I wanted him to be a brutal, heavy-set guy but I wanted his weight to look like it came from fighting rather than doing sit-ups in the mirror.
FANG: As mentioned before, this is your first time behind the camera in the franchise, despite producing the preceding two films. How did you prepare yourself for that transition from producer to director for OUTPOST: RISE OF THE SPETSNAZ?
PARKER: I thought about this a lot, actually. When it comes down to directing, it’s an incredibly hard thing to do and even harder to do well, especially when it’s your first time. But it’s one of those things where you get better at it with the more experience that you have. I can only speak from my own experience, and I certainly can speak for Steve [Barker] as well, as we grew up making movies together, but you’ve just got to keep making films.
As a producer, especially on low-budget stuff, you’re involved in every single minutia with the production that eventually you’re helping to direct it from a shorter reign. Knowing Steve as well as I do, I was there working every single day on the first two OUTPOST movies. So when it came time to do the third film, I was just as experienced as an inexperienced director could be, especially having come up with the idea for the OUTPOST films in the first place. Having worked so hard with Steve and Rae Brunton, the writer, and having produced the first two movies with my wife, I was as ready to go on the third film as any director would be. I knew what the film was going to be, and how the other films had worked, so I had my eyes wide open.
I use this term lightly, but it was an easy transition from producer to director as anybody could have hoped for. I’m hoping that people like RISE OF THE SPETSNAZ; that’s what I’m really hoping for with this film. Of course, there are things that I would have changed but I’m incredibly proud of what we have done with the lowest budget of all three films.
FANG: The OUTPOST films have often prided themselves on their use of practical effects for many of the bloodier and gorier moments. Was it important for you, even with the lower budget, to retain the use of practical effects in RISE OF THE SPETSNAZ?
PARKER: Well, as I mentioned before, we did have talks about what worked and what didn’t work in the previous movies, and budget aside, we really, really wanted to use the old-school, physical, in-camera special FX. I wanted that both aesthetically and as a director, as I’m from the generation of ‘80s action movies and I love live-fire weapons. I can tell from a mile off when actors are having their gunfire added in as special effects.
I understand that it’s a budget thing, but with those small budgets, you have to sacrifice some things to get others. From the off-set, I wanted to get a physical performance from the actors, and I was really insistent that we used live blanks because I think that really does affect the performance from an actor as opposed to adding fire and bullet casings digitally in post-production. That was a big decision and as a result of that, the FX were physical and visceral. So we used only squibs, live gunfire and all practical FX, which for me was really important and I hope it comes across in the movie. Even in my next film, I’d do things practically as well because I do think it comes across in the final cut.
FANG: OUTPOST: RISE OF THE SPETSNAZ does end in a moment that links it to the other OUTPOST films, while also opening up more possibilities. Has there been any discussion as to where the OUTPOST franchise could go from here?
PARKER: Well, it’s interesting. We’re waiting to see how well the third OUTPOST movie does, but we love doing them and they’re a lot of fun. What I wanted to do with the ending was to leave the story open while tying the film into the first two films. If you pay close attention, the mysterious guy who shows up, who I named Mr. Joshua as a nod to Gary Busey’s character in the first LETHAL WEAPON film, turns up with booklets and bits and pieces that turned up in the first film. But there’s a whole world in between the 1940s and the 1990s that we could go off and have a great time with. So there’s plenty of places we could go to with the ideas that we have, and I’m noodling ideas with another director about going back into the OUTPOST world.
For more on OUTPOST: RISE OF THE SPETSNAZ, see our review here.