Exclusive Interview: ‘These Final Hours’ Director Zak Hilditch
If you’re a follower of House of Geekery or any of our Facebook page you’d have noticed us raving and gibbering about an indie end-of-the-world flick called These Final Hours. We loved it and strongly encourage people to check it out when it opens this week. We were lucky to grab writer and director Zak Hilditch on the phone for a chat about the film and what he wants you to get out of it.
G-Funk: We’re talking to Zak Hilditch, director of Australian apocalypse film These Final Hours. How are you today, Zak?
Zak Hilditch: I am well, thanks for having me.
GF: Thank you for talking to us. We saw These Final Hours last night, the Australian apocalypse film. Cinema-goers see quite a few apocalypses in their time. How did you want this to be different?
ZH: Well, I think it came from my own point of view. That’s why it’s sort of a different apocalypse film, a very personal film following just one character’s journey through the madness and mayhem of the last day on Earth. I wanted to explore the notion of ‘what would you do on the last day on Earth?’. It started from there and, yeah, the Australian take on it is a shock for audiences because you generally don’t get a very simple story where it’s one character’s journey. It might seem small in the landscape of things but it just happens to be taking place on the last day on Earth and those two world’s colliding is the point of difference.
GF: What came first for you in the development process – was it the apocalypse or was it the personal journey?
ZH: The things that keep me up at night, thinking about my own mortality, as I think a lot of us do, played a big part and that tied in with thinking about the natural disasters that take people out in an instance and they don’t see them coming and they’re gone. I was thinking – imagine if you could see it coming. What would you actually do, you know? What if you couldn’t actually stop it but it gave you time to prepare? When you strip everything away it really makes you take stock. These Final Hours really turns that idea on it’s head and break those sorts of questions down. Who do you truly love, where do you truly belong, what would you do? All those ideas resonated with wanting to make my spin on the apocalypse tale.
GF: I’m not going to lie, that sounds very grim…
ZH: (Laughs) Yeah, well, you know…it’s a very grim subject matter. But if you’re going to make a film about the last day on Earth you have to go to some pretty dark places. I feel that the darkness in the film was balanced out by the beautiful that evolves between James (Nathan Phillips) and Rose (Angourie Rice).
GF: When we saw the film last night the closing scene left everyone sitting there speechless for the good part of a minute, which you don’t get in cinema. Where you surprised by this response?
ZH: That’s fantastic that that happened. That was definitely the intention and the choice of not having any music or anything running over it. Just the white out with the distant sounds of the apocalypse and at that moment the audience is reflecting on what they might do in that same situation and reflect on what just happened. It gives the audience time to catch their breath.
GF: A lot of audience members after the screening talked about how visceral the movie was in terms and of its sexual and violent content. Did you deliberately push people?
ZH: When making a film about the apocalypse I didn’t want to pull any punches, I didn’t want to sugarcoat just what society may have been up to for the final twelve hours and it was definitely my intention to be as truthful as possible and that involves going to such shady, dark places but also striking the right balance between the characters as well.
GF: Let’s talk about the characters…do James and Rose come from a personal place for you?
ZH: Well James definitely. There’s a lot of myself in a character saying goodbye to his 20’s and hello to his 30’s and all that might come with that in regards to responsibility. I could have followed any character on Earth to tell an ‘end of the world’ story and what they might be doing. I wanted to make it semi-personal, about a guy in the northern suburbs of Perth who is facing that new challenge in life where getting pissed with your mates every weekend maybe isn’t cutting the mustard anymore and we happened to meet this guy when he’s on the cusp of that change and he’s having to say goodbye to the old James and hello to the new James with Zoe, but it just happens on the last day on Earth when he’s making those decisions. It’s definitely a semi-personal take.
GF: If we can talk about the actress who played Rose, Angourie Rice…how old was she when you filmed?
ZH: She was 11 and a half when filmed her, almost two years ago, so now she’s in year 8. She’s already grown up so much.
GF: Where did you find her? She was a remarkable performer especially in the face of the confrontational material?
ZH: We were really lucky to have found her through doing a short film called Transmission before we made These Final Hours, myself and producer Liz Kearney. We auditioned a lot of little girls and she was the first one we saw and we cast her in the short. It was fantastic because we really thought that we’d discovered a true gem here. We built some trust with her and her parents knowing that we’d want to put her in These Final Hours if we got it up, and we did. That was an easy transition because we’d already built the relationship with her and her parents were fantastic. She’s such a level-headed, smart girl and she had a ball. Especially at the end of the world party, she really loved it.
GF: Did you have reservations about what she would be exposed to in the role and in the film?
ZH: Yeah, absolutely. Where we could not have here through the magic of editing and make her appear like she’s there. There was a lot of stuff, at the party for instance, where had to kind of throw her to the wolves and lucky Nathan (Phillips) was there guide her through it because we didn’t want to draw to much attention to what was going on because that would have really freaked her out. We treated it as work, everyone was very professional about it and we didn’t make a big song and dance about it so as a result she got on with it. Nathan was there to stop her from seeing certain things from time to time but mostly it was through the editing that we made it look like she was in more dire straits than she actually was.
GF: That’s a bit of a relief to hear actually…
GF: It’s very confronting for the audience. Take the scene at the party when the two guys are playing Russian Roulette and you might ask ‘why would you not?” Do you think the film might change people’s outlook on their life?
ZH: I hope so. We’ve been getting a lot of feedback from people, people wanting to tell us what they would do with their last day on Earth. Whether it’s close to what they saw on screen or far removed from it. That’s the whole point of the film, to provoke that sort of discussion and have people reflect. The world is coming to an end, who would you want to see and who would you want to surround yourself with, what they think they might do?
GF: Have you changed your perception on the end of the world after this film making experience?
ZH: No really, no, if I was in this situation I would be a crying mess. But I would always want to be surrounded by my loved ones.
GF: The film is set in Perth, Western Australia, and that’s where I saw it so it had a very personal connection for me. I saw my own street in the film at one point. Do you think audiences outside of Perth are going to connect on the same level?
ZH: Well, so far so good. It’s such a universal theme it doesn’t really matter. The film could’ve been set anywhere and the fact that it is set in Perth is a good point of reference, especially for when Perth audiences get to see it. They get that extra bit of adrenaline hearing references and street names and suburbs that they wouldn’t normally see on the big screen. I know that last night there was a lot of good laughs about Roleystone and Malaga, which is fantastic to make a Perth film and see Perth audiences get that extra kick.
GF: Do you see yourself making more movies in Perth or do you have your sights set on something bigger?
ZH: I will go where the good work is! Whether I tell more stories in Perth, or Australia…I’ll go to Timbuktu if I need to! I just want to keep telling interesting, thought provoking stories about the human condition.
GF: It looks like the movie will be heading Stateside in the near future. Do you anticipate a good response there?
ZH: Yeah, we’re still waiting to snag a U.S. festival but we’ve got U.S. distribution lined up and they’re just trying to figure out what the best strategy is for releasing over there. These things take a bit of manoeuvring and planning but fingers crossed we can strike a chord over there.
GF: What do you have lined up next?
ZH: I’m writing a couple of things at the moment, ones dabbling in science-fiction again and the other is far removed from that altogether and hopefully one of them will be the next thing I roll out with. I’m also reading a whole bunch of scripts but right now I’m out there spruiking the word for July 31st to the public. It’s exciting times.
GF: That’s July 31st Australia wide?
ZH: Australia wide, all around the country, July 31st!
GF: For young film students, what should they take away from this movie?
ZH: Hopefully what they see on the screen is hard work, dedication and persistence. Making a film isn’t easy and if you love it enough and if you stick to it long enough hopefully the planets will align and you’ll get that project up that strikes a chord with audiences. It has been a long journey for myself and to finally get it up, get financing, and finish the film and do well in the festivals has been a dream come true. We’re releasing in so many screens through Village Roadshow…all that is because I stuck to my guns and kept making things. Whether you have successes or failures along the way it’s all part of the learning curve. As long as you learn from each film you made that’s all you can hope for.
GF: I’d heard the budget was $240,000, is that right?
GF: How did you stretch the budget out that far? Because the movie looks mint.
ZH: Thanks man. That’s hats off to our dedicated producer Liz Kearney and our dedicated crew who moved heaven and Earth to get this story right. Everyone brought their A-Game to the crew and everyone worked so hard to get this work done and it’s their blood, sweat and tears up on the screen as much as it mine and Liz’s. Just planning everything as much as you possibly can and hoping for the best to stretch that dollar.
GF: The final question I have: what should audiences prepare for before going in to the cinema?
ZH: Prepare to be taken on a roller coaster ride of a emotion because this is basically watching the last 12 hours of life on Earth. Get ready to reflect on what you would be doing in that situation if you were ever told such horrible news.
GF: That sums it up really nicely. Prepare for trauma.
ZH: But be prepared to be moved at the same time.
GF: We loved the film, we gave it a 9 out of 10 rating.
ZH: Wow, thank you!
GF: We call it as we see it and we’re hoping we can encourage other people to see it. Best of luck with the release and your next move.
ZH: Thank you very much for the support.