Director of “Primeval” starring Dominic Purcell
When Michael Katleman was approached to direct Primeval, a gripping thriller about a 20-foot crocodile named ‘Gustave’ terrorizing an African village, he probably thought what anyone would think upon hearing such a tale: what a crock! The bad news for Africans, and the good news for horror fans, is that ‘Gustave’ may be the stuff of local legend, but he is no made-up monster – he’s a genuine ‘killer croc’ with a reputed 300 kills to his ‘credit’. Inspired by true tales of terror, Primeval stars Prison Break’s Dominic Purcell as a disgraced TV reporter who travels to the Dark Continent to track down the 1-ton serial killer, only to find himself and his crew – including Orlando Jones, Brooke Langton and Jurgen Prochnow – caught in the middle of a civil war, with a 1-ton serial killer on the loose. No wonder Michael Katleman had plenty to get his teeth into.
What initially attracted you to Primeval?
I knew it was written by Michael Brancato and John Ferris, who wrote one of my favourite films, The Game, so that intrigued me. Gavin Polone was a producer I worked with on a series called Gilmore Girls, and he suggested me for it, and I was lucky enough to get the gig.
One of the reasons Gustave is so scary is that he’s basically a much larger version of a creature that is already one of the deadliest predators on the planet.
Right. When I was surveying Africa for locations, I was walking towards the shore, and someone grabbed me on the shoulder and said, ‘Don’t go quite so close, there are crocodiles in the water right there.’ And you think, ‘Wait a second, this is real; these are real fears that they have.’ This thing is a silent killer, they sit there and wait and they are so fast – they attack so quickly. I cut a lot of croc attacks together for an opening sequence I didn’t use, and the speed they attack is just incredible.
And the crocodiles aren’t the only problem the characters face – the local warlords are also after blood.
Exactly. The civil war’s been going on for quite some time, obviously, so you can’t go towards the water to escape, you can’t go towards the land to escape, so the characters to feel really trapped and isolated there. A film like this you want it to move fast, I wanted to capture the fact that they’re in Africa, it’s uneasy, it’s fast-paced, they characters are a bunch of cocky elements out of their element, and if you turn your back for a second, you’re done. It’s a lot of fun.
What were some of the challenges of shooting in the bush in South Africa?
The biggest hitch we had were these ticks that cause something called tick bite fever, so unless you spray yourself from head to foot, you get bitten by these ticks and get a 105 degree fever. But it was incredible being out there in that environment. We were working around rhinos, zebras, hippos, giraffes, we saw spitting cobras…
It’s a testament to the material that you attracted such a terrific cast, led by Dominic Purcell from Prison Break.
Prison Break had been on for a year, and he was on hiatus, and he really wanted to do this. I was blessed to get him. He really cared about this film. He was so committed, I can honestly say he did 90% of his own action. He loved it! His big fight scene with the warlord, ‘Big Eddie’, we rehearsed with the stuntman, but Dominic ended up doing most of it. He separated his shoulder doing some action two weeks into the film, but luckily he had done most of the hard action by that point, so we could be careful.
You also have Jurgen Prochnow, a veteran of films like Das Boot, Air Force One, and The Da Vinci Code.
Jurgen was amazing. He’s a legend, and so professional. The hours were tough on everybody, the night shoots, and so on. The hardest thing with Jurgen is keeping track of his accent. You get used to it — I could understand everything he said — but when you watch it back, sometimes and you can’t understand a word!
And then you have comic actor Orlando Jones; he must have been fun to work with.
Working with Orlando is fantastic. 75% of his stuff was ad-libbed, we just played with lines, and his character really came through. You know, the character he plays, his death scene was originally written and shot to happen a lot earlier. But then we did a couple of test screenings and people liked him so much they were sorry he died so early in the film, but also by seeing him die. They just wanted to be with him a little longer in the film. So I went back and recut it, and teased out his death a little bit. And that was all down to Orlando, he was just so much fun.
In a film like Primeval, the effects are key because as soon as you see an effect that doesn’t quite work, it’s like a 555 number – you immediately get pulled out of the action and remember you’re watching a film.
That’s a great analogy, and that’s absolutely right. For me, the barometer you have to use is every shot you look at and decide if it’s gonna be in the film, is ‘Does it look fake or not?’ Because when you have so many people working on a shot,it can easily get away, and you will absolutely lose the audience if you settle for effects that look less than perfect.
Primeval is coming to DVD and Blu-ray Disc. What can we expect in terms of special features?
We did a commentary, we have deleted scenes, and we have this ‘Croc-umentary’, which is basically the making of the CG crocodile, from storyboards through conception, talking with Paul Linden and Luma, who did the special effects.
On the Blu-ray, there’s also something called ‘Movie Showcase’ which highlights some of the film’s most amazing High Definition scenes, which is great because the film really looks incredible — not just for a ‘creature feature’, but for any film.
Well, first of all I had a great director of photography… but it helps that when you go to the landscape there, it’s just extraordinary. You point the camera somewhere and it’s just beautiful. It’s hard to go wrong there.
Finally, what was your overall approach to Pimeval?
You know, I go to a lot of these movies and I looked at myself as a fan, an audience member, and when I go to the movies I want to be entertained. It doesn’t quite fit in the horror genre at all — it’s more a creature film, but it’s got a strong action element to it, it dabbles in the political arena — a lot of different arenas. I went into this not to make the best creature film or the best monster movie, but to set out to make the best possible film I could with the tools that I had, to sit the audience sit down and have them on a rollercoaster ride, and I think we succeeded.