|Diagnosing RABIES with Directors/Writers Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado|
|Written by jmauceri|
|Thursday, 21 April 2011 00:00|
A brother and sister in their twenties are fleeing their home due to a dark secret they share. They find temporary refuge in a deserted nature reserve but the sister falls into a hunting trap set by a psychotic killer. The brother sets out in a race against time to find help and rescue her. A forest ranger and his old dog, two apathetic cops, and four tennis players are wandering carefree amongst a murderer’s traps. As things begin to spiral out of control they will all be drawn into a whirlwind of misunderstandings, fears and violence.
RABIES (Kalevet in Hebrew) is Israeli Directors/Writers Aharon Keshales & Navot Papushado’s tension filled and grisly thriller premiering at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. Navot Papushado was born in 1980 in Israel. He is a director, editor and scriptwriter, a graduate of the Film and Television Department at Tel Aviv University. Since graduating he has directed two short films; New Born & Zeitgeist which have been screened at several major festivals worldwide including Cannes, Moscow and Rome. Aharon Keshales was born in 1976 in Israel. He is a filmmaker, film critic and university lecturer. He has a B.A. in Film and Television and an M.A. in the Interdisciplinary Arts Program, both from Tel Aviv University. He is also the producer of the film Zeitgeist. RABIES is both their first feature film.
During the course of the interview I was surprised by how remarkably in sync the filmmakers were, turning the interview into a tag team match. They presented a unified voice so it made sense to present the interview as such so it would flow.
FEARS: Where did you meet?
Keshales/Papushado: Actually there’s a nice story here. We met at Tel-Aviv University. Aharon was a Film critic and lecturer and Navot was a student. Navot always wanted to make films which break the mold but the academy tried to restrain him. So he approached the only lecturer who was crazy enough to screen to his students scenes from films such as "Battle Royale", "Ken Park", "Hard Candy", "Branded to Kill"…Well you get the picture. That lecturer was Aharon and for three years he worked close with Navot on his projects, first as a guide and later as a producer. "Zeitgeist" was Navot's final project for the university and it was accepted to Brooklyn's film festival. Aharon joined the trip as the producer and it was in New-York when Navot asked Aharon a life-changing question: How about making movies instead of only talking and writing about them? Aharon always loved a challenge and so he quickly replied: why the hell not? A few days later we went to a "Tool" concert in Atlantic City and set the initial story for RABIES.
FEARS: You both share directing and writing credits, how did you share/divide the responsibilities?
Keshales/Papushado: We don’t have a stringent system. We think the same, and this allows the work flow to be divided up naturally between us. Our friendship was built upon our similar taste in films. The writing process was a bit like table tennis. We toss up ideas and challenge each other until we’re satisfied with the result. As for directing, it's such a blessing to have a second director on set, especially when you have a large ensemble cast and complex camera shots. With two directors, everything can run more smoothly, and the dream of finishing a film in 19 days can become a reality. One director handles the camera, and the other talks to the actors, and vice versa.
FEARS: Was the original idea to create a "serial killer" movie or were you inspired by some other genre?
Keshales/Papushado: We always wanted to make the first Israeli horror film, But there's the funny thing: every-time we told someone that we're going to make a horror film he laughed and said: "There aren't any serial killers in Israel. Nobody will buy that". So, we decided to take this cynical approach and use it as the backbone of our film: What kind of serial killer Israel will have to offer to the world? Will he be skilled? Will he be a complete moron? Does Israel really needs a serial killer to do the killing or do we have enough killing in our country without appointing a trained murderer? These were the questions that gave birth to our screenplay.
FEARS: There is a texture to the plot that reminds of an Agatha Christie novel, something like "Ten Little Indians." That film has a unique choreography of characters that keeps you guessing until the end. How difficult was it to get that choreography so perfectly in your film?
Keshales/Papushado: It's funny you mention Agatha Christie Because Aharon's Mother was a real fan of her and he grew up on her stories. As for the choreography it was only hard at the beginning but once you outline your characters traits and listen to their fears and emotions the road becomes clear. It's really a story about families, it's a story about friendships, it's a story about relationships with one thing in common: they're all ruined by intolerance and lack of communication. Bear in mind that RABIES starts off with a brother and a sister that run away from home because their father can't tolerate their romance.
Now which sin is worst, incest (which is an extremist incarnation of brotherly love) or brutal intolerance?
FEARS: When you look back at all the serial killer movies, there will be violent acts but it varies on what you let the audience or even how much blood. What were thoughts on how much of the violence you would show and how much blood there would be?
Keshales/Papushado: We thought about it a lot but in the end we decided that it would be a mistake to let the bloodletting take the center stage in RABIES. You can learn a lot from P.T Anderson's "There Will Be Blood". This title was brilliant. For the entire film you sit and wait for the moment the protagonist loose control but it doesn't happen for more than 120 minutes. The same can be said about an audience who goes to horror film. They already know that there will be blood so why showing it from the start? Why not build their expectation, Let them guess and second guess themselves, even frustrate them to the point that they-the innocent viewers-start praying for a drop of blood? That's the only way you can make your viewer active in his viewing process. When we drew the shooting script we knew we wanted the choreography of the killings to be surprising – so we never use the same pattern. Sometimes the violence occurs off-screen, sometimes it’s implied and sometimes it's really in your face, literally in your face.
FEARS: There are some great special effects in the film. They all appear to be physical effects. How difficult was it to find a special effects person in Israel who could create what you need?
Keshales/Papushado: Yes, they're all physical effects. We're a bit old school when it comes to special effects so we decided to get physical. Actually most of the special effects shots in RABIES were shot in long takes, so it was double the trouble. It wasn't hard to find a special effect person in Israel because there is only one guy who does this crazy stuff in Israel. Actually there are two. He has a son and for the accident scene he ran him over with a car for 17 takes in a row. Talk about tough love.
FEARS: The film features a great ensemble cast. How difficult was the audition process?
Keshales/Papushado: Actually some of the parts were written for specific actors. They didn't know about it of course but when we approached them they were surprised to learn that we already cast them in our imagination. Luckily they loved the script and decided to fulfill our dreams. Guess they were also excited to become pioneers and take part in a truly historic event (film-wise): creating the first Israeli horror film!
FEARS: The cast has a nice cohesive feel; did you do a lot of rehearsing?
Keshales/Papushado: We did some rehearsing but not a lot because we wanted to have a fresh feeling to the entire shooting process. We did all of our rehearsals in an office , we never took our actors to the locations, so the first time our actors came across this RABIES ridden forest is actually their first time on the set. The effect was priceless. You could see the transformation in their acting once they got the feeling of real forest surroundings.
FEARS: Give the horror themes of the film was did you face any difficulties obtaining financing or permits in Israel?
Keshales/Papushado: Actually it's a miracle RABIES is even made. Nobody makes horror movies in Israel, nobody produces them and no government fond will hand you money to film one. Luckily we met a visionary producer named Chilik Michaeli and he saw the potential in this script. Knowing that no fond will invest money in a horror film he decided to recruit independent investors and with the sum of 100,000$ and 19 shooting days we went to make a horror film.
FEARS: An important part of any genre film is the score. How closely did you work with Frank Ilfman in terms of shaping the sound of the film? What specifically did you envision for the score?
Keshales/Papushado: We worked very closely with Frank Ilfman and our sound editors Ronen Nagel and Tomer Eliav. We all knew that the sound editing is one of the most crucial elements in making a horror film so we worked with the greatest minds in Israel. As for our vision there were two elements which were crucial to us: 1. We wanted the forest to be mute. Usually when you watch a horror film which takes place in a forest you hear a lot of noises- birds, wolves, crickets and whatnot- but we decided to turn our forest to a cemetery- a graveyard. 2. Creating a musical pattern which echoes the complexity of the scripted killing. In many Horror movies you know what to expect because of the music but what if we create a soundtrack that plays with the viewers expectations? This is why sometimes you get in RABIES big scenes with no music at all and vice versa. A good example for this is the scene that depicts the arrival of the cops. It's an Extreme Long Shot of a car riding along a road and you have this big theme. Nothing is happening but the music gets you really excited. It's like blowing a balloon and never stopping, the viewer knows that the balloon will explode eventually but in our movie it's hard to guess when and how exactly.
FEARS: Every great filmmaker has one horror film to their credit. I believe the genre allows filmmakers to show the full spectrum of their talents, plus they're usually cost effective to make. In this instance I think RABIES has an even broader spectrum. Do you feel that's the case with your first feature?
Keshales/Papushado: We agree. There's nothing like a horror movie to test the abilities of a young aspiring director. In RABIES we decided to challenge ourselves even more. We decided to make a film that has three different modes (comic, horrific and tragic). Sometimes we even use them all in one scene. We didn't want to make a parody but we knew comedy is the key to the heart of nowadays viewers which are more cynical. We also wanted to make a slasher film in which you care about the characters instead of just waiting for them to die. In order to that we gave each storyline in RABIES a dramatic arc (a cop that tries to get back to his wife, a brother who can't be with his sister etc.). Guess we learned it from the Korean cinema. In order to inject fear you must first inject real emotions.
FEARS: Is the horror genre something you feel coming back to again or do you want to tackle other genres?
Keshales/Papushado: We love the horror genre and our next film is also a thriller with horrific elements but we'd like to play with other genres. We're big fans of directors that show their skills in different genres: The Cohen Brothers, Quentin Tarantino and of course the great and late Howard Hawks.
FEARS: Give the history of horror films and all the films that have come out of late, how hard is it for you to scare the audience?
Keshales/Papushado: Most of the new slasher films aren't scary. In the era of Gorno it's hard to make the audience afraid of something. The only films which succeed in this task are those who have great characters in them and a real psychological depth. Take for example the beautiful and brutal tale of "Let the right one in". A brilliant vampire film (novel) but it’s actually about growing up and discovering your sexuality.
FEARS: Are you surprised by the positive reception the film has gotten?
Keshales/Papushado: Very much so. We always believed in our movie but even in our wildest dreams we didn't imagine it would travel so well outside the state of Israel. We thought that the theme of Intolerance and lack of communication is a local epidemic but judging by the reaction abroad intolerance is a global affair.
FEARS: What do you hope being part of the Tribeca Film Festival will do for the film and your careers?
Keshales/Papushado: This is our first feature and we're still excited from just sitting in room and sharing our film with foreign eyes. It'd be fun to see how the American audience (which is well trained in this genre) will react to our playful take on the genre. It'd be fun to have the embrace of the viewers in the festival. As for our careers, you won't hear us complaining about directing our next film in the USA.
FEARS: Having worked as a team on this film, is this a "marriage" that we'll see continued on future projects?
Keshales/Papushado: No doubt. We're already developing two other projects and we already bought engagement rings for each other. Mazal Tov!
FEARS: Working as directors, screenwriters, and editors, is RABIES 100% the film you wanted to make?
Keshales/Papushado: You can definitely say that RABIES is a child of love. We didn't make short cuts and we stayed true to our vision for the entire process.
FEARS: In hindsight, is there anything you would do or approach differently on your next film?
Keshales/Papushado: We decided that it would be wise to start collaborating with the composer and sound editor before we start shooting. The amount of input you get from these guys is invaluable.
FEARS: Is there another project you'll being production on after the festival?
Keshales/Papushado: Yes. It's a thriller about kidnapping but there's a big twist in it. We can't say more, we don't want to ruin the surprise.
Tribeca Film Festival Guide - RABIES
Official Website - RABIES
Facebook - RABIES