Behind the scenes of Dying Breed

By Rodney Appleyard

The director of Dying Breed, Jody Dwyer, provides us with an interesting insight into the challenges he faced during the production of this fascinating new Australian thriller.

What is the story behind the film in your own words?

The film is inspired by the true story of Alexander Pearce, an Irish convict from the 1820’s, who escaped from one of the most feared penal colonies in Tasmania and survived by cannibalism.  Dying Breed, suggests that Pearce’s descendants continue to live deep in the bush and uphold certain culinary traditions…

The story follows a group on the trail of the fabled Tasmanian Tiger, thought to be extinct for years. Venturing into the domain of Pearce’s descendants, they find themselves fighting for their own survival. The hunters eventually become the hunted.

How did you get involved with this movie?

I was approached by Michael Boughen & Rod Morris (producers), having already developed the basic storyline themselves. I pitched various radical ideas and luckily they responded favorably and allowed me to write a further draft. It was very much a team effort though.

What kind of special effects does it include?

A combination of 3D, comp work and matt paintings. The make-up team did an amazing job on the prosthetics and we enhanced these with blood. etc.

Can you describe some of the make-up effects?

Having an Academy Award winning Make-up artist certainly helped!  They supplied unnervingly realistic creations: dead bodies, dismembered limbs, broken rotten teeth, bruises…

Most of the make-up effects were achieved in-camera, but a few were enhanced in post. The reason for this was both because of creative control (you can warp a bone structure really satisfactorily in 2D/3D)  and economic prudence, since it can be costly waiting around for a prosthetic mechanism to work on set.

An added bonus was that we were able to push the dollar a lot further owing to the fact that the prime investor was Omnilab Media and all post work was in-house.

Do you include any physical effects?

Where possible, physical effects were always the preferred way to go. I believe it helps the actor in conveying the necessary emotion. An example of this is the “arrow through the face” sequence: Being able to physically interact with the invasive object allowed Bille Brown to pinpoint the intensity required. It was a tough stunt to pull off but he suffered for the greater good!

How much did you enjoy working on this film?

It was one of the most stressful, tiring, demanding experiences of my life…but it was also one of the most exhilarating and I’m proud of what we achieved. The weather threw everything at us…rain, sleet, 80kph winds. We were only 1500 nautical miles from the South Pole and you felt the isolation in your bones. And did I mention the leeches?

So yes, it was hard but fortunately I was working with the best crew available and the adverse conditions seemed only to bond us together.  Everyone believed in the project, putting 110% effort into the shoot and the results are up there on the screen. It’s magical when a crew falls into sync and focuses as one.

How is different to other Australian films out there?

Interesting question. I hope we’re part of the new wave of Australian films that are moving away from the clichés of red outback or drug-ridden suburbia. Dying Breed is culturally relevant without being parochial and that’s important if it is to be commercially viable in overseas markets. It’s kind of interesting and ironic that a lot of the praise in NYC (at the Tribeca Festival) was the fact that it wasn’t “typically Aussie”. That’s a branding issue since distributors tend to categorise Australian as art house. Not so here – watch Dying Breed in your local Hoyts.

Is it scary? How scary?

Well even my harshest critic, my brother, was squirming in the seat next to me…

Is it also educational in anyway?

Our convict past shaped the nation as it is today, yet has been swept under the carpet for years. The cruelty inflicted and indeed suffered was incredible.  How could we act so inhumanely?  How did people survive in such dire circumstances? In Dying Breed, we were inspired by the legend of Alexander Peace and, while not going into too much detail, endeavored to bring an historical figure to life via popular entertainment. Hopefully it’ll inspire further investigation.

What was your most special moment on the movie?

Nathan’s death. The coverage, performance, design and score all gelled. 

What was your most humorous moment?

The producer suffering at the wrap party.  He’d lost a footy bet and as forfeit had his legs waxed in front of cast and crew.  Priceless.

How much did you enjoy the experience?

I’d do it again in a shot.

Anything else you’d like to add about the movie?

Don’t presume you know the genre.  This one’s different.