Non-professional actor and boxer Chad McKinney, the star of Beast.

Brothers Sam and Tom McKeith graduated from AFTRS in 2010. Since then their shorts have played at the likes of Berlin, Telluride and Busan.

Both still work part-time, Sam for The Huffington Post and Tom for Legal Aid.

The pair have just made their feature debut with Beast, which premiered in Toronto last year and screened at the Sydney Film Festival last month.

Beast is set in the Philippines and follows a local boxer, played by real-life boxer Chad McKinney.

The brothers began developing the script three years ago with Will Jaymes, an LA-based Australian actor who co-wrote and co-produced and has a small role in the film as a local heavy.

The script went through Screen NSW's Aurora program and took a year and a half to write. The decision to set it in South-East Asia was an organic one, said Tom.

"When we were in Busan we met some Filipino filmmakers who we got on well with, and it was just a great fit for the story as well. That was the main thing. I don't think it's a story we could have really told in Australia."

Beast is about a boxer who goes into the ring with gloves laced with cement and accidentally kills his opponent.

Shooting in the Philippines meant the privately raised budget could be kept low.

The brothers managed to enlist ubiquitous American character actor Garret Dillahunt via a prior connection to producer Robert Coe. 

"We felt like he was one of those actors who's always good but doesn't usually get the major roles," Tom said. "He also had a connection to the Philippines. He did a film there called Amigo, so we knew he'd be open to the possibility of going there to film."

The shoot lasted 20 days and felt very different to an Australian shoot, according to Tom.

"They shoot longer hours, but I would say at a lower intensity than you would on an Australian shoot. So we'd be shooting sometimes 14, 18-hour days, but at a slower pace. So it has its positives and negatives."

The directors and DoP Mike Steel elected to shoot on the ARRI AMIRA when it was still very new. 

"It's all handheld in the film and there are lots of tight spaces. The Philippines is densely populated, especially in shanty areas. [We were working in] narrow hallways and doorways, and there just wasn't space for a big camera."

The lightness of the camera also made the long days manageable for Steel, McKeith said.

On-set, the brothers made sure that only one person was communicating with an actor at any given time, "because you don't want mixed messages," said Tom. 

"Generally we do a scene, then talk together, then one of us speaks to the actor. The other one might speak to Mike or to production design or whatever. It's rare that we have a big disagreement about what should happen."

Post was completed at Sydney's Trackdown with the aid of completion funding from Screen Australia.

The film debuted at Toronto, where it was nominated for the Dropbox award for best first feature, and has since played Warsaw, Adelaide, Canberra and Sydney.

The brothers are currently writing a film set on the border with Mexico, which Tom describes as "a social-thriller. [There's] a bit of continuity with Beast in terms of the style of film." 

Tom is also working on a sci-fi film with Jaymes and Talia Zucker, In Vitro, that was selected for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab earlier this year.

When IF spoke to Jaymes earlier in the year, he described the film as "a psychological sci-fi thriller set in a very real world… about a young woman who is kept in isolation on a cattle ranch in northern America and slowly comes to realise the truth about her existence."

The McKeiths are hoping their next outing behind the camera won't be such a shoestring affair.

"If you're working at a really small budget like Beast it's hard to make it a sustainable thing." 

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