The premise for Raze is pretty intriguing. It's about women forced to fight for their lives in a tournament-like death match. Director Josh Waller describes it as "Taken meets Fight Club meets Eyes Wide Shut, the latter in that there is an underground aristocracy at its core. I wanted to try to track something closer to the gladiator days, as if this is something that has been happening since ancient Rome … they just went underground."
The two main stars of the film are Zoe Bell and Rachel Nichols. Bell is one of the top female stunt performers in the world, you probably know she was Lucy Lawless' stunt double on Xena and Uma Thurman's in Kill Bill. She also starred in Death Proof and web series Angel of Death (costarring Doug Jones — the usual darling of Guillermo del Toro — who is also in Raze). Nichols, among many other turns, played Rachel Gibson in Alias (where she had a fight scene with Bell) and had a role in another TV series, Criminal Minds. A couple of her most memorable appearances were in the movies P2 and G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra.
Waller explains that "in Raze, there are beautiful women from all over who are abducted specifically to fight. [The women] are forced to fight and they don't know who by, but they have to fight or they die."
Read our exclusive interview with Waller and Beaucage to find out more about how this film came to be, and how it's shaping up.
How did the two of you meet, and what was the tipping point of getting together to actually go ahead and make Raze?
Robert Beaucage: I was involved with Cosmic Toast Studios (now merged with Cinipix) and helping to develop Raze with them. They had written a short, which was intended to be the opening of a feature, which had not yet been written. Josh was involved with them on other projects, and, when he read the opening of Raze, he came to us with ideas for developing the idea into a web series, with the short being the first episode. He also was friends with Rachel Nichols and Zoë Bell and brought them onboard, so Cosmic Toast decided to make the project into a web series with Josh directing the first episode. When buzz got out about the concept though, Cosmic Toast returned to the original idea of making it as a feature. With Josh still onboard to direct, he and Kenny [Gage, one of the partners in Cosmic Toast Studios] asked me to write the screenplay, incorporating ideas we had talked about together.
Josh Waller: Yeah, Robert and I met through the guys over at Cosmic Toast(Andy Pagana and Kenny Gage). I was working on another project with Andy and ended up becoming friends with everyone over there through that process. Kenny approached me to take a look at a short film script that he'd written called Raze. I read it and thought there was most definitely something there. From that point, the two of us started to develop the story and then we engaged with Robert. Then Robert started kicking ass.
Both Zoë and Rachel have been friends of mine for years. Rachel and I are always looking for a chance to work together and this was something she hadn't really done. Rachel is such a gifted actress and I would cast her in virtually anything. It was a no-brainer. With Zoë, she was just the first person I thought of to play Sabrina. I've watched Zoë make the transition from stunt performer to actress over the past few years, both as a friend and as an audience-member, and I can honestly say that she's really fantastic in this. The level of commitment to her stunt career is the same level of commitment that she brings to acting. She's truly perfecting her craft and it's only moments before people are knocked on their ass. I was lucky to be able to get them both and to also have them as friends.
What is it that sets Raze apart from other women who kick ass movies (like, say, something by Russ Myer, or Zack Snyder's Sucker Punch?)
Robert Beaucage: There's more of a horror element to Raze than to movies like Russ Meyer's. With Raze, we hope the audience will not only root for the women and thrill to their fighting, but also fear for them both physically and psychologically. Without going into detail, let's just say that the situation the women find themselves in is horrific -- in fact, their situation is totally fucked up, to say the least!
Josh Waller: Well, what I might say about both Russ Myer's films and Sucker Punch is that they're exploitation. And there's nothing wrong with that and there's definitely a market for that. But what I wanted to do with this film was to treat it in exactly the same fashion as if we were shooting it with male leads. These are real people in a very real situation. There's no sex scenes or nudity because that shit isn't necessary to move the story forward. This film surges by way of emotionally-charged scenes in both action and non-action sequences. But mostly action. As Rachel Nichols once said, "No pretty blood in this one."
What is it about the bloody action genre (ala Spartacus, and The Deadliest Warrior on TV) that never ceases to hold audience's interests? (What are some of your own favorites, and are there any nods in Raze to, say, stuff like The Running Man or Gladiator?)
Robert Beaucage: The fact that I wrote a lot of blood into Raze doesn't stem from the bloody action genre per se but from the fact that Raze was initially conceived as a horror movie before it evolved into action. When it comes to my own tastes in action movies in particular, I'm more of a comic book action movie guy (by which I mean movies like, for example, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Raiders of the Lost Ark) than a bloody action movie guy.
Josh Waller: Haha. Hmmm... I didn't really consciously nod to any of those. Maybe times "Gladiator" would pop into my head. "Die Hard", however, is always running through my head as it's one of the most perfect films ever made, so I would hope I even got a little bit of that in this -- I think people are drawn to this type of film for the same reason that people slow down on the freeway to see a wreck. The same reason that people watch fights. The same reason that gladiators even existed. It's not the genre - It's just who we are. We all have a dark side -- This is just a form of self-expression for filmmakers and self-indulgence for viewers.
What did you shoot this movie on, and what do you think of the advent of digital filmmaking? Who's your DP, and what's his style?
Robert Beaucage: We shot on the Red Epic, in 4K. Personally, I still find the look of film preferable to the look of digital for most things -- but the margin of that preference is narrowing! Raze's footage looks fantastic by any standard. Our DP is Dylan O'Brien (I'll let Josh talk about Dylan's style since he was working the most closely with him).
Josh Waller: Dylan O'Brien was our Cinematographer. I really can't speak any more highly about Dylan. I always came to the table with shots and then he would consistently "offer up" far more interesting ideas. Plus, he's just a pleasure to work with -- I love digital filmmaking. It helps make the impossible possible. Just getting to the point where you're actually making is nearly impossible. Digital cameras make it easier for you to put a giant check in that box.
How much of the gore is practical, and how much CGI you might be using in post. How much of this is thought out in advance -- you do find a lot "on the day" or / and in editing, or is everything very regimented in advance?
Robert Beaucage: As much of the gore as we could feasibly do with practical effects, we did so. We always planned to use CG only as an enhancement to what we shot in camera.
Josh Waller: This is very regimented. It has to be when you're working on the lower budget films. If you fly by the seat of your pants, you fail. We were pretty committed to doing all practical FX. Fortunately, we had Mario Torres, Jr. to head up our Special Effects Make-Up department. He's an artist. Truly. If by chance we need to do some "tweaking" on any of the effects, we have the capabilities but we didn't want to rely on that.
Who is the audience for Raze?
Robert Beaucage: Action fans, horror fans, and, most of all, anyone who wants to see more kick-ass women fighting than just about any other movie. Not to mention Zoë Bell fans, Rachel Nichols fans, Sherilyn Fenn fans, Tracie Thoms fans, Doug Jones fans…
Josh Waller: I know it sounds cliche but...everyone. Unless you don't like violence. So.., anyone who likes violence. haha. And fantastic acting from an entire cast of artists. Let's just say this : I love Independent film and the storytelling that can come from the lower budgets but, I'm also a child of huge blockbuster action films, so I could feel them both running through my head.
Finally, please let us know about your future collaborations -- any plans for more productions in the near future?
Robert Beaucage: Cosmic Toast/Cinipix is producing (with Slater Brothers Entertainment) a gritty action movie called The Devil's Ink [with Kenny Gage and Devon Downs co-directing from their own script] this fall, and then in the beginning of 2013 they're producing a suspense movie that I'm directing called Suppression. I also have a comedy in development which is in the general spirit of Shaun of the Dead, Ghostbusters, An American Werewolf In London, that sort of thing.
Josh Waller: Right now we are in the post-production stage of Raze. Tightening it up. While this is happening, I am in pre-production for a film I've been working on for years called "McCanick" written by Daniel Noah(writer/director of the upcoming "Max Rose" with Jerry Lewis). We start shooting on Sept. 11 in Philadelphia. David Morse(Disturbia, 16 Blocks, Dancer in the Dark), one of my all-time favorite actors, is playing Eugene McCanick, a hardluck cop who is on a downward spiral tracking down a released ex-con named Simon Weeks, played by Cory Monteith(GLEE). On the producing side, Daniel(Noah), Elijah Wood, and myself have our own production company called The Woodshed, dedicated to producing what we've come to refer to as "elevated" genre films. We have some wonderful projects with simply amazing, talented filmmakers in our pipeline right now -- it's an exciting time for us.