Douglas Aarniokoski has shot second unit for Robert Rodriguez, Terry Gilliam and Jackie Chan. As a director, The Day is only his third feature, with a fourth (Nurse 3-D) on the way. The independent production went to the Toronto International Film Festival where WWE Films picked it up. The film is a post-apocalyptic thriller set in a 24-hour period as a gang of survivors fends off a gang of cannibals in a remote house they found. We spoke with Aarniokoski in Los Angeles as he and WWE were gearing up for massive promotions.
CraveOnline: What would you have done differently if you had known going in this would be a WWE Film?
Douglas Aarniokoski: I’m thrilled it’s a WWE film. I don't think I would’ve done anything differently. Their philosophy now has become more about being a distributor of films as opposed to being a platform for wrestlers. I think in the past people perceived them as it’s a WWE Film, it’s going to be starring this wrestler or that wrestler and we hope there’s a lot of cool action. I think even if today we had brought them the script, we would have made it exactly the same way. We actually talked about it. We said, “Look, we’re looking to make the best film. If it feels like we can achieve that through the banner of WWE, then that’s what we’re going to do. If there are places where we feel like we can infuse wrestlers who have done acting, are doing acting, it’s just like sports figures who are coming in and trying some acting.” It’s like anything. It’s like somebody who’s only done stage that is now doing film, or television that’s doing film. You’re just trying to I think put together the best team if you will, on film. So I don't think we would’ve made it any different quite frankly. I think it would have been the exact same movie.
As any distributor might when they pick up a film from a festival, did they have any notes?
You know, they didn’t have any notes. What they really wanted to do was they wanted to make sure that this movie would gravitate towards their audience. By doing that, I know they did a lot of research. I know that they screened the movie and it played gangbusters and everybody they talked to when they showed the movie really loved it, and that was their biggest concern. They wanted to make sure that they were being true to their core audience, which I find quite admirable because they realize how important their product is to their audience, and they want to make sure that they’re bringing their audience what it is they expect or they hope for, that they know the WWE will produce. That’s really what their concern was.
Will there be some publicity at their events?
Oh, huge. In fact, this weekend is Summer Slam in Los Angeles and we are all over the Summer Slam and they’re all over the movie so it’s going to be this beautiful, I hope, cross pollination of wrestling meets the post-apocalyptic world. So yeah, I’m really excited to see what they do with it.
Will any of the actors be appearing at Summer Slam?
Yes, yes they will. In fact all the actors in the movie are going to be there. Now will there be in Summer Slam? I don't know. I think that there is a surprise but I don’t know it.
What got you thinking about post-apocalyptic movies in the first place?
It’s funny, when I read scripts, I don’t necessarily set out for a genre per se. I’m looking to tell the best story. I’m looking for the best material and this script came to me, it just so happened to be a post-apocalyptic movie with a lot of action infused in it. The characters were riveting, the conflict was really engaging and that’s what drew me to the movie.
How did you find the script?
It was brought to me by the producer, Guy Danella. We were discussing another movie at his production company. We just happened to start talking about the kind of movies we like and what we’d love to do and da da da da. He said, “Hold on a second.” He got up in the meeting, he went to his office he grabbed another script and said, “Read this one too.” I said, “Is this with your production company?” He said, “No, no, this is an independent thing that my buddy wrote. See what you think.” So I took both of them home, I read The Day first, I called him five minutes later and said, “I’m in.” I never actually even read the other script.
My favorite part of post-apocalyptic movies is when they have to find supplies. Did you have fun with that aspect of the movie?
Yeah, it was great because we got to really play with the fact that it’s a little bit of a bait and switch. We wanted to work in what would they find, what would they have, what would they have to entice someone if they were building a trap or if they were trying to bait someone. It was also fun for the actors because I really let them design their costumes. So when you see the movie, you’ll see who has what type of gun, who has what other type of accessory. Dominic for instance carries a role of duct tape on his belt. He doesn’t use it in the movie but it’s there and it felt like a very practical choice for him. He was like, “Look, there’s so many different things I could do with this.” So that was part of his arsenal if you will. They all have that. Ashley Bell designed her whole outfit. We oversaw it and we talked about it but she said, “This is what I think I would have. This is why I think I would have it.” And we really broke it down but they sort of paved the way.
In your mind, what are the rules of a siege movie?
Wow, that’s a great question. I think for me the rules of a siege movie are to, number one, make it as realistic as possible. Try to drop back from looking at how you would make the film and take a look at how you would watch the film because we’ve all seen these movies. There isn’t anything that the audience hasn’t already encountered in their mind or on the screen. So I think because I’m a film lover and I love these types of movies, it was important for me to sit back and go, “Okay, if this was going to happen, how am I going to perceive this within the construct of the story? And does it feel real?” I just really want it to feel as real as possible.
We’ve also seen many movies use a process to take the color out of a film. What is the right way to use that process?
I can’t speak for anybody else. I can just speak for what we did. I just felt like this movie was a very desaturated look. I felt like it was a movie that was bleak. We didn’t have any primary colors in the film. I wanted it to feel somewhat hopeless because it was really just a day. I also really love Children of Men and I thought there was something really interesting about that palette, that world that they created visually. So when we were looking at films, the cinematographer and myself, that was one of the films that really inspired us. It felt like it was gritty. It felt like it was bleak and hopeless and yet at times they just infused a little bit of color in there just as an accent, not anything that you would jump towards, not anything your eye would gravitate at. It was just a little bit of smattering so that at the end, when we have the sun rising, that’s really our only color. It’s just the hope of a new day and those were our choices.
Is it a color correcting nightmare for an indie movie?
No, because we actually shot it like that. We dialed it into the RED camera. That was our palette. That was our look so we did very little color correcting actually.
Is it still a fight for you to get directing work?
It’s always a fight I think to get directing work. There’s only a few out there that are turning down movies I think at this point. There are so few movies getting made through the studio system, it seems like today it’s either an indie like a Paranormal Activity or our type of film, or it’s tentpole. There’s very few movies in between so it’s always been difficult as a director to get work, but I think if you really stay focused in what it is you want to do, I know a lot of directors, including myself, develop a lot of projects. Always working with writers trying to keep material fresh, come up with your type of ideas, I think if you do that, it helps to narrow the margin a bit.
Even with the experience you have, aren’t there people who need a director who can finish a movie?
Sure, I’m sure that there are but I also think first and foremost, at least I hope first and foremost, they’re looking for good storytellers. People who can work with actors, people who can tell a good story. It’s one thing to just deliver a film. It’s another thing to deliver an experience.
What kind of experience can we expect from Nurse 3-D?
Ah, Nurse 3-D is quite a ride. We really wanted to take the audience to someplace we hadn’t been before, which was this Fatal Attraction/Black Swan type of environment with two women set in a hospital, and shoot it in 3-D. So it lends itself to a lot of insanity and a lot of good fun quite frankly. It’s a popcorn movie.
Well, I’ll tell you where it started out. It originated back at Lionsgate when they were doing Saw VII. They had a publicity campaign where they had sent out nurses dressed in these costumes to do a blood drive. From there, Lionsgate got excited about the idea and wanted to design a movie around it quite frankly. That’s where it came from.
How was your experience doing Full Moon movies back in the day?
Wow, Full Moon movies. I’ll tell you, it was a great experience for me. It was also a different time. Back then, that’s when video stores were hoppin’. You could make direct to video movies because they had to fill the shelves. So these movies really found a core audience in that sort of camp/horror type of world, and Charlie Band at the time was kind of the kind of cheese if you will. For me, it was one of the first jobs I had in film so it was a great experience to get in there and be able to shoot a movie in 10 days and shoot 15 movies a year for one company. We’d shoot them in the same soundstage. We just kept rolling them in, rolling them in. I got to write on a couple of them. I got to direct second unit on a couple of them. So it was kind of a campy film school in a weird way, but it was great. Listen, any time you get to work on a film, for me you always find the nugget. You always find some little fantastic piece of information or a tool or a piece of equipment or something that somebody does or you try something out that hopefully you can stick it in your piggy bank, pull it out later when you need it.
How about directing Highlander: Endgame as your first studio film?
Yeah, that was a crazy experience. That was one of those movies where literally I got thrust into it, literally out of nowhere. I had shot second unit for the Weinsteins on another film and Bob grabbed me and called me and said, “Look, I want you to do the next film that we’re doing. It’s Highlander and you’re off to Romania.” It was just a whirlwind. It was a crazy learning experience.
Does the theatrical version even exist anymore? Because it was altered for the DVD.
I don't know. That’s a good question. Honestly, I don’t know.
What about shooting second unit on The Medallion?
Ah, The Medallion, yeah, that was a great experience. Listen, I got to shoot in Hong Kong with Jackie Chan which is like shooting in Vegas with Elvis. It was amazing and Jackie Cahn is an incredible, incredible performer. For me, I would’ve done that job for free quite frankly. It was just a great experience.