SIMON FOSTER: Plunging head-first into the found-footage genre for a first film can be a treacherous path. What were the plusses you had to adhere, the beats you knew you had to hit, to make it a successful F-F film….?
DRAZEN BARIC: I went into this project headfirst and excited. I’ve been in the film industry in varying capacities for a long time and have enough experience to know that the task was going to be difficult. What we were able to achieve was done on on the backs of friends and colleagues who work in the film industry. My main mandate was to ‘not’ interfere with peoples’ Monday to Friday work week schedules, so we filmed on weekends throughout the summer months. Keeping schedules, organizing cast and crew, ensuring locations were organized and available; that was all very difficult and taxing.
Creatively, this film was a different type of challenge. The genre is very specific; both the found footage elements and the horror genre ideals are enormously popular and have an incredibly talented population of artists contributing to the art form. With my screenwriter and co-producer, Damien Slevin, we set out to create a film that was more of an homage to the 70’s and early 80’s horror films. With today’s film sensibilities [favouring] fast-frame, slick style, blood drenching, horror gore, we knew we were risking a lot making a film that required patience with approach and style. In the end, we hoped we had good style, integrity and satisfying pay-off, something to be proud of.
FOSTER: …and what traps were you determined not to fall into?
BARIC: My biggest issue was making sure the group of actors worked well together. We needed to like these guys, even though they were assholes. We needed to believe they all knew each other for decades and that no matter how harsh the dialogue was toward each other, there was a sense of “OH … these guys are such good friends they can bag on each other and things are ok”! This is a guy-film with ‘dude’ sensibilities and uncomfortable politically incorrect banter! Woo HOO !
FOSTER: I also sensed a degree of parody for the genre in some of the set-ups. There is a sly sense of humour running through the film…
BARIC: Damien is very sly in his resolve and is crude in his sense of humour. There are many underlying jokes, comments, words spoken that only a select few people would understand or comprehend. He slipped in nuances in the film’s dialogue that made the film ‘an intelligent film.’ The guys needed to be interesting and credible, so that when they get hunted you actually feel for them. They weren’t just assholes who were on a weekend bender on some Indian Reserve Lake!
FOSTER: The legend of lake monsters is common through many cultures. Did you draw your premise on any specific myth or personal experience?
BARIC: One night, I was speaking with Damien’s brother Greg via skype about making a movie. We could not come up with a concept that was feasible on a budget level [until] Greg came up with a found-footage-type of film set in the wild with a bunch of guys. He pitched me “The Thing meets Deliverance”, and that was all I needed to get excited about the project. Shortly after, I met Damien briefly in Portugal in early 2012, while he was on his honeymoon (I continue to apologize to Damien’s wife for highjacking their honeymoon; sorry, Jade!)
I found an article on a Canadian Lake monster, Gitaskog (pronounced gee-tah-skog, and also known Tato-skog, Peeta-skog, or Msa-skog), a horned serpent, said to lurk in lakes and eat humans. All of its names are variants on the meaning "great serpent" or "big serpent." It was all we needed to start drafting a story outline and put Damien on pace to complete a full draft of the script within the month after his honeymoon.
FOSTER: Damien, what (pseudo-)science did you and your design team work from when creating the creature’s physicality?
DAMIEN SLEVIN: Myth can be a distorting variable. Accounts suggest that the Gitaskog was some kind of a serpent and Greg did a design with that in mind. But we figured that witnesses would have seen it submerged and how would anyone know what it truly looked like? So we decided to just have fun and come up with something fresh. We came up with about 20 separate creature designs, including the Spawn or the baby Gitaskog. As the creature is female and there is the sexual aspect to it, we decided to go with a kind of “vagina” mouth. Greg thought that being a North American animal it should be in keeping with the indigenous fauna and felt it should have fur like a beaver (there is room for bad puns here). The Spawn creature would then have little tufts of hair as it was not fully developed. But our visual effects supervisor, Alex Boothby, advised us that CGI fur is really expensive, wet fur even more so, so we had to drop the fur idea.
We also put a lot of consideration into how the creature would move and attack. In the final scene with the big reveal of the Gitaskog, we don’t get to see its full body; we get a slightly better idea of what it might look like in the film when the Spawn washes up on shore.
FOSTER: Respectfully, your key group of characters are…well, kind of douchebags. In the writing stage and rehearsal period, how did the tonality and dynamic of the group take shape?
BARIC: I was amazed at how well my actors were able to make the relationships believable and realistic. I love the banter and the ‘bagging’ that goes on. It gives the entire film a sincere character style that is not forced nor contrived. Once Ivan Simanic and Mike Kekich got started with the dialogue and the actions needed to carry every single scene, it became amazing to watch the characters evolve. Brandon Dhue and Greg Carraro followed suit thereafter and delivered believable ‘guy’ fun dialogue/performances. I don’t think they were so much “douchebags.” I think they delivered an uncensored view into issues, dialogues, mindsets & beliefs that can only be accepted by a group of close friends. Damien’s punchy, edgy dialogue is shocking by some standards, but that is because everyone is too afraid to speak their minds. Political correctness bullshit is boring and annoying.
FOSTER: If I may play the ‘devil’s advocate’, are you at all concerned that drawing upon native Canadian culture and depicting a kind of traditional tribal savagery based upon mythology might not play well to the PC-sensitive millennial crowd?
BARIC: I totally disagree. If you look at the film and listen to the delivery of the message, it is on the side of the Native Peoples. You have five guys going into a precious territory that belongs to the native people, [despite] being genuinely warned to stay away. Mystic things ensue and tradition continues on with the beliefs and rituals of the lake monster. The bad guys in the film are not the savagery of the Indians or the mystic stuff hunting each of the guys. It is the five dudes that go up north & think they won something and own some sacred land that is not theirs. It is typical of the mindset and history of the ‘western’ world man taking whatever they want.
FOSTER: There is a particular moment when you decide to up the ante, to really declare “Here’s your horror film, everyone!” (No spoilers, but it ends with a loud ‘kerplunk’ in the water). What role did you need the occasional burst of violence to play in the film?
BARIC: Gitaskog was an experiment in creating a film that has the essence of the slow burn. Build [menace], create tension and deliver some cool key moments of fear with a great finale that really bites and delivers good plausible pay-offs. If the key moments that reveal and deliver fear did not work, or the monster-type elements were unconvincing, then the movie would not work. The effects work of Alex Boothby and Ben Mazzotta and 3D creature creation of Andrew Emslie was incredible.
FOSTER: What views do you have on how modern horror films utilise gore?
BARIC: Gore is fun and amazing! We just did not have the mindset to create that type of film. It was an incredible risk to make this type of film in this type of genre because of today’s impatient sensibilities and lack of tolerance. We made this film on the basis that it would be something ‘we’ would want to watch. To predict what others would want to sit through would be a mistake. Gitaskog had to be a film we would be proud of and could enjoy for many years. To have it in the vernacular of the film industry, having secured distribution and festival screenings, makes us very proud.