Like a throwback to 1980s and early ’90s crime thriller, Kill Me Three Times tells the tale of three different groups of questionable characters, who go about solving their problems in the worst possible ways, and even manage to drag a hit man into their battles. The assassin, Charlie Wolfe, is an accomplished killer, but even he soon realizes that he’s swiftly proceeded straight into a field of land mines after spending just a few hours in Eagle’s Nest. Now, his only course of action left is to try to complete his line of duty, even when tons of murderers, crooks, and liars stand in his way.
I was fortunate enough to speak with director Kriv Stenders about his hilarious, exciting new thriller Kill Me Three Times. In the interview, we talk about Kriv’s desire to cast a comedian in the role of a hit man, the way he used Australia’s terrain to amplify his shocking scenes, and his growing affinity for television.
Kalyn Corrigan: So, I was wondering, in what order to people sign onto this film? How did you bring everyone together for this project?
Kriv Stenders: Well, it’s interesting because I was sent the script when another director, who was originally meant to direct it, when there was a scheduling conflict. So, it was just this opportunity that came out of the blue and Larry Malkin sent me the script, I read it and I loved it, but what was really intriguing wasn’t necessarily that it was a good project, but it had a number of elements already attached to it. So, Sullivan Stapleton, Alice Braga were already on board, which was great, because I loved both of them as actors, so that was a great way to start. So, I read the script, and I thought, you know, this is such a fun movie, this is such a fun script, I find it really operatic and actually really funny. My pitch I guess was to amplify that comedy and that black humor. I think with Charlie, there are so many generic hit man in history that we can’t go down that same route, and I’m a big believer that comedians, or comedic actors make great villains so I said “I want to cast a comedian in this role.” So, we started looking at comedians, and one day Larry suggested Simon Pegg and I said “Genius, brilliant” and we were very lucky that he said yes. So, Simon came on, and then eventually, we got Callan Mulvey and Teresa Palmer and finally Luke Hemsworth and Bryan Brown. So, it all kind of happened very quickly, which is, again, fun.
KC: I think that’s very smart to put a comedian in the role of a hit man.
KS: Yeah, well you know, I think, I love Robin Williams in those movies that he did like Insomnia and One Hour Photo. I thought that was a really brave idea. I always thought, “Oh, I’m gonna store that idea, and use it one day.” That kind of methodology, but yeah, it really worked for us one on this one.
KC: I love the genre blending and I think where this film succeeds where others kind of like it in the past have not is that it’s not a straight parody, it’s an action film with elements of comedy thrown in.
KS: That’s right. Yeah, yeah. It’s what I call a four square meal. You get everything, plus a nice dessert. (Laughs)
KC: So how did you find that balance between the genres?
KS: It was difficult, actually. It wasn’t so much difficult to maintain, it was just difficult to kind of lock on to, because there was some dramatic elements to it. Simon created a kind of rhythm and feel and I guess tone. But, once Simon came on and we knew that was the way we were gonna go, then it very much became about, “Okay, we can do this and therefore we have to do this and we have to emphasize things in a different way, and always make people understand that this was ultimately a movie that had its tongue very firm in its cheek” and that was a lot of fun. It wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, and that goes into the color schemes, the framing, the music, everything. It’s very much like writing a song, or playing the music. Once you find the rhythm, you know what instruments you’re going to use, you just stick to that template and then it all kind of gels.
KC: Yeah. It’s also challenging because not only are you doing a film where you have three different groups of people whose stories interweave, but it’s all told not in chronological order. So, how did you go about tackling that?
KS: Well, like anything, a film’s never shot in chronological order anyway. They play with time when you schedule them. You know, you’re shooting the beginning at the end, or the end at the beginning, and whatever. But it was such a great screenplay, it had such a great architect to it that it was a bit like building a model airplane, all of the pieces were there, and it was a lot of joy in getting to put the pieces together. So, you always knew where that piece fitted in to the grand scheme of things, because you knew that it had this great kind of clockwork that played with time and that was its engine, so that’s a really delightful thing to work with as opposed to a straight, linear story. So, it has its own sort of shape.
KC: Yeah, James McFarland did a really great job on the script.
KS: He did an amazing job. He’s a very talented man. This is one of his first screenplays, so I think he’s got some big things ahead.
KC: Yeah. Did he spend a lot of time on the set?
KS: No, I’ve never met James.
KC: Oh really? Wow.
KS: Actually, I’ve only met him over Skype. He lives in Ireland, and I wouldn’t call him a recluse, but I think he doesn’t really travel much, so we had a long distance remote collaboration, which was still really, really great.
KC: So was that challenging? Because you never really got to see him?
KS: Not really because when you’re dealing with a writer, you’re dealing with words, you’re dealing with ideas, and in a way, I like it. It sort of makes things easier in a way, and cleaner, because you’re communicating in the best way possible, which is through words and through ideas, and he was very generous, as well. He was very open to my suggestions and to heightening things and tailoring things a little bit more to the way I thought they should be staged. So, that was just a great, great collaboration, a lot of fun.
KC: So he gave you a lot of freedom?
KS: He did, he did, but at the same time, the script itself also said, “Look, you can go off the track a little bit, but you can’t go too far” because it had this great, as I said, this great kind of matrix, this great architecture that you can’t really mess around with much.
KC: I noticed that there’s a smoothness and a fluidity to this film as opposed to some of your previous work. It seems that there’s a lot more tracking shots in Kill Me Three Times, so what made you want to change it up and kind of change your style of filmmaking for this project?
KS: Well, to me it was very much about, as a filmmaker I think you always want to learn something with every film you make. You don’t want to repeat yourself. You don’t want to rely on old tricks, and I think it’s very important that you challenge yourself, and you try and scare yourself a little bit. This was an exercise in making, I guess, sort of, a movie with a capital “M”. You know, an international movie. I said to the crew, “Look. Let’s not think of this as an Australian movie. Let’s think of this as an American movie that just happens to be set in Australia.” So that was a really great way to start to enter the material, you know? Let’s shoot on anamorphic lenses, let’s be bold with the color, let’s go ’80s on this. Let’s really embrace fluouros and neons, let’s really push the color, and let’s really play with the compositions, and let’s make what I call a sports car of a movie. It moves really fast, it looks really cool, and it’s really fun to drive.
KC: Yeah, yeah that’s definitely one of the things I loved about it is the use of color and how it kind of pops and it’s like this very distinct separation between the setting and the events that are taking place. It almost amplifies the violence, because the settings are so beautiful, and the shots of Australia are so gorgeous. So, how did you use Australia’s terrain to amplify the violence in the film?
KS: Well, again we sort of made the decision to, you know, that this wasn’t going to be a piece of social realism or wasn’t really going to be about a real place, and again it was like creating…I guess like creating a cartoon. It was about simplifying things, like making things the way they are in comic books, very graphic and vivid and high key. These landscapes we have are really beautiful, but these color schemes are really bold. That water is actually that color, it is that aqua green color. The skies are a vivid blue, and the greens really do pop. And I went, “Wow! That’s the color scheme! It’s going to be blue and green and red for the blood.” The landscapes sort of presented itself to me in that way. It was like, okay, these are like textedit colors, and I’m going to draw and paint this stuff with these really strong, vivid colors. It was great when you have something speaking to you like that, and you can play with that, and play with combinations, and how you can keep those visual colors and those ideas going throughout every facet of the story.
KC: Do you prefer filming in Australia as opposed to other areas of the world?
KS: Well, I haven’t really shot anywhere else. I live in Australia, and I love living in Australia, and I love working there. We’re very lucky, we’ve got a great system over there, we’ve got the offset system, which is great to have state and federal funding for films. We’re very fortunate. For a small country, I think we make a lot of movies, and I think we make a lot of really great movies. So, obviously, I’d love to work over here and make films internationally, but it’s sort of a country that I’ve grown up in and I’ve grown up making films in. We’ve got a great lineage, who’ve paved the path for us. A whole generation, people like Peter Weir and Phillip Noyce and Gillian Armstrong, so there’s a great kind of tradition there. Crews are fantastic over there. You know, we’re a very egalitarian race or country I guess, and that egalitarianism is really prevalent on a film set. Everyone helps each other, departments cross over, there’s no such thing as a bad idea and everyone is a creative participant in it, not just a crew member or someone who sets up a light, or pushes a dolly. They’re invested in telling the story.
KC: Yeah, they’re all very intertwined. So is this something that you would like to continue? Would you like to keep making movies in Australia?
KS: I’ll make movies wherever they’ll have me. (Laughs) Yeah I will, and I kind of have to, my family lives there. I think it’s an exciting time now. I think television and film, it’s all fusing. There are new canvases and platforms. The way we have watched films has changed, and it’s changing in Australia and it’s an exciting time, and I’m just fortunate to have a career there, and be able to build on my previous work and hopefully continue moving forward.
KC: Are you interested in pursuing television?
KS: Oh yeah, I’ve just done a T.V. show. I just shot a thing called The Principal late last year and it was just one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. Television, to me, it’s such an exciting new canvas. To me, it’s not really television, I call them long form movies, because I think that’s what good television is. It’s still the craft of storytelling. It’s the same craft and the same skills, and I guess the same standards that you’d use in a feature film, you’ve got to do that in television as well, because peoples’ standards are now that much higher, so it’s a thrilling time.
KC: Yeah, especially with shows like True Detective and Game of Thrones, they’ve become so cinematic.
KS: Yeah, and to me, it’s blurred now, and I find that really interesting and really exciting, because films have a place, and that longer style of storytelling has a place and it’s a bit like the difference between listening to a rock song or reading a book. You know, they’re both valid experiences. One’s immediate and short, you have that one-and-a-half hour experiences in a dark room or on your big screen, and it’s complete, while television is great too, it’s like reading a big book and putting it down, and coming back to it, and entering the story world in a different way. So they’re both valid, and they’re both, creatively, really satisfying and exciting mediums.
KC: Which one would you say you’re more interested in currently?
KS: In a way, I think television now, because it’s a way in which, I think films have become, there’s a polarity with movies now. You either make a tentpole film, or you make a film for like, baby boomers. In Australia at least, they’re they only films that work theatrically. So, there’s this whole middle ground of dramas and genre films that don’t really get to be made or be seen by a big audience, while with television, you’re allowed to do drama, you’re allowed to push. In a funny kind of way, you can be bolder with television now than with feature films because feature films are so expensive to make, and they have to be so targeted towards a certain audience that you have to be very careful about what you’re making, and who you’re making it for. With television, of course you still make it for an audience or for a market, but there’s a little bit more freedom in television.
KC: Yeah, one thing that I really loved about your film is that it was made for adults, you know?
KS: Yeah, no it’s very much an adult movie that hopefully you live vicariously through the characters and you have a bit of fun. It’s what films are meant to be. It’s entertainment and adult escapism.
KC: Do you think it’s important to make a movie like this in a society where films are geared more and more towards children?
KS: I’ve actually got a kid myself, and I’ve made movies for kids before, like Red Dog. You know they’re very important but at the same time yeah, I’ve grown up loving movies and loving all sorts of eras and all sorts of genres. I think it’s important to still keep making movies, you know, appealing to all kinds of audiences. I would like to make all kinds of films, and I just happened to make this one in this way, and it’s been really satisfying and really fun.
KC: Do you think you’ll make any more films for children?
KS: Yeah, I’m making a sequel to Red Dog next, and I wouldn’t call it a children’s film, it’s a family film, and it’s going back to that material and back to that kind of audience, because that’s a big audience. It’s good to make something that you know has got a home, you know, has a birth.
KC: Are there any other upcoming projects that you’d like to discuss?
KS: I’m trying to finance a film called Danger Close which is based on a true story about a very famous Australian battle in Vietnam. It’s an action movie, and that’s something that we’re trying to get off of the ground now, so that’s something I’m focusing on.