Shock Till You Drop: What were the greatest differences for you on a creative level in terms of moving from one Outpost film to the next?
Steve Barker: For me it was mostly about keeping things fresh. When we did the first movie we never gave any consideration to there being even the possibility of a sequel but once it became clear that people were serious about wanting to make another one my first thought was that I didn’t want to repeat or rehash the first movie. The sequels I’ve always admired are the ones that try and do something new, you do risk alienating your original audience a little bit but I thought it was a risk worth taking. With the first film we tried to build mystery, suspense and atmosphere out of very little in the first half of the picture and we could get away with that because the movie was fresh and the audience wasn’t entirely sure what was coming. Going into Black Sun I knew that wouldn’t work because the audience had already seen what was ultimately around the corner. So very early on we decided to shift genre slightly and make this more of an action adventure movie that expanded the mythology a little. Then we tried to introduce elements into the story that would make the movie stand on its own. So the character of Lena came from the fact that there were no female characters and there were no civilians in the first movie. Simply having her there was going to force us to write and shoot things differently.
From that point onwards the film was always going to present a very different set of challenges. It had many more locations, a much faster pace and a greater emphasis on action. However I wanted to keep as much of the same dark tone and aesthetic as I could and that was a huge challenge given that even though the film had a vastly increased scope we actually had a budget that was a only a fraction larger than the first movie and the same very limited schedule.
Shock: What fascinates you about WWII and the undead enough to keep you excited about the stories you are telling in the Outpost films?
Barker: I grew up hearing all about the war from my grandfathers, both whom fought and history was really the only academic subject that held my interest as a kid. But if I’m honest my first real connection with the movie came from the producer Kieran Parker who pitched the first movie to me as a concept of ‘Modern soldiers fight Undead Nazi’s’, and at the time there hadn’t been a movie like that in 20 years. I just saw it as a great set-up for a movie and as much as anything I think that these are movies about other movies. Although they’re in different genres, both of them are like love letters to everything I was into as a kid, from early John Carpenter movies to ‘Alien’ to ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. It was only when we began working on the first script that I started to really see the possibilities of making it have these tiny echoes with scientific discoveries and experiments from the past like the Philadelphia Experiment and once we did that, our own little mythology began to grow.
Shock: How much bigger of a production is Black Sun compared to the first film? (It looks great, the money's on the screen.) What particular challenges came with that for you?
Barker: The movie was really tough to make and I think it put a huge strain on everyone involved. The problem was that we had a script with four times the level of scope and ambition but a budget that only fractionally bigger. The first movie was done for about 1 million pounds and Black Sun was made for about 1.3 million pounds. But if I’m proud of anything in this movie it’s that I don’t think it looks like it cost so little and I think that’s entirely down to the dedication and skill of the entire crew. Everybody worked so hard to finish the movie in just 28 days and I’m loath to pick out anyone in particular but I think James Lapsley (the production designer) and his team deserve huge credit for building such a believable world from scratch and what Darran Tiernan (the DOP) did with light and shadow to really bring everything to life still astonishes me. At times it was horrific and I’m pretty sure everybody wanted to physically harm everybody else at one point or another, but in the end we got it done and we’re all still genuine friends which is cool and the way things should always be.
Shock: How many zombies did you have at any given time on the set and what was the most exciting scene to shoot?
Barker: For budget reasons we tried to keep it to three or four in most scenes. The principle Zombies in every scene are all being played by the same three guys. Dom Watters, Gareth Morrison and Simon Donaldson were brilliant, they got really into it and formed a self-styled ‘Team Nazi’ who worked with the guys who came in for just one or two days, getting them up to speed.
But keeping track of which make-ups were around for which scenes and then scheduling around hours and hours complicated application was a nightmare because we had so little time to make the movie in. In the end, just to keep track of everything, the 2nd AD and I had to work out mini script for each Nazi; when and where they arrived and then died in the movie. I can’t remember which one of us came up with idea of naming all the Nazi’s after members of girl groups but when it’s raining and you’re all tired someone radioing for Nazi ‘Posh Spice’ or ‘Beyonce‘ to be brought onto set always seems to get a chuckle.
I think that the largest group we had was about 20 and that was for the final sequence in the machine chamber. That happened to be the last day of shooting so we were all pretty much running on empty by then and Paul Hyett’s prosthetics team lead by Chris Fitzpatrick were facing what was probably their most hardcore day. I still can’t believe just how good their work was considering our resources.
As for the most exciting bit to shoot I‘d probably have to say that it was the brief sequence near the end of the movie where the NATO troops try to hold off the Nazi assault on the village. Both sides of the battle were played by members of the UK’s Territorial Army who’d not long returned from a tour a duty in Afghanistan. They were brilliant to work with and really enthusiastic. The battle needed to be shot at dusk so they rehearsed all day with the fight coordinator whilst I was shooting other stuff then we had a single 30min window where the light was right to get as many takes as possible with explosions going off around them and the guys going crazy. It was tense but so much fun.
Shock: Are you involved in the third film we've been hearing about, what is to come?
Barker: I’m afraid I can’t give you too much of a scoop on the third film since I haven’t really been involved in it. It was pulled together while I was still away finishing post-production Black Sun and if I’m honest I think I was a pretty much ‘zombied-out’ by then. But it’s been kept ‘in the family’ as a production with a script by Rae Brunton who wrote on the first movie and co-wrote the second with me and Kieran Parker who produced the first two movies stepping up as director this time. I’m really excited about seeing it since although we see each other all the time I’ve managed to stay pretty much spoiler free and I’m finally going to be able to watch one of these films like a regular movie rather than sweating or agonising over every cut.