Back in the Big Chair – Director Kimble Rendall on his ’90-minute popcorn film’, shark thriller Bait 3D

Director Kimble Rendall on the set of BAIT 3D.

Director Kimble Rendall is under no illusions about the artistic or social merits of his ‘sharks in a supermarket’ horror thriller Bait 3D. It’s a 90-minute popcorn film,” he says matter-of-factly. “You’re not trying to solve all the problems of the world!” Which made it even more surprising when it was announced that the prestigious Venice International Film Festival had selected Bait 3D for its out-of-competition midnight screening slot.

“I was just working on my emails and this invitation to Venice popped up as an email,” explains Rendall. “I thought, ‘this is unusual – this can’t be real! A 3D horror movie being invited to a prestigious festival like Venice.’ But it was real. So off we went. I talked to the director of the festival and asked him why we were chosen, and he said they really wanted to make the festival different; change the mix and have a range of entertaining stuff.”

Which begs the question, who sent a copy of Bait 3D into the festival for consideration? “I hadn’t, but somebody had,” says Rendall. “I think it was Screen Australia, one of the investors in the film, who screened it to the Venice selector when he came out to look at all the Australian films. He picked ours, and so we became one of fifty films worldwide to be in festival. It’s very gratifying. We had a midnight screening in one of the big cinemas there and it was the first time I’d seen the film with a whole lot of people. The horror fans came and they loved it, screaming at the scary bits! The Italian press seemed really positive and now it’s a big release in Italy. It’s all over the place there, with bulletin boards and videos on railway stations. Huge!”

Which is not to say everyone is going to love this unashamedly cheesy shark thriller, which many critics are saying is not quite cheesy, gory or scary enough to qualify for full-blown B-movie glory. No matter. The film is getting a huge release on 1,700 screens in China, as well as in numerous other territories, including Italy, Germany, Cambodia and Russia. Teenage girls all over the world will get to gleefully clutch their boyfriends’ arms as they watch the stalking Great White sharks pick off the survivors from the submerged supermarket shelves, one by one. It’s no spoiler to reveal that lead actor, heartthrob Xavier Samuel, will survive to see another day.

Tall, amiable and unpretentious, Kimble Rendall is veteran of the music and film industries and over the past four decades has been able to spread his skills across a huge range of projects – from being a starting member of bands XL-Capris and The Hoodoo Gurus in the 70s and 80s, to editing at the ABC and the BBC, working on documentaries, current affairs and drama. As a freelance editor he produced and cut Essie Coffey’s award-winning 1978 documentary My Survival as an Aboriginal. Then came a high profile career as a hugely commercials director (for which he won a Cannes Lion) and a music video director for bands such as Mental as Anything, Cold Chisel, the Angels and Hunters and Collectors. “My two passions are music and film and I’ve always done the two simultaneously,” he explains, “starting from when I was about twelve, making experimental films and playing guitar. When I was playing in a band at night, I was editing during the day. Then I did music videos that led out of that. It’s kind of a stereotypical path now – to move from music videos to film, but I was doing it back then.”

Rendall’s first feature as director was Australian teen comedy horror film Cut (2000), starring Molly Ringwald, Jessica Napier and featuring Kylie Minogue. Produced by Mushroom Pictures and Beyond Films, Cut was not a critical or commercial success in Australia, but it was sold to all markets in the world, with particular success in France and Hong Kong.

Rendall’s career as an above-the-title  film director stalled at this point, but took off in another highly successful direction – as a Second Unit director on high budget Hollywood productions, from the Matrix sequels, to I Robot, Casanova, Ghost Rider and Knowing. While the first unit on a film typically shoots the key drama between principal actors, a second unit (which has its own cinematographer and director) films action sequences and pickups not requiring the key actors. Asked for his advice on second unit directing, Rendall says exuberantly, “You’ve got to love blowing things up! Boys’ toys, fast cars and all that jazz. It is great fun.”

Having said that, Rendall intially resisted the move to second unit directing. “When I was offered the Matrix work, I thought ‘I don’t really want to just go and do Second Unit on somebody else’s films. I want to direct my own films!’ Then a friend of mine, Steve Owen, who’s an AD who does all this assistant directing work on all these big films, he rang me and said ‘you’re an idiot. I’ll ring you back and ask you again. This is Warner Bros and it’s a great opportunity.’ So I went into that world of Hollywood filmmaking and it was just incredible, being on the set, working with Woo-ping [Yuen], the Hong Kong action guy who was largely responsible for bringing all that into Western filmmaking. He’s the master of this. He’s got a team of ten, and he sat next to me and I got to see how they do it. You learn how to do things on a big scale. It ended up being a good thing for me. For the last ten years I’ve just worked for Hollywood studios– haven’t worked for Australian films at all, and I’ve gone all around the world doing second unit. I worked with Lasse Halstrom on Cassanova and was in Venice for six months, and it was just amazing. A director normally doesn’t get to see how another director works, but working second unit you get to watch all these great directors and see how they work.”

Before the sharks came… Actors Sharni Vinson and Xavier Samuel play young lovers in BAIT 3D.

Rendall admits it felt very good to be “back in the big chair” as a director. “I loved it. On Bait everybody else was down in the water on the shelves and I had my own little area above it all. I got to sit up there and shout down at everyone with my microphone!” Asked whether this made the cold and wet cast feel a little bit grumpy, Rendall says, “They were wet all the time, and yes, at times a little bit grumpy. Phoebe (Tonkin) and Cariba (Heine) have spent most of their careers in the water being mermaids in television series H2O, so this was nothing new for them. We  had to keep the water the right temperature and we looked after them and paid a lot of attention to make them as comfortable as possible. They were all a great bunch. At times they’d get a bit tense, but I’d just use that – it was quite good for the characters! As time went on, and some of the characters would get eaten – because we shot in sequence – I always played a special song for them as they went. Dan Wyllie’s song was [Talking Heads’] ‘Psycho Killer’ – and then they were gone! Suddenly there was one less actor in the room.”

Dan Wyllie in BAIT 3D

Originating from an idea by Russell Mulcahy (the director of Razorback and Highlander, who is credited here as co-writer and executive producer), Bait 3D follows a group of people trapped in a flooded Gold Coast supermarket after a freak tsunami washes in, along with a bunch of trapped killer sharks. The cast includes Australian actors turned Hollywood up-and-comers like Xavier Samuel, Julian McMahon, Phoebe Tonkin, Sharni Vinson and Cariba Heine, as well as Aussie stalwarts Dan Wyllie and Martin Sacks. Various degrees of seriousness are adopted by these actors – from Samuel’s ‘straight as a die’ heroics to Wyllie’s hilariously broad depiction of a crazy ocker criminal. Speaking of actors, the animatronic sharks behave in ways that serious shark experts may question. For instance, they have inexhaustible appetites for human flesh and a tendency to leap very high out of the water to crunch a body in half.

Rendall is philosophical. “There are a couple of maneuvers that real sharks might not make.  But it’s a horror movie. It’s a supermarket where the laws are reversed; the shoppers are the food source for the sharks. The sharks in our movie had to eat people, and had to be hungry!”

Bait 3D’s main claims to fame within the Australian industry include the fact that it’s the first Australia/Singapore co-production and first 3D genre feature to be shot in Australia. “We tried to make it a 3D movie that was good to watch,” explains Rendall. “Sometimes 3D can be a bit alienating and give you a ‘brain tear’ they call it. It can give you a bit of a headache. We tried to make it very comfortable to watch. You’re totally immersed in the world of the movie and then suddenly there’s 3D elements.” It’s true the 3D effects appear judiciously sprinkled throughout and at their best they are pleasingly shocking: the dispersal of blood in the water before your eyes; or the appearance of millions of tiny crab-like sea creatures crawling in front of you.

Phoebe Tonkin and Martin Sacks play an estranged daughter and father in BAIT 3D.

“This is my first experience with 3D,” says Rendall, who admits the challenges. “Not many people in Australia have used it yet. It’s the first 3D horror feature to be made here and the first 3D experience for most of the crew. There’s two cameras one for the right and left eye. And they have to into this box that’s as big as that chair over there. Each camera weighed 64 kilos and we had to put it on a crane that could hardly hold it and then balance everything. Getting the cameras into position they have to have cable running  into them and stereographers running around and so forth, and you’ve got to have a whole entourage to set it up. But once it’s all set up, you have these big beautiful screens and you can actually see what you’re doing in 3D which is really good as a director. I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to do it in 3D if you had the chance. It is a bit more time-consuming – like changing lenses takes you an hour, whereas on a normal camera you can do it in about five minutes. You’ve got two cameras and you’ve got to line them up. If they get out of alignment that causes real problems. We had these  great zoom lenses, so we just stuck on those. We had lots of clever ways of dealing with supposed problems. For instance, the problem of moisture in the cameras because we were shooting round water: we invented these little fans to get rid of the moisture. Lots of things like that. We’re just clever Aussies. We worked it out.”

One of the aspects of the film which may cause irritation for Australian audiences is the mix of local and American accents – sometimes, inadvertently, within the one performance. Rendall explains the rationale for the mix of American and Australian accents. “Originally we were going to make all the accents American. It was a directive that came from the American sales company and they said ‘It’s very hard to understand Australian accents and we cannot sell the film. Broad Australian accents don’t work.’  Most of the young actors we were casting do work in America anyway, and for them it’s no big deal to do American accents. We thought only Australians will pick it up anyway. So we did it all and then we looked at it and thought, ‘Hmm,  it’s set in Australia, some characters  could be American and some could be Australian. So we just worked out for each character and went back to having some Australian accents and some American accents. That’s how it came about.”

Kimble Rendall at the 2012 Venice International Film Festival, wearing 3D glasses. Photo: AFP

Rendall is unapologetic about the decision. “It was about selling the film. I think we should be making more of these kind of films because there’s an audience for them, and we’ve got to make films you can sell. Filmmakers  have got to think ‘how do I market my film?’ and sometimes you have to do things like this with the accents  – if it’s not going to wreck the film – to make it sell internationally, instead of just making it for Australia. We were lucky. We sort of got away with it. With some films it would just be too silly.”

So, does Rendall mind the ‘Ozploitation’ genre tag? “Hmm, people are calling it ‘Sharksploitation’ but I’m not sure about that. It is also about the drama of the characters as well, so do you call it ‘people-sploitation’? But let’s face it, it is about sharks in a supermarket, so I guess we’ll have to go with that.” He grimaces, and says slowly, “‘Oz-ploi-tation”. Then continues. “Well, it reminds me of when I did some photo shoots in China and Italy and they asked me to put on the 3D glasses for the photo, and I thought, ‘Oh no, this is going to be the only photo of me that anyone ever looks at for the rest of my life – me standing around with 3D glasses on!’ Then I thought, well, it is a 3D movie. What the hell? You can’t be too precious about all this stuff!”

Xavier Samuel with big gun in BAIT 3D.

Bait 3D – Fast Facts

  • Bait is the first Australian 3D action genre production as well as the first ever co-production between Australia and Singapore.
  • Bait was filmed on the Gold Coast at Warner Roadshow Studios.
  • The budget was an estimated $A20 million, with investment by Singapore’s Media Development Authority and Blackmagic design, as well as Screen Australia and Screen Queensland.
  • The film’s international premiere was a midnight screening at the 2012 Venice International Film Festival on Saturday, 1 September, 2012.
  • Bait is releasing in Australia on 20 September 2012 (through Paramount), as well as in other territories, including Italy, Singapore, China, Germany and the US. In some territories it is known as Shark 3D.
  • IMDB | Facebook |

Bait 3D – Key Cast & Crew

Director: Kimble Rendall
Writers: Russell Mulcahy and John Kim
Producers: Gary Hamilton, Todd Fellman & Peter Barber
Executive Producers: Chris Brown, Ian Maycock, Mike Gabrawy, Ying Ye, Russell Mulcahy
Key Cast: Xavier Samuel, Julian McMahon, Sharni Vinson, Phoebe Tonkin, Lincoln Lewis, Alex Russell, Cariba Heine, Adrian Pang, Qi Yuwu, Martin Sacks, Alice Parkinson
Director of Photography: Ross Emery
Production Designer: Nicholas McCallum
Editor: Rodgrigo Balart
Composers: Joe Ng & Alex Oh
Visual Effects Supervisor: Marc Varisco
Special Effects Designer & Shark Designer: Steven Boyle
Sound Designer: Robert Mackenzie
Costume Designer: Phill Eagles
Key Makeup and Hair Designer: Shane Thomas

Why I Adore…The Horror of Picnic at Hanging Rock

by Briony Kidd 

I’ve always been interested in ghost stories and the macabre, but it wasn’t until my late twenties that I began to identify as a horror fan. If you’d asked me earlier, at film school, I would have said I was into directors such as Jane Campion, Hal Hartley and Jim Jarmusch. Big genre names like Carpenter, Craven and Hooper were barely a blip on my cinematic radar. It surprises me now to recall that I didn’t attempt anything in horror back then (although in retrospect, my pretentious first-year film, about a woman who has a nightmare about a wolf, was hinting in that direction).

I wonder how much that stems from a subconscious understanding that horror was a masculine form of expression. Certainly, I was seemingly incapable of recognising that Jane Campion’s The Piano, a film that I admired greatly, could be traced directly back to the Gothic tradition from which so much of the genre is descended.

Perhaps for the same reason, I’d never thought of Picnic at Hanging Rock, with its girls in pretty dresses and largely feminine perspective, as a horror film. It was, however, a film I knew had deeply affected me.

I would’ve been about eight when I first saw it and I remember debriefing about it with my sisters and cousins, with that gossipy blend of fear and prurience that might have marked playground discussions about Freddy Krueger’s latest antics. We wondered, Joan Lindsay’s ploy having worked, if it had really happened, and the wondering made it all the more seductive.

I still recall the feeling it evoked in me, and shadows of that initial effect linger when I watch the film today. It’s something visceral, as much a product of the juxtaposition of music and moments of awkward emotion— a scream, a look or a physical gesture— as to do with the story itself (although something similar is achieved through dialogue, with phrases like ‘red cloud’ and ‘in her drawers’ creating an image in the mind’s eye).

The overall effect is difficult to define but I’ll give it a go. It’s a film that evokes a sense of mystery and dread but also a compelling spiritualism. This is most obviously embodied in the subplot incident of Albert being visited by his sister Sara in a dream, his bedroom ‘bright as day’ and smelling of pansies. Why include this hint of a ghost story, or astral projection? It’s off-topic. Sara’s death has nothing to do with the rock directly. I think it’s important because it reinforces the idea of spiritual connections—between people and between people and places—that are beyond life and death. The film suggests connections to Aboriginal mythology in its depiction of the rock as a place of immense power. It explores the White Australian experience of existing on an ancient land while having limited understanding of it, and the potential for that to be both marvellous and terrifying.

And yet, the Aboriginal tracker who appears in one scene barely registers, showing no more likelihood of knowing what the hell is going on than any other man in the search party. This detail, insignificant as it seems, hints that the colonial experience depicted is only a wrapping for the deeper intent of the story, being an exploration of female sexuality and identity.

Is Picnic at Hanging Rock then an example of what is some are these days calling ‘female response horror’?

Okay, the film’s director and screenwriter are both male, but the story’s originator (Joan Lindsay) is not. There’s a tradition of female authors using horror to express their most intimate fears, going back to Mary Shelley and later embodied by the likes of Daphne du Maurier and Shirley Jackson. Is Joan Lindsay (and Weir, continuing what she started) part of that continuum?

I’d be interested to know if there’s been much written about either the book or film from a feminist perspective, and there’s still a lot I don’t know about it all—what Joan Lindsay’s life was like, what drew Weir to the material. But for the moment, I’m more interested in where it sits within the frame of genre.

The film is a whirlpool of emotions both primal and complex. It explores sexuality, repression, love, romance, guilt, shame and obsession, using the setting of a girls’ school in 1900 as a sort of laboratory for psychological observation. In this sense it’s a horror as you might so describe Persona — that of the human psyche stripped bare.

The menacing and mysterious Rock

And yet, with its ‘true story’ conceit, slowly building to a horrifying reveal (at the midpoint rather than at the end) and heavy reliance on music, it’s also a horror film in the more literal sense, and we can see how films like Wolf Creek and Lake Mungo have carried on in its ‘metaphysical Australian Gothic’ footsteps.

On still another level, it establishes a sense of its own mythology (as was Lindsay’s intention), so that we feel it’s part of a larger truth. It cleverly evokes a nostalgia that lets us view the story through a lens of memory, so that we almost feel that it’s something we ourselves have experienced and now recall, ‘a dream within a dream’.

All these elements add up to one of the most accomplished examples of psychological horror you’re ever likely to see.

It’s particularly impressive that the lack of ‘answers’ to the mystery depicted doesn’t at all diminish the film’s effect. The Blair Witch Project, another successful horror film in the Picnic tradition, shows that that’s a strategy that still works. Audiences don’t feel cheated if there’s enough else to think about; they feel exhilarated.

But Picnic at Hanging Rock has long since attained the status of a worthy cultural landmark, a shining beacon of the golden age of Australian cinema. Partly for this reason, the image many people have of it is as a period piece with girls floating around in white dresses, all old-fashioned and chocolate-boxy, and basically irrelevant.

I contend that actually watching the film, as opposed to catching glimpses of Miranda’s retreating back in jingoistic montages or in government funding body brochures, puts pay to that view.

What I most love about the film is its stylistic boldness. It’s not a timid film, and it’s not particularly tasteful.

‘Tastefulness’ I define as that constraint which holds artists back, having a sense of what is required, the right gesture at the right time; a sense of nuance and maturity and delicacy. I don’t believe in it, hence my attraction to horror.

Interestingly enough, the psychological horror film, of all horror subgenres, is the one that is supposedly subtle. It’s also the genre that I’m most particularly drawn to. At this point I may be in danger of falling into a rhetorical wormhole of some kind but bear with me.

I think Picnic at Hanging Rock proves that psychological horror has no greater obligation to subtlety than any other kind of horror. It involves less blood and gore—but its ideas, and the impact of them, must be just as shocking. This can’t be achieved without taking artistic risks, and lots of them.

Consider the almost ham-fisted cutting back and forward between a shot of a white swan and a shot of Miranda. That’s symbolism of course, an ‘art-house’ technique. But consider: Michael is cracking up. He’s obsessed with Miranda, he’s fractured by his experience on the rock. He’s having flashes of remembering a girl he only ever saw once in his life and he thinks she’s like a swan. He doesn’t just think once that she’s like a swan, he’s bloody obsessed with it.

‘What some would call profound I say is verging on cheesy…’

What some would call profound I say is verging on cheesy… but I like it. It’s the sort of thing that works in a horror film to show that a character is losing their mind. You can’t be in any doubt about such things you can’t afford to wonder, “Well, is this character happy or sad or what?” You must know what they’re thinking, and if they happen to be thinking something weird and nutty, Well, you know what? I’m just going to show it (so thought Mr Weir).

Neither does the film hold back camera-wise, with its dreamy soft focus, its use of slow motion and and randomly inserted close-ups of wildlife. The cinematography is extraordinarily beautiful, channeling Frederick McCubbin one minute and Monet the next, but doesn’t turn its nose up at a zoom when the mood strikes, and why not?

Musically it’s similarly unrestrained, with its potent blend of Bach, Beethoven and Mozart, Georg Zamfir’s panpipes, and original score by Bruce Smeaton—most memorably a fugue-like piano piece resplendent with Mellotron ‘choir,’ highlighting the ascent. It’s a glorious mash-up, and it’s intense.

The music drives the story, as with any successful horror film, and it drives the story into places neither the viewer nor characters themselves understand at all. The score knows things we don’t know; things that we probably shouldn’t want to know about, but that compel and fascinate us.

And what about that hysterical scream, accompanied by a zoom, when ‘the little dumpy one’ realises that her friends Miranda, Irma and Marion are going to keep walking up and up to the top of the rock and they’re not going to turn back, no matter how much she whines or pleads? Like zombies in reverse, the girls leave Edith relentlessly, embracing their deaths (their ‘doom’) with inhuman resolve.

That’s the moment when the film fully reveals itself, and it’s as thrilling as anything in Night of the Living Dead.

Like all great filmmakers, Weir understands the potency of the human face on screen. He calls it “the great invention of cinema, greater than sound or colour, 3D or CGI.”

I would extrapolate from this to say that fear evoked merely through violence or gore will never match the shock of a character’s realisation (and ours, through them) that everything they thought they knew has been overturned.

Nothing matches our horror at seeing reflected back at us what we innately know; that we will never truly understand.

END

[Images kindly sourced with permission from the National Film & Sound Archive]

About Briony Kidd:  Growing up in Tasmania, and graduating from the VCA Film School in Melbourne, her most recent film, The Room at the Top of the Stairs, is a Gothic melodrama, described by Fangoria as “a haunting, poetic tale [that] absolutely sticks in your bones.” It has screened in numerous film festivals around the world, including as a semi-finalist at Moondance and the Canberra Short Film Festival and an Honourable Mention in the Best Director category at the Vancouver Viscera Film Festival. In 2012, with Rebecca Thomson, Briony founded the Stranger With My Face Horror Film Festival in Hobart. Briony has several feature film projects in development as a writer/director, including a psychological ghost story called Salt of the Earth and a ‘giallo’ style horror film.

http://strangerwithmyface.com/ | http://www.thetopofthestairs.com/| https://twitter.com/#!/BrionyKidd

Read Previous ‘Why I Adore’ Posts:

Paul Anthony Nelson (the ‘Why I Adore’ godfather and founder) introduces the concept, and rhapsodises about Mad Max. AFI Membership Administrator Lia McCrae-Moore revisits the lyrical beauty of One Night the Moon and Clem Bastow reminisces about a childhood spent watching the television show Round the Twist. Or you can read Anthony Morris flirting with disaster in his adoration of Romper Stomper, Annie Stevens going bridal with Muriel’s Wedding, or Popzilla bowing down before the altar of literary screen adaptations. Most recently, Lia McCrae-Moore showers affection on SBS’s high-octane police thriller, East West 101, Rochelle Simienowicz delves deeply into the ground-breaking television series, Love My Way, and Simon Elschlepp discovers a fondness for stylish and audacious futuristic noir, Dark City.  Thomas Caldwell rhapsodises about Richard Lowenstein’s anarchic and playful 1986 film Dogs in Space, John Bailey remembers a strange fascination with Big Brother Up Lateand most recently Hila Shachar explains why Cate Shortland’s Somersault moves her so.

Contribute: We’re currently looking for more ’Why I Adore’ articles devoted to Australian film and television. Send a one paragraph summary to editor[at] afi.org.au and we’ll get back to you with more details.