Kiwi director Scott Walker has received an unexpected thumbs-up from Oscar-winning director Quentin Tarantino.
Walker’s serial killer thriller, The Frozen Ground, became the most-watched movie on Netflix in the US two years ago – 10 years after its first release. But it seems Tarantino was even later to the party – he recently emailed Walker, telling him he’d just watched it.
“He told me it was the best serial killer film he had seen in years,” Walker tells Spy. “It was one of the most surreal experiences of my career and was enormously humbling.”
“I’m a huge Quentin Tarantino fan and grew up watching his films, especially Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.”
Fresh from the success of his NZ-filmed carnivorous creature feature The Tank, released earlier this year, Walker is now about to get stuck into his latest movie with Sir Richard Taylor and Wētā Workshop.
Walker worked with Taylor on The Tank and says he had such a great experience, he’s excited to collaborate with him once again on this new apocalyptic vampire movie.
He describes his third movie as a high-octane horror, adapted from a book called The Raven’s Gift.
“It is an incredible story about a prehistoric pathogen that emerges from ice melt in the Arctic Circle due to global warming and infects a team of archaeologists and scientists, creating a vampiric-like apocalypse.”
Walker is relatively new to film-making, with a little more than a decade in the business. He started out in advertising at TV3, then ran a successful advertising agency in London, but had always dreamed of writing and directing movies.
“After years of film-school courses, multiple scripts in the bin and more than 50 drafts of my first movie, The Frozen Ground, I was eventually given my first opportunity to direct by Lionsgate,” Walker tells Spy.
He filmed the movie in Alaska and worked with an incredible crew and cast, including Nicolas Cage, John Cusack and Vanessa Hudgens.
It was a slow burn, with a staggered release and studio changes before the film eventually found a home at Amazon and saw good streaming success.
But it wasn’t until Netflix bought the rights that it took off.
“It was an enormous validation, and in some ways, vindication for everybody’s hard work,” says Walker.
Following his first movie, Walker says he had several writing assignments and worked on a number of projects with Hollywood producer Barrie Osborne.
“Many of them got very close to being financed and into production, but then ultimately, after years of work, not going ahead - something that’s very common in film,” he says.
The idea for his second film, The Tank, came during lockdown, when Walker and his family – Scottish singer-songwriter Minna and their two sons – came home to NZ for a visit, then stayed when borders closed. He says the unexpected extended visit turned out to be a great thing.
“We had all our belongings stuck in the States, and we were here living out of suitcases for about six months,” he says. “In that time, a friend let us stay at his bach, which was built on top of a large water tank.’
“After several nightmares, I wrote a film about a family who move into a remote house and discover it is infested with hordes of hungry creatures living beneath them, and The Tank was born.
“Covid stopped film production all over the world, and especially in NZ, so I really had no idea how I would be able to get a film made, but I managed very quickly to get finance options in the US and UK, and by keeping the film small, we were able to get it into production.”
With stop-start filming in West Auckland through the Auckland lockdowns, the low-budget movie, starring Luciane Buchanan and Matt Whelan, made it to the finish line and was released earlier this year.
“The film was shown in a few small US cinemas and then released a week later digitally. With very little support due to the budget, it reached number two on AppleTV in the US,” he says.
The most recent challenge the Kiwi director faced was Hollywood’s crippling writers’ and actors’ strikes, which finally ended on November 9.
He says he is relieved for everyone in the industry that after six months, the strikes are over and fair deals have been struck.
He’s looking forward to getting started on his new project with Sir Richard Taylor and Wētā Workshop.
His lips are sealed on his dream casting, but says the new movie is female-driven and has a much bigger budget than The Tank. Its central character is a young woman who must cross the tundra with a young, blind indigenous Yup’ik girl.
“We will be shooting part of the film in Northern Canada on the remote tundra to get the massive visual scale of the land that I’m after, and then coming back to New Zealand to complete the film and do all the post-production here,” Walker says.
“As well as Sir Richard and Wētā, I’ve got a fantastic creative crew already on board. A lot of them are the same team I worked with on both The Frozen Ground and The Tank.”
To give an idea of the scale of the apocalypse, Walker says Wētā is looking at a range of special effects, including animatronics, prosthetics and CGI, to bring the hundreds of creatures to life.
“On The Tank, we faced a lot of limitations - the bigger budget will give us more scope to create a far bigger world-thrilling horror experience for audiences,” he says.