The opening scene of Kaare Andrews’ “Cabin Fever: Patient Zero” is seriously creepy. Between the dark rain, the horrifying phone messages and the imagery of decaying flesh, it looks like Andrews was the prime choice to take over the franchise. We asked Andrews exactly how he shot that particular scene, and what he had to go through to get it just right. “Cabin Fever: Patient Zero” is now available on VOD and hits theaters August 1. Watch the opening scene below, and then read Andrews’ detailed account of the shoot.
Kaare Andrews: I had some questions to answer when I took on a third film in a low budget horror franchise like “Cabin Fever,” a ten-year-old cult hit with a sequel that was a disappointment to both the filmmakers and audience: Where do you go from there? I knew I wanted to take ownership of “Cabin Fever: Patient Zero” from the very first frame. To announce the aesthetic, tone and backstory and to do it in the visual and the visceral. But let me back up…
Filmmaking is a collaborative medium, but I believe that true creativity is a singular process. And the reason why I storyboard my own movies, besides being a working comic book artist (“Iron Fist: The Living Weapon” for Marvel Comics in stores now!) is that I can think with my pencil. I’m not filtering ideas through the hands of intermediaries. I can own every concept from its initial scribble. I saw images. Rain. Fire. Dogs. A father holding a child. Hazmat suits tearing them apart. Wide bird’s eye shots cutting to extreme close-ups. I was seeing living paintings.
I shared my ideas with Norm Li, my constant DP, and we immediately knew that in order to create this effect, we needed the 1000 frames-per-second Phantom camera. This created a few problems. We were shooting in the Dominican Republic, where there were no Phantoms and we were a very low budget film. Luckily, Norm was able to call in a favor from a friend in New York and we sent our production coordinator on a round trip red-eye to nab-and-grab the camera for 24 hours. One problem solved.
But only one. You see we were shooting in the middle of the jungle, a semi-abandoned town that was erected to house the staff of a long-abandoned sugary refinery. We needed rain. And fire. And dogs. And did I mention a techno-crane? Because of the shooting constraints of the location and the heights required, we needed that too.
Now, the thing about the Dominican Republic is that you can’t just rent a rain tower, you have to build one. We built ten. And you can’t just rent a flamethrower; you have to build those too. The day before shooting, our guy showed up with the proof-of-concept video of a gasoline based, fully functional death-machine. The video showed him burning an entire field with this thing. After a firm talking to, I was reassured that they could refit the flamethrowers to safely shoot controlled propane bursts in time for shooting, the next night.
Let’s not forget the dogs. Black, dangerous dogs, whose handler we had to cover in an un-breathable airtight Hazmat suit…in the jungle. I’m not sure if I mentioned this was a night shoot. It was. And that it featured our star, Sean Astin. Oh, and complicated full body make-up effects on our virus ridden background performers. All of these elements on our first day of photography. Now, some may think that the first day should be easy. Find a simple scene, start slow and ramp up from there. But I’ve always felt if you start strong, you finish strong. Create with confidence not fear.
Thanks to the hard work of our production, we had all of our elements ready for the shoot. Techno-crane, Phantom, rain towers, special make-up FX, dogs and scratch built flame throwers, all in place and all ready to go. I can’t remember now if I had seen the hurricane warnings before the shoot. But I do remember a lot of rain on the hour-long drive to set. And the closer we got to filming, the harder the rain seemed to get. By the time the skies were dark, it was official. Hurricane Sandy had hit the Dominican Republic.
The funny part was, the crew didn’t seem to mind. The rain was fairly warm and hurricanes are actually fairly common in those parts. But even the locals started to worry once we turned on our rain towers. Combined with the actual hurricane rain, we were flooding the entire tow.
You see, you really need a lot of rain to “read” on film. Usually this is achieved by the density of drops created by rain towers. But to avoid flooding, our rain towers become obsolete; in its place was what I affectionately referred to as the “God Rain.” We needed to backlight this natural rain but it was getting so hairy no one wanted to ride the condor crane up to operate the lights. Finally, we found a firefighter who put his life on the line for $500 US dollars.
As the night went on, it only got more intense. Our highly trained technician from Cuba had never seen a Techno-crane operated in such extreme weather. As he craned through tree branches and electrical lines, vision obscured by blinding rain and wind I wondered just what kind of horrors would end up on film that night. But we kept our cool, moved like an oiled machine and we survived. All of us. Even the firefighter up in the condor.
During editing, I played with the sound design, temping in the sounds of ‘stillness’ and made up the radio call for help from a father hiding his son. We built titles that organically dissolved by filming inkjet printouts laid in baths of acetone. I wanted to take my time with this sequence, to let it breathe and slowly build into some kind of momentum to start story. And it’s one of the things I’m most proud of in the movie.
Looking back at the footage now, it all seems so calm and controlled. But I suppose this is just a metaphor for filmmaking. At times, you literally shoot through a hurricane to get the shots you need and the audience will never be aware of the horrors you endured.