Three years after his provocative and polarizing “Compliance,” Craig Zobel is back at Sundance with another dark look into the recesses of humanity. “Z for Zachariah” is a highly-anticipated Sundance premiere not only by dint of its cast — it stars “Wolf of Wall Street” breakout Margot Robbie, “12 Years a Slave” star Chiwetel Ejiofor and “Star Trek” hunk Chris Pine — but also because of its ambitious premise. Zobel demonstrated a mastery of subtle thriller undertones with “Compliance” and we’re hoping this strong tone will carry over into “Z for Zachariah.”
What’s your film about?
“Z For Zachariah” takes place after a nuclear event has devastated the country. Ann Burden lives alone in a small valley in the Appalachians that somehow has escaped destruction (via weather patterns in some strange micro-climate). One day, John Loomis, a wandering scientist out in the wasteland, stumbles into the valley. It’s exactly what he’d been searching for. He is suffering radiation poisoning, however. So Ann must nurse him back to health, thus getting to know the last man on earth.
Now, what’s it REALLY about?
It’s really about communication. When we are alone, we rarely are paralyzed by internal conflict. In a relationship with two people, conflict is bound to arise eventually. But it’s exactly the work of being in a relationship to navigate that; to say to the other person, “Hey, sorry about how I was acting before, I was being dumb and I apologize.” But once there are more than two of us around, people can start to whisper to each other—to hold secrets.
Tell us briefly about yourself.
I made two other movies before this one: “Great World of Sound” and “Compliance.” I have also produced and written for other people. I grew up in Atlanta, but currently live in Brooklyn.
What was the biggest challenge in completing this film?
For a film with only three characters, there were some logistics that were much more ambitious. We filmed in the South Island of New Zealand, and constructed an entire building as a set. Similar to the isolation of the film’s story, we shot in a VERY remote area—35 minutes from the nearest gas station—so crew members were regularly running out of gas on the roads (not to mention the intense logistics involved in having a beer or bite to eat after work, or something).
Are there any films that inspired you?
I was very excited by watching post-apocalyptic films of the atomic age. These films that play almost like extended Twilight Zone episodes, and have a pop sensibility, but are also about pretty interesting psychological conundrums. I watched a ton of these types of films—great ones from the 50’s/60’s era, like “Five” or “The World, The Flesh, and The Devil”—to Cold War-era ones from the ’80s, like “The Day After,” or even “Night of the Comet.” Research for this project was a lot of that, with the occasional meditative 1970’s Russian sci-fi film mixed in.
What cameras did you shoot on?
We shot on two Alexa cameras, with 1960’s anamorphic lenses from Panavision Australia. We edited on Avid, on new-ish iMacs.