Exclusive: RT Visits the Set of WAZ

Blood, gore and cement factories in Belfast.

by | February 22, 2008 | Comments

Waz“Did you see that moment we just had?” Melissa George strides over to RT, safely ensconced in front of a pair of gas heaters amidst the video village — a monitor set up to watch what the camera is capturing – as the crew prepares a new shot. “This movie is so subtle. There’s so much going on beneath the surface.”

Minutes earlier, she and co-star Stellan Skarsgard shared a emotional and dialogue-free exchange in an abandoned cement factory having just discovered the body of a seventy year-old woman with equations carved into her chest. We’re gathered together on location in Belfast at three o’clock in the morning on the set of gritty psychological horror WAZ. It’s a creepy environment to be in and a cold reality of movie-making glamour, or lack therof.

The script comes from City of Vice scribe Clive Bradley, who claims to have come up with the movie’s premise after flicking through a book on Darwinism. “It featured a mathmatical equation – W Delta Z – formulated by American population geneticist George R. Price,” he explains. “It supposedly shows that there’s no real altruism in nature; no such thing as selflessness. Price was so upset by his findings that he ended up giving away all his possessions to the poor and, eventually homeless himself, committed suicide with a pair of nail scissors in a filthy London squat.”

And filthy squats provide something of a backdrop for the film. Set in New York, it’s about a pair of detectives attempting to solve a series of grisly murders in which the victims have this equation, WAZ, carved into their chests.

Stellan Skarsgard and Tom Hardy on the set of WAZ.

“I play a kind-of beleaguered cop called Eddie Argo,” reveals Skarsgard as he joins RT behind the heaters, “but there’s more to him than meets the eye. He has dark secrets and Melissa’s character, Helen Westcott, who’s his new partner, is having trouble dealing with him.”

Joining them are Selma Blair, Ashley Walters and Tom Hardy. Argo’s secrets connect all of these characters to one another and to the case they’re trying to solve. Saying too much would give away the twisty-turny plot designed to keep you anchored to your seat for the film’s runtime.

“It was the story that attracted me,” continues Skarsgard. “It’s a very good story, it’s surprising and it has the potential to become something interesting I think, if Tom can create a universe that can carry the story, and I think he’s doing that.”

Selma Blair gets mean on the set of WAZ.

The film is being directed by Tom Shankland, who’s making his feature-length debut with WAZ. The film’s similarity to Se7en – detectives solving grisly murders – is not lost on the diector but, he claims, there’s more to it than that. “I love Se7en but it’s important, too, to point out that it’s not just a rehash of that film,” he tells RT. “We have to find our own style and identity. So there are shade of Se7en, but like any good drama you have to kill the father to kind-of grow up!”

The entire cement factory — a real location forty-five minutes out of the city centre — is bathed in just the right amount of light to give a suitably eerie atmosphere. As the hours of Belfast dark tick by and the rusted metal creeks, we’re left in no doubt that is an ideal spot to shoot a horror film. The lights have been set up to illuminate the building just enough to shoot around, and cinematographer Morten Soborg, best known for his work on the Pusher films, is running around making sure it’s suitable scary here. The crew are using shoulder-mounted High Definition digital cameras to keep the action moving and sharp.

“We’ve set up the location so we can shoot three-hundred and sixty degrees,” explains Skarsgard, “so we’re working very fast and can try a tonne of different things.” We witness one scene, in which Argo pins Westcott against a wire fence as they listen to a voice message on Argo’s phone after discovering the old woman’s body. It’s clear the message is from the killer. At the end of the scene, he lets go and walks off and on just one of the takes we’re taken aback at the torrent of abuse that spills from Melissa George — added in as an afterthought to give Shankland another option in the editing room.

Indeed, this whole moment has come from the actors’ rehearsal run-through with Shankland — the script initially calls for them simply to listen to the message and move on, but the actors sense the need for an emotional climax. “I love watching them work,” says producer James Richardson, “these two have an amazing chemistry and they can find things in the script that none of us saw.”

As powerful as the pair are in front of the camera, behind it they’re cracking jokes at every opportunity and keeping the atmosphere on the set light. “It’s actually pronounced Skars-gourd,” we overhear Skarsgard tell Richardson when he asks about the circle above the second A, “but you can call me whatever you want. Call me asshole if it makes you happy!”

Director Tom Shankland and crew on the set of WAZ.

The small nature of the location and the crew makes the production so much more intimate than it might be on a larger film, but you’d never guess the film’s modest budget from the quality of the footage they’re collecting. “I guess we specialise in making small films that can compete with the best coming out of big-budget Hollywood productions,” explains Richardson, “that’s something we’ve always tried to do at Vertigo.”

“It’s certainly quite, quite different from shooting something like Pirates of the Caribbean,” Skarsgard elaborates, “on Pirates there was a much bigger crew of people and everything was so much slower — it would be hours between shots. But in some ways the part of the Caribbean I saw was the tourist Caribbean and it wasn’t very fun. Belfast is much more intersting. I’ve walked around, I’ve eaten at restaurants and met and worked with locals so you get to see a little of the society you’re working in, which you don’t get on Pirates.”

As a swoop of police cars move into position to rehearse the final shot of the night, Skarsgard reminds us why we’re there in sub-zero temperatures at 5 o’clock in the morning. “I’ve done something like sixty-five films in my career, but it’s just as exciting an environment to me now as it was when I first started.”

One of the many bloody moments lovingly created on the set of WAZ.

Cut to eighteen months later. RT is in Edinburgh for the film festival in August 2007. WAZ premieres tonight and we’re walking the red carpet with Skarsgard, Bradley and Shankland. Skarsgard explains his earlier enthusiasm. “I like what I do. There are always new challenges and it’s always difficult and it’s always fascinating. I don’t deliver on the set what I’ve figured out at home. I’ve done preparations but I come to the set to explore the scene, to explore the material, to get together with the other actors. I still enjoy myself immensely when I work.

When we eventually get into the cinema the place is packed full of eager members of the public who’ve managed to nab one of the quickly sold out tickets, but as the lights come up at the end of the film and the Q&A starts, no-one has any questions to ask. It’s not that they didn’t like the film, it’s just that they’re so shell-shocked they can’t find words. This amuses the film’s director to no end.

“I love that it’s just about the most violent way of testing whether love exists ever, it really gets to you,” laughs Shankland with a devious glimmer in his eye as he sits down with RT later. He seems to enjoy torturing his cast and his audience and he’s already planning on some more – as WAZ releases he’s already on the set of his follow-up, a horror flick called The Day. “I saw WAZ more in the sense of a classic detective story than a torture porn film, and for me it was all about holding back. It’s violent, but something that I did take from Se7en was that that film leaves a lot to your imagination but sets up its shots to ensure that your imagination does its worst.”

If the audience’s reaction is anything to go by, the film does just that. WAZ releases in the UK today.

Tag Cloud

Sci-Fi indie psycho festivals Interview FX on Hulu sequel VH1 Peacock Arrowverse 2016 Elton John HBO children's TV parents Avengers LGBT transformers space Red Carpet documentary dc Ellie Kemper Star Trek Creative Arts Emmys Paramount romance 2015 true crime cancelled Nominations Netflix Vudu Stephen King movie Family BET Awards DC streaming service breaking bad Epix IFC Films Western independent Holidays Bravo Apple TV+ Reality 2018 tv talk MSNBC Apple TV Plus Christmas Academy Awards Lucasfilm YA The CW 21st Century Fox latino 2019 Acorn TV History Tubi TCM comic crime thriller Extras die hard witnail Amazon Prime Video Trailer free movies ratings Black History Month Sundance Now Music Star Wars psychological thriller cults docudrama Disney Channel Countdown Lionsgate TCA 2017 Reality Competition Kids & Family a nightmare on elm street cancelled TV shows romantic comedy discovery blockbuster historical drama Calendar TIFF LGBTQ Brie Larson TBS richard e. Grant Horror universal monsters GIFs MCU Hear Us Out DirecTV Hallmark Christmas movies Film unscripted social media TV video Writers Guild of America Marvel Grammys Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt green book Crunchyroll harry potter Schedule composers crime south america Super Bowl President Disney streaming service CMT GLAAD teaser best E! what to watch Marathons Holiday Esquire political drama WGN TV Land indiana jones Winter TV halloween PaleyFest Animation toy story Sundance TV Women's History Month sports WarnerMedia criterion satire comics Rocketman Year in Review spain Polls and Games Winners FX Emmys Starz Country Cosplay revenge screen actors guild USA Network Biopics all-time Sneak Peek ghosts Disney+ Disney Plus Emmy Nominations ITV Syfy Amazon Studios TCA Winter 2020 twilight Turner Oscars Teen 2017 spinoff dragons streaming justice league Rom-Com Fantasy cooking vampires Character Guide Heroines A24 strong female leads Comics on TV Pop TV Tarantino diversity Spike HBO Go ESPN San Diego Comic-Con Martial Arts sitcom 20th Century Fox Comic Book Walt Disney Pictures Britbox comedies Premiere Dates National Geographic Pirates 71st Emmy Awards Universal cinemax Marvel Studios Mindy Kaling zero dark thirty films Anna Paquin zombies travel boxoffice TNT Classic Film VOD YouTube Red medical drama Valentine's Day Shondaland 24 frames Fall TV Spectrum Originals Warner Bros. mutant Mystery police drama BBC Hallmark Comedy Central OWN Amazon Ghostbusters Chernobyl Endgame asian-american dogs canceled TV shows DGA crossover series PBS award winner anthology serial killer Showtime TCA Pop theme song child's play franchise YouTube Premium hist The Arrangement concert Election television based on movie TCA Awards Masterpiece aliens Thanksgiving Binge Guide news Mary Tyler Moore CBS All Access Pride Month binge miniseries Baby Yoda Lifetime Quiz anime First Look Certified Fresh canceled See It Skip It Rocky dceu natural history video on demand Podcast ABC Family FOX jamie lee curtis game of thrones Video Games Captain marvel screenings Musical USA Mary poppins Marvel Television christmas movies Funimation E3 APB CW Seed The Witch Pixar critics spider-man werewolf directors BET 007 4/20 Freeform FXX movies reviews Paramount Network scary movies Netflix Christmas movies RT History mockumentary robots Food Network Set visit Television Critics Association Discovery Channel biography documentaries Box Office SXSW Summer Sony Pictures Logo Drama supernatural Disney American Society of Cinematographers Infographic DC Universe Crackle First Reviews spanish language quibi cartoon Cannes Sundance El Rey Mudbound Nickelodeon ABC renewed TV shows finale slashers SundanceTV facebook spy thriller war reboot Comedy MTV Superheroes A&E Tumblr Photos Rock TruTV Song of Ice and Fire Hulu IFC BBC America Dark Horse Comics thriller Lifetime Christmas movies period drama Black Mirror Tomatazos TV renewals Musicals The Purge Nat Geo elevated horror Opinion Shudder Amazon Prime VICE joker Travel Channel Cartoon Network BAFTA dramedy Mary Poppins Returns Action New York Comic Con mission: impossible 45 Apple Toys stoner golden globes technology doctor who kids X-Men adaptation batman Pet Sematary Columbia Pictures comiccon dark singing competition chucky OneApp TLC Turner Classic Movies Trivia sag awards Television Academy cats Film Festival rotten movies we love Watching Series AMC Adult Swim Awards SDCC HBO Max Spring TV cars CBS The Walking Dead cancelled TV series animated science fiction CNN cops zombie 2020 politics GoT cancelled television game show DC Comics Ovation Trophy Talk YouTube Superheroe adventure NBC NYCC versus talk show crime drama nature hispanic RT21 book Best and Worst Fox News blaxploitation disaster stand-up comedy Awards Tour foreign PlayStation Chilling Adventures of Sabrina casting BBC One Disney Plus name the review