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

Certified Fresh 2017 Mindy Kaling 71st Emmy Awards Holidays animated Apple TV Plus what to watch vampires crime drama Mary Poppins Returns Food Network Britbox teaser BBC Tumblr thriller ITV Anna Paquin political drama Comics on TV crime thriller Epix Lionsgate Star Wars classics screenings revenge criterion Awards Tour zombies Bravo Discovery Channel Hulu Masterpiece 20th Century Fox dceu Extras twilight Amazon Studios Amazon spanish Women's History Month Acorn TV comics Winners crossover elevated horror Video Games Tubi french screen actors guild Fox News video police drama spinoff VH1 based on movie cars Grammys cooking Apple TV+ Valentine's Day slashers cancelled television concert Polls and Games Black History Month ABC FX Cannes canceled Pirates Martial Arts transformers comic Holiday name the review worst binge CBS All Access Amazon Prime zero dark thirty CNN historical drama nature justice league Adult Swim politics kids E3 Comic Book facebook CW Seed comiccon Baby Yoda Classic Film laika technology hispanic E! theme song versus DC Comics San Diego Comic-Con Crunchyroll 2016 Sundance Now Photos Toys BBC One child's play quibi Best and Worst war talk show reboot Starz A&E Quiz Animation Superheroe Travel Channel New York Comic Con Apple ghosts RT History El Rey LGBT Election Nickelodeon Hear Us Out spider-man Walt Disney Pictures TBS 007 Disney+ Disney Plus composers mutant TV Land National Geographic casting crime parents travel ABC Family Reality Competition TCA Winter 2020 adventure Disney Channel Brie Larson Year in Review Avengers stand-up comedy Disney streaming service italian Superheroes Sony Pictures Awards TCA Winter TV Freeform comedies jamie lee curtis Family hollywood series Comedy Central 21st Century Fox richard e. Grant Trailer anime golden globes Thanksgiving SXSW disaster indiana jones 99% Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Reality discovery sequels Rocky HBO Max DC streaming service miniseries Marvel Television foreign batman movie australia 72 Emmy Awards Nat Geo HBO Go Netflix Christmas movies Cosplay Sundance docudrama Super Bowl spain First Reviews MCU south america nbcuniversal halloween tv emmy awards Christmas hist Interview biography james bond The Arrangement Paramount Calendar Set visit Turner Paramount Network NYCC worst movies tv talk cancelled zombie TIFF Ellie Kemper Teen GIFs Disney Plus toy story strong female leads American Society of Cinematographers Logo SundanceTV Schedule Binge Guide Universal X-Men Rock reviews dc documentary Marvel Studios Pet Sematary 2018 cops Trophy Talk cults Academy Awards game show FOX Mystery romantic comedy game of thrones halloween Lifetime Arrowverse diversity YouTube Red CMT Columbia Pictures archives spy thriller asian-american Creative Arts Emmys Western Syfy Fox Searchlight festival rotten movies we love latino Fantasy award winner ID IFC Films critics joker LGBTQ 2020 independent ESPN films DC Universe Mary Tyler Moore Turner Classic Movies Oscars doctor who Kids & Family Box Office boxoffice DGA mockumentary science fiction 2019 Countdown Tarantino dramedy TLC cinemax Rocketman christmas movies finale Hallmark Christmas movies book Summer BAFTA Biopics The Academy Film Festival cancelled TV series First Look cats spanish language NBC Television Academy Warner Bros. Horror DirecTV social media OneApp A24 rt archives Peacock stoner The Walking Dead cartoon space scary movies Emmy Nominations Nominations scorecard TCA Awards TCA 2017 TV renewals Action IFC PBS Opinion Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Trivia Pixar ratings Funimation WGN APB stop motion romance Character Guide medical drama Esquire renewed TV shows dogs canceled TV shows news documentaries dragons natural history anthology Hallmark Vudu free movies Sundance TV Shondaland true crime mission: impossible SDCC unscripted Television Critics Association Music Elton John OWN CBS chucky Ovation fast and furious festivals Marathons Drama PaleyFest Writers Guild of America supernatural YouTube Premium cancelled TV shows all-time singing competition Captain marvel FX on Hulu BBC America The Purge breaking bad Emmys sag awards directors GLAAD obituary Tomatazos MTV satire Black Mirror toronto Cartoon Network Spectrum Originals PlayStation Musical adaptation japanese BET The Witch WarnerMedia Premiere Dates AMC blockbuster children's TV serial killer Spring TV Stephen King Shudder best dark VICE Comedy witnail Mudbound blaxploitation die hard aliens 4/20 Marvel Sneak Peek television Sci-Fi rotten 2015 Crackle Spike nfl Pop Musicals Dark Horse Comics Showtime indie Rom-Com Podcast TruTV YA President robots green book universal monsters Red Carpet movies 24 frames werewolf FXX The CW Netflix VOD black a nightmare on elm street Country Pop TV franchise USA Network See It Skip It streaming BET Awards Fall TV psycho Mary poppins harry potter Endgame video on demand TNT comic books Amazon Prime Video TCM TV superhero Infographic football Star Trek remakes USA 45 YouTube period drama Disney History Film Watching Series psychological thriller HBO Song of Ice and Fire venice Lucasfilm sequel RT21 Ghostbusters GoT Pride Month sports sitcom deadpool MSNBC Lifetime Christmas movies Chernobyl Heroines