Talking Zombies and Indie filmmaking in Australia with Kiah-Roache Turner

Watch the short for Daemon Runner here!

This week I was incredibly fortunate to get to chat with Kiah-Roache Turner, one half of the fascinating Roache-Turner team responsible for the Aussie Zombie-Apocalypse cult classic, Wyrmwood: Road Of The Dead. Here’s what writer/director/producer Kiah had to say aboutmaking and directing movies here in Australia, being an Indie fimmaker in a competitive market, colloborating with loved ones and about the short that they have just released for Daemon Runner, which already has fans chomping at the bit for another demonic hit!

Photo by: Em Bjorndahl Artist/Writer


I, along with almost fifty thousand other people have been hooked by the short for Daemon Runner in your head. How flushed out is the concept for a feature-length film?

It’s not for a feature, it’s just something experimental that we did because we’re filmmakers and we don’t want to sit around twiddling our thumbs between features. It’s a great way to get ideas out there- see how they hit and if they get an audience, but I don’t get to decide what kind of films we make any more. I spent my life savings to make Wyrmwood, so now I have to rely on a studio to give me a green light before I do anything.
So whether or not Daemon Runner gets made into a movie is up to the fans. If we can get a few million hits then it’s definitely something that could be taken seriously, but we need fans to share it and like it and get it out there before we can proceed any further.

So there’s no Daemon Runner release date? That’s a shame. I guess because you released a trailer for Wyrmwood first, your fans are kind of hoping that Daemon Runner the movie is an imminent release too.

No. When we did the first original teaser for Wyrmwood back in 2010, that was originally supposed to be the opening scene for Wyrmwood. But it ended up just being a stand-alone short instead of the opening scene because it changed so much as we went along.
But Wyrmwood was definitely a different thing, we always knew we we were going to make that and we didn’t care how long it was going to take, we were going to make it. And it’s similar with the Wyrmwood TV Teaser that came out a couple of months ago because we are 150,000% ready to go on the TV series too. I just finished the pilot a couple of months ago, we’ve got an amazing series viable, we’ve got the entire first season mapped out in hyper detail so we know exactly what we’re going to do with that. We’re literally just now taking meetings with people trying to find the right collaborators and trying to find the right home for it. As soon as someone says they want to make it with us and finance it, we’re ready. If someone gave me the money I’d have the Wyrmwood TV series started in a couple of months- it’s that simple.


What’s the biggest difference with making the short now that you’ve had a successful production?

The major difference with the Wyrmwood short and the original film is that we’re better at what we do now. The Wyrmwood thing was over three and a half years ago, we’ve developed a great relationship with Screen Australia so they’ve given us great backing. Thanks to them we’ve been able to afford a proper crew, and it’s so nice to be able to work with a proper gaffer and grip and focus pullers who know what they’re doing and all of that kind of stuff because it makes a huge difference. On this one we had proper production designers as opposed to just me and my brother and his friends sort of banging together whatever props we could get our hands on, we actually had very talented young production designers and art directors and costume designers working on these ones so they look better. (Laughs) I mean last time we were shooting in our mum’s backyard with some mates and my dad’s over there with a camera and he’s literally never held a camera before so the difference was pretty vast and I think you can tell. The style in which these two last shorts were made show a bit more of maturity and a lot more of the shots are in focus, quite frankly.

Photo by: Em Bjorndahl Artist/Writer

Are you afraid of losing anything now that the process is less organic? Wyrmwood’s got a cult following because your style hit some good notes with people. Are you afraid that by going completely professional, some of the elements that helped make your last film so appealing will fall to the wayside?

No. Because we’re still dealing with such small amount of money that we’re still classified as being very, very independent. Besides no one gets to alter our vision for these shorts so they’re still 100% our own. It’s an interesting question though- we’re working on a couple of features right now that have gone through an intense script-editing process, with 14, 15 drafts of these things being sifted through the producers, so it’ll be interesting to see what it does change. I think the writing’s gotten a lot better, but I do believe that when you’ve got so many contributors, the original work does get a little bit watered down because you can’t get away with the insane, crazy non-sensical stuff that people loved your original work for. But at the same time, the writing improves so there’s a little more sheen to it.
Indie filmmakers need to find a balance between being professional and following our crazy, artsy instincts and if we can, they’ll turn out like Christopher Nolan. But if we can’t, you just sort of become a slave to the man like certain directors… who shall remain nameless.

This conversation has the ‘Rent’ soundtrack playing in my head now…

That’s what the film industry is about though- it’s where art meets commerce. If you just want to be an artist- be a writer. Be a painter, be a blogger because you’re the boss and that’s fantastic. But if you want to be a filmmaker, you need one thousand people minimum and you need to pay them all and you can’t afford it because unless daddy’s a billionaire you’re going to have to rely on corporations and corporations need to make money. There are very few artists out there that get to just do what they want and get paid six million dollars to do it, so being a filmmaker is about learning to compromise without losing your integrity or your vision. That’s the game, and it’ll be interesting to see if I can pull it off. I don’t know if I can, but I think I have what it takes.

I’m sure you’ve been asked this a million times, but when and how did you realise that you wanted to be a filmmaker? Or was it about writing?

No, no, I find writing really difficult. Writing is my least favourite part because it is the hardest. Most aspects of filmmaking come natural to me, you know? Photography and storyboards are easy, and I know that I have a general and genuine affinity for art direction and color palettes because I’m a real arty bastard.
But writing oh my god! You’re a writer Sam and it’s so hard. There are no rules. My favourite quote of all time was by Robert Downey Senior, and it’s a funny, eclectic quote and although not everybody gets it, I think it’s brilliant. He said: ‘Everyone can act, most people can direct and no one can write,’ and I agree with that in a general way. Good writing is so bloody hard, but filmmaking is about story telling so you just have to learn how to write, or you’re really going to struggle to tell a story of your own.

But to answer your question, you’re right because I do get asked that all the time, and it’s funny because there’s no easy way to answer it because it’s like going up to a horse and saying: ‘So what made you a horse?’ I’m a filmmaker. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved everything about filmmaking- it’s like a language that I recognised immediately that I could speak immediately so I don’t really know how to explain it better than that, or to express how much I love it or why in words. I’d have to do an interpretive dance or something…

What was the first movie you saw?

I can’t remember. I was trying to remember that the other day but it probably would have been something random like The Rescuers or some other sort of obscure cartoon. (Laughs). Maybe The Ten Commandments from a bassinet. But I was lucky when I was a kid, I had a mother that took me to see unusual films- art films you know? Sometimes they were three hours long and in Swedish so I count myself as lucky to have had that kind of influence.

How important do you think further education is to becoming a filmmaker?

I started out doing a communications degree, but I worked out very quickly that I was going off course a bit. I wanted to be a filmmaker but I was learning to be a journalist, so I only lasted like five weeks before I left. I tried to get into AFTRS like twice and didn’t get in because they’re very hard to get into, so I ended up going to Sydney College Of the Arts and did a digital media degree, then I ended up doing a film course there and another year of honors. It’s very art based there, so I was training to be a visual artist as opposed to filmmaker, and so that was interesting because I wasn’t just learning filmmaking but how to sculpt and paint etcetera. In fact, a very small part of the degree revolved around filmmaking. But I’m really glad I did that degree, because it gives me a different perspective on stuff and helps me approach filmmaking as an artist.
Then I went and worked for six years for a fashion company filming what was basically advertising, and that gave me another view of things because I went from art to marketing and deadlines and getting my ass kicked. My life was like a mixture of The Devil Wears Prada and Zoolander because I was doing mostly male model stuff. (Laughs).
It was a really good combination for me, but to answer your question about whether or not you need to get degrees to be a filmmaker, fuck no you don’t. But what I will say is that it helps. If you aren’t an amazing genius talent that can just do it then it really helps you get grounded because not only does it teach you he ABC’s of your craft, but the history of your craft too. It’s important, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

How does your creative process work? Do you sit down at your computer, go for a walk along the beach…?

Like I said, I find writing really difficult, and I don’t have an instinctive, spiritual-based relationship with it but a technical one, so I have to approach it like most people approach the gym. I tend to write the story structure with a partner, obviously usually with my brother, and I’ve been working on a feature with my wife and I really enjoy that collaborative aspect of it. Usually we come up with the concept and then we beat out the story on a series of whiteboards… we’ll write a treatment then take that to a script-editor and show it to as many people as I can, then I get notes back and we do it all again. We pay close attention to structure; is it a hero’s journey? A heroine’s journey? What’s our beginning, middle and end? What’s the message? It’s about making sure the story works from a technical point of view first, and then once the structure is watertight, I’ll sit down and write.

So you’d refer to your process as being methodical?

Oh yeah. And once I have that structured foundation, writing finally becomes a wonderful, transcendent experience for me, but only once I’ve made sure that all of the finer details have been checked and balanced first.

I’m actually sort of surprised to hear that, because when I was watching Wyrmwood, what really resonated with me was how creative and sort of deep the storyline went. It had all of the gore and the Aussie black humour was there, but the title of the film and the way the whole ‘Wyrmwood’ origin story was worked into it struck me as being not only incredibly creative, but sort of spiritual. I actually had you pegged as being a budding novelist, so I hope you take that as a compliment!

It’s a wonderful compliment actually thank you very much, and I don’t want to make the implication that I don’t connect with the writing because I don’t think you could write if you didn’t connect- I just get irritated with it because I know what my limits are. The stuff I write is definitely based on themes and ideas that are super important to me, like right deep down inside me, and I love poetry and the spoken word… but I guess I get so frustrated with writing because I WANT to be better at it. When I pick up a camera and do photography, I know what I’m doing and I know that I can be as good as most of the photographers that I love, and when I make films I can imitate these filmmakers that I love, and editing comes really easy for me too… but what I can’t do is pick up a pen and write like my favourite fucking novelists and it pisses me off. They’re at 10 and I’m at 2, and irritates the shit out of me.

I think you’re higher than 2! When I heard the title ‘Wyrmwood’ I was like ‘What is that?’ But then I heard the story behind it and it all clicked and I was like, okay, wow, that’s smarter than your average Chainsaw Massacre! I thought it was incredibly clever and creative, so was the film built upon that concept, or did that anecdote just sort of work its way into the zombie movie process?

Well, we knew that we were doing post-apocalyptic stuff and I do have a Catholic background, so death and resurrection and sacrifice and sin and demons all seem to be themes that pop up in a lot of my screenplays. I researched about the Wyrmwood star falling to earth and causing these massive plagues and I thought… yeah, it could cause a zombie plague, right?
For years we thought about what to call the film and in the end I was just like: ‘Oh come on let’s just call it Wyrmwood,’ but I think all along we knew it was going to be called Wyrmwood anyway. It got frustrating though, because we used that as a working title for years, but Studio Canal who were or distributors said: ‘Look, you’re going to have to have a sub-title because people have no idea what Wyrmwood is,’ and I started to argue it about how eclectic and interesting it was, but they sort of said that they were good points from an artistic point of view, but at the end of the day, when the average person is searching for a Zombie Film, they’re gonna miss Wyrmwood,’ and that’s how the sub-heading ‘Road Of The Dead’ came to pass. And that is one of those times when compromising my artistic integrity for common sense really paid off for me because they were right.

Completely agreed. My own zombie novels are named after complicated medical terms like ‘Palpitations’ and ‘Sanguivorous’ and it wasn’t until I added a sub-Title “The Highway to Never After” that people even knew they were horror novels.

Exactly. Sometimes you’ve just got a give a little, and trust that other people know what they’re talking about. Some of my filmmaker friends inferred that I was selling out but I said that I wasn’t- it’s still my story and my vision- it’s just easier to find now for the people that are looking for it and don’t know it yet.

How much of your success do you credit to the fact that you are an Australian filmmaker?

None. I like being Australian, and I have a keen understanding of the thing that makes us special and wonderful and eclectic and those are things that help, but there are so many different cultures that have their own charms to offer. I can list the Australian elements that help: Having this wonderful landscape in the background of Wyrmwood certainly helped, the fact that Australia is the flavour of the month is great because we’re pretty popular with the rest of the world and come off as very neutral and easy-going, so that’s cool… but a Japanese Wyrmwood would be sifted through its own cultural sieve too and would have been great in its own way. In fact, I’d really like to see that film…


How did you and your brother come up with the concept of Wyrmwood?

I think we both knew it was going to be zombies all along, for budget reasons if nothing else. Dawn Of The Dead, by the recently departed George. A Romero (God bless his soul) was one of our favourite movies growing up, and if you deconstruct it you can see how plausible making a zombie movie is because really all you need is one location, a camera… and friends that don’t mind being sprayed with blood. We both were big Mad Max fans too so we loved not only the idea of armor, but the aesthetic that it provides having men all leather-clad out on the open road in a ruined world… it’s very cool and let’s face it if you’re in a situation when infected people can kill or turn you with a bite or a scratch, you’re going to want to be covered up, right?
 But the big break in terms of concept was when my brother came up with the idea of zombies letting off methane gas that the survivors could use to run their cars off. It was really cool and once he’d said it I was like, ‘Oh My God I would watch that film!’ I relaxed after that, because I knew we were onto something.

Well you had three big concepts in Wyrmwood didn’t you? The Methane Gas, The Wyrmwood story itself and the element with the one girl that can control the zombies. It’s definitely set you apart because a lot of horror films don’t go that deep.

Yes. Once he suggested that methane thing, I knew that I had to up the ante so that’s when I came up with idea of puppetting the zombie race with mind control. (Laughs). It was definitely time to step up.

They’re incredibly strong plot points combined. Do you have something similar in your pocket with Daemon Runner?

Well yes, you’ve got the demons that can possess you through the internet. Then the demon runners are an underground sect of people who basically collect and get rid of demons.

What do you think you and your brother each bring to the table that sets you apart from the other horror filmmakers?

Look I’m pretty pretentious and very cine-literate. I’m the arty guy that went to art school, and he trained as an electrician. We’re very different people but we were both brought up on the same things; aliens and comics etc, so we got the same kind of pop culture imprint, but one that was passed through very different filters. I guess he grounds my pretension, and he’s got this thing when he comes up with THE craziest ideas. In Daemon Runner it was his idea to print the demon up though a plasmic necro-portal, and not in a million ideas would I have thought of that and yet it’s the most original, visual thing in the film. Like I said before he came up with the zombie fuel idea and I would never have thought of that because it’s such a bizarre thing, and if you look at the Wyrmwood TV trailer, he came up with the idea of blending zombies so it comes up with this juice that you put in the back of people’s heads and I just wouldn’t have thought of that. They’re such extreme, bizarre and at first almost childish ideas and that’s part of his genius. He doesn’t overthink, he just has these crazy ideas, and almost inevitably my response is: ‘No, that would never work that’s stupid,’ but then I start thinking about it and I’m like: ‘Actually… I’ve never seen that before so let’s do it!’ So he brings a bizarre originality to it, and I bring the filmmaker/writer bollocks that you have to have. In the end we have a very dark and realistically treated nonsense-based film and that probably helps us sell to a broader spectrum. The critics walk away happy because we’ve taken the story-telling and technical elements seriously, and then the sixteen year old boys that are like: ‘Yeah! Zombies being blended!’

I’ve heard it said in another interview that Wyrmwood was never really a zombie movie to you because it was a monster movie. Is the same true for Daemon Runner, or is it an homage to a specific genre?

I don’t know I think I probably said that ages ago. I remember when Wyrmwood was coming out I kept referring to it as a monster movie because quite frankly, I think I was a little bit nervous and slightly ashamed about my pedigree, because zombies were kind of a lower class film genre at the time.

So that was you being pretentious?

(Laughs) Yes, I definitely think that was my pretentious art school roots coming through. But the more time I spent in the zombie world, the more I started to love it and the more I began to appreciate the genre for what it is. But do you know what’s interesting about zombies? They’re the newest kind of monster, especially as far as the modern concept of them goes because they’ve only been around since the 60’s or possibly the 50’s. There are other films that were technically zombie films that pre-date the ones we’re all familiar with, but they started as they are now with Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead, and they’re still very much the new kid on the block. The Zombie genre communicates so much about our modern fears, like fear of the third world, over-population, cancer and contagion… it’s all very now and relatable, so it hits.

The Zombie genre communicates so much about our modern fears, like fear of the third world, over-population, cancer and contagion… it’s all very now and relatable, so it hits.

True, zombies and our fear of plagues etc resonate with us the way the movie Frankenstein once exploited our fear of science.

Exactly. There are so many different ways you can deconstruct zombie films, so I learned to stop worrying about how I was perceived and just embraced what I’d become a part of. Now, I’ve gotten with the program and I don’t even think about it or the use of the ‘Z’ word anymore. Wyrmwood is not a monster film, it’s a zombie film and I’m proud of it.

I watched the behind the scenes footage for Wyrmwood and was shocked by how hands-on you were and how hard you worked. Now that you’ve got a a bigger budget, do you think you’ll go on rolling up your sleeves for your films, or will you take more of a backseat?

I’ll definitely go on being as involved as I always have been because I don’t know any other way to do it. We have professionals production designers now that are willing and ready to do all the hard work and then present it to me, but I’m like: ‘Nah! I want to do it!’ I like getting my hands dirty, so I think we’ll always work the same way, though hopefully we’ll never have to work as hard as we did with Wyrmwood. 17 hour days are hard and we made that film in a burst of desperate energy, but you can’t smash your body like that forever. So as the budgets expand (and I certainly hope they do) I’d like to work less hard, but the spirit and passion that we made Wyrmwood with will always stay the same because we just love making films.

Photo by: Em Bjorndahl Artist/Writer

If the sky was the limit and you got to re-make one movie, what would it be?

There’s a lot of things I want to hey. One of my favourite writers is James Ellroy so I’d kill to be able to make White Jazz or do like a huge, hundred-million dollar T.V series based on American Tabloid, which is a great book… but that’s a secondary answer. My absolute answer would unquestionably be Stephen King, so I would love to do Firestarter or Salem’s Lot, and I would love to remake The Running Man how it was supposed to be and not with a weird, Day-Glo Arnold Schwartzenegger because oh my God it’s such a good little book. I’d love to do Neuromancer by William Gibson but again that would cost three hundred million dollars and it’s a bit obscure so it would be hard to make it work with a global audience because it’s a bit too smart for its own good.

If you could go back, what would you do differently with Wyrmwood?

Kind of nothing. It’s like saying what would you change about your child? It’s their imperfections that make you love them so much. I really like Wyrmwood, and I really like it’s flaws because those flaws are what taught me how to be a better filmmaker. I earned those flaws the way I earned my scars.

Agreed, I think the flaws actually added to its charms.

Exactly. Even some of the basic story plots like: ‘How the fuck did the soldiers know what was coming?’ They just knew and it’s never explained and its completely out there but I like that. I had so many people complain about that so I guess you could explain it as a story flaw, but I love the fact that we didn’t explain that. I’m a mildly-talented filmmaker and I think it’s entertaining watching mildly-talented filmmakers, because it’s kind of like watching a new dancer that almost falls over but doesn’t. It’s the fact that they get back up and keep going that makes their performance so interesting, because watching the recovery is more engrossing than watching them execute a perfect move.

I’m a mildly-talented filmmaker and I think it’s entertaining watching mildly-talented filmmakers, because it’s kind of like watching a new dancer that almost falls over but doesn’t. It’s the fact that they get back up and keep going that makes their performance so interesting, because watching the recovery is more engrossing than watching them execute a perfect move.

That was actually very eloquent. I think you need to be writing more than you think you do!

(Laughs) Well if I could write as well as I can talk, I’d probably be a decent screen-writer… but that’s the tricky part.

What do you think an actor in your movies needs to bring to the set in order to help tell your story?

Frankly, I don’t want to have to worry about what the actor’s bringing at all, so I suppose intelligence and an understanding of their craft is what appeals to me. I have explosions going off and limbs falling off and blood coagulating… the last thing I need to worry about is their performance, and if you are worried about it, you’ve probably cast wrong. I like them to show up knowing what they’re doing and prepared to do whatever it takes to bring this character into the world. And change it! I love it when an actor does something I’m not expecting.

You’ve mentioned to me in the past that you have a thing for theatre actors. Can we maybe expect a Wyrmwood musical one day?

I love the theatre- I go all the time and I’d love to write a play one day. I don’t see a musical happening because it’s not my forte but I’d definitely love to write a play. It’s terrifying to me though because it’s way out of my comfort zone.

What can fans of your productions do to help you make more movies? Obviously in Australia we’ve got smaller production companies, budgets and audiences, so we have to fight that much harder to get into the mainstream, so what can your most devoted fans do to help?

Watch and like and share the videos really, try to help us push it out there. Write to Netflix, write to Stan and try and drum up some interest for us. But at the end of the day, I think most of it is on my shoulders. It’s like a business so I have to go to meetings and make appointments and get the funding, but public interest definitely helps.
I’ll tell you what they can do- pay for the movies. Don’t download Wyrmwood because that doesn’t help anybody. If you love and respect a filmmaker, make sure that you pay for the content they make because piracy is really making it very, very difficult to get things green-lit these days.

I couldn’t agree more… but do you think that piracy helps get you an audience that may not have watched Wyrmwood if they’d had to pay for it?

Absolutely, and that’s why I try not to carry on about it because it definitely broadens our audience. If not for the internet then I probably wouldn’t have a career by now, but I don’t understand why art should be free, because it’s very difficult to create and I think we need to change that mind-set a little, and get the artists creating all of this stuff the respect that they’ve earned.

Photo by: Em Bjorndahl Artist/Writer

Thanks so much for reading! If you’d love to support the Roache-Turner brothers and catch their latest short for Daemon Runner, please click the link to their Facebook page now and get liking!

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