FRIGHTFEST – HAZARD AHEAD!

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James Whittington interviews Jonas Govaerts director of HAZARD

FrightFest is famed for its diverse schedule and HAZARD from director Jonas Govaerts is a high octane, heart-pounding tale of drugs, car chases and more drugs! Here we chatted to this talented creative about a movie which will look amazing on the huge screen.

DS: Why did you choose H4Z4RD for your debut feature?

JG: Hazard is actually my second feature: in 2014, I made Cub, a slasher set at boy scout camp. However, since I’d never directed an action film before, I often felt like a first-time director on set!

DS: What did you think of the script when you first read it?

JG: One of the main reasons I chose this project, was the note at the top of the first page of Trent Haaga’s script: “The camera never leaves our hero’s car”. As a filmmaker, that’s the kind of challenge I find hard to resist. Thankfully, the story that followed was just as funny, crazy and bloody as I’d hoped: classic Haaga.

DS: How did you go about casting the movie?

JG: Dimitri Thivaois was the first actor on board. Since this was Dimitri’s first starring role, I wanted someone next to him with a lot of experience: enter Jeroen Perceval, who’s not only a fantastic actor, but also an established writer and director. For the female lead, I wanted someone who would make indelible impression straight away, as the character disappears from the film quite quickly, at least visually. Hence the casting of Jennifer Heylen, a rising star in Belgium. Once cast, all three of them were invited to further develop their character: for example, Jennifer designed most of Lea’s look, and Jeroen wrote his own rap song!

DS: Was it all shot on location?

JG: Ninety percent of the movie was shot on, under and over the mean streets of Antwerp, my hometown. There’s a handful of scenes shot in the studio, using old-school techniques like rear projection and poor man’s process. For the climactic underwater sequence, we went to Lites Studios in Belgium, which has one of the most advanced water stages in the world.

DS: How much of the driving did Dimitri ‘Vegas’ Thivaios who plays Noah, actually do?

JG: Seeing that this was Dimitri’s first leading role, I wanted him to be 100 percent focused on his acting. For most of the driving scenes, we used what’s called a top steer: a custom-built movie car that allows the stunt driver to steer the vehicle from a cage on top of the roof. That way, Dimitri could concentrate on his lines without having to worry about accidentally panicking video village!

DS: The movie has some wild and inventive camera angles, which sequence was the hardest to shoot?

JG: Definitely the aforementioned underwater scene. Under water, every shot takes about four times as long, and it’s very hard to communicate with the crew once they go under. Dimitri took it like a pro, though. Instead of coming up for air between each take — which would’ve caused even more delays — he actually stayed under for hours on end, using a scuba tank to breathe.

DS: Was it difficult balancing the nail-biting tension and the more humorous moments?

JG: That work was done in the script stage, really. One of the reasons I wanted to work with writer Trent Haaga, is his mastery of tone: a lot of his work is incredibly dark, yet you can’t help but laugh. It helped that a lot of the supporting actors, even the ones in bit parts like the traffic warden and the bouncer, have a background in stand-up comedy.

DS: The soundtrack is fantastic; were there any tracks you couldn’t get a licence to use?

JG: That’s one of the perks of having a world-famous DJ as your lead: suddenly, you have access to all these tracks that are usually unaffordable, especially on a modest budget like ours. Dimitri knows artists like ATB, Darude and Tiësto personally, and helped making deals with them: I can’t think of a single track we weren’t able to clear eventually.

DS: The movie is like The Italian Job meets Trainspotting with a touch of Taken, would you agree?

JG: Those are all classics, so thank you! I also stole from Steven Spielberg’s debut Duel, William Friedkin’s existential road movie Sorcerer, and Mario Bava’s final movie Rabid Dogs, which also features a bunch of deranged gangsters crammed in a tiny car on a sweltering summer day…

DS: Is the “8 O’Clock Dog” story a Flemish folktale or was it created for this movie?

JG: That’s a story my grandmother used to tell me and siblings, just to get us into bed in time. The version in the movie is a lot more vulgar, though! I always try to sprinkle these little personal anecdotes into my work, as they help making it feel more real and alive.

DS: What lessons did you learn directing Hazrad?

JG: What I learned on Hazard is: there’s no such thing as too much prep. I know Werner Herzog once said “storyboards are for cowards”, but I made sure to hand-draw every frame of this movie beforehand, just for my own peace of mind. If I hadn’t done that, we’d probably still be shooting!

DS: What’s the Belgium film industry like?

JG: Sadly, not very genre-friendly. We used to be known for our surrealism, but it seems our cinema has forgotten that. That’s why I’m so happy with the Frightfest premiere: this is exactly the kind of audience this film was made for.

DS: Will you be nervous when Hazard has its international premiere at FrightFest 2022?

JG: Not really, as the organisers have ensured me that Hazard is actually the perfect Frightfest movie! I can’t wait to see it with the audience, especially on that huge Imax screen.

DS: So, what are you up to at the moment?

JG: Just enjoying the festival run. It’s been eight years since my last movie, so it might be a while before I get to do it again. This time, I’m not taking anything for granted!

DS: Jonas Govaerts, thank you very much.