Today: February 25, 2024

Directors The China Brothers

By – Matt Isard – After only one film there are worse people to be compared to than the Coen brothers.

By – Matt Isard

After only one film there are worse people to be compared to than
the Coen brothers.
But
Paul and Ben China aren’t going to let these comments go to their heads.
Instead they prefer to be a little more grounded. “It’s flattering to be
compared to the Coen brothers,” says Paul China. “But, on the other side you
think because Ben and I are brothers and our last name begins with C they just
jumped to that immediate conclusion.”

The twins are certainly
more attractive than the Coen brothers. The tanned, 31 year-olds look like they
belong in front of the camera rather than behind it. They are talking to
FilmJuice about their feature film Crawl,
which has crept up on mainstream audiences after rave reviews at horror
festival screenings.
Despite
being the last interview of the day, both Brits are warm, chatty, and relaxed;
a trait they have picked up from being in Australia for nine years. “I got a
job as a film critic, which took me to Australia,” says Paul. “Ben followed
about a year later and we decided to tackle that long and difficult task of
trying to make our first independent feature.”

It turned out to be a task fraught
with dead ends and a constant struggle for funding. Ben said: “When we first
started we tried to get backing by the Australian government film bodies.
Obviously there are loads of independent filmmakers trying to get projects off
the ground so we got our hands slapped away.” They soon realised that they had
to raise the funds themselves. It took a while, but once they got all they
needed they attacked the task “guns blazing”.

The result of all the hard
work is Crawl, a suspenseful thriller that harks back to a more respectable
type of horror flick. Taking inspiration from Roman Polanski, Alfred Hitchcock, and David Lynch the China brothers wanted to write and direct a film
that wasn’t a cliché. “Horror does
get a bad reputation to a certain extent,” says Paul. “But some of the greatest
films ever created, in our opinion, are horror films whether you are looking at
Rosemary’s Baby, or Jaws, or Alien, or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” The brothers
love The Texas Chain Saw Massacre so much they named their protagonist after the
film’s lead actress Marilyn Burns.

Instead of being a
“bloodfest” Crawl is minimal. Rather than showing violence, it draws out the
tension so audiences are constantly on the edge of their seats. Unlike the
trend of handheld shoots with fast edits and shock horrors Crawl takes it time.
What truly speaks to the brothers’ creative skill is the calibre of cast and
crew that they brought in on a rumoured budget of only 500,000 AUD. On board
was cinematographer Brian Breheny
who did The Adventures Of Priscilla,
Queen Of The Desert
and Moulin
Rouge!
and Master And Commander’s
composer Christopher Gordon. Even
Australian TV actress Lynda Stoner
came out of a 20-year retirement for a one-scene cameo. But the one actor Paul
and Ben were most pleased about getting was George Shevtsov. The role of the Croatian hit man was written with
Shevtov in mind and he went on to make the part his own. “George has a wealth
of experience,” says Paul. “There is one part in the film where he unties the
gag from Marilyn and he lays it on her lap and puts his finger up her skirt to
pull the skirt down and I did not write that. He just did it in a rehearsal and
thought that would be great.”

Although the brothers did
allow some improvisation they came onto set with a clear idea of where they
wanted the film to go. “We had a very detailed shot list and we knew exactly
how we wanted the film to present on screen,” says Paul. Having a focused idea
meant that the two had some confidence stepping onto their first ever film set,
but they admit it was still a daunting experience. They have no idea if they
did the right thing but as Paul points out no director has any idea what the
proper way to run a film set is. “An actor is always going to see different
sides of a film set. They are going to go to many different films and see
directors work in many different ways, but each director never knows how
another directors works. They don’t even know whether they are right or wrong.
They are just going by instinct or what they think is correct. So we just did
what we thought was right regardless of whether the cast thought it was
ludicrous or not.”

What the cast and crew of
Crawl thought of Paul and Ben probably doesn’t matter now that Hollywood is
beckoning. One of their screenplays, Sweet
Virginia
, was 11th on 2012’s Blacklist. This is a list of the
top screenplays in Hollywood that haven’t been picked up by a studio – yet.
Film executive Franklin Leonard
compiles the list and hundreds of film executives offer their suggestions.
Previous entries on the list included Juno,
Django Unchained
, and Argo. The
China brother’s Sweet Virginia received 26 votes and the two have confirmed
that filming should start in the second half of this year.

At this point
they are still reluctant to give away any details, but they do tease that the
cast is a combination of Hollywood A-listers and some up and coming talent. Set
in 1980 South-West Virginia during a three day heat wave, the dramatic thriller
is “a lot more dialogue driven than Crawl”. Both Paul and Ben will work on bringing the script to the
screen and don’t see that changing on any of their future projects. As twins,
the brothers have a “strong bond and a good working relationship” formed from
spending all their time together.
“Our parents kept us together when we were younger,” says Ben. “Because
there was two of us they didn’t have to deal with us they just put us together
and left us alone.” Two more screenplays are in the pipelines with similar
“masculine” themes and set in “different time periods and places in American
history.” The brothers already have their own, recognisable style. Soon they
will be a C brother team in their own right.

Crawl opens in UK cinemas on 25th
February.

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