“Indigenous’ talent poached for Panama flick


South African director Alistair Orr was an emerging filmmaker battling to break
into the local industry, until he got the call that everyone dreams about; a
heavy-weight Hollywood exec asking: “How soon can you get here?’
Over four weeks in January 2013, Alistair Orr and a small production crew
contended with the perils of Panama while shooting Indigenous, a horror film
about five friends who are hunted by a blood thirsty jungle monster, the

It’s a jungle out there

Orr is no stranger to slaughter, having shot two low budget horror movies, The
Unforgiving and Rancid, in South Africa before making his international directorial
debut. The films barely blipped on the local radar, which, according to Orr is in
part due to a lack of marketing and promotional support from South African
distributors, but managed to make a lot of money through DVD sales overseas.
It was then that Orr set his sights on Tinseltown.

“I banged out two very cheap films out of my own pocket, sent them to whoever
would watch them overseas and didn’t focus on the South African market.
Lionsgate Entertainment wanted to remake The Unforgiving, a very low budget
movie that some industry friends and I shot over eight weekends, and that
didn’t end up happening… but this film did,’ says Orr, whose initial contact with
Lionsgate led to him being asked to write and direct Indigenous. He was
required to write the script in only a few months, before heading to South
America to shoot.

Only in Hollywood

While Orr was able to bring South African make-up artist Kate Blackman and
DOP Brendan Barnes along for the shoot, he and co-producer James Samson
had to hustle the streets of Hollywood in search of the remaining talent needed
to make the monster movie come to life.

“We were just two very naive young guys cruising around Hollywood, begging
for favours and sending out emails,’ says Orr, who managed to secure the
services of David LeRoy Anderson, a winner of two Best Make-up Academy
Awards for Men in Black and The Nutty Professor, as well as go-to Zombie
impersonator, Mark Steger, who featured in a number of blockbusters including I
Am Legend.

“Only in LA would you find someone who does monsters for a living,’ he jokes.

Real sweat

Set up in abandoned military barracks along the Panama Canal and aided only
by a local line producer who helped source crew and a jungle guide, Orr and his
team were faced with challenges that went far beyond language barriers and
“It’s easy to sit in LA and write a script, but to actually find the locations in real
life was a different story. Luckily Panama is tiny with only five million people in it,
so if you need something or if you are looking for a certain location, somebody
knows somebody who can help you,’ says Orr.

He continues: “That environment is alive. There are snakes – coral snakes –
which, if they bite you, leave you with three hours to live, and they have no
vaccine for it. There’s nothing you can do. Mosquitoes were a big thing. To get
the gear to where we wanted to shoot we had to take canoes, cable canopy
tours and trek the jungle. Even though we were shooting handheld, it was still a
big thing to cart cameras and generators through thick jungle.’

Though faced with a number of obstacles set by Mother Nature, Orr maintains
that it was well worth it for the electrifying moments he was able to capture on
film, and adds: “When you are making a film and you see it unfold in front of
you, you can’t help but get excited. It’s not fake sweat on you, it’s real sweat.’

Post monstrosity

Before returning to Johannesburg as co-founder of post-production house, The
Dark Side, Orr spent eight months editing the movie unassisted, and made
several further trips to Panama for pick-up shots. Orr was also able to enlist
assistance from Prime Focus, the VFX team who worked on films, Machete Kills
and Gravity, to up the scare-factor by adding some terrifying tweaks to the
movie’s imaginary creature.

“We shot a lot of the Chupacabra creature in daylight, which was not the best
idea because there is nowhere to hide any flaws. The Lionsgate producers
pulled a deal with the guy doing VFX for Machete Kills to work on the monster,
distorting it a bit, extending its mouth and making it a bit more scary,’ says Orr.

“I thought I was going to be there for three months, and I ended up being there
for about a year and a month,’ remarks Orr, who concludes, “Everyone
underestimated this film.’

The film’s producers submitted it to the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival, which took
place from 16 to 27 April in New York, where it was one of seven movies chosen
worldwide to premiere in the midnight section of the event. Indigenous will also
receive a theatrical release in the US and other territories around the world.


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