Director Rob Jabbaz Talks THE SADNESS
Filmmaker Rob Jabbaz‘s intense and savage viral shocker THE SADNESS has not only played some of the most prestigious film festivals around the world but was awarded the Golden Monster for ‘Best Film’ at last year’s Monster Fest in Melbourne and ‘Best Horror Film’ at Fantastic Fest in Texas. Now with the film’s festival journey finally over, THE SADNESS is available exclusively on SHUDDER to stream and Monster Fest’s Jarret Gahan caught up with Rob to talk about the film.
How did the initial concept for THE SADNESS come about?
I actually got asked to write THE SADNESS once the pandemic hit, by one of the guys who ended up being a producer and his mind first went to a zombie film due to the pandemic, so a zombie film was a knee jerk reaction to that. I thought we could either make just a low-rent version of TRAIN TO BUSAN or something people had seen before or we could try to put something on the screen that hadn’t really been done before. That involved making the infected, not only intelligent, but also sadistic. We’ve seen talking intelligent zombies before, as early as 1985 with RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD. But adding this malicious, maniac-like sadistic aspect to it was what I think what would made it work. We didn’t have a lot of money to make the film, so we had to come up with a way to make it stand out. And that’s really where if you’re asking me the concept came from.
When you say that there wasn’t a lot of money in the budget of the film, were you concerned that the scale of the script was going to be difficult to achieve when it came to production? As often when a story of this nature is shot on limited financing, it’s very contained in terms of locations and characters, yet THE SADNESS is huge, it traverses an entire city throughout the course of the film and is constantly introducing new characters.
You’re giving me too much credit, I actually think the movie is smaller than it what feels from the trailer. The trailer makes it feel like this city-wide event, but really like most of what happens just happens kind of like in small spaces with maybe four or five people in that space, and that was entirely just budgetary restrictions. Once in a while we’ll have a drone shot in there or we get a day when we had 30 people to run down the street. We were kind of just holding it together with scotch tape and bubble gum, trying to make it seem like it’s taking place in a much larger location than it is actually occurring in.
I feel when you have brutal violence happening on an intimate level that tends to be more impactful than say lots of people dying all at the same time and a massacre where you don’t really develop any kind of real connection to the people being hurt. I think in that sense, the smaller scale of the film works in its favour.
With a tight-wire balance of pitch black humour, brutal carnage and sheer intensity in THE SADNESS. How did you approach these tonal shifts in both the writing and direction of the film?
That’s one of those things where there’s not really a straightforward answer, it’s trial and error. In terms of violence, there’s two types in the film, the impactful violence, that feels real. Then there’s the violence that is more over-the-top, almost comical, like early Peter Jackson with BRAINDEAD.
Some people, are like they why would he do that, why wouldn’t just gone the one way. I feel that would be kneecapping the film, I don’t want to send people out of the theatre being upset. There are some films out there that do that and comics too where after you’ve read them and it’s done, you just feel depressed, in the truest sense of the word, completely de-energized.
I really just wanted it to make a horror film that people would like. And I just thought that if there were moments of intense violence and some more of the fun style violence, then maybe that would just kind of give it a kick, it’s like putting a little bit of habanero into your eggs or something.
It adds a little bit of real intensity to make you remember you’re alive. As far as this comedy is concerned, I never thought when I was writing it that it would be funny. I thought it was just kind of more ironic, darkly ironic, which I guess is actually funny. For me it was more just kind of like to make people be like, oh fuck, these characters are fucked now. I guess that does come across as funny and it does actually now that I think about it more. It’s about surprising the audience. Maybe that’s maybe that’s the best answer.
It’s true, I feel films of a fast-escalating nature can’t help but have a sense of humour about them, whether intentional or not, not necessarily laugh-out-loud funny but more an inner-chuckle, perhaps its survival mechanism. When you pit your characters in a scene that ups the ante on the scene prior, you have to laugh at adversity. That in itself makes the film infinitely rewatchable, as while it’s grim, it’s never bleak and that’s a quality that not only makes you want to tell people about the film but watch it with them to share in the first-time experience of seeing it.
That’s the fun thing, like showing people, sating sit down, let’s watch this, you know, like sitting your friend down and watching a movie with them. Like watching BRAINDEAD for the first time with a friend who has never seen it. Right. Those kinds of considerations are as a fan, what I think is cool. So, that kind of goes into the writing then into the production and even into the editing.
Was there anything that you had written for the film or potentially shot that you deemed possibly a little too excessive for the final cut?
No. Everything, everything we shot is in there. Well I mean, there were some things that went on a little longer, like the part where the guy is having sex with the corpse in the street. That part was trimmed down because when we submitted to some festivals, they were like you’ll be accepted into the festival, but you need to cut this part down otherwise we can’t screen it. There’s a lot of politics and you need to play ball sometimes. And that was another thing too, trying to manage these touchy subjects with enough sensitivity that you can kind of have your cake and eat it too. You get faulted for that too. People will be like why didn’t you show this or that? Well, because if I did, then you wouldn’t have seen it because I wouldn’t have been able to sell it.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Can’t please everybody, all of the time. Given the nature of the film and some of it’s more extreme content, was it difficult to sell to foreign markets and did your producers have faith in the film outside of Taiwan?
I could talk with you for an hour about just that process. We made the film, not really even thinking about the selling of it or anything like that. It was more just about like, we’re the only ones making a movie that will be out in six months, we’re going to have the only new movie in cinemas, as cinemas where replaying older films like THE DARK KNIGHT.
All of our effort went into making the film itself and hopefully that will be enough. When it came down to approaching international buyers, we didn’t have any experience at the time, now through the process of this film, we’ve learned about all that. So when we do the next thing, we’ll have that insight. Thank God we found Raven Banner, when we did, in the process of the selling this film. They’re the ones who put the film on the world stage and took it to the European film market and showed it to everybody. They’re the ones who built the infrastructure for the film, the festival journey, they built the hype now it’s going to be on SHUDDER. So it all comes down to Raven Banner being able to position the movie properly.
The film was designed initially to make its money in Taiwan. So that’s where the focus was. In fact, our studio specializes in that sort of business model, where they make the money from Taiwanese box office and after that, the film’s lifespan is kind of over. I thought well what can we do now? So I was the one that actually cold called Raven Banner.
So now that THE SADNESS is well travelled globally on the festival circuit and is streaming on SHUDDER, what’s next for you?
I’ve written a new project, developed some artwork and we’ve been sewing the seeds for casting, trying to find the right first picks. I’m really excited about it but I don’t want to reveal too much yet.
That’s fine. Will it be a genre film though?
Of course that that’s who I am.
I’m very pleased to hear that, Rob. Best of wishes with the new project and the ongoing success of THE SADNESS.
Thanks man. Take it easy, Jarret.