Airship Ambassador: Hi Mike and Scott, it’s really great to talk with you again after seeing you at Teslacon.
Mike Zawacki: Thanks! It was good seeing you at TeslaCon and I’m glad to be chatting now.
AA: Attendees at Teslacon and some other conventions had a chance to see Wars of Other Men on the big screen and enjoy a follow up Q&A with you and others on the team. What is the film about?
MZ: It’s about a lieutenant fighting in a war that never happened in a past that never was. The army he fights for is on the verge of defeat, knocked back on its heels by the introduction of the enemy’s new chemical super-weapon – the Fog.
The Lieutenant is ordered to lead a team of soldiers into the heart of the urban battleground to steal the secrets of and means for making the Fog. His mission will turn the tide of the war but at a terrible personal and moral cost, as use of the Fog would proliferate and kill countless soldiers and civilians. There’s an even more sinister angle to his mission and throughout the film the details of that aspect are slowly revealed until the moment when he has to choose between his duty and his humanity.
AA: I found the multilayered story and messages to be very engaging when I watched the movie. What was the motivation for creating Wars? How did it all come about?
MZ: I’ve always had a fascination with alternate history (especially Steampunk and Dieselpunk), the Battle of Stalingrad, World War I, and war films in general, so the overall spine of the project came together pretty easily. My fellow filmmakers and I had been doing projects in the urban wilds of Detroit for a while and I wanted to use that backdrop for something other than post-apocalypse and the other sorts of projects that generally get set there. You don’t see a lot of war films that take place exclusively in urban settings, and there aren’t a lot of Steampunk war films so that became the other component of the project.
The zeppelin gunship fielded by our heroes’ forces. Though formidable, their technology lags behind that of their enemy and as such the vehicle has fewer and less powerful weapons as well as a much more basic gas envelope, propulsion system, and superstructure.
AA: How did elements from the team’s lives and experiences play into creating Wars?
MZ: We had a few military veterans on the team and one of them, Keith Dean, who played a couple of roles on the enemy’s side, took some of the cast out shooting with some period appropriate rifles. There were some bolt action rifles like a Mauser (I think it was a German 98k) and a Russian Mosin Nagant 91/30, and a couple of semi-auto rifles – a Garand and an FN-49. I think that gave them a sense for what their weapons in the film would feel and shoot like. He also offered up advice on how to move through dangerous areas, how to hold your weapon, things like that which made our soldiers more believable in their soldiering.
Beyond that there was just the passion for filmmaking in Detroit that a lot of the cast and crew already had. Many of us knew the places where we shot very well – all the cool little out of the way locations, the idiosyncrasies of the buildings and lots, and so on. But in a lot of ways most of us were stepping out of our comfort zones on Wars and operated outside of anything that was familiar. We hadn’t really done much in the way of war films and had never done any kind of alternate history. The scope of the film was outside what any of us tried as well.
The enemy’s dreaded zeppelin gunship. Note the armored gas envelope and reinforced super structure, which allows the guns to be rotated along the circumference of the envelope.
AA: Why use steampunk as the design aesthetic?
MZ: Oh man… why not? Because it’s cool and fun and you get to make it up as you go along! There’s so much creative play in Steampunk and it’s a really striking and distinctive style. And even to people who aren’t used to the genre it’s this immediate visual cue that you’re watching a film that takes place in a past that’s completely unlike our own. So it says a lot without having to utter a single line of dialog. Given all that it’s a choice that’s hard to resist.
AA: What kind of backstory is there for Wars which didn’t make it into the final film?
MZ: There was just tons of stuff. Before shooting I had conversations with each of the actors individually and then as distinct groups – like, all the soldiers, all the officers and so on. We talked about their characters, their pasts, events that shaped their lives, and in group settings we’d talk about things like how they related to the other characters, and so on.
With a short film, even one like Wars that’s pretty long by short film standards, you have so little time to explore things outside the central character and the central narrative. But we worked in what we could. Chief amongst those were the camaraderie of the soldiers. Little things would sneak in too, and I think it really helped give the actors a sort of emotional bed for their characters. We knew that very little of what we talked about would make it in, but I wanted to give the actors as many tools as possible to work with.
In addition to all those character stories there were notes about the world, some rough outlines for the history of the conflict, discussions about the rigid and almost hereditary nature of the leadership of the Lieutenant’s army, just lots of material. Again, we knew very little of this would make it in to the finished film but hopefully it gave the costume, production design, and art teams something to work with while they were creating their parts of the film.
AA: That makes a lot of sense to have that information for everyone, even just to flavor their character in small ways and actions, and nuance their performance. Are there any plans for a sequel or spinoff?
MZ: Yeah, given all the stories we feel are left to tell and the positive reception we’ve gotten from the Steampunk and Sci-Fi communities once we stopped to catch our collective breath we didn’t have to think too hard about what to do next. I’m working with Scott Norman, who played the Lieutenant, and some other friends and fellow filmmakers to work the elements from Wars into a full-fledged series. We’re writing the pilot episode and mapping out character and story arcs for the first season.
We’re also going to be shooting a teaser for the series to show at TeslaCon. For now we’re pursuing an independent funding model rather than trying to pitch the show to networks or whatever. That may change but for now we’re much more excited about hooking into a lot of the options for online self-distribution that would allow us to maintain ownership of the project and keep working closely with the Steampunk community.
Scott Norman: It’s probably going to be more of a “reboot” than a sequel or spinoff. While we were initially taking TWOOM on the road, I asked Mike “What is this all for? What are we trying to accomplish other than get this short film seen? And, how can I help?” He told me that his dream was to do it as a series. I always believed in his talent, so I jumped on board to see if I could help make it happen. His dream became my dream, and we’re pushing toward that end.
Airship Ambassador: It’s always fun, and inspiring, when someone’s idea takes hold like that. Creativity can be infectious and exciting.
Let’s break here in our chat with Mike and Scott.
Join us next time with they talk about the actual filming of the movie.
Information is also on IMDB, the internet movie database.