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Features  11 Apr 2024

VicScreen sat down with Colin and Cameron Cairnes – the writers, directors and editors of Melbourne-made horror film, Late Night with the Devil. Together the Cairnes brothers reveal their childhood inspirations behind the film and how they pulled this production together in 20 days at Docklands Studios Melbourne with a predominantly Aussie cast and crew. Late Night with the Devil premiered at South by Southwest in Austin last year and has since broken Indie box office records in the US during its opening weekend for distributor IFC.

VicScreen: As brothers, when did you decide you wanted to start making films together?

Cam: I don't know that there was one specific point where we decided to make films together. From a very young age film was a shared love, but it was a fanciful dream that we might one day get to make movies. Growing up in the outer suburbs of Brisbane, we didn’t really think that dream was at all achievable. 

Colin: There was the classic sibling rivalry as kids. We practically tried to kill each other a bunch of times. But movies were our great leveller. Ultimately, we got to an age in our late teens where we realised, this is what we both wanted to do. And we felt we were going to be better at it if we worked together. Our foundational film experiences were the same; the classic 80s action-adventure movies, Spielberg, Dante and the horror movies of Craven, Carpenter and Cronenberg. 

Cam: Working together helps in so many areas, especially the writing because that can be laborious. Particularly when you’ve got a bit of a perfectionist streak. So, sharing that responsibility is really helpful. 

Colin: We went and did separate things for a while and worked on our craft in production and editing. It wasn’t until our late 20s that we started writing together seriously. 

Cam: I think that's when you decide you're going to get serious about it; when you start writing. There's absolutely no guarantee that you’ll make it. So, it's a big leap of faith. But I think that's what you've got to do to move forward. 

VicScreen: It’s a big leap of faith. Because even after a degree of success, you have to keep inspiring yourselves to leap again, and again.

Colin: We’ve got to keep generating opportunities and maintain the passion somehow. You’ve got to be a little bit mad, I guess. Deluded, you know? It is hard, especially in Australia…well, everywhere. You’re struggling to make a living in between these projects. 

VicScreen: How do you divvy up writing and directing responsibilities?

Cam: I think it's reasonable to say it's 50/50 in terms of the writing, that's for sure. With the directing, it’s a case of whoever doesn’t have their hands full takes on the job at hand.

Colin: We talk a lot. We’re pretty much on the same page about story, plot, character, and tone…all those important ingredients. It's always a bit hard to say when you go look at the finished script who wrote which bit. People say that our work feels like it has one voice. And that's partly because we also edit each other as well. Writers generally don't like being edited. But we're very happy to have each other edit our work. So, there's that kind of inbuilt quality control going on. 

On set shooting Late Night with the Devil

VicScreen: Where did your interest in the horror genre begin? 

Cam: The love was there from a very young age. I think we were probably looking around and thinking there aren’t enough horror films being made in Australia when we do it so well when given the chance. Aussie genre is very highly regarded abroad. So that might have inspired us a little.

Colin: That’s where our instincts are. We've also done a lot of comedy and we don’t mind putting those two things side by side. A lot of the classic horror movies are also pretty funny. For us, the entertaining comes first, and getting that balance between the light and the dark. 

Cameron and Colin Cairnes on set with Laura Gordon and Ingrid Torelli

VicScreen: Which horror films are your favourites of all time and inspire you in your practice as filmmakers? 

Cam: Arguably, Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the greatest horror film ever made. One of the great films ever made. 

Colin: The early 70s through to the 80s were a great time for horror, with people like Cronenberg, Carpenter and Romero making some of their best work.

VicScreen: Does Australia do ‘horror’ well in your opinion? 

Cam: We punch above our weight, but we don't really get the recognition here at home for it, which is unfortunate. The Aussie films that are commercially or critically successful overseas are generally our horror or genre offerings. Look at the brilliant Talk To Me. And now Late Night has just set an opening weekend box office record for the film’s US distributor, IFC. ‘Horror’ has been a bit of a dirty word in this country despite it being one of the first and most enduring genres there is. So, it makes it challenging to get the ‘money people’ over here interested. That might be changing though.

Cam: Recently, when we were talking to producers [in America] about Aussie content, they weren't mentioning the prestige dramas that get all the attention over here. The films that were meaningful to them were films like The Babadook, Wolf Creek and Talk To Me. 

 Ingrid Torelli as Lilly, David Dastmalchian as Jack Delroy Laura Gordon as Dr. June Ross-Mitchell

VicScreen: What made you want to set this film, Late Night with the Devil, in America? 

Cam: It just made sense that this big Tonight Show would exist in America. I mean, we're suggesting the devil is trying to infiltrate the broadcast…where it could reach 100 million people. We did entertain the idea of setting it in Australia and it being more of a Graham Kennedy show, but the stakes felt higher if we set it in America. 

Colin: It could have been good as an Aussie thing, but a lot more obscure. It would have been more of an oddity rather than something that has mainstream potential, and it’s important to us to hit as big an audience as possible. 

David Dastmalchian as Jack Delroy

David Dastmalchian as Jack Delroy with Rhys Auteri as Gus McConnell 

VicScreen: Stephen King, the King of Horror himself, tweeted after seeing the film: “It's absolutely brilliant. I couldn't take my eyes off it…I urge you to watch it when you can.” What was it like seeing this post pop up online? 

Colin: I mean, we're just honoured that he watched it, which is already a buzz. But that he likes it…even better! 

VicScreen: How has the response to the film been so far? 

Colin: Amazing.…Totally exceeded our most optimistic expectations. The Box Office is one thing but to hear that people are going back for a second or third screening and are doing their own fan art — it’s mind blowing to be honest.

VicScreen: Tell us about shooting entirely at Docklands Studios Melbourne? 

Cam: We’d never shot anything in a studio before. We've always been on location. So, it was wonderful, and it was kind of maddening walking onto the same set with its garish colours every day. We were kind of treating it like we were shooting a live TV show from the 70s, going in and working on this show on a daily basis. We were going a little bit mad towards the end just looking at the same set for 20 days. 

Colin: But in terms of the facilities, the location in Docklands was fantastic. We’d definitely do it again. 

VicScreen: What’s it like working with Aussie crews? 

Cam: Aussie crews are the best. They get on with it, muck in if there’s a problem that needs solving. Most of them are multi-skilled as well.

Colin: You see it with Aussie actors as well. I think that's why they get such a good rap in the US. They're easy going on set, they're professional, but if there's a job that needs doing, they’re the first to jump in. That's why making stuff in Australia is so much fun. 

VicScreen: Why should people get out to cinemas to watch Late Night with the Devil? 

Colin: We always strive to give the audience something special, something different. The thinking is we’ve only got 90 minutes, so let's be as generous as we can with story, character, and surprising left turns. The last thing we want to do is bore people.

Late Night with the Devil was supported by VicScreen’s Victorian Production Fund and with a specialist placement Line Producer. 

Late Night with the Devil is screening in select cinemas across the country from April 11.