Interview with “Plaguers” Writer/Director Brad Sykes

Genre movie legend Brad Sykes talks about the re-release of Plaguers (2008), which has just been released in a nifty 10th anniversary edition from Wild Eye Releasing.

-PH: Even back in Boston, when you were studying film, did you envision a career as long-lasting and successful as yours has been?

-Brad: At that time, I had directed a few features on Hi-8 video and I was shooting short films on 16mm for production classses. I had plenty of ideas for more features I wanted to make, and some of them I did end up making one way or another, but I was more interested in just working in the film industry in some capacity. I didn’t even visit L.A. until I was in my third year of film school.

-PH: Tell us when you and Josephina met?

-Brad: We met on the set of a Full Moon movie called Phantom Town, which was shot in Romania. It was the summer of 1997, I had just graduated from BU and I had been brought over by the director, Jeff Burr, to work as his assistant. Josephina was still in film school, in her third year, and she was working on the film, as an intern in the AD department. It was her first professional movie experience and my third, so it was all pretty new to us – but we loved it, and had a great time hanging out and talking movies and about life in general during our down time. For a girl raised in Communist Romania and a guy raised in the suburbs of Virginia Beach, we had an awful lot in common!

-PH: You both obviously have very similar tastes but is there some compromises being made?

-Brad: Our tastes are similar but not exactly the same – we both adore Paul Schrader films and American films of the seventies, for example – but if I had to generalize, I would say I’m more of a B-movie fan while she tends to like more highbrow films. But those two different personalities work well together when we write a script. I think the compromises usually come in the script stage, when I will get overly ambitious with a certain sequence and she will scale it down. That’s where the director/producer dynamic comes in, but we try and work those issues out before production, so there are no big surprises on set.

-PH: What do you feel your strengths are vs Josephina’s?

-Brad: We’re both writers, and in that capacity, I would say my strengths are more conceptual. I think in terms of strong images and visual sequences that make me want to tell the story. Josephina is better with character development, and instilling a certain logic to the script, so everything adds up and makes sense.

When we’re in production, our roles are clearly delineated but at the same time, we’re always on the same page with everything, shot lists, tone, etc. She’s more organized than I am and knows how to take care of people – very important in a producer! I like to think I’m good at getting people excited about the project we’re doing and keeping the energy going on set. I always have a plan (shot lists etc.) but I encourage creativity from everyone.

-PH: Would you say Plaguers is your best film?

-Brad: It’s definitely my most professional film, and the biggest budget I’ve had to date. I was able to do a lot of things creatively that I hadn’t had a chance to do before, and on a much bigger scale. I don’t like to use the word ‘best’ for any of my films, though, because there are a few I’m proud of, for very different reasons. I’ll let the viewers decided that one for themselves.

-PH: Why do you think it’s had such long legs?

-Brad: You never know what’s going to happen to a film after it gets released. I’ve been lucky enough for some to my movies to get a little bit of a cult following, and Plaguers is one of those. I think one reason it has endured is that it’s exactly what it set out to be: a fun sci-fi horror flick with a lot of action and special effects, and a sense of humor, too. It’s aged well because it’s set in the future, or at least the “cinematic future” that was created in sci-fi movies of the seventies and eighties. The practical effects that we used in the film, and the overall look of the costumes, the ships etc, are kind of timeless. I think people are missing that type of handmade, tactile type of filmmaking more and more these days, and even as we embrace so much 80’s nostalgia, there are few movies that are really made that old school way. Plaguers looks and feels like it could have been made in the mid-80’s, which was exactly our intention.

When we made Plaguers back in 2006, I wanted to make a film in the tradition of the films I loved growing up, like Aliens and Demons. I’m not saying it’s in the same league as those classics, but based on the fact that we’re talking about the new Blu-ray release ten years later, we must have done something right!

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