Writer/director MJ Bassett talks directing Megan Fox in new action-thriller Rogue...
There's always time for a vicious, bloody action romp and new thriller Rogue is exactly that.
Rogue follows Megan Fox's Samantha O'Hara, who is leading a squad of soldiers on a daring mission to rescue hostages from their captors in remote Africa.
Sadly, the mission goes awry and the team find themselves stranded, leaving them not only to face a bloody, brutal encounter with a gang of rebels, but also a horde of ravenous, lions...
MJ Bassett, whose credits include Solomon Kane and Silent Hill: Revelation, directs, working from a script she wrote with daughter Isabel.
We spoke to Bassett about writing the movie, working with Fox and how she loves an intense shoot...
It’s a very strange environment to be releasing a film, have you managed to enjoy the process at all?
"Yes, it’s a very strange time for filmmakers and the entertainment industry as a whole. Luckily we made Rogue before all this madness happened. My post-production was during the lockdown, so it was the beginning of the process where we all try and understand what these new rules are."
"And, of course, no one is going to the movies at the moment - and I wonder what the long term effects will be on the industry as a whole because of this - so, very quickly it was decided that Rogue would be a home entertainment release. I’m more than okay with this. Small films like mine rarely get the cinema release treatment anyway and I can reach a huge audience so much quicker and more easily."
When did you first come up with the idea for the story?
"I’ve been a passionate advocate for conservation and the environment my whole life and have been looking for a story that would allow me to merge my love of action movies, shooting in Africa and conservation. When I heard about the issues with lion farming in South Africa I thought that was something I could maybe hang a story on."
"I didn’t want to just make a ‘preachy’ film so on the surface, this is a straight-ahead, genre action movie but underlying it all is a story with lots of themes. Ideas and characters. I suppose Rogue is a ‘monster’ movie in a lot of ways but I didn’t want the lions to be monstrous - they’re deadly predators but not cruel or evil the way humans can be."
You wrote the film with your daughter, how was that process?
"Though she’s still pretty young, I discovered that my daughter, Isabel, is a really gifted writer after she wrote a screenplay just for her own pleasure. It was so good that I couldn’t let that talent go to waste, so I roped her into helping me on this one. It can be challenging working with family but the upside and rewards are so great."
"I love hanging out with and seeing her perspective on things and it’s really good to have someone who you can kick ideas around with and it helps that there’s a real understanding between us. And then, of course, I cast her as one of the kidnapped girls in the movie, so that I could really beat her up and make her do rough and tumble things. I think her bruises are still healing…"
How was the casting process for the film? Did it take you a while to get the right cast together?
"Casting an ensemble movie like Rogue is always fun and this story has so many great characters. Having worked in South Africa a lot, I already knew most of the crew and had a pretty clear idea of some of the actors who were going to be great for the movie, so it didn’t take too long to make those phone calls and see who wanted to come and play. Of course, I’d worked with Philip Winchester for many years and I knew he was just going to be so good as Joey Kasinski, the cynical, badass but warm-hearted second in command."
"Not just his acting but also his skill with weapons and tactical stuff as well as being a really strong anchor for everyone else to lean on. Any actor - or indeed crew member - who’s worked with me before knows what kind of ride they’re going to come on - it’s often pretty intense, physically challenging and moving fast. You’ve got to enjoy that kind of thing otherwise it’s just a miserable experience."
When did Megan come into the picture?
"I never anticipated getting Megan Fox for the movie. We’re very small budget production shooting out in the wilds of South Africa, so it just didn’t seem realistic that a big name like Megan would want to join the gang. On top of that I’d never seen her do anything with action and weapons work, so figured it was not something she’d ever be interested in. So when her name suggested, I initially dismissed it. Then she read the script and responded really strongly to the environmental message and character."
"So we sat down and had a chat about what I was looking to do with the story and it just clicked. She was looking to do something that would challenge her and maybe open her skills up a little to do more physical stuff so she can leave the legacy of the sex object behind her. She’s a smart, capable woman and I’m really pleased that Rogue has helped her show that more."
You shot the film in South Africa, why did you decide to work there?
"I first went to South Africa when I was making the Cinemax/HBO show Strike Back and had such a great experience that I’ve frequently returned with other projects. The country has such incredible vitality and energy in spite of the social problems that persist there and the crews work so hard and are so creative in finding solutions to the endless problems that arise on a film set. Of course, the wildlife and landscape are an endless source of joy to me when I’m there and I can always escape into the wilderness for weekends and during any other free time, I might have."
You’ve spoken in other interviews about the budget being tight. Did you have to work very quickly?
"I don’t work inside the studio system so my budgets are always pretty tight. The advantage of that is that the rule is that the lower the budget, the more creative control I have. My producing partner is just brilliant at figuring the money side of things out and I get left alone to do as much as I can with the resources we have. Creative control is fabulous but with the low budget come so many other problems and challenges. You don’t get to throw money at problems, you have to figure things out and use collective skills to overcome."
The movie was shot in just 22 days - which is very fast for an action-heavy project - but we all knew what we were getting into. Sometimes that pressure really helps focus the mind on what is important and it ensures that I have to have a plan for everything I want to do on the set at any moment. And then, just to be sure, I need plans B, C, D and E just in case things don’t work out. There were plenty of times when plan ‘E’ was getting executed. But it all worked out well in the end."
Was it an intense shoot?
"I wouldn’t want to do a shoot that wasn’t intense in some way! I love the process of shooting a movie, it's my favourite part of the experience. Being on the set with a fully engaged cast and crew, trying to do impossible things every day is just so much fun."
What was the hardest day on set?
"Every day threw up new challenges. South Africa is a tough place to work - she is unforgiving in many ways. Shooting an exterior action sequence in blistering heat on a rocky hillside with a 200ft drop to a river below was pretty challenging for us all but then again so was a day doing a jeep chase through the bush with dust engulfing us all and choking the engines of the vehicles all the time. And then two weeks of night shoots with thunderstorms and torrential rain most evenings was pretty crazy as well. In truth, I’d have to say that every day was a mini-battle to get it all done. Whenever there was a quiet interior dialogue scene it felt like a vacation. But gimme the thunderstorms, dust and heat any day..."
How long did it take you to get the right look for the lions?
"The lions were the big challenge of the movie for me. Having worked with lions before I knew that I didn’t want them on the set for a couple of reasons. Movie sets are a stressful environment for an animal and I really prefer not to do that to any creature unless there’s no choice, then there’s the fact that lions can’t act and it takes forever to get anything done with them and finally they are extremely dangerous, so the restrictions when working with them are very serious."
"For this film, I needed a lioness in predatory mode and you certainly don’t want that behaviour around actors and crew - a lion in hunting mode is going to do some serious damage. So I made the choice to use mostly CG and some puppets. That’s a huge challenge on a small budget and one that tripped me up a little at the end of the day - the lioness looks good but I wish I’d had a little more money to spend on really refining her for the final film."
Do you have your next project lined up?
"I’ve just got back from Kenya where I was shooting another little movie out in the wilderness during the Covid lockdown. This one is a survival drama about an American family who’s dream safari goes horribly wrong. Rebecca Romjin and Phil Winchester play the parents."
"Again, I co-wrote this with my daughter and we assembled a lot of the same gang from Rogue. No guns in this one but still it has a lot of intense moments and ultimately deals with issues of poaching and conservation without being a polemical piece. I think the first job of my movies is to entertain and then leave a little room for thoughtful conversation afterwards if people are interested in knowing more."