by Don Groves, 26 October 2021
The producers, along with the Australian and US distributors, are planning a co-ordinated, strategic release to the sequel to the 2015 cult hit Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, aiming to minimise the risks of piracy which plagued the original film.
Written by brothers Kiah and Tristian Roache-Turner and directed by Kiah, Wyrmwood: Apocalypse had its world premiere this month at Sitges – International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia in Spain, which hosted the first film after its Toronto International Film Festival debut.
Studiocanal plans to launch the action/horror movie, which stars Luke McKenzie, Jake Ryan, Bianca Bradey, Tasia Zalar, Shantae Barnes-Cowan, Jay Gallagher and Nick Boshier, in Australia next February or March, before the US release via XYZ Entertainment.
“We will be hoping for minimal piracy this time around, both with the new measures in place alongside a better co-ordinated release,” Studiocanal’s head of sales and acquisitions and development manager Greg Denning told Content Café, referring to the site-blocking regime which has significantly reduced online piracy.
“The first Wyrmwood was released digitally in the US before our home entertainment release, which really impacted it. We’ve worked closely with the producers to ensure we all avoid a similar situation this time around. The US cannot release prior to Australia. We will keep the filmmakers abreast of our release plans so that XYZ can plan their own release accordingly.
“We’re very proud to be releasing Wyrmwood: Apocalypse, an unashamedly Australian franchise that builds on the success of the first film with its no-holds-barred zombie action, supercharged cars, whip-smart humour and kick ass characters.”
Bronte Pictures’ Blake Northfield, who produced with Guerilla Films’ Tristan Roache-Turner, said: “We’re having conversations now about the release dates six months out from releasing, so we can ensure North America does not go before Australia. XYZ Entertainment brokered the North American rights (to IFC Midnight) on the first film but this time they are handling North American distribution so they can call the shots. We know we’re sitting on a winner.”
Co-funded by Screen Australia and Screen NSW, the sequel again stars McKenzie as special-forces soldier Rhys, who teams up with a group of super-powered survivors to save a young woman from death by military experimentation. In a rare casting of Indigenous co-leads as action heroes, Barnes-Cowan (Firebrite, Total Control) and Zalar (Mystery Road, Streamline) play sisters Maxi and Grace, nieces of Benny (Leon Burchill), who perished in the original film.
It will have its Australian premiere at the Brisbane International Film Festival (BIFF) on October 30, followed by the Sydney Film Festival in November. Studiocanal sent an early cut of the film to BIFF program manager Sasha Close. A fan of the original film, she leapt at the chance to schedule the sequel in the festival’s Shock Corridor strand, a mix of genre and cult films. “It’s a very commercial film which do very well without losing the franchise’s fan base,” she told Content Café.
Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead was the most downloaded film globally on the weekend after it launched on iTunes in the US in February 2015. Distributed by Studiocanal, the film grossed $153,000 here, including five Moonlight Cinema screenings. It was released on DVD and on digital platforms on April 2, prompting a barrage of complaints online.
Among the aggrieved comments:
“I’m not going to wait. Why should I, after all its an Australian movie and we get to see it last. F*** that. If I can’t hire the movie …, I’ll pirate it and that can be a lesson to these producers and film makers.”
“They chose the distribution model, they can reap the reward.”
“How can you blame the pirates for pirating it while it’s not even accessible to them legally?”
“We have an entitlement to expect and to demand worldwide distribution, and a level playing field for prices.”
The filmmakers issued a plea to those who downloaded the film: “If you like it, please buy a copy. We made it on a deferred fee basis, meaning no one has been paid yet.” On Facebook their message was: “You Watch, You Buy, We Eat.”
Gizmodo’s Campbell Simpson implored readers to buy the film, stating: “If you’re one of the (more than a few) people who has pirated Wyrmwood: Road Of The Dead, you’d better do the right thing and at least pay for it when it becomes available legally within Australia. You’re shooting the Aussie film industry, and independent filmmakers, squarely in the foot if you don’t.
“Smart, funny, well produced and well-thought-out passion projects like this don’t come along very often. If you keep pirating them, they won’t be around for long. Please — just be patient, wait it out, and support Wyrmwood when it launches on DVD and online and in more cinema screens around the country.”
At the time, Tristan told Cnet: “Sadly, I think the best indicator of how well we’ve been doing globally is the fact we made it into the top 10 most downloaded movies on Pirate Bay,” while Kiah reflected: “It was a strange feeling — like being kissed by a beautiful girl right before she knees you in the bollocks.”
Despite the debilitating piracy, the film recouped its budget thanks to Screen Australia’s completion funding and overseas sales, so everyone got paid. “All of these people basically worked for nothing over three and a half years because they loved the project. To be able to put that money in their hands at the end of that period was so satisfying,” Kiah said.
Reflecting now on the first film’s exposure on pirate sites, Kiah said: “It’s a weird, bitter-sweet thing. It really hurt the ability for us to see a back-end but as an independent film with no marketing budget we were being watched more than 50 Shades of Grey. It felt really good and really bad at the same time. The internet enabled the film to become a cult classic overnight.
“Some people have this bizarre idea that entertainment should be free. How can it be free? We have to be an economically viable industry in order to make movies. If you don’t want to ever pay for movies, then you won’t get movies.”
Northfield and Kiah worked together at swimwear company aussieBum more than a decade ago. Kiah, who was head of digital content at aussieBum, had cast Blake, then an actor-model, in a TVC he directed.
During that time, the Roache-Turner brothers began the three-year mission to make Wyrmwood. Subsequently, Northfield launched Bronte Pictures, whose movie credits include Storm Ashwood’s Escape and Evasion and The School, Tyson Wade Johnston’ Streamline, which is now screening on the Nine-owned platform Stan after a short cinema run, and, currently, Matthew Holmes’ revenge thriller The Cost.
The duo had long wanted to collaborate on a movie, so the Wyrmwood sequel was a perfect opportunity. Bradey, who lives in Finland, attended the Sitges premiere and texted the brothers to report the audience howled like wolves when the lights went down, then applauded the opening credits.
XYZ Entertainment will kick off the international sales campaign at the virtual American Film Market in November. The producers are hoping for a wide release on 150-plus screens in February/March in Australia, avoiding the crush of US product that will enter the market from November until the end of January.
“If the first one was like Mad Max, the second had to be Mad Max 2: bigger, bolder and genuinely pumping, with zombies, car chases, explosions and a giant cyborg,” Kiah said. “It’s basically the film we wanted to make in 2014 but didn’t have the money.”
The original film has screened on Stan and will be available on Netflix from this month, so the steaming rights for the sequel could well see a tussle between the two. Denning said: “We deal with all the major subscription platforms so will engage with them on licensing Wyrmwood: Apocalypse at the appropriate time.”
Universal Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will release the title on DVD and Blu-ray. As for the prospects of a third Wyrmwood, Kiah said: “I’m already writing it in my head. We’d be crazy not to repeat this as soon as possible.”
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