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Subverting Genre Expectations with 'Apex' Director and Co-Writer Edward Drake

'Apex' director and co-writer Edward Drake shares with Script about how the story idea came to be for his new film, helming the film, and what kind of stories he's drawn to tell.

Serving a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit, ex-cop Thomas Malone is offered a chance at freedom if he can survive a deadly game of Apex. Six hunters pay for the pleasure of hunting another human on a remote island, but once Malone arrives all hell breaks loose. Laying traps and playing mind games, Malone tries to turn the tables and fight for his life and his future.

I had the opportunity to speak with Apex director and co-writer Edward Drake about his new movie, how the idea came to be, helming the film, and what kind of stories he's drawn to tell.

Bruce Willis as Thomas Malone in Apex, AMC+.

Bruce Willis as Thomas Malone in Apex, AMC+.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Sadie Dean: How was this story idea conceived? Was it with the co-writer Corey Large or did you bring this to the table yourself?

Edward Drake: I know this is going to sound completely psycho, but I have always been obsessed with blood sports. [laughs] Just this primal idea that it's survival of the fittest at some level. I knew that if I wrote this I could get it to Bruce's team and I'd actually soft-pitched it to Bruce and his team and they really liked it for he had always wanted to do something like this as well. So, Corey and I were taking a walk around this property he owns in Victoria and I just brought it up again. And then two months later, we were shooting it.

Sadie: Wow, that's a quick turnaround. What was that writing collaboration like knowing also that you were going direct it along the way?

Edward: Oh, I wasn't going to direct it. I was just writing. I write every day I wake up. I wake up by 5:30 or 5:45 and I'm writing by 6 am every day. It's what I live for. It's how I communicate with the world and for Apex I really wanted to play with Bruce's legacy and the idea that he is the unkillable man. Because when an audience sees that, OK it's going to be Neal McDonough, Nels Lennarson, Lochlyn Munro, Megan Peta Hill, Corey Large, and Trevor Gretzky, six rich assholes that are going to be chasing and hunting Bruce Willis, guess what? I'm pretty sure Bruce is going to make it to the end of the movie. I really wanted to play with the idea of subverting the expectations and just twisting the genre in a fun way. Because Bruce is not Jean-Claude Van Damme, he's not doing a spinning roundhouse kick to the back of their head. But you might be cheeky to outwit them in a really interesting way.

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Sadie: Tell me about getting in on this as a director. You had one originally on board and then you just kind of took over or what was that process like?

Edward: Yeah, I killed the guy and that's how I got the job. [laughs] He was attached and then he got offered to do a Netflix TV show. And so, he dropped out, and we were weeks away from filming. And they just asked me, and I said, ‘Absolutely, I would love to do this.’ And so we shot the film in eight days over two countries during the height of COVID. And that was an incredible learning experience. We had zero COVID cases on both sets. We actually shot Bruce in Washington, because Bruce couldn't enter Canada - this was like, July last year, before there were any talks of vaccines, no one knew. I created this shooting schedule that allowed us to put Bruce in scenes with other actors, even though they were in completely different countries. And we used very little green screen. The only green screen we used for this was for the final confrontation with Neal McDonough.

Sadie: That is quite the challenge. This project is pretty VFX heavy, what was the collaboration like working with your VFX team and creating this very specific world and tone?

Edward: Nimrod [Zalmanowitz] over at HD Digital Creative, he was our VFX supervisor. He and I come from the same cloth - we're both two sides of the same coin. We know all of the same references. We wanted to add these futuristic touches that felt familiar to the genre, but also to the real world. And so, the setting isn't important, it's the psychology of these people. How could that be a way to get into the mindset of the character? And we had a lot of fun. Honestly, if I ever get to do a sequel, I want to do like My Dinner with Andre but My Dinner with Apex. [laughs]

The process was really understanding OK, why like these hunters? They have tasted everything there is to have in terms of every endorphin rush out there, they've probably climbed Everest, they've done the big game hunting, that sort of thing. Why would they do this? And it's for that primal thrill of testing themselves. But fundamentally, what makes a great warrior isn't the gun that they have in their hand or the expensive gear. It's the heart and the fearlessness and that's the awakening of these characters - realizing that they are no match for Bruce Willis.

Edward Drake, Photo Credit: Daniel Shippey

Edward Drake, Photo Credit: Daniel Shippey

Sadie: [laughs] Nobody is a match for Bruce Willis. Taking a step back what was the biggest influence in your life that made you want to become a filmmaker yourself?

Edward: I traveled a lot as a kid. I did not have a “home home” as such and so I'd have to go between London, Ireland, and Australia, pretty much every school holiday. And I was able to take these films and use them as a way to connect with different parts of the family and friends. And this was before MySpace or any social media to keep track of friends. Film for me it was like a common language. I still remember getting a DVD box set of Lethal Weapon when I was stupidly young and Commando and actually Predator and these were big machismo action spectacles that have endured for so long because there's a universality to the coolness. There's something we aspire to. And we’re able to talk with other people about these films and have common ground. Hopefully, I can give that back to someone in the world and one day that they can be in a foreign land and they can say, ‘Ah, you saw Apex! You saw American Siege? Yeah!’ ‘What about this?’ ‘What about that?’

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Sadie: Knowing that you have a very strict writing routine, what kind of stories are you inspired to tell or that just get you excited to sit down and write every day?

Edward: I love sci-fi because it's a way for us to look at bigger societal issues and things that are changing the world we live in, in a very real way. Hopefully, there's a TV series adaptation of Frankenstein, which is really true to Mary Shelley's original sense, but updated for the modern world that I'm really excited to look into because it looks at the way that for example, personhood is changing because of technology and the way that what we deemed to be a human, how we deem pronouns, technology is changing the way we see ourselves more than ever. So, in a roundabout way, stories that can help us understand the world we live in just that little bit more.

Sadie: Any advice for first-time filmmakers who are setting out on making their first film?


Edward: As a writer, just get down to it. Read as much as you can novels and articles. Pick up a physics book and just find the truth, because the truth is everything. Truth is why we connect with stories. And if there's one thing I'd tell any aspiring directors - be prepared. Have contingencies in place. Be flexible. Art is not made in a vacuum. There's no use whining about what you don't have. Lean into what you do. I'm in Vancouver filming a trilogy for Lionsgate right now, which is supposed to be set in Los Angeles and as we were saying at the top of the call, Vancouver rains more in the day than LA ever sees in a year. So, we have to lean into that - suddenly now there’s a noir energy. There’s like three palm trees in this entire city. And I love Vancouver, but it's not Los Angeles. We need to make it its own identity. Have that flexibility to play with what you have. And strive to create something that's truthful.

Apex is now available in Theaters and On Demand.

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