Buzz talks chop with Black Sheep director Jonathan King…
“The idea popped into my head almost fully formed – it’s a New Zealand horror film about sheep!” chortles Black Sheep writer-director Jonathan King (no, not that one). Cue the flip, funny tagline Buzz first spotted in Cannes three years ago: “There are 40 million sheep in New Zealand… And they’re pissed off!”
With its simple, schlocky plotline about a genetic experiment run amok that turns docile wool-bearers into marauding flesh-eaters, King’s film has a hearty chuckle at every ovine cliché, from methane emissions to sheep-shagging. In fact, early drafts of his script featured more extreme fleece action than the final film… “I’m glad we didn’t go that far,” laughs King. “No one needs to see a grown man humping a sheep from behind.”
Son of the man who wrote The Penguin History Of New Zealand, King is well versed in the rampant piss taking aimed at any nation where sheep outnumber humans. “But the film gives it back as good as it gets. We have a great strange sense of humour that can see the dark side and still find something light.” Indeed, Black Sheep follows in the proud splatter tradition of early Peter Jackson films, with King echoing his fellow Kiwi by squeezing plenty of “gnarly splats and gut-bubbling moments” in among the slapstick.
In fact, Jackson’s Wellington-based FX specialists, Weta Workshop, drafted the concept art and created the maquette models and animatronic puppets for Sheep’s varied cast of mutant bleaters. That included everything from Buzz’s favourite – a nasty, gnashing, homicidal lamb – to the towering were-sheep: a part-animatronic, part-actor monstrosity that required five people to operate. Weta also crafted all the tattered limbs and squidgy organs needed for the Kiwi farmers, animal-rights activists and scientists that make up Black Sheep’s human prey.
As for the live, trained sheep used during the shoot on the coast outside Wellington, King swiftly tired of their prima donna behaviour. “They were a pain in the ass,” he says, wincing at the memory. “Normally sheep just skitter away from people but these things were trained to come thundering straight at you, which is an image you never see. Having said that, they’ll only do so much. They’ll run to a spot for a food treat, but as soon as they get full, they’re like, ‘I’m not doing that again!’”
King had his revenge, though. “No sheep were harmed in the making of the film,” he quips, “but several of them were eaten at lunchtime.”