STACK talks sharks and dinosaurs with Aussie filmmaker Gerald Rascionato, whose new film Claw is out now on DVD. 

Australian director Gerald Rascionato fulfilled his childhood dream of making a feature-length film with an effective killer shark movie called Cage Dive (2017), which served as a third instalment of the Open Water franchise. The desire to make that movie stemmed from his love of Jaws, and wearing an iconic fedora as he sat down to chat with STACK over Zoom, it was obvious that his love for Steven Spielberg had informed his own filmmaking journey.

It comes as no surprise that his latest film, Claw, takes its cues from another Spielberg classic, Jurassic Park. This unlikely horror-thriller follows two friends who find themselves stranded in a remote ghost town and preyed upon by a velociraptor. It’s a wild concept to be sure, and one that adds oddity to a tried-and-true formula.

Prior to discussing Claw, Rascionato offers some insight into what makes him tick and how he got to where he is.

Cage Dive

“I’ve always wanted to be a filmmaker,” he says. “Ever since I was a little kid I was mucking around with the home video camera and editing with the VCR, and I was making do with what I had. And even from the very first moment that I picked up the video camera I was like, ‘I want to make a feature film.’ It wasn’t that I just wanted to make short films, I wanted to make actual feature films. Later, I went to college and got my Bachelor of Film Production at SAE in Byron Bay and then I moved to Sydney and worked at Fox Studios and Ambience Entertainment as an assistant editor.”

The concept for Cage Dive came to him at the unlikeliest time, while he was laid out in hospital recovering from major surgery.

“I had a back operation. I had a laminectomy and a discectomy, which means they had to take a vertebrae out of my spine. And it just so happened to be that while I was in my hospital bed, it was Shark Week on the Discovery Channel,” he recalls with a laugh. “There was a little TV and I was watching and I thought, ‘I’ve always wanted to make a shark movie in particular, just like Jaws.’ I was thinking about it and I thought that no one has done a found footage shark movie. And that got me really excited, and the ideas kind of flew from there.”

From humble beginnings in Byron Bay to making his first feature film, the next stepping stone for Rascionato was the release of Cage Dive, which ultimately became part of another franchise.

“It had a really good hook and some great actors in it, and Lionsgate and Grindstone had tracked the film since it got made. They tracked it in festivals and they really wanted it. They told me, ‘Gerald, we would like to put it in the Open Water franchise.’ And I felt really complimented by that because Open Water also inspired me.

“But there was a big of ego, where I was like, ‘But I want it to be Cage Dive,’ which it is in Australia and some other countries, but I did get the best of both worlds.”

With curious fascination, we ask how he went from making a found footage shark movie to conjuring a dinosaur creature feature.

Claw is something that turned out a lot bigger than what we originally anticipated. Joel Hogan [writer] and I were living together in Los Angeles and a good friend of mine introduced me to a US distributor named ITN Distribution, who give a very small amount of money to random filmmakers to go off and make a very small, low budget film.”

As for the pitch, he confesses that the concept of dinosaurs kind of came from out of thin air. “Joel and I were in between projects and thought maybe just for fun we can make this film and it will pay for our rent, but we soon discovered that we couldn’t just make a film for the sake of making a film. We actually had to pour all of our heart and soul into it.

“So we pitched a few ideas to them. We pitched ideas about aliens, and about a scientist doing experiments on college students. And then, just for fun, we pitched this idea about a dinosaur in a ghost town. Straight away the distributor said, ‘The dinosaur movie!’ he recalls with a laugh. “I mean, we were getting quite excited about the alien movie. And so we said, ‘Alright, let’s think about how the rest of this is going to go.’”

The result is a unique mash-up of creature feature and slasher movie, a lot of which owes a debt to the raptor moments from Spielberg’s film. Chynna Walker (The Texas Witch) and Richard Rennie (Unverified) play the two friends, and as if the film’s premise wasn’t peculiar enough, Walker’s character is a stand-up comedian. It’s fair to say that such an occupation is rarely depicted in cinema, and one of the movie’s more bizarro moments takes place in the main stage at the iconic Laugh Factory comedy club in LA.

“That’s the amazing thing about living in LA,” notes Rascionato. “Joel and I lived just up the street from the Laugh Factory and fortunately we got permission and we went in there and it was very cool. It was very iconic and I’m sure that Chynna got a real big kick out of being on the actual stage where so many great comedians had done their stand-up.”

With impressive creature FX, a wild premise and a unique setting, Claw solidifies Rascionato’s footing as a horror director to keep track of, and along with Cage Dive and another recent film called Triassic Hunt (starring Michael Pare), his body of work is shaping up very nicely.

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