I Use a Technique Called ‘The Power of the Subconscious’ When Getting in to a Writing Zone by Writer/Director Danial Donai of LIKE A BAT OUTTA HELL
Film Courage: Where did you grow up?
Danial Donai: I was born in Brisbane, Australia and grew up outside a small country town in New South Wales. My older brother and I grew up with my mother in a small shed with very basic and old school household appliances such as, a copper basin to heat water using wood and fire. We washed our clothes by hand and used a mangle. No heating or air-conditioning. nor any luxuries. We lived simple but happy lives.
Film Courage: Did your parents lend support for a creative path or did they encourage another career?
Danial: Having no father and a mother just barely able to support her two sons, my brother and I had no encouragement, nor creative support from parents as normal kids did. We both made our own choices and ways in life.
“…It was in the days of drive-ins. I piled into a car with a bunch of mates to see Mad Max when it first came out onto the big screen. I was so impressed by the action in the movie. It inspired my move to the city and for the first time in my young life I knew what I wanted to be and be involved in. I just didn’t know at the time how far I would go.”
Danial Donai, Writer/Director of LIKE A BAT OUTTA HELL
Film Courage: What were your plans upon leaving high school/secondary school?
Danial: I had no solid plans upon leaving school. With my first job working in a brickyard, I saved enough money, bought a motorcycle, left home and made my way around Australia to broaden my horizons.
Film Courage: Do you remember the first movie you watched with an action sequence?
Danial: Wow! That’s going back such a long time. But it was in the days of drive-ins. I piled into a car with a bunch of mates to see Mad Max when it first came out onto the big screen. I was so impressed by the action in the movie. It inspired my move to the city and for the first time in my young life I knew what I wanted to be and be involved in. I just didn’t know at the time how far I would go.
Film Courage: Did you go to University for acting or stunt work?
Danial: No I didn’t attend Uni but upon meeting a stuntman in my second year in Sydney, I was accepted into an elite stunt group in those days and started learning the trade as an action performer. I never dreamed at this point I would go so far.
Film Courage: Was your initial plan arriving in Los Angeles to be a stunt performer?
Danial: Yes. I had a goal and a quest when I was working in Sydney as a stuntman. That was to one day double for my idol at the time, Arnold Schwarzenegger. So after saving enough money working on several Australian productions, I sold my motorbike and in 1988 I bought a ticket and flew to Los Angeles, not knowing a soul I arrived and began my long quest.
Film Courage: Is a stunt person’s clarity of mind or ability to focus as important than physicality?
Danial: Clarity, focus, physicality and ability are a huge part of a stuntman’s make-up. You also need to be determined and except that fact that you will get hurt sometimes or maybe even killed. A stuntman or woman has to have ALL the above; along with the determination to succeed because it’s not ALL about Hollywood and being in front of a camera or fortune and fame. The real deal is; having that ability I have just mentioned and having trained for years doesn’t mean you’ll be able to make a living from this profession. You must believe in yourself, love what you are doing and never give up, no matter how many times you hear the word “NO.”
Film Courage: Do you practice Tai Chi, meditation, yoga or anything which enhances a mind/body connection? If so, why is it beneficial for you?
Danial: No. I do not practice Tai Chi. I did train with Martial Arts in the early days. There are a lot of benefits in that world. I have never meditated but I probably should but I just don’t seem to have the time nor patience (haha). The closest I come to this, is prayer.
Film Courage: Was there one stunt technique in particular that you was your trademark move or specialty?
Danial: No, I don’t think so. When I trained in the early days as a stuntman in Sydney, we had to learn everything. Being a specialist didn’t get you enough work on set. You had to know and be very capable in stunts like; height falls, fight scenes, horses, vehicles, scuba, aerial, air-rams, ratchet pulls, wire work, sword play and the list goes on. When I starting working in Los Angeles, my first feature film was Die Hard 2. While flying to Denver with the other stunt guys on the movie, I was asked by one of the guys “What’s your specialty?” I replied “I’m good at everything.” He in was a specialist in martial arts and hadn’t met another stuntman that could do it all.
Film Courage: Do you remember the first big name you worked with as a burgeoning stuntman? Anything that happened to you on this day which you will never forget?
Danial: The first so called BIG named actor I ever worked with was in the 1985 on an Australian movie titled ‘Rebel.’ The actor was Matt Dillon. At that point in time I hadn’t met anyone with an American accent let alone work with a rising movie star with the Hollywood looks and charisma such as Matt.
Film Courage: When did you leave to Los Angeles?
Danial: I moved to Los Angeles in 1988 and did not return home to Australia until 2001, when I retired as a stuntman.
Film Courage: Why did you move back to Australia from LA after nearly 20 years in the business? Was there one pivotal day in which you knew you wanted to be home?
Danial: I was at the peak of my career as a Hollywood stuntman up until 2000 when I was still working doubling for Arnold. There were a three main factors at this time which determined my decision to retire and move back Australia. The first was a small group of stuntman from an elite group of stunt people in LA. These guys were unhappy from day one about an ‘me,’ an outsider, doubling for Arnold. They did everything in their power to excise me from this position in any means they could. Basically they made every day working with my idol a nightmare for me. What should have been the highlight of my career was actually the worst experience in my career. Second factor was my brother had taken ill back in Australia and my family need me home, he died six months after my return home. The third factor was that I always had a gift for writing and directing. I had pondered the thought of writing my own screenplays and directing them for years. So I guess it’s a natural progression for me to go into the field as a writer and director. People often ask me today would I consider working again as a stuntman or stunt co-ordinator? My reply is always; never say never.
Film Courage: What did this 18+ year stunt career teach you?
Danial: Being a stuntman for so many years and working with some of the biggest names in Hollywood was truly a great experience for me and I was blessed to have worked with so many good people and so much talent over those years. Being in that industry for so long taught me many things. Important things in life such as; humility, awareness, strength in my mind and soul, belief in myself because anything is achievable and possible, to go after my goals and most of all to never give up in life, no matter what it throws at you.
“…After about a year I pulled myself together and set a new goal, to become that writer and director and once again take control over my own destiny. I began to write feature films for my future and started writing and directing music videos for other people. This keep some money coming in while I continued to write a slate of films. It took me ten years to write fourteen films to date and craft my new role as a film director.”
Danial Donai, Writer/Director of LIKE A BAT OUTTA HELL
Film Courage: Upon returning home to Australia to write/produce and direct, did you need time to regroup or did you jump in to creating another project?
Danial: After my brother’s death I took a break from everything and helped my mom recover from the loss of losing a son. It was hard on both of us. For me losing my brother and dropping my career at the same took it’s toll on me and I felt myself slipping into a depression over the many months. After about a year I pulled myself together and set a new goal, to become that writer and director and once again take control over my own destiny. I began to write feature films for my future and started writing and directing music videos for other people. This keep some money coming in while I continued to write a slate of films. It took me ten years to write fourteen films to date and craft my new role as a film director.
Film Courage: Had you read certain books or taken classes to learn screenwriting or other aspects of filmmaking?
Danial: No not really. I’m not a great reader and have a terrible attention span when it comes to books. I intentionally avoided attending screenwriting classes because I knew I had an unlimited amount of stories in my head to write and that I had a special ability to do this, you could call it a God gifted talent. I didn’t want to adapt to a certain style or format which you will learn in a class. I wanted to develop my own style and tell my stories and direct in my own way. With directing, I bought and read a few books, I had been around camera for years and I always payed attention to the director and crew on every film I ever worked on. In doing so I had learned a lot about filmmaking while on these sets. There is much to be said about learning on the job.
Film Courage: What advice can you share for someone changing one creative life path with another?
Danial: Well, first of all, I have to say when one is pondering their creative life path whether they be leaving school as a teenager or mid-life; first ask yourself what are you really good at and what do you really love to do? Once you have ascertained this you are on the right track. Then set goals and do whatever it takes to put yourself in a position to make a living from what it is you have chosen. Read books, hang around people you want to be like, attend classes, seminars, work for free for the experience in the area you have chosen. What ever it takes DO IT! There is nothing more rewarding in ones working life than getting paid for what you love to do.
If one is at a crossroads in one’s creative life and is considering a creative change, than do it! You are never too old to make a change in life, just believe in yourself and go for it. You’ll NEVER know if you don’t try.
Film Courage: How has it been turning to a more solitary and non-physical pursuit like writing rather than the constant activity and athletic stamina of stunt life? Do you require doing something physical before writing to rid the mind of excess?
Danial: I sometimes think back to the days of my stunt career and I see the young guys of today performing some of these complex action sequences and I get excited and wonder ‘could I do that again?’ then I come back to earth and remember my age and how much that hurt.
What works for me when I’m writing is getting into the zone and the way that works me me, is I use a technique called ‘the Power of the Subconscious.’ This is a method where I relax in a quiet environment in a kind of meditation, I tell my conscious mind to convince my subconscious mind to think of a story, something I maybe have an idea about. I am so good at this method, fantastic detailed ideas come to mind within 24 hours every time.
Film Courage: How is BAT OUTTA HELL based on a true story? Where did you first hear of it?
Danial: In 2008 I was heavily into writing another of my screenplays and working on the financing, when one of my filmmaking friends called me, he said he was in town and asked me out for lunch. We talked about a surfing documentary he just finished shooting down in South Australia. In the conversation he said, he was really bothered by something that he and three other of his crew saw while driving back through the desert in a baron place called ‘Nowhere Else.’ He told me of a humanoid creature they saw cocooned on a old fence post on the side of a dirt road as the sun was setting. They had never seen anything like this creature before nor since. He told me it stood about four feet tall and had a black silky membrane skin and when they approached the creature, it unraveled it’s twelve foot wings, revealing its humanoid bat like face. In their disbelief, the creature then flew over their heads, ascending to the sky above them. I knew the story he told me would have to be true because this guy is a good Christian with strong morals and beliefs and I knew he would NEVER make up a story like this. Totally immersed in what he had told me, the next day I flew both of us down the South Australia from Queensland so he could show me where they saw this creature. It took a half day of flying and three days of driving to get to this remote location and once there I could not believe my eyes on what I saw. After another three days of scouting in this majestic land that time had forgotten, we flew home, I put aside the exciting project I was previously working on and locked myself in my office for two months and immersed myself in writing ‘Bat Outta Hell.’
Film Courage: Did you come up with a budget first for BAT OUTTA HELL (based on your resources available) before coming up with idea?
Danial: After writing the first draft for BOH I then had a professional schedule & budget prepared. I had never produced nor raised funds before on a bigger project like this. To film down in this special area one only had a window of a single month of every year to do it. This was because this area is so isolated that the closest and only place to accommodated my cast & crew to where I had to shoot, was in a one horse town that had only one pub and one cabin park. The cabin park was only available to house this many people for one month of the year and that month was approaching fast (in three months time.) So I had a very small window to raise the budget, cast and hire crew. There was very little time for any pre-production and it became a herculean task for me as I wore several hats in this production and I somehow managed to raise the budget, produce and direct the film on time and on budget.
Film Courage: How long did it take to write the first draft? Did you show it to anyone?
Danial: As I said previously the first draft took me two months locked away in my office. There were a couple more drafts before the start of principle photography.
I showed my first draft to potential investors as soon as it was completed then I showed that draft to my potential cast & crew.
Film Courage: How long have you been planning the film?
Danial: The first cut on BOH took a six months to complete. After that, Tricoast and I decided to add a little more story and visual effects to the film. So I had to raise another $100,000. Then all the re-visits to the locations by myself, and with camera, sound & lighting I shot plates for actors green-screen scenes and extra scenery then flew to Los Angeles to film and complete the new scenes.
From the inception idea of the film to the final cut took me about three years.
Film Courage: How did you present the idea to actors Marco Dapper and Vernon Wells (who is also an associate producer) in the movie?
Danial: I first approached Vernon as we had been friends for many years previous. There was an estranged man I met out near Nowhere Else that was like a real life Wolf Creek character and I had Vernon in mind when I wrote the character of Vern Simson. When I cast in Los Angeles for the role of Bianca, Australian actress and model ‘Rachael Murphy’ landed the part. When Rach read the script she said she knew a guy in her acting class that would fit the roll of Randy, his name was Marco Dapper and she was right.
Film Courage: How long did you look for investors before someone said “Yes?”
Danial: There were were initial Australian investors that had read several of my screenplays and were already believers and on board, but just waiting for me to write a film in a low budget range as my other screenplay budgets were too high. With their investment and some of my own, we had just enough to complete the first cut of the movie. So, basically I was very lucky and raised the budget within a few weeks.
Film Courage: Do you act in LIKE A BAT OUTTA HELL?
Danial: No I did not. I don’t see myself as a Clint Eastwood or a Quentin Tarantino. These type of directors like to be in front of camera as well as behind. One of the reasons they can do this is because they both have the budget and professional crews, which gives them more room and time to act as well as direct. For me on this film it was the opposite. I barely was able to sleep two hours every night with the amount of work load I had taken upon myself. Maybe one day I will have the opportunity to just concentrate on directing one of my screenplays and throw myself in front of the camera, for a cameo and not in front of a car (haha)!
Film Courage: Where were the majority of the locations? Biggest challenge to production?
Danial: Most of all the location were on one massive property (Kappawanta) which is located at the Ayre Peninsular in South Australia. The character who plays the Semi Driver in the film is ‘Steve Agars’ owns this property and graciously allowed me to film on it and all its story locations.
We filmed on set in the SA portion of the film for almost four weeks and another week in Queensland.
The biggest challenge for me as the producer was keeping my cast and crew out of the local pub when we were on that remote location in SA. This was a young cast and crew with little experience in a feature film. The problem here was most of them just wanted to party after a days work, and being the only producer as well as the director I found myself in many tough positions where I had little control over my team after work hours. I had to fire my 1st assistant director in the first week of shooting and I just couldn’t afford to lose another member of team.
Film Courage: Can you share the story of making your own “Nowhere Else” road signs?
Danial: The first ‘Nowhere Else’ road sign in the film is actually real. Apparently it is the most stolen road sign in Australia. The second ‘Nowhere Else” sign you see in the film that reads Population 2, I had made from wood.
Film Courage: Did you submit BAT OUTTA HELL to festivals?
Danial: I was asked to put the first cut into one film fest in Queensland, which I did. I never saw it at the festival as I was in Los Angeles at the time. When the film went to Tricoast Worldwide, I believe they placed the film in a few festivals.
Film Courage: What scene in BAT OUTTA HELL are you most proud of, where you watched it in the editing room and said “Yes!!!”
Danial: Believe it or not I really was touched by the scene in the church, where Bianca reveals to Randy that she had once been raped and she had closed her heart to men for many years, up until the time she met him.
Film Courage: Was there new special or visual effects technology that you were introduced to during this production?
Danial: I originally wrote this screenplay like a Hitchcock film, where the audience really never knows who the killer throughout the movie and they only see glimpses of a creature that might be involved?
After Strath Hamilton at Tricoast saw the first cut, he suggested to me, that the audience should see much more of the creature. It was only then did I start working with a visual effects company in Los Angeles to bring the humanoid bat to life, and I must say I am very intrigued and excited by the visual effects process and the amazing computer effects in the industry today.
Film Courage: Where is BAT OUTTA HELL currently available to watch?
Danial: I believe Tricoast has just had the a short film released in just a few countries on (VOD) with plans on marketing the film to get more awareness.
Film Courage: Was BAT OUTTA HELL the movie you set out to make or did it evolve into something totally different that you love?
Danial: BOH was originally made by me to show investors and film producers what I was cable of doing in a short time with very little money and with little profession help. I think I have achieved what I started out to do.
Film Courage: What’s next for you creatively?
Danial: I have written BOH as a trilogy and I have a kick-ass sequel ready and cast. I’m hoping BOH gets some success out there with Tricoast and a producer sees the potential this film has. I have thirteen other screenplays that I have written on my slate of films in that I’m looking forward to directing in the future.
Dare To Dream!
Danial Donai is an extraordinarily talented film director, 2nd unit director, scriptwriter, stunt co-ordinator and producer with more than 30 years experience in the global motion picture industry.
Danial has enjoyed many great big screen successes working with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars including his long time friend Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Born in Brisbane Queensland, Danial started his film career in Sydney in 1984 on the set of Mad Max — Beyond Thunderdome.
After four increasingly successful years in the Australian film industry, he made the life and career changing move to Los Angeles where he continued his movie career’s upward spiral both in front and behind the camera.
Following his successes with many Hollywood blockbusters, Danial returned to Australia in 2001 and made the natural transition to full time screenwriting and directing. His highly creative flair has allowed him to write thirteen cutting edge and Hollywood style screenplays, specifically written for the international market place.
Since his return to Australia he has written and directed several national music videos, some of which he produced.
In recent years Danial wrote, directed and produced his first 90 minute Australian feature film titled ‘Bat Outta Hell’ which has recently been marketed and sold by Los Angeles studio — TriCoast Worldwide.
ABOUT LIKE A BAT OUTTA HELL:
Creature Feature Thriller based on the true story of a huge Cryptid Bat with an 11 foot wingspan that eats people. A team of young documentary film makers and their girlfriends are invited to film the Bat in a the great southern wasteland of outback Australia and are terrorized into submission by the winged beast. Starring Vernon Wells from the Mad Max trilogy. Cryptid Bats can be found hiding in many countries, as man encroaches; they are now seeking their revenge. A young group of avid documentary film makers are sent to shoot in the vast extremes of the South Australian wilderness. They end up in a place called Nowhere Else. What transpires there is devastatingly, like nothing else on Earth.
Like a Bat Outta Hell is directed by Danial Donai and stars Vernon Wells, Rachael Murphy, Marco Dapper, Dan Balcaban, William Wensley, Di Lesson, John Reynolds and Lovlee Carroll as the Bat Creature.
Produced by Daniel Donai, Marcy Levitas Hamilton, Strathford Hamilton, James Turner and Vernon Wells.
DIRECTORS/SCREENWRITERS: Danial Donai.
CAST: Vernon Wells, Rachael Murphy, Marco Dapper, Dan Balcaban, William Wensley, Di Lesson, John Reynolds and Lovlee Carroll.
PRODUCERS: Daniel Donai, Marcy Levitas Hamilton, Strathford Hamilton, James Turner and Vernon Wells.
RUN TIME: 92 minutes
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