the domestics set visit

Standing on the set of Mike P. Nelson‘s directorial debut, The Domestics, it looks like the world has visibly turned rotten. A flipped plow truck, the fake blood strewn about, and the beefed-up muscle cars have turned a suburban neighborhood not too far outside of New Orleans, Louisiana, into a battleground between the survivors of a chemical attack.

When we visited the set of the Orion release, the firefight was nearing the end but not quite over, and we witnessed one of the violent dustups Mark (Tyler Hoechlin) and Nina West (Kate Bosworth) experience during their bumpy road trip.

Below, check out what we learned from The Domestics set visit.

Building A New World

The Domestics is a post-apocalyptic movie with a few more ties than usual to the old world. Some people still want to eat dinner as a family, and some people still just want to dance like nobody’s watching. Those lucky enough to have survived the U.S. government’s gas attack on its own people are still their old selves in some ways, but they now live fearfully in a country run by ruthless gangs with ominous names like the Gamblers, Cherries, Nailers, Plow Boys, and Sheets. The distant married couple at the heart of the story desperately tries to avoid these mobs as they keep on moving, hopelessly trying to get to Nina’s parents’ house in Milwaukee.

The new world is built almost entirely from Mark and Nina’s point-of-view and experience, not so much from huge swaths of expositions and news clippings. Nelson wanted some mystery with his dangerous world, which he knew the ins-and-outs of thanks to his own personal bible dedicated to world building:

I remember it was literally just like a text document on my computer that I just opened up and I would just like flood with what the gangs are like. For instances, the Sheets show up for two-seconds in the beginning of the movie, and you don’t see them again. That’s okay. Because I know what they are, I know what they are all about, and for me, I like having some mystery behind it for the audience because they can always popup, “Well, who were those guys what were they all about?” I know what they are all about, and as long as I know what they’re about, I can make that sort of thing on screen. Yes, the bible was a huge part of it, the mood board showing images of what each gang should feel and look like, and what the world should feel and look like, and just small little notes about things that were important. I think that was a huge part of how [DP] Maxime Alexandre (High Tension) and I were able to then capture that sort of again that sort of desolate but also claustrophobic world.

Nelson thought as much about Mark and Nina’s relationship as he did the world. The two were nearing the end of their marriage until the end of the world came along to keep them together out of circumstance. It’s a relationship story inspired by some of Nelson’s own personal experiences. If he was going to dig deep and tell a personal story, though, he wanted to do it with plenty of squibs and firepower.

An Unabashed Reverence For Mad Max

A few people behind The Domestics mention Mad Max as a touchstone, but they stress The Domestics is its own thing, and not a collection of pieces we’ve already seen. (To Bosworth, the atmospheric story even reminded her a little of Cormac McCarthy.) Nelson is A-OK with any comparisons made to George Miller’s Mad Max, especially the original film. The initial sparseness of Miller’s world-gone-mad does come across as an influence in The Domestics‘ desolate but familiar surroundings, but it was an idea, not the aesthetic, that Nelson took to heart most:

I’ve no shame saying that Mad Max is an inspiration, and I say that mainly about the 1979 version. Fury Road, Road Warrior, they’re great, and I love them, but the original Mad Max had such a unique quality about it because something feels off but it’s not that really the world has gone to shit; it’s that people have turned bad. To me, that was sort of the idea behind this: I wanted the people in the movie to be the thing that brought forth the post-apocalyptic vibe the most. I know that we’re kind of in some of these desolate areas, and everything is quiet, and there is not a lot of people around, and there is some degradation in the world, but the main thing was is when certain people walk on screen or certain people’s presence are there you’re like, oh yeah, we are in a bad place.

While Mike and Nina are often in the wrong place at the wrong time, Nelson hasn’t made an end of the world movie without any humanity or kindness. There’s still good left in some people, but trust is hard to come by in The Domestics. The leads barely even trust each other over their journey, which took Nelson and his quick crew 26 days to shoot. When we arrived on set with a few other bloggers, they were close to the end and were filming some of the movie’s final and most crucial scenes. These also happen to be the movie’s bloodiest scenes.

One impressive piece of carnage: a prop head busted open from a shotgun blast. The effect’s nastiness comes from the subtle details, and from a distance, most would swear it’s the real deal. At one point, the actor it’s based on stared at it, and the resemblance led to a surreal moment that showed the fine craftsmanship that went into making the torn-open face look as disturbing as it does.

Amassing Big Guns and Funky Vehicles 

Nelson sounds a bit like a kid in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory when he describes picking and choosing all the muscle cars, weaponry, and the array of bizarro outfits for his first feature. Previously, Nelson has worn all sorts of hats as a sound editor on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, an editor of various short films, and the director of a music video for Sleep Thieves.

Speaking with us, the writer-director’s voice was filled with joy while discussing all the resources that went into the movie:

I’ve never had so much of that stuff at my disposal in my entire life. I’ve made short films for a while now, and basically I was kind of used what I had or knew I could get my hands on. But Richard Brown, who is the vehicle guy, and Brian Carpenter, who is the weapons guy, and even Sandy Werch, who is the props guy, the stuff that those guys could find…I could say I want this and and they would find it. Very rarely would I get a no.

When I was talking to Richard about the cars, I had all these cars planned out the styles of cars I wanted. They found stuff, if it wasn’t spot on, it was close in that vein. It was so much fun. Brian Carpenter, not only would he show me the guns – but he would take me out to the range and let me fire each gun. I got to fire every single gun that we got to use in the movie. It was incredible because I got to show the true raw power behind the fire power in the movie, and what that should feel like, and what it should sound like, and that was just incredible.

Nelson was usually surrounded by 70 people on set, but he told us, “There were many times where it felt exactly like me on a shoe-string budget with my friends going out and shooting a movie.” To the director, there’s no major difference between his past work and The Domestics – except, of course, the scale of the project and having more people ready to make his ideas happen.

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