Directed by Danny Boyle, 28 DAYS LATER is from an original screenplay by Alex Garland, the author of The Beach, and produced by Andrew Macdonald. The film stars Cillian Murphy (Disco Pigs), Naomie Harris (White Teeth), Christopher Eccleston (The Others, Shallow Grave), Megan Burns (Liam) and Brendan Gleeson (The General, A. 1. ).
After The Beach Andrew Macdonald and Alex Garland talked about doing another film together. "Alex is just a natural story teller and I wanted to make a film which had the same energy and excitement of reading one of his books," recounts Macdonald. "When he said that he'd always wanted to do science fiction, I encouraged him to look to H G Wells, the Time Machine, something set in Britain. "
"I see it as a sort of oblique war film, relayed via seventies zombie movies and British science fiction literature," says Garland, "Particularly JG Ballard and John Wyndam. "
"Alex delivered a 50 page script, which eventually formed the basis for 28 DAYS LATER, it read very entertainingly and was a real page turner," says Macdonald. "When he writes a screenplay you can visualise it and you want to know what happens next - for me that's the absolute crucial thing in storytelling. Alex has that in spades. "
Macdonald then sent the script to Danny Boyle who had just completed two digital films, Strumpet and Vacuuming Completely Nude in Paradise for the BBC. "His visual strengths were what we needed to communicate Alex's writing and energy of the film," says Macdonald. He is very good at interpreting it in a different way that freshens it up from the page. "
Garland was pleased to be collaborating with the team from The Beach once again. "Danny is witty and amazingly inventive, so he makes you laugh and always keeps you thinking. Andrew sees all the details, be he also sees a bigger picture than anyone else. In conversation, both deliver continuous insights into film-making and cinema in general. I'm fortunate to have had the chance to work with them. "
Boyle was taken by the script immediately but was keen not to make a straight genre movie. "I like zombie movies but they come out of a particular period, a society paranoid about what might be the dirty result of nuclear weapons and power. I'm not a big aficionado of the genre, I like it a lot, but I love that Alex gave us a twist on the viral apocalypse theme - that this is not a clinical virus but a psychological one - so in the long run I feel there was respect for the genre but I hope that we freshened it up in some way. "
"The premise of the film," explains Macdonald "is that scientists are trying to develop a cure for rage, a suppressant drug similar to Valium in respect of depression. As part of the research process chimps are infected with a virus which promotes a permanent stage of psychotic rage. "
"It's a primate based virus," says Boyle. "It's hideously virulent and is spread by contact with the blood. It leads to an appalling state of aggression, where even the simple sound of a human voice makes you want to kill that person. It has an in-built obsolescence though because they can't feed themselves, they don't understand any process about living, other than killing. "
"The idea of the psychological virus felt completely contemporary," Boyle continues. "Rather than being a physical infection, the virus taps into the modern phenomenon of social rage. We see the manifestation of it every day in road rage, air rage, hospital rage even supermarket rage! It's great copy for newspapers but there's a truly disconcerting side to it. When you talk to older generations they say there was nothing like that at all in their time, there was certainly violence and fighting but social rage is very much a symptom of modern times. "
"The actual story follows a group of survivors trying to make their way to safety after the virus has broken out of the laboratory and swept across Britain and possibly the world. Britain has been largely evacuated which has lead to a kind of apocalyptic landscape," explains Boyle. "It was important to me to junk the idea of civil contingencies. A virus is something that you cannot necessarily put up a defence against. This particular virus was to be something so virulent as to be uncontrollable, something that can't be defended against because it's actually part of us - rage. At the present moment there's no such thing as a psychological virus but who knows what can happen? Just recently two German scientists were able to create a totally synthetic Polio virus within a matter of years with materials bought over the internet. Whilst Polio has a relatively simple genetic structure the knowledge is there to be able to create a more complex virus, smallpox for instance - it's more a matter of time constraints rather than technical capability. "
Structurally the film begins after the virus has ravaged Britain. Something which appealed to director Danny Boyle, "The fact that the story begins twenty-eight days later, is that the audience starts to unravel things in retrospect. There are physical bits of evidence and the audience fills in with their own imagination as to the horrors that have happened to get to this stage. It's a wonderful quality, saves millions on the budget and it comes from Alex's gift as a writer. "
Fifty per cent of the funding came from the lottery through Andrew Macdonald and Duncan Kenworthy's company DNA and fifty per cent from Fox Searchlight. Peter Rice, head of Fox Searchlight read the script in Cannes in May 2001 and came back straight away saying he wanting to be involved. "It was fantastic to get Fox involved as we have had a long relationship with them and in particular with Peter Rice," says Boyle. "Peter has been very loyal and typically there was no pressure about casting or content of the film so it was very a valuable relationship".
Early on in the development of the script, there had been the idea of filming on digital video. "We thought it would be the right decision to do it on DV. It would make the film feel and look different in a way. Our sort of realist science fiction would make it look very interesting and also the flexibility of it would make it possible to do some of the bigger scenes like street scenes where you have to clear roads," says Macdonald.
Boyle had shot Strumpet and Vacuuming on DV with director of photography Anthony Dod Mantle and had many reasons why he wanted to shoot on it again. "For me there has to be an organic reason to shoot on DV," says Boyle. "The format felt appropriate to the post apocalyptic landscape. This is very much an urban film, visit to the countryside aside, and I think DV has a grittiness about it that's magnificent for 'city' movies. We're surrounded in all major cities by CC cameras; they're recording our every motion. This is now the way that we record our lives. "
"Also we wanted to make the world look different. Electricity and pollution are no more, and a stillness has returned," continues Boyle. "Digital cameras are much more responsive to low light levels and the general idea was to try and shoot as though we were survivors too. "
Producer Andrew Macdonald maintains that on a practical level it would have been virtually impossible to shoot the film unless it was on DV. "The London scenes were key to the film. The police and the local authorities were quite happy to assist us because we could do it so quickly. We could literally be ready to shoot with a six-camera set up within minutes and we were allowed to hold the traffic for minute or two at a time. This was repeated over a number of key locations - something we would not realistically have been allowed to do if shooting under the restrictions of 35mm which takes a good deal more time to set up a single shot. "