Australia’s first horror sitcom – an interview with Writer / Director Madi Lee and Producer Josh Khay.

Before I dive into this interview, I just want to give a preface for this project. My goal for these interviews is to focus on the Brisbane film scene. In particular, emerging creators who’s projects I truly believe in and support. Essentially, I think Brisbane is not highlighted enough for its art and that’s exactly what I want to do. Also, for those who don’t know, every year Griffith Film School chooses a select bunch of scripts to create into “Grad Slates.” These are usually around 20 film short films that often go onto win festivals and could potentially launch your career. In this interview, I am interviewing Madi and Josh who just started on her Grad Slate Nuclear. I digress.

I first met Madi when we were both on an Outback Filmmaking Bootcamp in Winton Australia. We all had to create a pitch for a show to be produced and luckily, Madi’s won – simply because it was the best pitch. Now, almost a year later, her pitch won again and her project “Nuclear” has started production alongside Josh Khay (producer). Even back in Winton, Madi had started writing her short film, and that’s exactly why I wanted to interview her.

What is Nuclear about?

The Hetherington family are a happy bunch who are living the 1960’s dream but on a closer look, they are just moments away from crumbling under their own fake positivity. William, the patriarch of the house, is harbouring an unchanneled anger. The loss of his job a reoccurring crack in the wall push him into a violent descent, which is mocked by a laugh track. While Helen remains a positive and bubbly housewife, the terrifying weight of her avoidant coping mechanisms come to light as the crack in the wall grows.

That is the rough synopsis for Madi and Josh’s film, but when they described what actually happens, I was truly shocked. While I won’t say it for obvious reasons (spoilers), this film has an amazing plot. It has some very clever and refreshing concepts that are bound to surprise audiences.

Where did this idea build from / what are your inspirations?

“Watching Sitcoms after school when I was younger. In particular, Brady Bunch and Happy Days.” -Madi.

Madi is mainly inspired by David Lynch and Ari Aster. For Nuclear, she is looking for the unsettling vibe of Twin Peaks and the family dynamics of the Shining.

What are your goals and aspirations for this project?

“As many festivals as possible. Gold Coast Film Festival, Monster Fest (early March). Nuclear is a big step into recognition into the industry. Essentially, getting it out into world” – Josh

What scares you the most about starting filming?

“The uncertainty and not knowing what’s going to happen. Especially people getting Covid at the last minute…” – Madi

On top of the fear and stress of creating a movie, the flats for the film (lightweight timber frame for background) are not high enough for the production. In addition, Madi and Josh are figuring out how to practically show the crack in the wall, working with the brutal restrictions of child actors and creating a production under a Covid set.

Why you chose this project Josh?

“A very unique horror concept and intriguing project to be apart off” – Josh

Throughout this interview, there was one thing that was clear as mud to me about Josh. He was completely devoted to this film. His passion and love for this script is so evident in how he talks about Nuclear. Josh is a perfect example of a producer who chose to produce Madi’s idea, not simply to be a producer but instead for the simple love of the story.

Why is Nuclear important for modern audiences?

“Not the standard modern day horror movie that is being produced” – Madi

When Madi, Josh and I were talking, one thing was very clear – the shared perspective on modern horrors. Madi and Josh understand the issue with the formulaic horror movie that is being pumped out weekly. Thereby, they are driven to create something new and refreshing similar to Hereditary and the Witch. Nuclear is focused on “tension” instead of “cheap jumps cares.”

I want this next segment to be a reoccurring segment of my interviews. Essentially, I am going to dive into the writer’s process as to try and learn from them and help others.

Madi’s Writing Process

How many hours a day did it take you to write this script?

“It took a lot of time to write this script. Breaking a lot to prevent distractions, sitting at a desk for 6 hours and only writing little sections spread across lots of days”

How you kept focus?

“Keep phone away, close all tabs. I made a mood board beforehand as well to get into mood and writing mind. Also, I listened to music specific to the story.”

How you knew the story was done?

“I was happy with the story, it flowed and felt right. For a while, it felt off and I couldn’t put my finger on it. It was a gut instinct. Now it’s only small things that need to be fixed.”

How did you keep the story honest and related to you?

“I think Nuclear was subconsciously linked to me as there are layers of myself inside the story. While I cannot relate to the family dynamics, I could ask my family and friends for advice. Also, just observing and watching people around me.

 Why did you choose filmmaking as career?

“To do something fun – even if money is a problem” – Madi

“I adore the world of storytelling.” – Josh

For Madi, the passion started from wanting to do something fun. As long as she is enjoying herself filmmaking will always remain her career. Similarly, for Josh it is about being able to “escape and lose yourself in a story and character.” He loves how films can provide an escape from the real world. Josh is also motivated by how a good movie can change someone’s perspective on life. It can “capture their emotions while constructing compelling stories.” Finally, “representing the Asian community in mainstream film has always been a goal” as he understands the characters on screen.

Anything you have learned so far with Nuclear that you can share with younger film makers?

“PLAN PLAN PLAN. Do as much planning as possible. Chatting to crew as much as possible and clearing my whole schedule for the grad slate.” – Madi

On top of this, Madi recommends meditating to reduce stress and talking to family members about how you’re feeling. A big challenge of making a film is the mental game and by focusing on your mental health the whole process will run much smoother.

How to battle self-doubt and being unmotivated?

“Keep positive even when you don’t feel like it.” – Madi

Being a filmmaker means being full of self-doubt and having huge slumps without any motivation. As a result, I was curious how Madi battles this on a day-to-day basis. Her trick is to repeat a positive message over and over again until she feels better. Another solution Madi discovered on set is surrounding yourself with a positive crew. Having these people around you can boost morale and push you through a challenging time. Finally, Madi simply trusts her creative decision. She ignores the constant doubt that creeps into your brain and goes with her gut from the get-go.

Why should people see it and fund it?

“Nuclear is a completely new, original, and fresh idea. By donating, you will support young energetic and passionate filmmakers and an ambitious project that needs support.” – Josh

Nuclear is truly unlike anything I have ever heard before. Not only for its core concept but also the twists and turns it has along the way. Madi and Josh are very passionate about this project, and it shows by how much work they are putting in. I am so excited to see the finished project at the end of the year.

Make sure you follow nuclear on instagram and checkout their Go Fund me to support this amazing project.