When looking at writer/director Bruce Wemple’s resume, it’s not by accident that most of his films fall into the sci-fi, horror, and creature feature genres. Wemple has been a fan of movies such as Terminator and Alien from a very early age, so when he began making films, he knew he wanted to make those types of projects.

Some of his titles include The Tomorrow Job, Dawn of the Beast, First Contact, and Lake Artifact. Wemple’s philosophy has been to lure audiences in with old tropes from the sci-fi and horror genres to make the audience feel comfortable and familiar with the initial premise, before flipping it on its head.

The most recent example of this is Dread’s Island Escape, which is now available on VOD. In Island Escape, after a mysterious accident at a research camp on the Isle of Gran Manan, a CEO hires a team of blue-collar mercenaries to extract his daughter, a scientist working at the camp. Upon arrival, the team soon learns that not only is the island surrounded by a wormhole that causes time to reset every three days, but it’s also crawling with hideous monsters.

As they learn more about the nature of time, space, and the creatures on the island, they quickly realize that death may be the easiest way to escape the island.

In the below Q&A, Wemple discusses everything from his advice for new filmmakers to what sort of camera he used on Island Escape.

Island Escape (2023) Official Trailerwww.youtube.com

Editor's Notes: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

No Film School: Most of the films you have worked on are in the sci-fi, horror realm. What is it about these two genres that keep attracting you?

Bruce Wemple: First and foremost, I’m a fan of these films. When I was a kid, my buddies and I would spend every weekend making these little films that were basically recreations of the movies we loved such as Terminator and Alien, so sci-fi and horror were always part of my filmmaking DNA. Today I’m able to be a part of telling several interesting and entertaining stories that I would be excited to watch as a fan. Also, on a technical level, these kinds of movies are just so much fun to make, even with limited resources. Whether it’s figuring out how to execute a good blood gag or keeping our timelines straight when time bending comes into the mix, this type of problem-solving on set never gets old.

A man covered in blood smoking on 'Island Escape''Island Escape'Credit: Epic Pictures

NFS: You not only wrote, but you directed Island Escape. How did you come up with the concept for the script?

Wemple: As you mentioned, my filmography has a lot of sci-fi and horror in it. I also obviously have a soft spot for creature features. So, this started as a way to see if we could blend all of our favorite pieces into one off-the-rails movie. The idea became to make something that leans into the old tropes of other “mercenary-monster-island” movies, partly because we love those movies and partly because we wanted the audience to feel comfortable and familiar with the initial premise before flipping it on its head. After that, the goal was to make something that attacked some time-bending concepts, but without ever taking itself too seriously or stopping being the fun action-horror that the initial premise promises.

NFS: When you write a script, what does your process look like?

Wemple: Every project is different, but usually most of the work goes into the outline. I find that if you start writing too early, the screenplay becomes too big of a ship to steer, and improving the story becomes more difficult, so I’ll write out a detailed document that reads like a recap of the film. I call it the “Campfire Version,” as if this is what I would say if I had to tell the story around a fire. I’ll pass this version around to as many people as possible. I find it tends to be easier to ask someone to read that than it is an underbaked screenplay. Once I gather feedback and feel good about the outline and structure of the movie, as well as having a pretty good feel for the characters, I’ll start writing the screenplay. Honestly, this part goes relatively quickly if I’ve done all the previous work. Once I’m comfortable with the draft, I'll pass that around to some trusted readers and address notes until I think the screenplay is ready to go out into the world.

'Island Escape' poster of four military men walking to a skull shaped island.'Island Escape' Credit: Epic Pictures

NFS: Did you watch any movies to get inspiration for Island Escape? If so, what were those?

Wemple: I tried to pull from a combination of action, horror, and sci-fi. The obvious one would be Predator, which I think perfectly combines action and horror. We also studied some of the old tropes from other more straightforward action movies that have been around forever, think The Expendables. Other references were classics like Alien and Terminator, as well as a couple of lesser-seen movies like Triangle or Coherence, which also feature time loops and alternate dimensions. I think that since the movie is a blend of different genres, we were able to watch an eclectic group of movies and gather inspiration to make our own little stew.

NFS: You used a lot of practical effects in the film. Can you talk about why you leaned towards practical over digital?

Wemple: I have no problem with digital effects if they’re done well, or otherwise impossible. But in my experience, if you can do it in-camera, it usually comes out better. I also think it’s important to note the difference between a VFX shot where you’re combining different in-camera elements to make one shot that would otherwise be either impossible or too dangerous and something that’s entirely computer generated. When it comes to the CGI in the movie, it’s always building off something real. As far as the monsters go, we didn’t have the resources to make entirely CGI monsters even if we wanted to, so we leaned into the practical side. In my opinion, if you’re able to make a monster that’s interesting and scary, but also retains as much of the actor’s performance as possible, you’ve hit the sweet spot.

Director Bruce Wemple Director Bruce WempleCredit: Epic Pictures

NFS: What kind of camera and equipment did you use for Island Escape?

Wemple: We used a couple of different cameras depending on what we needed it for. Most of the A-cam stuff was shot on RED with Sigma lenses, but we also always had our trusty GH5 on hand for anything that felt too risky. For lighting, we used a lot of Aputure lights as well as a bunch of rainbow Quasars depending on the scene.

NFS: Out of all the other films you directed, can you talk about how Island Escape is different? Obviously, the plot is different, but did you do anything different, technique-wise?

Wemple: Early on we made the decision to treat as much of the film as possible like an action movie and not a traditional horror, or even sci-fi. The horror and sci-fi stuff is baked enough into the script that we thought shooting it like a shoot-'em-up action movie would make it all more fun. This meant including more stunts and combat scenes than usual. Technique-wise, we leaned into the classic high-energy camera work like rapid zooms and using some longer lenses. We really tried to jam as much chaos and energy into each shot.

A man covered in blood point a gun in 'Island Escape''Island Escape'Credit: Epic Pictures

NFS: Was there a scene in Island Escape that was particularly difficult to film?

Wemple: Every time there’s a creature involved, that’s usually the hardest part. It’s even harder when the creature is one of the cast members and has to do a choreographed fight scene with a previous “version” of themselves. Then it gets even more difficult because we had to do this for each of the main cast members. We used as many techniques as we could, such as having doubles and comping shots together. The hardest specific scene to shoot was probably the mountaintop fight that occurs about midway through the film. The only way to get to the location was via a very steep hike, so the crew had to lug up all the gear and once we got up, we had a short rest and set up the shots. To make things a little more difficult for ourselves, we shot most of the scene at golden hour with low-hanging sun behind, which meant we were hiking out in the dark. It was a blast.

NFS: What advice would you have for indie filmmakers trying to get their project made?

Wemple: I know it sounds a little cliché, but just make the thing. Films are risky and it’s really hard to convince someone to financially take a chance on you to make something, but no one can stop you from grabbing a camera and making something yourself. One of my first movies, Monstrous, was made with whatever we could scrounge together. I shot it on my gh5 with basically no crew, just friends. I designed and created the creature costume on the roof of my apartment building, and we just found a house and made the movie. Is it a perfect movie? Of course not. But it showed what we could do and that led to other opportunities to make more movies, which is all we really want, right?