Filmmakers Peter and Michael Spierig on 'that weird twin connection'
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Filmmakers Peter and Michael Spierig on 'that weird twin connection'

Michael and Peter Spierig, 41, grew up in Brisbane, where they started making short films featuring zombies and blown-up teddy bears. Since then the identical twins have hit the Hollywood big time.

MICHAEL: We were born in Germany and moved to Australia when we were four. Dad worked in shipping, which meant we moved around a lot. We spent time in Canberra, even went to high school in the United States for a couple of years and are now based in Los Angeles, but Brisbane is home. That's where we spent the most formative years growing up.

Directors Michael and Peter Spierig at the Griffith Film School in Brisbane.

Directors Michael and Peter Spierig at the Griffith Film School in Brisbane.

Photo: Paul Harris

Peter and I fell in love with computer games really early on. We used to play on Atari together – I distinctly remember Pong. There was a lot of time spent in video-game arcades or at the local roller-skating rink. We also became fascinated early on with movie-making. Our first films together were pretty basic, backyard affairs. We'd blow up a teddy bear and film it using stop-animation. Peter was more the filmmaker, and I tended to be the one who was in charge of props and operating the puppets.

Our parents never restricted the movies we could and couldn't watch. By the time we were 10 or 11 we had already seen The Exorcist, The Shining and Jaws. One of the first movies I remember seeing was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I vividly recall that scene where the guy gets his heart pulled out, and thinking that was the greatest thing ever.

It was the era of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and coincided with a period when every house in Australia had a video player. As a kid everyone wanted to be Luke Skywalker, whereas we wanted to be George Lucas.

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Peter is relentless. If he sets his mind to something, he won't stop until he's achieved it. He has this amazing ability to learn anything. For instance, he always loved music and, even though he never properly learnt an instrument, he has written the score to two movies. If he is passionate about something, he really excels at it. On the other hand, if he doesn't love something, he can't pretend to be even vaguely interested in it.

The reason why Peter and I have perhaps had a bit of success in this business is because the people who succeed just don't give up. It's such a brutal industry, which filters out the faint-hearted pretty quickly. He's always been fairly optimistic. You encounter a lot of rejection. Peter's way of dealing with it is to brush it aside, not take it personally, and focus on the next project.

Peter was the first one to really say we can be filmmakers. I mean, we're a couple of kids from Brisbane who started out making zombie short films. We've since made Daybreakers in 2009 and Predestination in 2014, both starring Ethan Hawke – and now we're directing Helen Mirren movies!

If he has any failings, it's that he sometimes finds it hard to let things go. He's a little bit obsessive that way. But that's a trait every artist, every creative person, has.

PETER: Because we're identical twins, people always ask if we have that weird twin connection. I don't feel it if he gets cut, but we do think alike. How much of that comes down to being raised together and exposed to the same influences, and how much to sharing the same womb, who knows?

We were about 10 when Dad bought a video camera. It was one of those bulky VHS cameras that had a separate battery pack. He bought it to film family holidays, but Mike and I pretty much commandeered it from day one to make backyard films. It was back in the days where you would edit by hitting record and pause between two VHS machines.

We swapped classes at school once or twice to see if we could get away with it, and swapped our photo IDs once or twice as well. I was delivering pizzas and I'd lost my driver's licence because of too many speeding tickets. So I drove on Michael's licence. But we never took it so far as to stand in for one another on a date. That would have been weird.

We were 10 when Dad bought a video camera for family holidays, but Mike and I commandeered it to make backyard films.

Michael is very creative. He is meticulous about making sure a story in film is properly told. He's very persistent, sometimes very stubborn. But to be a good director you probably need to be like that.

He's definitely a perfectionist. On a film set, he will keep going and going if he thinks he can make it better. He also doesn't like it when people say no. If he has a strong point of view about how something should look or sound, he won't rest until he has everyone around him excited about it, too. Sometimes it's frustrating in the sense that he doesn't let go of things easily. But then again, you don't make it in Hollywood if you give up. It's such a brutal business.

Michael can be a little bit more forceful on set than I am, and can play bad cop better. For instance, he isn't the least bit impressed by famous people. To him, they're not movie stars, just other human beings working towards the same end. He would never treat Helen Mirren or Ethan Hawke differently to anyone else.

We're very similar in that we don't need to be the loudest voices in the room. I'm probably a little bit quieter than he is.

As we've got older, we tend to spend more of our free time apart. We spend enough time together at work! Plus, he's married and has his own life, and I've got mine.

We both love our cinema. To my mind, The Empire Strikes Back is the perfect film. That and Back to the Future, which is so good it should have won an Oscar. But Mike and I are still suckers for a really bad film. It's great to watch a terrible movie.

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