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Friday
May222015

BIRDMAN: THE JON HEWITT INTERVIEW

When veteran producer Anthony I Ginnane sought a like-minded filmmaker to helm the reboot of his 1982 shocker, Turkey Shoot, Jon Hewitt must have been near the top of his wish list. A country lad who cites Russ Meyer, Abel Ferrara and the Aussie biker classic Stone as key influences, Hewitt has forged a bloody, sweat-stained reputation as a fearless auteur over three decades in the Australian indie sector; his films include the notorious ‘video nasty’, Bloodlust (1992; co-directed with fellow ‘underground icon’, Richard Wolstencroft); the grisly procedural, Redball (1999); a seedy romantic thriller, darklovestory (2006); the psychological drama, Acolytes (2008), with a memorable serial killer turn by Joel Edgerton; and the Kings Cross odyssey, X (2011). Turkey Shoot, his fifth feature collaboration with actress/writer wife Belinda McClory, allows Hewitt to cast his acutely critical eye over the modern media landscape; it stars Dominic Purcell (pictured, below; with co-star Robert Taylor). Having debuted to sellout crowds at the 2014 Melbourne International Film Festival, Hewitt spoke to SCREEN-SPACE as his violent reimagining launches on home entertainment platforms…

How favourably did the original film lend itself to an update? What elements still held relevance in 2015 and what had to be jettisoned?

We're more reinvention than remake. Apart from a few in-jokes, character names and the title, the reboot's similarity to the original is most found in its broad themes, verve and spirit. We're a neo-exploitation film that tries to deliver to its target audience while having a bit of social and political meat on its bones. The original plays as very camp in 2015, but in 1980 it resonated as outrageous, political and satirical – so we were trying for a bit of that.

Was the incredible 'life cycle' of the original film - pilloried Ozploitation shocker to Tarantino-lauded cult classic - ever a monkey on your back?

No, that sort of thing really helped in getting the reboot into production, and is also very useful in terms of selling the film internationally and marketing it into various territories. Some fans might be disappointed that the reboot is not a literal blow for blow retelling, or is not more of a knowing and outrageous homage to schlock in the style of something like Hobo With a Shotgun, but we reckon they'll come around...eventually. (pictured, right; Hewitt)

You satirise modern media in a similar manner to that employed by Paul Verhoeven in the original Robocop film; there are also clear nods to films such as Schwarzennegger's Running Man. What were some inspirations (films, books, modern politics) that were factored into the re-conceptualizing of Turkey Shoot?

We can only aspire to the effectiveness of those movies! Running Man was the obvious foundation influence for Jon, as Logan’s Run was for Belinda. We don't believe the reboot is set in a dystopian future; the world is like that right now. The news media and YouTube currently have the franchise for live death on television, but packaged entertainment is getting closer, if it's not doing it already. The constant state of war we're in now was a major factor. We believe wars aren't fought for the sovereignty of countries or ideologies anymore. They're fought to produce content for the key media corporations.

Your films have tackled B-movie subject matter but in a ‘real world’, intellectually engaging way - serial killer mindplay in Acolytes; prostitution in X. Did Turkey Shoot 'free you up' somewhat? Did it feel like a more no-holds-barred approach to genre cinema for you?

Yes, it was certainly and opportunity to return to a Bloodlust-style exploitation logistic where stuff like cheesiness and schlock are important elements in the aesthetic and can be gleefully mined and underlined.

Lead actor Dominic Purcell (pictured, above) applies a very stoic, Charles Bronson-like stillness to your hero, which is at odds with the legendarily OTT work of Steve Railsback in the original. Tell us about creating the character with your lead actor.

Dom's a big guy – six two and built like a buff brick shithouse – so his screen presence resonates with physicality and menace. He doesn't have to say or do anything to make you believe he can kick your arse, so we played on that a lot. Dom's a very fine classically trained actor who can deliver in the dialogue department, but his ego and confidence is such that he's also cool not to say too much. We wanted our hero to be a presence so if we've gotten anywhere near Bronson, then we're stoked.

Finally, working with Anthony I Ginnane (pictured, right), a producer who possesses an often under-valued sense of showmanship in everything he does. What does he bring to a production after all his years in the game? What do you think is his greatest contribution to Australian cinema?

The reboot of Turkey Shoot was Tony's 67th production, almost all of them feature films. That's an extraordinary CV. And he's made the great bulk of his movies in the real world where soft money* is a minor, if any, part of the financial structure. That makes him very different from most other Australian producers. He also works incredibly hard, and once he's committed to a project he just won't let go – he literally wills it into production. Yes, he's criminally undervalued in Australia because he chooses to work mainly in the realm of genre, but a lot of his films still resonate and continue to influence filmmaking down-under. (*industry term for 'government supplied production funds')

Jon Hewitt’s Turkey Shoot is available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download in Australia through Potential Films. Check local schedules for release dates in international territories.

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