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Entries in Comedy (3)

Friday
Apr052019

ROTTENTAIL: THE BRIAN SKIBA INTERVIEW

Even with a filmography that includes gorehound favourites like Blood Moon Rising (2009), Slaughter Creek (2011) and .357 (2013), Brian Skiba must have been in the most adventurous of creative moods when he decided to sign on for Rottentail, the blood-soaked and bawdy big-screen adaptation of author and friend David Hayes underground graphic novel classic. “The concept of a bunny man going home to seek revenge on high school bullies is just so out there, I knew that I wanted to be the guy to helm such a project,” Skiba says, securing a cast that includes Dominique Swain, William McNamara and an up-for-anything Corin Nemec in the title role (pictured, below; Skiba, left, and his leading man). “It’s okay to laugh, I promise,” the director told SCREEN-SPACE in a lengthy interview ahead of Rottentail's assault on select U.S. theatres from April 12. 


SCREEN-SPACE: When did you first attach yourself to the adaptation? What was it about the creative minds behind the novel that you gravitated towards?

SKIBA: The writer David Hayes, who is a long-time friend, introduced me to Travis McIntire of Source Point Press and together the three of us developed of the film.  I’d read the graphic novel and thought it was very funny with roots that dug into something much deeper. Rottentail is the typical David Hayes screwball humour with a twist of demented horror and a splash of social commentary. David was a huge contributor on my first feature, Blood Moon Rising. I can attribute a lot of my success directly to him and will always be grateful for his help and direction in my career.

SCREEN-SPACE: You mash-up some classic sub-genres - body-horror in the first act; the vengeful anti-hero in the second half. And there are classic ‘romantic literature’ archetypes at work, recalling Beauty and The Beast or The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Rottentail has legitimate roots in the great monsters of lore…

SKIBA: (Laughs) Thank you and yes, David and I are both English majors who love to mash genres. When we wrote the adaptation we were very focused on making Rottentail an anti-hero-monster who harkens back to the classic monsters mentioned above.  We wanted the audience to cheer for Rottentail.  With regards to him being “The Beast”, I think that’s a great example of how we wrote the relationship between Rottentail and Anna.  Spoiler alert… I love tragic endings.  

SCREEN-SPACE: Rottentail recalls the unleashed id of iconic characters like The Toxic Avenger and Brundlefly. What were the films and filmmakers that influenced you and your directing style?

SKIBA: I was that kid who would stay up all night watching every ‘B’ movie deemed “bad” by my parents that hit the antenna of my tiny 8” dial colour TV.  Kids these days have it so easy; if they knew the positions I would lay in while holding that antenna, just so I could get reception. (Laughs) And then rental stores became a thing and that was a whole new addiction. Films like Bloody Mama, Children of the Corn, Rolling Thunder, Ice Pirates, Cold Sweat, Enter the Dragon, and Swamp Thing; directors like Sam Raimi, De Palma, Craven, Carpenter, Bruce Lee and the comedy of Mel Brooks, Monty Python, and Cheech and Chong. I remember the first time I watched John Waters’ Pink Flamingo and I was like, ‘Holy shit, that is a work of art.’  I love really big characters that have deranged motives for almost no reason, so Rottentail made sense to me.

SCREEN-SPACE: The aesthetic screams ‘80s VHS horror. There is an authentic ‘griminess’ about the design and look of this film…

SKIBA: I chose a hybrid of old VHS and that ‘dirty film’ look, to homage those old VHS tapes.  There is something to be said about some 16mm grain, dirty pixels, a six-foot bunny-man, an evil preacher, and fifty gallons of blood.  To me, that’s a film.  Furthermore, you can’t just get the ‘grindhouse look’ out of a camera these days, you have to artistically create it, or re-create, and to me that process has become an art that I enjoy.  Rottentail is a grindhouse homage to the films I loved to watch as a pre-teen during the ‘80s. (Pictured, right; Skiba with friend)

SCREEN-SPACE: Given that he’s also an ugly manifestation of angry masculinity, what elements make Rottentail a character for these times?

SKIBA: You have to look at the entire Rottentail story to understand why we designed his look like we did.  In our current day of instant gratification, we’ve also entered the age of instant demoralization.  It’s so easy to feel like a complete piece of shit after spending five minutes on social media.  There is always someone richer, stronger, faster, sexier, better than you. Bullies can create a fake identity, go to someone’s profile, and virtually beat him or her up with little or no consequence. ‘Peter Cotten’ is the embodiment of a geek who has been abused all his life. As Rottentail, Peter gets everything he’s ever wanted, and then realizes that all he ever needed was revenge on the bullies who killed his pet rabbit and to get with his high school crush, Anna. The message that makes Rottentail a character for these times is: Attention bullies of the world!  If you kill someone’s pet rabbit (or post shitty stuff on Instagram or Facebook) watch out! You never know what mutated son of a bitch will pop out and pay what’s due.

SCREEN-SPACE: What was the pitch to Corin Nemec that got him on board? What did he bring to ‘Rottentail’ that was so crucial to the character?

SKIBA: When we started casting Rottentail I went through a couple hundred actors but didn’t feel any of them were the right fit.  I asked (casting director) Ricki Masler to call Corin Nemec, who is a great character actor and just maybe would do this part for me.  A few hours later I was on the phone with Corin, who is a prolific painter and collects graphic novels.  He read Rottentail long before our conversation and when I mentioned the title, and the fact he would play Rottentail, Corin was in. He studied the movements of rabbits, how they ate, even how they copulated.  We had his fake teeth made months before we shot the film and he would call me with different voices while wearing the teeth around his house. When he walked onto set after two-hours in the make-up chair, I knew he was Rottentail.  He embodied the role and gave us little gems that still make me laugh, even after seeing the film a couple hundred times. (Pictured, above; Nemec as 'Peter Cotten')

SCREEN-SPACE: What essential quality did real-world/non-CGI gore and prosthetic artistry bring to your film?   

SKIBA: If I can do it practically, I will.  I would study book after book as a kid on how to build creatures and models for film. The process fascinated me.  When you apply prosthetics to an actor there is a soul under all that foam and latex that gives the character life.  This is something that CGI can’t emulate.  When David and Travis came to me and asked that I direct the film, I told them my one term was that Rottentail had to look amazing no matter the cost. I reached out to producer Josh Tessier and he called Todd Tucker, known for Mrs. Doubtfire and Pirates of the Caribbean. Todd doesn’t do every film that drops on his front door step, but after I pitched him my vision for Rottentail, he was in.  His company provided our makeup effects, puppetry and special effects. I was very lucky to have such a great artist working with us.

SCREEN-SPACE: The thrill of seeing a man-rabbit on a killing spree aside, what do you hope your audience takes from the film?

SKIBA: I want them to laugh! This film has dumb moments, cheap moments, trashy moments, and just plain outrageously wrong moments.  Laugh at it!  Take ninety minutes of your life, let go of being politically correct, let the air out of the stuffy room! Forget the day to day grind that makes you an adult and re-live a simpler time, when we were all young and movies came in a little black box with reel-to-reel magnetic tape that sometimes made more noise than the single TV speaker.  Because, even without the high-end, million-dollar visual effects, those movies were pretty damn good and really fun to watch.

Friday
Apr062018

NEKROMANCER TEASES THRILLS AND GIGGLES IN FX-HEAVY FIRST PICS

“It’s like an Aussie Ghostbusters on acid,” boasted director Kiah Roache-Turner to his Facebook followers after the recent release of four images from his highly-anticipated film, Nekromancer. Co-written with brother Tristan, the sophomore effort is their follow-up to the low-budget/high-energy zombie splatter epic Wyrmwood: Road of The Dead (2014), which earned critical kudos and a global cult following.

During it’s late 2017 pre-production period, the brother’s sci-fi/horror/comedy mash-up had the international horror community buzzing when it was announced Italian actress Monica Bellucci (L’appartement, 1996; Malèna, 2000;  Irréversible, 2002; The Passion of the Christ, 2004) would headline the Australian production, opposite local talent Ben O’Toole (Hacksaw Ridge, 2016) and Tess Haubrich (Alien: Covenant, 2017). (Pictured, below; Bellucci, as 'Finnegan', in conflict with 'Luther', played by David Wenham)

Although the shoot and plot details have been kept under wraps, a synopsis accompanies Screen NSW’s funding approval page: “Howard North, electronics genius, is dragged into a conflict between The Tribe - a family of powerful demon hunters, and Asgaroth - an evil demon possessing the world’s internet, assisted by his devil-worshipping corporate acolytes. Molly, a Tribeswoman and warrior, is desperate to destroy the demon and is sure that Howard has the right stuff to become a true hero. They must learn to work together to exorcise the fiend from the web and blow him back to Hell.” (Pictured, below; co-stars, l-r, Bob Savea as 'Rangi', and Ben O'Toole as 'Howard')

The production shot at Sydney’s largest soundstage facility, Fox Studios, located in the inner city suburb of Moore Park, as well as at various locations around the Harbour city. The local sector was rife with genre film production at the time of Nekromancer’s principal photography; director Abe Forsythe’s zom-rom-com Little Monsters, which imported international names Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther, 2018) and Josh Gad (Beauty and The Beast, 2017) to star opposite local talent, was also shooting at several Sydney locales. (Pictured, below; hero 'Howard' with, l-r, nekromancers 'Torquel', played by Tess Haubrich, and 'Molly', played by Caroline Ford)

DOP duties fell to the brother’s Wyrmwood lensman, Tim Nagle. Other key production duties were filled by top tier talent from the local sector, including line producer Sam Thompson; production designer Nicholas Dare (Down Under, 2016); composer Michael Lira (The Hunter, 2011); costume designer Xanthe Huebel (The Loved Ones, 2009; Ruben Guthrie, 2015); veteran casting director Nicki Barrett (Somersault, 2004; Australia, 2008; Mad Max Fury Road, 2015); concept artist Dane Hallett (Jupiter Ascending, 2015; Aquaman, 2018); and, 2nd unit director James Chappell (director of the acclaimed short, Proceeds of Crime, 2017).

Nekromancer is a co-production between Hopscotch Features and the Roache-Turner’s Guerilla Films outfit; financing was sourced via Entertainment One (eOne), Screen Australia and Create NSW; eOne will partner with Sierra/Affinity for the international sales market.

Sunday
Apr032016

LAST DRINKS: THE SEVÉ SCHELENZ INTERVIEW.

When your low-budget debut hits big, where to next? Such was the enviable problem for horror auteur Sevé Schelenz, who rattled international festival crowds with his 2011 shocker, Skew. For his second feature, the Canadian has crafted a fresh perspective on the ‘single-setting’ horror film; the gross-out funny, very ‘splattery’ Peelers unfolds in a remote titty bar, as infected patrons turn on the survivors. Ahead of its World Premiere at the Palm Beach International Film Festival, Schelenz spoke with SCREEN-SPACE about the origins of his latest work, the learning curve he went through on the shoot and answering the age-old question, “Where would nudity be acceptable?”…

SCREEN-SPACE: After the success of Skew, what kind of pressure did you place on yourself and your 'sophomore project'? 

Schelenz: I never thought about any "pressure", never thought of it as a "follow-up". I was just ready to make another film and took it from there. The only thing I wanted to do differently was to make a more traditional horror film, (to) work with a DP and compose shots and work with lighting. When we shot Skew in 2005, films tried hard to look like big budget films and most fell short. I didn't want to make a film where the audience would be pulled out of the movie because they were thrown off by the look. With the sort of budget we had at the time, POV was the way to go. When we shot Peelers, HD was much more accessible. You could also shoot 5K, which allowed you to play with the image more in post, which you couldn't do back in 2005 without image degradation. Actually, the most important thing for me when making any film is to have a good script with twists and great characters. We did that in Skew, but some of the twists may have been a little too much for the audience. Screenwriter Lisa DeVita and I came up with something more balanced. 

SCREEN-SPACE: What were the origins of the story?

Schelenz: After Skew’s festival run and distribution, my sales agent asked me, "So, what's next?" I was developing a number of features, mostly comedies, thrillers, or sci-fi. He told me, “No, do another horror.” I asked him what he thought would sell and he said, "More blood and more boobs." I was more into anticipation-building and psychological horror but I went away and thought to myself, "I know I can get the blood in there, but what about the nudity?" I just wasn't interested in gratuitous breast shots. I thought, "Where would nudity be acceptable? A strip club!" It turned out there were not a lot of good stripper-horror films, leaving an untapped sub-genre of horror out there. I asked ‘Devits’ if she would be interested in writing a script with strong female characters who kicked ass, a deft story and some good twists. Her eyes went wide and she told me a story about something that happened to her while she was at a strip club in Las Vegas. From there, Peelers was born. (Pictured, above; Schelenz, on-set, with actress Nikki Wallin).  

SCREEN-SPACE: The 'single setting' concept carries its own production challenges. How did you address both the limitations and potential of your location?

Schelenz: A single setting can be the kiss of death from an audience point of view. There is a perception that the more locations, the bigger the film, the more the audience will want to see it; my sales agent recommended multiple locations if only to have them in the trailer. But from a production point of view, a single location is the way to go. It is the best answer to the main obstacle of indie filmmaking - budget. My editing background means I’m always thinking about how scenes transition, which I bring to the script process as well. So, I sort of treated each room in the strip club as a separate location, of giving each one it's own look and feel through production design, lighting and camera angles. Our DP Lindsay George (pictured, left) was an indie fllmmaker's dream because she was fast, had a great eye for composition and understood lighting. Peelers doesn't feel like it's all in one location, when in fact it pretty much is.

SCREEN-SPACE: There is a great deal of authenticity in the casting, a lot of 'character' in the characters, especially in your lead, Wren Walker, and the girls who play the dancers. 

Schelenz: We threw out a wide, open net for the casting to see as many actors as we could. Surprisingly, we had a lot of talented girls show up to auditions. We were worried that actresses would hear "stripper horror" and think ditzy, damsel-in-distress types with gigantic fake boobs, when really we were going for something different, something against type. We wanted characters with brains, women you could sympathize with who come in all shapes and sizes, confident in their own skin. How could actresses know this coming in to cold auditions? We were wrong; ultimately, selecting our female roles was tough due to all the talented options. When it came to the lead character, ‘Blue Jean’, none of the girls ideally fitted the role. Wren Walker (pictured, above) came in late in the audition process because her boyfriend saw our ad and encouraged her to read and she nailed it. Wren just owned the Blue Jean role right off the bat.

SCREEN-SPACE: Despite the usual tight budget and time constraint issues, did the shoot go to plan? Was it a positive set?

Schelenz: When you make a truly independent feature, you're always worried about running over. I had the experience of shooting Skew and we also had great 1st and 2nd ADs on Peelers. For the most part, the shoot went according to plan. Another way of staying on schedule is to allow more time in pre-production and rehearsals. The more issues you can encounter and solve before production, the better. This helps the mood on set, as the prep has been done. Of course, you also set the tone of production pretty early on. I got to know most of the cast and crew ahead of time and that made things more enjoyable. It's great to hear cast and crew say, "I had a great time on set, it was so much fun," but it's not the case for the producers or director. Yes, we are pretty pumped to be on set and making a movie but it really is up to us to get the shots needed or there's no film. (Pictured, above; from l-r, Wren Walker, Madison J. Loos, Momona Komagata, Kirsty Peters and Caz Odin Darko).

SCREEN-SPACE: And you pull a Hitchcock, rewarding yourself with a very funny cameo! Plan to spend more time in front of the camera?

Schelenz: (Laughs) I like the idea, (but I’m) not sure I have the acting chops to pull it off. I like to get myself, or my name in there somehow, just for shits and giggles. If you listen carefully, you'll hear my name being paged as Doctor Schelenz in the opening sequence. In Skew, my name actually appears on a newspaper as Officer Schelenz. My cameo in Peelers is actually part of a bigger story.  Everyone in the scene, minus the main actor, is the crew from the film, including the other three producers. It was a fun scene to film because I knew in editing I'd have a chance to get everyone into the movie.

Peelers will premiere April 9 at the Palm Beach International Film Festival, Florida; other territories to follow.