If there’s an anxiety common to interviewers, it’d be having a great chat with someone and then finding out there was no audio evidence it had ever happened. I’d only had to deal with that once before, when a conversation with Sir Ben Kingsley switched gears halfway through to become a confession about the details of my love life and him loving the opportunity to provide equally detailed advice. Needless to say, no-one needed to read that… Unlike the awesome half hour I spend chatting to the creative trio behind Turbo Kid – which we can finally see here in NZ as part of the NZ International Film Festival. But just to prove the point of how lovely the three French-Canadians are, they found some more time a few days later, and we once again got stuck into the story behind this post-apocalyptic gorefest with a heart.
FLICKS: From a short film submitted to ‘The ABCs of Death’ to the feature film ‘Turbo Kid’, how did all that happen?
YOANN WHISSELL: When we submitted our short to The ABCs of Death, we ended up first in the votes and it caught the eye of Ant Timpson, New Zealand producer. He and his colleague Tim Riley wrote to us to know if we wanted to turn T is for Turbo into a full length feature. So we said yes, of course.
ANOUK WHISSELL: Fantasia had their first film market the same year, so we had to quickly write the script within a month while working full-time jobs.
YOANN: We actually had three weeks to write it completely and to make it. We were selected in the market, and that’s where we met our Canadian producer, Anne-Marie Gélinas, and our partner Benoit Beaulieu. The whole Turbo Kid team was now together.
ANOUK: Along with Jason Eisener, who was the one actually who pushed us to participate in the contest.
FRANÇOIS SIMARD: Yeah, we should say that at first we didn’t want to be part of the contest because we already did one and we didn’t want to bug our friends to vote for us again, but Jason Eisener totally convinced us. We saw him at Fantasia, and the night when we came back home in the cars, we were in pre-production already. Actually, we didn’t win the contest. We finished first in the public votes but we didn’t end up in the actual movie, The ABCs of Death, but we got the attention of Ant Timpson and I think…
YOANN: In the end we won a lot more.
ANOUK: Yeah, it’s the biggest one.
FRANÇOIS: Yeah, so a team of five producers and three directors. That’s…
YOANN: A big family.
FLICKS: That’s a really unusual way for a feature film to come to the big screen, from how quickly you wrote the script, to how many people involved, but I suppose you don’t have a lot to compare that experience to, right?
YOANN: No, we’re very lucky. All in all it took two years until the premiere at Sundance, which is very, very fast for a feature.
FRANÇOIS: But we’ve been making short movies for ten years, and we’ve been trying to make a feature for, I don’t know…
FRANÇOIS: Forever. So we were more than ready. Finally we had a door open and everything.
YOANN: We jumped right away at the opportunity to do it.
FLICKS: I guess it’s like that saying about bands, that you have 20 years to write your first record, because it’s that kind of sum of experience that builds up on your other projects.
YOANN: That’s exactly it.
FRANÇOIS: Yeah, but it’s because it’s really a passion. That’s why we didn’t quit after a couple years, and that’s basically what we wanted to do in life. Instead of going to vacation we would use our money to do a short.
YOANN: And shorts cost more money than vacations, so we are still paying off some of our short films.
FLICKS: Thank you for the investment!
FLICKS: The other sort of unorthodox, unusual aspect, is that it’s a New Zealand-Canadian co-production, which. Hey, look, heaps of films are co-productions, but it’s kind of strange for a genre film to come out of nowhere that’s basically made in two countries on opposite sides of the world.
YOANN: That’s all kind of crazy. We got to travel to New Zealand, which was fantastic, because all the post-production was done in New Zealand, because of the co-production. You have a beautiful country and we miss it a lot.
FRANÇOIS: We should add that, I think the fact that it’s a co-production between Canada and New Zealand is really unusual, and I’m sure it helped to get the money, because the project is so weird and so, like I said, unusual.
ANOUK: It’s pretty unusual to get this type of film financed in Canada, in Quebec. It’s the New Zealand Film Commission who jumped first, and I think that gave the cue to Telefilm to jump in as well.
YOANN: We owe both countries a lot – Telefilm Canada and the New Zealand Film Commission – for believing in this crazy, fun project. We’re very lucky that they decided to help us out and make our vision come true.
FLICKS: It’s difficult to say this without having seen the film, but it feels that, from how quickly the financing came together, how quickly the script came together, these are all things that help keep an idea really fresh.
YOANN: Definitely. You never get that moment where you hate everything about your project because you’re always in it. If you live for 10 or 15 years with the same project it must be grating and grinding.
FLICKS: I think it will also mean that the outcome’s a very different film from the kinds of films that are traditionally funded from state or national film funding bodies.
YOANN: That’s why we feel so lucky about what they saw in the film. Because Turbo Kid, yes, it is a crazy post-apocalyptic, gore film, but there’s also a nice cute love story at the centre. It’s a movie that truly has a heart, and I think both institutions for both countries felt that. They saw that there was a love in the middle of that film. There was a love of the genre, but there was also a nice, real story. It was not just an excuse to do all those crazy set pieces. There was an actual nice story in there.
FRANÇOIS: And I’m sure that’s why we were able to get Michael Ironside and Laurence Leboeuf and all those great actors. I think they really connected to the script and they saw that it’s not just full of references.
FLICKS: We’ll come back to the genre elements in a minute, but obviously casting was critical. How difficult was that process for you guys?
YOANN: Actually, it was easier than we thought. We got a lot of luck out of it, like the way we met Michael. Because when we were writing the character for Michael Ironside, we had him in mind, we were writing it for him, but we never thought we actually would get Michael.
FRANÇOIS: Yeah, it was just a dream.
YOANN: Producer Anne-Marie came to the Toronto Film Festival where we were going to all meet up at to talk about Turbo Kid. We went to a cocktail party, all of us together, and randomly, Michael just walked in the room. We’re looking at each other going, “oh my God, this is Michael fucking Ironside. He’s Zeus, he’s the character”.
FRANÇOIS: Yeah, we tell our producers, we need to talk to him. So our Anne-Marie just took our hands, put us in front of him and just said, “I’m a producer, I’m producing their movie. They’re going to pitch you the movie,” and left.
FLICKS [chuckles] Awesome.
FRANÇOIS: So I live pitch him the story and he really dug it.
YOANN: Well at first he told us…
FRANÇOIS: He fucked with us, yeah. The first thing he said is, “You do know I’m a born-again Christian and I don’t do that shit anymore.”
FLICKS: Oh my God, that’s amazing.
FRANÇOIS: And we went, um, okay. [chuckles] “I’m fucking with you. Just leave the script then.”
YOANN: And he loved the script. The way he told us, he sat down and read it through and couldn’t believe how good it was, so he started reading it again and then called his agent right away. That’s nice to hear.
FRANÇOIS: And same thing for Laurence Leboeuf, who is a huge star in Quebec. We sent her the script with a mocked up picture of her in the character, and when she saw the picture she was hooked and she came on board.
YOANN: She read the script, loved the script, and wanted to be on board. Munro Chambers, his was the only role we went and auditioned for. We made a lineup of a lot of kids that sent us their tapes, so we choose a lineup of kids we really wanted to meet in person and we went to Toronto to meet them. Munro was the first kid of the day. He just came in and he blew us away. He blew our mind. That kid was fantastic.
FRANÇOIS: We said, that’s it, it’s him, that’s The Kid.
FLICKS: And then did you have to just politely watch all the other auditions, even though you’d already made a decision?
YOANN: Yes, and everyone –
FLICKS: [interrupts] You’re terrible, terrible people.
YOANN: Everyone was good, everyone was very good. It’s just there was something about Munro that made him…
ANOUK: The Kid.
YOANN: We connected to him right away. So yeah, that was a weird process.
FRANÇOIS: And we should say it was a first time for us as well to do an audition. I think we were as nervous as all those kids. But yeah, it was important because The Kid is really the one who has the whole movie on his shoulders, and yeah, Munro totally blew our minds. The rest is history. And of course, Kiwis Aaron Jeffery and Edwin Wright.
YOANN: They fucking brought it. They’re brilliant, both of them. We had so much fun. We became, everyone from the actors to the crew, we became such a family together. We love Edwin and we love Aaron and we miss them a lot.
FRANÇOIS: We can’t wait to do another movie to work with them again.
FLICKS: Awesome. Hey, look. We’ve covered lots of important character stuff and actor stuff. Can we now talk about gushing blood and bits of bodies falling off and crazy sets and things like that?
YOANN: It’s hard because I was about to say something, but I don’t want to spoil anything. But yeah, there’s a lot of blood. We had 90 gallons of blood for this shoot, which is quite a lot of blood.
FRANÇOIS: Yeah, and we can say that we used to do all the gore effect on our shorts, and it was the first time that we had a team that were doing it for us. It was weird for us to not do the gore effects and just concentrate on directing, but we still managed to get our hands dirty and play with the fake blood. [chuckles] Because it’s just fun.
YOANN: And we have two friends that came on the shoot. We call them the Blood Brothers. They’re crazy maniacs. They are completely bonkers. They came up with what they call the gore cannon. They have the patent on it. It’s a crazy thing that shoots gallons of gore in the air. It’s just so beautiful and fantastic. We love those guys forever.
FLICKS: As a film fan, you really want to believe that on a film set there’s something really contagious and exciting about those sort of moments. But you also kind of know there’s all this hard work involved and maybe things don’t go right, and at the end of the day it’s a job. How did that mix work for you guys?
YOANN: It was okay. We had the worst spring in 70 years, so it was really cold. For Aaron and Edwin, I don’t think they ever felt cold like this. A lot of days were minus 10 degrees, and we got a couple of days of minus 20. We got snow storms. It was pretty brutal. But nobody ever complained, everybody came together and everybody believed in the project and fought for it, which was great. But yeah, we had equipment breaking, props breaking, everything was breaking because it was too cold. Blood was freezing in the pumps. In one scene I get my face put in a blender. That was actually a shard of ice blood going into my face.
FRANÇOIS: It was a hard production, but like you said, if it’s a job then it’s the best job in the world for us, because that’s what we really want to do in life. Basically, film making is solving problems.
YOANN: Yeah, it’s part of the job.
ANOUK: It’s a really unusual type of movie to be shot here, so for the crew it was so much fun. They’re seeing gore effects every day and building super cool sets. Everybody was really passionate and it was cool.
FRANÇOIS: Yeah, and we say it’s work– yes it is. It’s a lot of work to make a movie, but it never feels like a job, if that makes sense.
FLICKS: Solving those practical problems is something that a whole lot of the films inspiring Turbo Kid had to deal with as well, right?
YOANN: Yeah, I believe everybody that makes films have to deal with that.
ANOUK: Film making is solving problems, basically. Every day, every minute.
YOANN: Every minute there’s a new problem and you find a solution. That’s one of our strength, because we’re three brains. When we hit a problem we develop that kind of hive mind where we understand each other super fast and we find solution in the nick of time, because we have a brain times three.
FRANÇOIS: We’ve been making shorts with no money for ten years, so we know how to get creative and solving problems without throwing money at them – which we don’t have.
FLICKS: Let’s talk a little about the generation or style of films that help inspire ‘Turbo Kid’, and in particular I’m curious to hear you guys talk about getting the tone rightinstead of pastiche or parody.
YOANN: From the beginning we never wanted Turbo Kid to be a pastiche or a parody. We wanted Turbo Kid to come from a place of love, because we love those films. We wanted to use the codes of those films and give them life.
ANOUK: And have a genuine feeling also.
FRANÇOIS: Yeah, it’s an homage, it’s a love letter. We never wanted to mock the movie we love. It’s not a spoof. Yeah, there’s a lot of reference. If you’re a kid that grew up in the 80’s, you will be at home. But if you don’t get the references, the movie still stands on its own.
ANOUK: Every reference is there for a reason. It’s not just to throw a reference at the screen. It has purpose in the story.
FRANÇOIS: It’s always there to serve the story. If we had a reference that was just there to be cool, we would cut it.
YOANN: Yeah, we never wanted to wink at the screen. To go, you know, “we’re 80’s”, wink wink. That’s not what we wanted to do at all.
FLICKS: What are some of those older films that are now sort of part of the DNA of ‘Turbo Kid’, would you say?
YOANN: Definitely for the story-wise it’s The Goonies, The NeverEnding Story, all the coming of age films of the 80’s.
FRANÇOIS: For the cute and sweet part, we should add BMX Bandits.
YOANN: Yeah, definitely.
FRANÇOIS: For the gore, we’re huge fan of Peter Jackson. Bad Taste, Braindead were a huge influence on us. I would even say that Braindead is the reason we want to become film makers. For the rest, all the movie that we love when we were a child, all the Mad Max ripoffs – we love all those movies.
YOANN: Yeah, we were very lucky because when we were kids, all of those films – The New Barbarians…
FRANÇOIS: Bronx Warriors…
YOANN: All of those films were all being dubbed in French, so we had a plethora of films. We had a video store that used to have seven films for seven days for seven dollars. We would rent seven, watch them in three days, bring them back, get seven more films then watch them . We watched a ton and ton of films growing up.
[Want more’Mad Max’ ripoffs? Aaron Yap covered some lesser-known ones for us here]
FLICKS: Here’s my feeling about those video stores. Because we had the same sort of thing here. There’s something about going to the video store, really carefully choosing a mix of things to take home – some of them are discoveries, some of them are favourites. That experience, man, that’s disappearing now.
YOANN: Yeah, it’s completely dead.
FRANÇOIS: It’s really sad.
ANOUK: Yeah, some kids will never even experience it, never.
YOANN: Being in the video store and just looking at the box for hours. We could sit in the horror section for a good two hours just going over all the boxes. Or when you knew a film that you really wanted and you knew it was rented and you would go to the video store three hours before movies would come back and just hang out until the movie would come in because you really wanted that film.
FRANÇOIS: I miss that.
YOANN: I miss that. The community too. You would be there looking at covers of horror films and there would be another girl or guy there too, and you had that kind of sense of community of movie fanatics. Now we’re all in each other home and it’s just…
FRANÇOIS: Just not the same.
YOANN: Just not the same.
ALL FOUR OF US: Just not the same.
When and where to see ‘Turbo Kid’ during NZIFF