Following in the footsteps of Housebound's breakout success at the same event last year, two upcoming Kiwi genre films have received a rapturous response at South By Southwest 2015, the film, music and interactive media festival held in Austin, Texas.
The world premiere of Jason Lei Howdon's gonzo metal horror comedy Deathgasm, winner of the Make My Horror Movie competition, went so well that extra screenings had to be organised.
Sci-fi action '80s throwback Turbo Kid, a New Zealand/Canada co-production written and directed by filmmaking collective RKSS, arrived with good buzz from its recent premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and went on to win SXSW's Audience Award.
Kiwi film legend Ant Timpson (The ABCs of Death, The 48 Hour Film Competition) worked on both films - he is one of the producers of Turbo Kid, and an executive producer on Deathgasm, which was produced by Andrew Beattie, Morgan Leigh Stewart and Sarah Howden.
Timpson and I had a chat recently about his experiences with the films at SXSW, but before we get into that, here's a little basic info about each one:
Deathgasm is about two small-town teenage metalheads (Milo Cawthorne and James Blake) whose discovery of a certain piece of sheet music leads to their summoning an ancient evil entity called Aeloth The Blind One. Kiwi actress Kimberley Crossman plays Medina, the female lead, and Delaney Tabron (Spartacus, Desired) also co-stars.
Turbo Kid is set in a post-apocalyptic future where a comic-obsessed scavenger named The Kid (Munro Chambers) meets a mysterious girl named Apple (Laurence LeBoeuf), and together they are plagued by the sadistic Zeus, an evil overlord type played by all-time genre legend Michael Ironside, he of the double arm-slicing in Total Recall and the double leg-chomping in Starship Troopers. Aaron Jeffery (McLeod's Daughters, Outrageous Fortune) heads the Kiwi contingent of the cast along with Edwin Wright (Top of the Lake), whose character is named Skeletron.
How freaking awesome do both of these movies sound?
Dominic Corry: So Deathgasm and Turbo Kid went down pretty well at SXSW?
Ant Timpson: We had a dream run. Deathgasm was one of the early front-runners for the Midnighter section of SXSW - its teaser trailer had been seen by a couple of million people and so audiences were amped for it. When it finally came to our world premiere we really didn't know how it was going to go down because there was a lot of that initial hype online. So we bought the entire audience a beer to start the ball rolling. It was a truly memorable premiere. They laughed, they screamed and they groaned from the gross-out humour. They absolutely got it. Turbo Kid was coming off a hot Sundance World Premiere so audiences were already primed and had read a lot about the film. So again you're dealing with inflated expectations which can be a bit risky. Luckily SXSW audiences fell in love with the film. So much so that it was awarded the Audience Award. Deathgasm ended up with extra screenings and was listed as one of the most talked about titles on social media out of all 150 SXSW features.
Were there any proper metal bogans in the audience at the Deathgasm screenings?
Definitely a few for sure but mostly cross-over types who love metal but love horror-cult films even more. There's a few insider metal gags in the film that Jason the director, a true aficionado, stuck in there for bonus laughs.
Were you surprised which parts of Deathgasm the American audience responded to?
We all knew how a couple of scenes were going to play well and they did. It's the scenes that you think have no laughs that end up getting some and vice versa. I think the film's genuine love of metal and its indie spirit carries it a long way with young crowds. Many are responding to the sweetness at its core. There's not mean-spirited bone in its body. There's a real obvious joy to its loopy dudes versus demons scenario.
Deathgasm sounds awesomely full-on. Did anybody get offended?
We all wished someone had. I think most were more offended by our Q&A than the actual film.
Did the SXSW audience know about Turbo Kid from its debut at Sundance?
You couldn't have got better buzz than Turbo Kid after Sundance. It was picked by many as one of the great surprises of the festival. People went gaga for it - it wasn't what they expected. Many were thinking Troma schlock but there's some real film-making and a script that keeps surprising even as it plays out familiar tropes.
To what extent do you consider Turbo Kid a New Zealand film?
That's a good question because even though it was a co-production in Canada's favour I do feel that in terms of how the production feels in the end, there's a sense of NZ through it for sure. It's a real potpourri of accents on screen which gives you a sense of being dropped somewhere between Australia-New Zealand and Montreal. Well, aside from the appearance of local actors like Aaron Jeffery and Edwin Wright, the film's editing, sound design and visual post were all done in NZ with the great team at Curious Films. The idea to make the feature film came to me after I saw the director's short film. So New Zealand's been there from day one but obviously the heart and soul of the film is all down to the three wonderful writer/directors (RKSS). There'd be no film without their vision and their brilliant team behind them. This is a testament of their blood, sweat and tears on board. I do think its a true co-production in every sense of the word. We all feel very bonded over the making of it and none of us can believe that we had three government agencies on board supporting this gonzo movie.
What's Michael Ironside like?
He's just the nicest guy in the room. Always full of great stories. He's worked with so many directors and actors. He doesn't play the Hollywood game. A simple guy at heart. On set he tested the RKSS team sometimes just to see how they'd react I think. They're all his pseudo children now. Getting him was a dream come true. We simply ran into him at a cocktail function at Toronto and pitched him the project.
What kind of currency does being a 'New Zealand film' have at SXSW these days?
I've had four features invited there so I can only speak from subjective experience. I get the sense that there's a lot of goodwill towards New Zealand at the moment at these international festivals and elevated genre films have played a huge part in that. I'm very glad that the NZFC and others see the benefits in supporting these types of projects as in terms of promoting New Zealand they sure get a lot more mileage per buck than our dramas.
Is SXSW the best place to launch indie genre films?
It's not the only place it's just a very good place because the festival attracts a huge number of US buyers and distributors. So if you capture lightning in a bottle with a hot title, it's going to pay off in spades. It's a great fest for any good films - it's also just a brilliant town to hang out in and network. I mean the whole place is one giant party.
Did you catch any other films at SXSW this year that really impressed you?
I saw very few to be honest. Having two films there alongside lots of meetings limited my free time. But I did catch a few gems and I think you'll see them popping up at the NZ Film Festival this year.
What is the distribution status of Turbo Kid and Deathgasm in both New Zealand and the USA?
We'll know much more down the line but I can say things are looking good.
* Amped for Deathgasm or Turbo Kid? Comment below!