Friday, June 22, 2012

Has Downloading Killed The Video Star? (2012)

Has Downloading Killed The Video Star?

Dan Nancarrow, BrisbaneTimes June 23, 2012

I'm cast in this Brisbane Times article as the Video Prophet of Doom. Not surprisingly, my more grim and bitter comments about the death of video stores and how we blindly and blandly consume culture have been trimmed, but you get the idea...

The local video store: No matter how you cut it, the long-term future for movie rental outlets looks grim.

It's a ritual as old as VHS.

On an uneventful night, you head down to the local video store, rummage through the shelves for a movie to rent or beckon the clerk for a worthy recommendation.

But, like a fading video tape, this concept looks like it is being gradually lost to history.
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The small corner video stores in Queensland are closing, the specialty rental vendors are long gone and the larger stores are needing to diversify to stay afloat.

No matter how you cut it, the long-term future for rental stores looks grim.

But Franchise Entertainment Group managing director Paul Uniacke remained positive.

He has been active in putting in place strategies to keep many Blockbuster and Video Ezy franchises in place as well as rolling out hundreds of strategically placed rental kiosks throughout the country.

Mr Uniacke said he hoped Franchise Group's army of 120 Video Ezy- and Blockbuster-branded kiosks (carrying new release DVDs no more than 100 days old) would swell to 3000 Australia-wide within the next few years, complimenting a fleet of 300 stores (200 fewer than today).

But his main concern was to make sure the stores that remain diversify to stay relevant, whether that be by selling DVDs, collectables or fast food (Cold Rock ice creameries have been added inside at least six stores throughout the country).

"You have 350 square metres and if you can bring other offerings into that store that gives you a chance at longevity," Mr Uniacke said.

"If [owners don't diversify] they will die. If you just want to just maintain a bricks and mortar rental store and you think that's where your future is, good luck."

According to Network Video managing director Keran Wicks, wage increases and "exponential rent" had added to the bottom line costs for video stores.

Mr Uniacke said financial pressures were forcing mum and dad owners out of the business nationwide.

He said Franchise Group was in the process of rationalisation, with franchisees buying out outside competitors as well as smaller operators within the group itself.

In Queensland the rate of stores closing is disproportionately worse; a phenomenon Mr Uniacke blamed on our most recent natural disaster.

"I've had franchisees who have said to me 'before the flood we were doing $17,000 to $20,000 a week – post the floods we're doing $10,000. No one's spending, the people aren't coming out, the insurance companies aren't paying where they should, my franchise agreement is up, my lease is up, I just don't know if I can risk another three to five years'," he said.

"In the time I've been in this industry, the stores in Brisbane region for bricks and mortar home rentals have been some of strongest in Australia. But we're seeing some unprecedented action coming out of that area that is actually very sad.

According to Mr Uniacke, small stores that exclusively offered rentals were no longer viable, which came as no surprise to Andrew Leavold

Having seen the writing on the wall two years ago, Mr Leavold closed his cult film rental outlet Trash Video in West End.

Mr Leavold said he was just as saddened by the fading prominence of the video rental ritual, which he said used to be a fun and adventurous part of our culture.

"The actual hunt for something that would be considered special has gone now that we have at least the illusion of unlimited access to material," he said.

"We also have the situation where there is so much choice now that it is a bit bamboozling for people and they start having to curl up into a foetal position and prepare a comfort zone around them so they only come in contact with the most familiar things – those films that they've seen before or films their colleagues are talking about around the water cooler or those films that are constantly being bombarded at us from the Murdoch media," he said.

"Retail has changed so much but also the nature of how we consume films and how we regard the consumption of films is something we can just download, dump, watch and forget.

"Film really doesn't have much of a value other than for those collectors out there who feel that they must own them."

With the experience of renting being reduced to a purely consumerist endeavour, Mr Leavold had no problem pointing out the reason for the greater paradigm shift away from renting.

"Downloading. It's as simple as that," he said.

"There is no reason for anyone to rent any more if they can just steal. Now the onus is more on ownership rather than renting.

"Retailers like JB Hi-Fi can supply the budget end of things and then the specialist end can be taken care of by stores such as Amazon or smaller niche.

"So really there is no room for anyone to do a shop front any more unless they want to take on bulk wholesalers like JB Hi-Fi, who can do it bigger and cheaper than anyone else."

The industry perspective differs.

Mr Uniacke did not see piracy as a bigger threat than the rise in rental costs or wage issues.

To him, illegal downloading was "just another competitor", one that provided a product of inferior quality that had not been any more severe in recent years.

"[Piracy] is no more of an issue today than it was two years ago," he said.

"There has not been some change in peoples' habits overnight where they've become better at stealing that IP, it's not like 'because the NBN is here we can steal it quicker', we're not seeing any of that.

"That's not why we're rationalising, absolutely not."

Mr Uniacke said illegal downloads were not making any greater impact either.

In April, YouTube launched its movie rental service in Australia offering streaming films for as low as $3.99 through the website and Google Play.

Mr Uniacke said it was too early to gauge how the service had been received in Australia, but going by trends in the United States, the transition hasn't been dramatic.

Streaming accounts for less than 5 per cent of the rental industry in the US.

"That doesn't mean I think in 2050 that there will be heaps of video stores left," Mr Uniacke said.

"Download is where it will go in the future. But we will also have the brands that can take us into that download space in time as well."

- additional reporting by Rebecca Graham

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Adventures with the Human Centipede #1: Tom Six interview 2010

HUMAN CENTIPEDE DIRECTOR TOM SIX interviewed by Andrew Leavold 2010

[Never before published phone interview 22/08/10]


Andrew: I understand you're shooting a sequel at the moment?

Tom: I'm actually now in London to shoot the sequel, in the middle of the shooting.

What can you tell me about the next "sequence"?

It's going to be a Human Centipede of twelve people, and the tagline will be "100% Medically INaccurate"! I had so many ideas when I wrote Part One, I thought I'd first want the audience to get used to this sick idea, and now that people are, I can go full force now in Part Two - anything I didn't show in Part One, I'll show in Part Two! (laughs)

Apart from the twelve-part centipede, is there anything else you can reveal this early?

It's a very original thing, I think people won't expect what will happen, and I can't tell yet what happens to the middle girl or if Dieter [Laser] is coming back.

Speaking of the creative process, when you're writing the film, what or who sparks your inspiration? Where do you get your juice from?

For Part One, it was really [from] stories I read about the Second World War and all the notorious Nazi doctors. When I wrote the script I kept thinking about those surgeons, because they were so crazy. So for me the most dark and scary things that could happen to human beings - intelligent surgeons cutting you open - they are really disturbing people. So that was really the basic idea for the Dr Heiter character. Each time, when I write a script, I have something in mind with what's lingering in the back of my head.

The Dr Heiter character in First Sequence doesn't reveal his motivations other than one line: "I don't like human beings."

I did it on purpose. Most of the time the less you know about a villain the more scary he is. Like the guy in No Country For Old Men. The guy with the strange haircut, you know nothing about the character, that makes him so crazy and so creepy.

Working on the character of Dr Heiter, you obviously had an image in mind, but Dieter really brings the character to life. How much of the creation is Dieter's?

When I wrote down the entire character, Dieter is a very methodical actor, so he said, "I will bring my own wardrobe." So he got that beautiful white coat, he brought it from an old Nazi store in Germany, he brought the suits, a bathrobe and stuff. When he was on set he didn't want to talk to the crew or cast, he would just sit in his room alone, and he had a special Dr Heiter diet, all this strange green stuff that he ate. And he was in character all the time. So you can imagine, pretty crazy. Off set he's the sweetest man in the world. But on set is was pretty scary as well. So fifty percent of the character he brought in.

The other character I really liked was the house. You do become very familiar with each room and each exit or entrance…

It was quite a search, that house, because I wanted to shoot it all in one location to get the claustrophobia. So we had to look for a house that had a swimming pool, had the basement, and there wasn't a forest, so that took a lot of time to find it. Luckily this house was for sale so we could rent it for a period. It was in a villa area, which was very funny, so there other houses around it. So with some tricks we had to get all the other houses out of the shots so it looked like it was really in a forest. Neighbouring houses, people were hanging out of their windows watching what we were doing there!

The internationalist approach to the production, with a Japanese actor, German actors etc - I can only imagine the money is coming from various countries?

No, that wasn't even the thing. I used American girls because I saw so many horror films from the Eighties, where you see those naïve American girls getting into trouble, so I knew it had to be these stereotyped American girls in the film. And I wanted the head of the Human Centipede not to be able to communicate with the doctor, so it had to be a language that was very far, far away from anything understandable, and I love Japanese horror films, so I said that must be a Japanese character sitting there. So that's how I had connection with those three countries.

I wondered to what degree the Japanese character was included for economic reasons or for narrative reasons.

Purely narrative reasons. It had to be a love for Japanese horror films and those characters, they're strong and powerful, beautiful faces usually, the actresses. You want that contrast between Dr Heiter and this strong Japanese face. And the fact that he can only yell in Japanese, I love that. He's speechless, just like the girls who are attached to his ass! They're almost in the same position.

Then of course he gets to perform the ultimate act of self-immolation at the end of the film!

Yes. And it's something Japanese people do, hari kiri, and the special phrases, like Akihiro [Kitamura] did in the film, it's very cool.

Dr Heiter himself becomes like a centipede, so you get that excruciating chase at ultra-slow speed up the flight of stairs! It's a film that's being talked about, and it's hard to find a film that shocks these days. Why do you think people are talking about The Human Centipede?

I think the idea of mouth-to-ass gets some kind of reaction, everyone can imagine how horrible that must be, and somehow that sick, strange idea, that spread like a virus. The basic idea is the only thing, I think. And it's something original. Because they say it's daring to make a film like that, in the first place - people think about porn or something disgusting, but to use it in a film like that, that has never been done before like this.

It is such a graphic hook, that's true - in exploitation filmmaking you need that hook to see your film rather than someone else's.

Absolutely. And so many films that are made are copies from other films, and it's very hard for us to come up with something original. But that's the trick I think for every filmmaker who starts, to create something really original.

Of course, the ability to reduce the hook down to just three words - ass-to-mouth - automatically you get a mental image that's impossible to shake! The most perceptive review I've found, in my opinion, said the characters seem to exist in a limbo between living and dead, where death would be the most preferable option. I haven't seen a scenario as bleak as this since Salo.

That's true, that's one of my biggest influences. A lot of horror films have a fear of death, but in this film they're better off dead, I think. The idea of suffering for so long in this position in this claustrophobic house with this crazy doctor who could do everything to you, it's the ultimate nightmare, because you can't escape as well.

And if your only means of salvation dies, hope dies with them…

That's right (laughs).

What's been the most interesting reaction to the film you've heard so far?

In Holland at the test screening, a couple of girls left the theatre and they were afraid to talk or even look at me! They thought I was such a disturbing man. I said it's all make-believe, the psycho killer. But the reaction is so strong. And on Facebook, the fan page they made of me, people want to sterilize me, shoot me, send terrorists after me - some people are so incredibly angry at the film.

And they can't separate the art from the artist?


In that case, it sounds like "mission accomplished"?

Yeah! (laughs)

When you started writing the first Human Centipede, did you ever imagine a franchise?

I was not really thinking about a franchise. When I was writing the script I had so many ideas, I thought at first keep the basics, and eventually wanted to make another film about it, to use all the other ideas. And I have even thoughts about the third one, because three films would make kind of a centipede itself (laughs). I'll do that in a couple of years. But I never want to make like Saw 8. I only want to make something if it's original and not copy the same thing I did before.

Why London?

London has two reasons. First, I wanted to make a completely English language film. And because I used all the main players from the Second World War, a lot of people wrote me in England - they were also the main players in the Second World War. I thought OK, let's do it in the UK.

If you weren't going to make the third film in the sequence, what would you imagine as your follow-up?

I'm already working on a script, I want to shoot a film in LA, and again I think I have a very original idea for a horror film, a psychological drama. It's going to be very controversial and I think a lot of people will talk about it. I can't say what it's about yet, but it has nothing to do with centipedes (laughs). But that's really my thing, I love to shock people or be controversial. For me that's where all the fun is.

What other genres could you do that in, a musical?

Yeah! I made two black comedies in Holland, and a children's film, but my main core is really with these kinds of films.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Jon Hewitt interview 2011

JON HEWITT INTERVIEW by Andrew Leavold 16/11/11

A mutual friend, Jack Sargeant, regularly quotes Japanese photographer Araki: "Cities need zones of obscenity to make things interesting."

The same can be said for filmmaking. Danger, violent conflict, the extremes of human experience and behaviour, these are the mainstays of drama, not to mention the voyeuristic urge to witness the forbidden. Few Australian filmmakers dare to go to those dark places, and yet director Jon Hewitt has lived amongst the shadows for his entire career. From helming the low to no-budget genre productions Bloodlust (1992) and Redball (1999), Hewitt graduated above-ground with Acolytes (2008), a $4 million horror thriller pitting three high school fuckups against devious backpacker murderer Joel Edgerton.

With X (2011), Hewitt has fashioned a dark love letter to his home town, a veritable "zone of obscenity" in any culture. Set over one night, X is the tale of two prostitutes chased through Sydney's Kings Cross by corrupt cops, knife-wielding pimps, drug dealers and other creatures of the night. The second in Hewitt's 'Kings Cross Trilogy' after the guerrilla romance Darklovestory (2006) and made on a quarter of Acolyte's budget, X is a remarkable achievement: equal parts art film and exploitation as well as style and substance, with rapid-fire, split-screen editing and stunning photography. It's a mythic descent into a Hades-like world of perpetual darkness, and Hewitt's cameras capture its sense of time and location to perfection.

Andrew: I heard a mutual friend of ours, Jack Sargeant, talk about this on the weekend: "The Japanese photographer Araki once said cities needed zones of obscenity to make things interesting."

Jon: You mean like red light districts and shit like that where anything goes? Hopefully every decent city's got one, and certainly the Cross is the most resonant of those sorts of districts in Australia anyhow.

Andrew: You and Belinda now live near King's Cross - what does a place like this represent to you?

Jon: We've lived here since 2000. We live in Kings Cross - I'm in the lounge room of my apartment, I'm just walking over to the window. Just to tell you where we are - we're on the fifth floor of an apartment building right on the strip. McDonalds is next door, and we're in between Porkys and Showgirls, just across the road from Strippers. I'm looking out the window right now at two hookers plying their trade. So this is where we live (laughs). We've lived here since 2000 and seriously you can't really live here 24/7 without it becoming part of your fucking psyche. So pretty much everything Belinda and I have done since we've lived here has been influenced by what we see on the street. We've written a couple of scripts that have actually been made, like Darklovestory (2006) and X (2011), set absolutely in Kings Cross. We've written a couple of scripts for Hollywood, there's one set in New York subways, but a lot of that resonates with Kings Cross as well. It's almost impossible to escape some of the shit you see!

Andrew: How would you describe the mythos of the Cross to someone who's never experienced the place?

Jon: The one constant thing that the Cross offers - I'm a bit of a tin-pot historian since I've been living here - and I've spoken to people who have lived here for sixty years and six years and everything in between, and the one thing they always say is the Cross is constantly changing, it's never the same, and certainly in the twelve years we've lived here, it's gone through about three different transformations in that now on a Saturday night at 3 o'clock in the morning there'll be thousands of trashed young people here, well-off, well-dressed, beautiful young girls and guys, because 24 hour liquor trading has made it a club central. Whereas ten years ago at the same time it would have been full of bogan guys from the suburbs looking to get laid, and sailors, people who were staying in all the hotels here. But there are hardly any hotels in the Cross now, they are all apartment buildings. So there's been a degree of gentrification. But the strip where we live, we live on the last of the old Kings Cross, which is about 150 metres of Darlinghurst Road that's still got junkies and hookers and strip clubs, but there's also really groovy bars where they wouldn't even fucking let you in! The Cross is a fascinating place because it's this incredible 24 hour a day melting pot where you can pretty much see everything. I guess I get used to girls saying, "Do you wanna fuck?" when you're walking out your front door and stuff like that, but it can be intimidating to some people. I guess there are already a few things, people are going "Oh, you make these stories, and they're so dark, why are you so interested…?" One of my standard answers is that in 2009, within 150 metres of our front door, of the place where we live, there were five separate gun shot incidents. Including the famous "Chk Chk Boom" girl, she was an internet sensation for half a minute? Well that happened literally directly across the road from our house! I could look out the front window and see that going on. So when people from the suburbs go, "Why are you interested in dark shit?", I guess I have to say because of THAT. Apart from I'm naturally drawn to those sorts of stories. I've got this Youtube channel that I've had for about seven years called Stations Of The X, and it's full of interviews and anything to do with Kings Cross. There's about 220 separate videos there now. The myth of the Cross, what really interests me - it's one of the few places in the world that actually has a body of pulp fiction written about it. In the Sixties and Seventies Horwitz Press published 75 or 80 pulp novels - Bad Boy Kings Cross, Stuck Up The Cross, Kings Cross Junkie…

Andrew: Melbourne had that with St Kilda to a point, but that doesn't exist in the same way.

Jon: Not any more. I used to have an office in Green St in St Kilda, which is just off Gray St, in the 80s. But St Kilda was never out there like Kings Cross. Sure there are still hookers on the streets down there, but down here it was always so flamboyant and so fucking in your face. It's a little less in your face now, but some nights it can still be pretty incredible. Kings Cross is our Montmartre or our Reeperbahn or Times Square. And the interesting thing about it is, it works on a sort of mythological level or a metaphysical level in that it literally doesn't exist as a post code. It's the confluence of those five suburbs - Darlinghurst, Potts Point, Elizabeth Bay, Woolloomooloo, East Sydney. The train station is called Kings Cross, and everybody knows the place is Kings Cross, but you can't have an address that says "Kings Cross". It's just this interesting place that has those resonances, that's another reason why we set films here. They feel universal. You feel somehow stories for the whole world instead of just stories about Australia.

Andrew: You've said X is the second in a proposed "King's Cross trilogy" after Darklovestory - where do you go from X?

Jon: Darklovestory was the first film, which was like a dialectical fairy tale about storytelling wrapped in a crime thriller - an edgy, experimental, underground film that was sort of like a romance drama about a black guy and a white woman, played by Aaron Pedersen and Belinda McClory, and just trying to be in love while the world around them is trying to tear them apart. So it was sorta edgy and wacked out, it was like a modern Grimm's fairy tale. Whereas X is the middle one of the trilogy, which is a much more straight-ahead, mainstreamy type thriller about a couple of gorgeous women who go through the night from Hell. But the third one would be the edgiest of the lot, it's called Five Hits and it's about five junkies going to score. It's told in real time, so that there are five separate stories, and they all end up in this terrace house at the same time and the shit hits the fan. So there are five separate stories, all told in real time, and then there's a bookend, a top and a tail. My idea is that I do the top and the tail, and then the five stories would be directed by five different people - interesting young filmmakers, or friends, or anybody - and I have these strict rules where they have to shoot their ten or fifteen minute story in a take, or an afternoon. So it's got this whole real time vibe going on. Maybe that'll happen. But the idea was to have three radically different films narratively, production value, in every sense, but somehow happen at the same time, that told very similar stories. 'Cause it's my whole dialectical thing where there are many ways to tell the same story and you get all information on the same page. That was the idea.

Andrew: That kind of filmmaking doesn't happen enough in Australia.

Jon: You just have to force it into being, making three films about the same sort of thing… Obviously Darklovestory was made completely in the underground, and that's how that film even got made, and it's still not properly finished - I haven't been able to raise the money to deliver it, pay off the cast and crew and make it a releasable film. That's why it's not out on DVD. It's only screened at selected film festivals. It's a pretty cool film, I'm really happy with it, but I need to raise about $400,000 to properly deliver it. Which I can still do, because it hasn't really dated. X is the "legitimate" film of the Cross, and maybe on the back of X I might be able to get Five Hits financed, but as a lower budgeted and very freewheeling thing, and give some opportunities to some other interesting filmmakers.

Andrew: So it's still a struggle after twenty years to get the financing?

Jon: Oh yeah, I think no matter who you are it's always a bit of a struggle. Certainly for me, I mean X is my fifth feature film, but it's only the second one I got paid to make. I made Acolytes in 2008, I was 48 years old when I directed that film, and I'd already made three previous features, but that was the first film where I actually got a fee to make it. I've never even considered myself as having had a career in the film industry (laughs), but I've been lucky enough certainly in the last five years to have made two feature films, and you can have a living doing that. And I've written a few scripts for other people here and there. So I think I'm incredibly lucky, but it's obviously going to be just as hard for me to get my next film financed. I guess my films are always a little out there. If I'm going to make the film myself, then I may as well do something worthwhile, and try to do some sort of edgy story that nobody else is telling. Don't get me wrong, I'd be absolutely thrilled for somebody to say, "Do you wanna direct Alien 7?" Just show me where to go!

Andrew: It seems like for twenty years you've shifted comfortably between low-budget genre pictures, and no-budget guerrilla projects. Where is the ideal place for you to be as a filmmaker?

Jon: I know how to do both, and I reckon I'd be pretty adept at directing the $100 million film as well. But I certainly know how to do it the hard way, and it's not a great way to make films, I've got to say. X was a terrific experience - it cost a million bucks which is a shitload of dough, but for the film that it is, it's still not a massive amount of money. You can just DO things when you've got a little bit of money that you can't do when you've got no money. You can at least go, "I can force this through to the end and I can give it a grade and I can actually deliver the fucker and it's going to be great." Whereas when you roll the dice on a movie like Redball (1999) or Darklovestory, obviously I was able to really deliver Redball to raise some money, but Darklovestory I still haven't, so I've got a cut of the film that's ungraded and no sound mix and all that sort of stuff, but it still hangs together pretty well.

Andrew: It's MUFF friendly but not necessarily MIFF friendly?

Jon: Absolutely, that's a great way of putting it. Maybe in ten years time, if I've made a few more films, people will go, "Oh, what's this lost gem? Why didn't we think this was any good ten years ago?" (laughs) Because it's a cool film. Jack played it. People who "know" can see that these sorts of films are cool, and legitimate. But it's much nicer making a film with money in the bank until you turn over.

Andrew: I guess with a million bucks you can make a film like X look really amazing - we should mention Mark Pugh's stunning cinematography and the rapid-fire, split-screen editing of Cindi Clarkson.

Jon: Mark's a genius, and it's the third film we've made together. I don't know, we've just got this shorthand way of working where we can work really quickly. I mean we had to, it was only a twenty day shoot, and as you know, X isn't two people in a room talking for half the time, it's very location driven and there's eighteen different cast, it's all at night… So it was pretty brutal, we had to really go like the fucking clappers shooting that film. With Mark, it's a happy confluence of technology finally being there, we could actually get out on the streets of Kings Cross with no light, or shoot in available light, in Cinemascope, and get an awesome-looking picture. You couldn't do that five years ago, but you can do that now with camera and lens technology, it's just fucking great. And it's cheap! We shot on the Red, and it's an incredible camera, but the camera we shot on is already ancient history. Mark's already got the new version, the Epic, which is half the price and twice as good! Incredible. It's still hard to make a good movie, but I just love the way technology is continuing to advance.

Andrew: If you're shooting on HD, what are your ideal working conditions on a set?

Jon: I've experienced more cast than crew, I've also experienced fifty crew all looking at me going "what are we doing?" with trucks for miles and all that sort of shit… I like smaller crews that are respectful of the process. Films are still made in the way that they were made forty years ago when you literally did need ten HMIs, it needed five guys each to run, and generators and stuff, just to get an image on celluloid. Whereas you don't need that shit anymore, but people are still doing it, there are still these massive fucking gaffer and grip trucks, and then the whole shit becomes about the trucks and travel time and all that sort of stuff. I don't like that. For me it's what happens between the actor and the lens, that's the most important thing, and anything that gets in the way of that, I'm not into. So I like working with small crews, and being really mobile. Obviously I've had to as well - I think there's a way of working where you don't need thirty or forty people on set, even if you're making a huge film, you can still have only ten or fifteen.

Andrew: It would be liberating, not having all that dead weight hanging off you when you're trying to get your shot.

Jon: Yeah. And basically, it's like a self-perpetuating monster, like you end up having extra crew to look after the crew, you know what I mean? So you have a third and a fourth AD just to make sure that the massive crew is somehow working properly. Certainly a film like X, we couldn't have it but we didn't really need it, and we couldn't have made it with a logistic like that anyhow. When we were shooting in the Cross in 2010, they were shooting Sleeping Beauty around here as well, and I can remember them locking down streets and there's like ten trucks, whereas we had our production office in the Cross and ten of us walked down the block to our set - that's the way to do it, it was fucking great.

Andrew: What's your reaction to the recent wave of glamorous junkie romances?

Jon: Like Candy (2006)? I dunno…I just judge each film on its merits, pretty much. I've seen some awesome films that have been about tragic junkies and romance, and I'd love to make one one day.

Andrew: The junkie scene is the complete antithesis of other cliched junkie romances - what I found most interesting is watching Billie Rose Prichard's face and seeing the seething maelstrom of emotions churning away on her character's face. To me that said so much more about the reality of heroin.

Jon: Obviously as a filmmaker I'm more drawn to junky films like Pure Shit (1975) than Candy. Pure Shit is the film for me, whereas Candy is just another movie about people. And obviously the junky scene was hugely influenced by the Bert Deling film. That was our Pure Shit gesture. Everything's so pussy-assed now - you can't show sex, you can't show naked people or people hitting up, it all gets fucking weeded out of the scripts. I haven't got an idea now, but do you actually ever see a needle going into flesh in Candy? Everything is homogenized or it happens off-screen, people have sex and then get out of bed with their underwear on. You just don't buy it. One of the reasons I wanted to do certain things - and people have gone, look at the old perve, it's totally exploitive and prurient - women standing there with shaved pussies completely naked, and guys with their dicks hanging out, and people pushing needles into their skin. I just wanted to shoot it because nobody fucking does it anymore, apart from anything else. I was saying to someone the other day, could you make Last Tango In Paris (1972) in 2012? I don't think anybody would let you. At least in the Seventies and Eighties, people used to go there, whereas most of the time, except for a very small number of films, people just don't even go there anymore.

Andrew: Films now thrive on the idea of danger rather than the danger itself.

Jon: There's a lot of stuff withheld. Cinema is about seeing stuff, for me, it's about looking and seeing. Whereas now you get really smart and influential people saying words like "voyeurism" and it's a pejorative term, it's a criticism! For me it's an adjective - yeah, films are voyeuristic, of course they fucking are! We're looking at something - what are you talking about?

Andrew: Films in the Seventies celebrated the act of voyeurism.

Jon: All the films I like walk the razor edge of ideas or ideology. So people are maybe sometimes confused about where you're coming from - is this an exploitation film or is this an art film? Certainly on X there's been a bit of confusion, like in the international festival circuit where I was a little disappointed that we didn't score a huge festival berth outside of Australia, and it was always the same thing, it's too arty for the genre festivals but a bit too genre for the arty festivals, so you're stuck in between. Whereas I'm going, "Fuck that, I don't want to be either or, I want to make a crazy-assed thing that's somehow in the middle!" It's marrying strong genre tropes with something a bit more ambitious. I think that's what makes my films maybe different from most things. But that's my ambition. I love horror and sexploitation and violence, I just love watching movies like that. They're the sort of films I want to make, but I also want to give it something else. That's my schtick as a filmmaker. The people I love are probably obvious - I love von Trier and Gaspar Noe, Abel Ferrara. Nobody would accuse Lars von Trier of being a genre filmmaker, but Antichrist (2009) is a horror film and Melancholia (2011) is like an apocalypse film! It's his Armageddon!

Andrew: And all three names you just mentioned are all first class troublemakers…

Jon: You end up being that way because people go, "Jesus, you can't have people having sex, and what are you, some kind of perve, or are you trying to offend people?" There are certainly those elements to whatever you do. If you turn a camera on a naked person, you can't say that the thrill of looking at naked flesh isn't part of what's going on?

Andrew: Speaking of other troublemakers, you mentioned Bert Deling, and I guess another nod to Pure Shit is that X is set almost entirely over one night, and both films have that mythic journey in and out of a subterranean world of darkness. It's very Greek, if you want to be overly academic about it…

Jon: Absolutely. It's great to be overly academic, because that's exactly what's going on. Pure Shit is incredibly rich subtextually, and I'd like to think X is as well, but on the surface it's still this full-on, exciting movie that you'd want to watch as a filmgoer. But it can be more than that if you want it to be. Pure Shit is a huge influence, like the way it captured the inner suburbs of Melbourne in the mid Seventies, I wanted to capture Kings Cross now, before it all disappears. The sense of place was really important to me.

Andrew: The Pure Shit connection probably explains why you wanted Phil Motherwell in Bloodlust (1992) playing the demented preacher.

Jon: Phil was also in Redball, he was the crazy-assed bookseller. He was actually playing Richard Wolstencroft - that scene in Redball is a verbatim scene of what happened to Richard when he was running the Hellfire Emporium! The Vice Squad cops came in and read him the riot act… Phil's an awesome actor as well, I'd cast him in everything if I could.

Andrew: Out of interest, where is he at the moment?

Jon: He'd be in Melbourne somewhere - he's got to be in his late fifties, early sixties now. I'm sure he's still alive (laughs) and I would have heard if something had've happened to him. He's a writer, he writes a lot of plays and stories and stuff like that. He's an incredible writer - maybe he's doing that sort thing, writing his autobiography, 'cause he's definitely got some stories to tell. Fuckin' hell, he's had an incredible life!

Andrew: Central to X is that almost mother-daughter bonding between Holly and Shay, both of whom have lost their mothers, both are self-described survivors, and to a certain extent they do.

Jon: One thing that Belinda and I tried to do all the way through the development of the script, we had a lot of pressure NOT to do this, was to rely on resonance across characters and across experience. If I could explain that a bit better: at script stage there was always people going, "Well we know who Shay is, we know her back story, but we don't really know who Holly is, and where does she come from, can we have a flashback," and we were always going, "If you want to know where Holly comes from, and who she is and what her experience was as a young woman, she's Shay." Shay's experience is what she went through ten years ago, and she was saved by that Katherine woman, the older woman. That continuity of experience, and that's how you figure out the richness of the character, it's just not explained to you. You know, it's the sort of shit you go through when you develop a script.

Andrew: It wouldn't be the same film without that relationship.

Jon: Oh no. Belinda and I wanted the film to have real emotional weight, and that was found in those sorts of primal relationships between people, mother-daughter… I think people can really emotionally respond to that sort of shit, even when they don't know that they're doing it. And that's the other reason why Holly - that's a spoiler, obviously - dies at the end. We used to have a happy ending to the film where Holly gets on the plane with a bag full of diamonds, Shay's got the other half. But that was more driven by my fantasy of making X2, and starting with Holly getting off the plane at Charles de Gaulle Airport, and we go from there. We decided that we wanted to do something in the final minute of the film that would really emotionally affect the audience hopefully, and that still made sense and didn't betray the characters. For me, X is ultimately about changing your life, the most common human experience. People call it mid-life crises, you quit a job or you leave a city, you get out of a relationship or whatever, that urge to change your life and do something better is so common, and that's sorta what X is about. It's not really about prostitutes and hooking, that's just the fabric of the story. Belinda and I wanted to show how liberating it can be, that effort to change your life, but also how potentially annihilating it can be as well. I think it's the hardest thing that people ever do, is really taking the plunge, to break free of whatever.

Andrew: Then of course, one character's annihilation is another's redemption.

Jon: There's all that sort of primal resonances and Greek tragedy going on (laughs).

Andrew: The backdrop is still hookers and vice, and there are definitely shades of Redball in the corrupt cops and seedy underbelly of a city - as an outside observer, what are the differences between Melbourne's underworld and Sydney's?

Jon: Sydney's underworld is possibly a little bit like Sydney itself - it's more surface, it's more into the glamour. Melbourne has the potential to be a much darker, much more deeply nasty place. In the Seventies, Roger Rogerson swaggering around the Cross fucking killing people in broad daylight, he was a rock star! Whereas in Melbourne, that shit was going on but nobody knew about it. I think that's the difference - Sydney celebrates its criminal culture. Melbourne does as well, but not as much. In Sydney everybody's Chopper Reid, whereas in Melbourne only Chopper is Chopper Reid. The real crooks in Melbourne, nobody's ever heard of; they've never been inside a police station.

Andrew: And they never will! You were talking about categories before, and Acolytes very definitely sits in the horror category, and was a hit on the international circuit - what kind of signal does that send to Australian funding bodies and private investors?

Jon: I think maybe now it's a little easier to make a broader range of film or tell a broader range of stories in Australia than it was ten years ago. People would look at you across the table and go, "That's a genre script," and that meant NO, fuck off, we don't do genre. Whereas now, nobody would say that. And in fact there's this idea that perhaps genre is a smart way to go, as legitimate a way to go as a deeply-felt personal story.

Andrew: The "genre" tag may make a film more exportable?

Jon: Definitely more exportable and more marketable internationally. I think it's just as hard as it's ever been to make films that connect with an audience. There's no real recipe. I can only speak for myself, and what I want to do is continue to tell interesting stories that have a very strong genre backbone, that enable me to find a worldwide audience for the film, but at the same time be ambitious in what the film is about or how it resonates subtextually or whatever, cinematically. And made for a sensible budget, where there's maybe a chance that the end product justified itself just in pure economic terms. The sad fact is that the world doesn't want Australian films. Not really. And if you approached making movies in Australia as a cold, hard economic business, nobody would ever make anything. You'd just leave it to Hollywood. Obviously we're not going to do that, there are all these other things going on, so we're always going to need some sort of subsidy and some sort of value judgment. I'm not saying we shouldn't be making films here! But my path is to try and be a little more sensible in pure movies-as-product terms. I can't help not thinking like that, I come from exhibition and distribution, I always had the posters for my films before the scripts… I'm always thinking about how to find an audience. Films only exist when somebody's watching them. It may be even harder now to find an audience.

Andrew: There's so much stuff out there I guess…

Jon: So much stuff, but it's a whole other world now, just getting a respectful theatrical release of any film I getting harder and harder - any film that's not a tentpole arthouse film or a tentpole Hollywood film. It's just harder. That's the realities of theatrical. But luckily theatrical is only one tiny part of the life of what you do. Even though, certainly in Australia, everybody's so fucking obsessed with the theatrical life of what you do. Unfortunately, 95% of everything that we do will not be that successful theatrically in Australia. Hollywood won the war fifty years ago, but they've really shut the gate in the last decade. And that's cool. But there are other platforms, other avenues. X has already been substantially successful internationally - that was our other strategy. We only delivered the film in February. Some people seem to think the film's been around for ever! What Lizzette [Atkins, co-producer] and I wanted to do was to give the film an international profile before we released it in Australia. Mainly because we knew that we'd never have the P&A to make a big deal of it, so we had to do it in that free way which is get it released in America and other countries, so that if you do a Google search the first fifty pages are all about the movie and there are other reviews… you get that international imprint, and that was all part of the strategy.

Andrew: I guess it takes imagination and inspiration to try to think of new ways to rattle the tin and be in exploitation in the 21st Century?

Jon: That sounds like a smart comment to me! (laughs)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"ASWANG! Filipino New Blood" program at FAFF 2011


Finally Australia has a film festival dedicated to genre film-making from the most exciting cinematic continent on the planet – Asia.

At a time where many Hollywood genre films are marred by predictability, lack of inspiration and play it ‘safe’ mentality, Asian genre films glow like electric beacons in the murky waters of mediocrity, reminding lovers of cinema that creativity and inspiration are not dead – not even close to it!

So, what is ‘genre’ you may wonder? Well we are looking at films in the classic Hollywood genre tradition – horror, sci-fi, fantasy and action as well as some that are unique to the region. In particular this year there will be a spotlight on contemporary Pinku Eiga (Japans famed erotic genre that has been going strong since the 1960′s).

Over four days in mid-November at Melbourne’s prolific Nova Cinema complex, Melbourne will buzz with some of the finest genre films from the Asia-Pacific region. Films from Japan, South Korea, China. Hong Kong and the Philippines will kick things off for 2011 and as the festival grows, we will reach out to other Asian territories, lighting up Australian screens with more Asian genre greatness.

Some of the worlds finest and most exciting cinematic talent will be showcased at the inaugural Fantastic Asia Film Festival – already confirmed are bold new titles from Korean maestro Na Hong-Jin, Japan’s L’enfant terrible Sion Sono as well as the mind twisting extremities of Japan’s Sushi Typhoon label and the best and bizarre of Yoshihiro Nishimura and Noburo Iguchi.

There will be guests, there will be events, there will be pure unadulterated Asian cinematic madness.

You are going to love the Fantastic Asia Film Festival! Click for the full program .

LinkASWANG! FILIPINO NEW BLOOD” Curated and introduced by Trash Video’s Andrew Leavold

Nova Cinema, 11.30am Sunday 13th November

Two new sensational horrors from the heart of the Filipino darkness!

For many Filipinos, the provinces are a place of innocence and dread, where “civilization” ends and the pre-Christian terrors begin: shape-shifting creatures, vengeful ghosts, and evil spirits or Aswangs, all living in the cracks between the light.

It’s no surprise that the Philippines has had such a wealthy tradition of horror cinema, and Rico Maria Ilarde and Richard Somes are its most dangerous talents. FAFF is proud to introduce to Australian audiences two genre specialists with an unwavering command of the genre’s conventions, but with such inimitable filmmaking styles, and bodies of work that are brutal, uncompromising, independent of spirit, and unshakably Filipino.


“Altar, [Ilarde's] latest masterpiece, is an ultra-compact exploration of pinoy spirituality done in the most concise horror film terms possible” Olaf Moller, Senses Of Cinema

A failed boxer takes a job renovating a house deep in the countryside. There’s no electricity, a chapel upstairs, and what looks like a religious altar in the cellar – but just under its painted exterior is something infinitely more sinister. Director Ilarde plays havoc with Catholic iconography in a taut, pared-back thriller of pagan rituals, defrocked priests, and the phantom of a young girl doomed to witness Altar’s unspeakable horrors.

RUNNING TIME 90 mins / 2007 / Philippines / Horror / Aspect TBA

Director: Rico Maria Ilarde (Z-Man, Dugo Ng Birhen: El Kapitan, Ang Babaeng Putik, Shake Rattle & Roll 2K5 [“Aquarium” segment], Beneath The Cogon, Villa Estrella)

Cast: Zanjoe Marudo, Nor Domingo, Dimples Romana, Dido De La Paz

DIRECTOR BIO: No other Filipino filmmaker has embraced the horror genre with such passion and talent as US-educated Rico Maria Ilarde. His early predilection for sex-and-blood shockers such as Dugo Ng Birhen: El Kapitan (“Blood Of The Virgin: The Captain”, 1999) and Ang Babaeng Putik (“Woman Of Mud, 2000) has evolved into an impressive body of work revealing an innate understanding of tension and trauma. Ilarde is currently in pre-production on his first international production.


“…an achievement, mixing traditional elements of horror and family melodrama, creating a picture that is so bizarre, it will be stuck to your mind months after seeing it.” Francis Cruz, Lessons From The School Of Inattention

Amor returns to her village with a mystery illness; a faith healer claims she is possessed by an evil spirit, and her family inadvertently aid her transformation into a bloodsucking, baby-eating aswang. The blackness of the provinces’ nights, and the sanctity of a Filipino family ripped asunder, provide the heady backdrops for Somes’ feature debut, a grimly realistic take on Filipino folklore that’s as gore-streaked as it is genuinely unsettling.

RUNNING TIME 98 mins / 2008 / Philippines / Horror / Aspect TBA

Director: Richard Somes (Shake Rattle & Roll 2K5 [“Ang Lihim Ng San Joaquin” segment], Ishmael)

Cast: Ronnie Lazaro, Tetchie Agbayani, Joel Torre, Aleera Montalla, Erik Matti

DIRECTOR BIO: Cavite-born Somes learnt his craft as production designer for fantasy and horror specialist Erik Matti (Pa-Siyam, Gagamboy) before graduating to the director’s chair. His critically acclaimed aswang segment for Regal Films’ horror anthology Shake Rattle And Roll 2K5 was followed by three features for Star Cinema’s independent wing, including Pinoy action tribute Ishmael (2010) and possession tale Corazon (currently in post-production).

Pinoy thrillers in Melbourne: Filipino filmmakers make it in Asian horror fest in Australia

by Bayani San Diego Jr, Philippine Daily Inquirer November 3, 2011

Pinoy thrillers are making their mark in Asian horror.

Two Filipino films have been included in the lineup of the Fantastic Asia Film Festival, to be held in Melbourne, Australia, from Nov. 10 to 13.

Film critic and scholar Andrew Leavold handpicked Rico Maria Ilarde’s “Altar” and Richard Somes’ “Yanggaw” to be part of the fest, alongside films from China, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong.

Leavold, who has been writing extensively about Philippine cinema, considers Ilarde and Somes as “two of the most fascinating talents working in genre films at present.”

He pointed out that the two filmmakers are “two radically different personalities, representing divergent filmmaking styles.”

Rico, said Leavold, “is steeped in pop culture and has that formal film-school-training style.” Somes, on the other hand, “approaches film in a more intuitive fashion.”

Leavold regards “Altar” and “Yanggaw” as “arguably their best films to date… possessing a deep understanding of the genre, while remaining unmistakably Filipino.”

He described “Altar,” which top-bills Zanjoe Marudo and Dimples Romana, as a “slow-burner… allowing the intricately plotted script to build tension. It says so much about the chasm between city and countryside, civilization and the dark unknown.”

He chose “Yanggaw,” which features Ronnie Lazaro and Tetchie Agbayani, because “it’s a jarring modern take on the aswang legend, equating demonic possession with a kind of addiction.”

Leavold has always been drawn to horror flicks. “Dark fantasy is an important cathartic process in working out our inner demons. Experiencing those fears safely and vicariously via horror films is like jumping out of a plane with a parachute.”

He related that the horror festival is a brainchild of Monster Pictures, a distribution and production company based in Melbourne.

“The fest is the first of its kind in Australia,” he noted. “Hopefully, it’ll be the first of many that will showcase the DVD label’s Asian acquisitions.”

The fest aims to introduce Australian audiences to “new films, new industries, even new countries, they may not have had the opportunity to experience” previously.

In a bizarre twist, Leavold discovered Philippine cinema because of a pint-sized Pinoy James Bond.

“When I was younger, I saw Weng Weng in ‘For Your Height Only,’” he recalled. “I instantly fell in love with him. From that moment on, I wanted to know all I could about the cinema and culture from where Weng Weng had sprung.”

He conceded: “Obsession is a strange creature. Now, I get to teach film in the Philippines and consider Manila my second home. All thanks to Weng Weng.”

Leavold hopes to release his book on Filipino genre filmmaking, “Bamboo Gods and Bionic Boys,” next year.