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Cult movie-maker Ant Timpson on making movies, video nasties and the golden age of VHS

Auckland-born film buff Ant Timpson is something of a legend of the Kiwi movie scene, specialising in the gorier, splattier and generally nastier stuff, and has a CV to match. He’s the guy behind The Incredibly Strange Film Festival. He’s the guy behind New Zealand’s biggest film-making competition, V48 Hours. He’s written, produced, directed and starred in dozens of Kiwi movies, and was even a one-time video quality controller for New Zealand’s newly-birthed pornography industry.

Now, he’s promoting sci-fi action throwback film, Turbo Kid – a New Zealand/Canadian production – described as “the world’s first post-apocalyptic BMX-powered blood-splattered love story”.

The film’s currently playing to shocked and delighted audiences at the New Zealand International Film Festival, so Idealog took the opportunity to geek out with Timpson about the state of Kiwi film, 80’s nostalgia and the undisputed supremacy of VHS.

So you’ve been in the NZ film industry for a while now, yes?

I’ve kind of been in most facets of the industry since about 1985. I got my first job as a runner with Perspective Video – I didn’t last long because I threw the company car into reverse while I was on the motorway and then put it back in the parking lot as if nothing had happened.

Wow. But something had happened? How did it sound on the drive back?

It didn’t make any noise, so I didn’t think it was that bad. But the meeting I had with the boss after that didn’t go well.

After that I worked at a tape plant. They had all the big labels, and my job was quality control. I watched tapes for eight hours a day, which could make you lose your mind, but for a film buff like me, it was heaven. You’re only supposed to watch the beginning and the end to check for quality, but if there was a movie I wanted to see, I’d just watch the whole thing. I was in there the year hardcore pornography got let in and after that it was just pornography, all day, every day.

Sounds terrible. So are you nostalgic for those days of VHS? Renting videos from the dairy and those schlocky old Cannon films? Is that part of the era Turbo Kid is paying homage to?

Oh yeah, absolutely. I’ve got huge nostalgia for the Wild West days of early video. These guys are huge fans of that whole period in the eighties – The Goonies, BMX Bandits. That’s the thing about this movie. It has all the over-the-top Cannon stuff, the splatter of Pete Jackson, but with all the sweetness of Goonies and BMX Bandits, and it works.

It’s not a pastiche. It’s not nudge nudge, wink wink. It’s not a piss take at all. I keep seeing people comparing it to Kung Fury, but it’s a zillion miles away from Kung Fury.

So the film took four years, and uses three directors. What has been the genesis of the film?

Three years, that’s pretty average from concept to release. From shooting to release it’s only been a year. It just took a while to get financing together.

We made it with RKSS ­– They’re a collective brother/sister partnership. They’d been working together for decades making shorts, and this is their first feature.

They’d done quite a few online shorts and they really have a following – they’re well known, and I met them working on The ABCs of Death. They were a submission. We left one spot open for a member of the public to win it, and RKSS won it.  

I loved The ABCs of Death! So that film was so successful that it gave you opportunity to create Turbo Kid?

Yeah. We green-lit the sequel [to The ABCs of Death] before it was even out. Before it had even been made, I approached [RKSS] in casual conversation about [Turbo Kid]. I asked if they wanted to develop the universe they’d created in The ABC’s of Death, ‘T is for Turbo’, and they said yes.

It was low budget, high concept and it attracted a lot of interest.

So there are three directors – what’s the rationale behind making it a ‘collaborative project’ so to speak?

Well, all film is collaboration, really, but yeah, it’s officially a co-production between NZ and Canada. It’s been a long, complicated affair, but it’s been really beneficial. The funding bodies – we got 80% of the funding from Canada – are really happy with it.

It’s tough getting together funds to make a movie. How easy is it for a movie like this?

Yeah, it wasn’t the easiest sell – a post-apocalyptic, BMX love story. In Quebec they didn’t have a history of funding genre films. I mean they’re usually up for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, so this has opened up a whole new discussion for them.

In New Zealand, it’s a little different. Genre films are what keeps the film and TV industry here alive.

Now that you mention that, it seems about right. Why is that?

Genre cuts through to foreign markets because [those films] don’t deal with culturally-specific stuff. That’s why Boy was a huge smash here, but just didn’t travel as well. To foreigners, they might see all this stuff that’s specific to us, and ?to them ?it looks like ?a film about ?child ?neglect! And I’m not bagging Boy, by the way. Not at all. God, don’t put that in! Taika will be pissed! ?[Laughs]

I’ll see what I can do. So, now that it’s out, how’s Turbo Kid being received?

It’s been a Sundance smash. It’s selling really well, there’s the Mad Max thing going on in the States, so it’s played out really well for the funding bodies.

You’ve got legendary actor Michael Ironside in a big role in the movie. Were there any other big names that worked on the film?

The two leads – Munro Chambers and Laurence Leboeuf – they’re well-known in their territories. Munro, he’s on a big show in Canada; he’s Justin Bieber-level over there. And Laurence Leboeuf, she’s the Nicole Kidman of Quebec. She’s won lots of awards, and she’s very well known.

But no, they’re not your typical Hollywood A-listers. We really wanted people who really ‘got it’ and were committed to it. You can’t just have Seth Rogan walking in all of a sudden. If you added big names, it wouldn’t have the charm it has. Those big names bring baggage.

But if we could have got a big name in there for the same money? Yeah, probably. Yeah, we would have. Tom Cruise? Yes, sure.

Are you working on anything else at the moment, or are you 100% focused on promoting Turbo Kid?

You can’t ever be about just one thing. It’s spinning plates, all the time. I’m constantly looking at new projects. [Kiwi film] Deathgasm is playing really well on the international circuit at the moment. We just premiered at SXSW. It’s just turned out so much better than anyone ever expected. Having those two [films] has been really good from my profile, so I’m being approached by a lot of people on a lot of things.

I pitched a movie to Elijah Wood, with his company SpectreVision, late last year – he’s on it as a producer – he loved it, and it’s ‘in the can’, and now we’re in the editing stage.

Brilliant. What kind of movie is it?

It’s a black comedy.

What’s it called?

The Greasy Strangler.


Turbo Kid is currently playing at the New Zealand International Film Festival. Get your tickets here.

Jonathan has been a writer longer than he cares to remember. Specialising in technology, the arts, and the grand meaning of it all, in his spare time he enjoys reading, playing guitars, and adding to an already wildly overstocked t-shirt collection.

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