Fans of late 70’s/early 80’s science fiction and post apocalyptic cinema are going to fall head over heels in love with Turbo Kid. An unholy mashup of The Terminator, Mad Max and Soylent Green with the four color world of comics thrown in for good measure, the film transcends genre boundaries and offers something for everyone. Centered around THE KID, a teen boy who scavenges for goods on his BMX in a nightmarish hellhole of a world, the film covers all the bases from over-the-top gore, action, romance and all around badassery. Conceived as a short film as part of ABC’s of Death 2’s “T is For” short film competition, the project gained steam online and was developed as a full blown feature. The creative team at RKSS Films: Yoann-Karl Whissell, Anouk Whissell and Francois Simard recently took home the Midnighters Award at this year’s SXSW festival. While no word has come regarding an official release, it’d be shocking if that doesn’t occur soon.
I recently chatted over the phone with the trio ahead of the SXSW premiere. My apologies, as a poor bluetooth connection, road noise and surprise hailstorm made hearing their answers a bit dodgy at times. Check out the T Is For Turbo short film, posted below.
From Left To Right: RKSS Films Masters Of Disaster Yoann Karl-Whissell, Anouk Whissell & Francois Simard
Is the official SXSW screening tonight?
Yoann: Tonight is the official SXSW premiere and we’re all very excited.
Do you have a ritual you all partake in the day of a festival premiere?
Anouk Whissell: Yes, we panic.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: We’re half joking but we’ll have a couple beers help take off the edge.
Francois Simard: We’ve heard great things about the crowd here so we’re excited.
There’s been a lot of Canadian exploitation films these past few years, starting with Hobo With A Shotgun and continuing with titles like Dead Hooker In A Trunk, Wolfcop, Father’s Day, The Editor, Manborg and now Turbo Kid, that all draw a deep influence from a period in the early days of cable television where pay stations like HBO and Showtime would snap up any low budget film they could inform and show them on a loop in order to fill 24 hours a day of programming. What is it about that period that’s so appealing as a filmmaker to go back and try to recreate it?
Yoann: I think it’s the fond memories. We grew up watching those films and with Turbo Kid, we didn’t want to make a spoof. We wanted to make it a genuine love letter to those films.
Francois: As crazy as they are, we grew up with those films, so we wanted to make a homage.
What stands out in Turbo Kid is it is played straight and though there’s a lot of humor, it happens organically and there aren’t moments of winking at the audience and saying it’s all a big joke. The film looks like it could have been lifted from a time capsule. Is there a struggle to rein in humor when you have such an over the top premise or is it natural to play it straight and let moments of levity play out as they come?
Yoann: For us it is like riding a fine line between both worlds. I believe we managed to be genuine towards the whole process.
Francois: The performers were so good, we let them improvise. As they came up with really great stuff on set we allowed them the freedom to have fun and explore their characters.
Turbo Kid also tosses the audience right in to the middle of a world already turned to shit and expects them to catch up. It’s a fully realized world. How much world building goes in to the process ahead of time and how conscious are you of not doing so much an origin story but letting the audience dive right in to the thick of it?
Yoann: We were very confident that people could catch up and understand what was going on with the world. As long as they knew the reason, and we put that reason in our script, why the world was like that, it would come organically. So far everyone has been able to connect to the world right away.
Francois: We’re three filmmakers and we all agreed we wanted to go that way. We felt confident that if we all agreed and we all liked the story as we wrote it that audiences would like it as well.
How do you divide up the responsibilities as a trio? How do you tap into one another’s strengths to create the best movie possible?
Yoann: When we’re writing the story, we write with the three of together at the same time. It’s really a collaboration. We’re all in the same room, around the same table and we’re all pitching ideas to one another. We argue, we fight and laugh and cry and we have a blast coming up with everything together.
Francois: People often ask “You’re three directors and you’re still friends? How does that work?” We’re all best at different things. Yoann works best with the actors. I’m more a behind the camera and storyboarding. Anouk makes sure that everything goes well. She basically directs us.
Anouk: I control the chaos.
So she’s pulling your strings basically. Can you talk about some of the influences? The film feels like Terminator meets Mad Max with a dash of Army of Darkness thrown in. What are some of the less obvious titles you drew from that audiences might miss?
Yoann: There’s hints of Never Ending Story and Goonies for sure.
Francois: Brain Dead. It’s my favorite movie of all time.
Anouk: There’s a kids film that came out of Quebec: “The Dog That Stopped The War” (La guerre des tuques). That was a big influence.
Jesus how did I miss that the first time around? Turbo is so bloody and so creative in the ways it disposes of people. That’s one of the things that’s going to suck the audience in. How do you dream up ways of getting rid of “X” character and try to do it in ways no one has ever seen before. I don’t recall another film where a severed torso has been used as a hat in a battle royale. How do you determine what to use and what to veto when it comes to going over the top?
Yoann: It comes down when we write and all sit down in the same room, we’re all throwing ideas at one another. The one that makes us laugh really loud is the one we keep. If we find it funny, we figure other people will find it funny as well. That moment you’re talking about, we had it in the short and it was a hit, so we kept it for the feature. We were able to go all the way with it.
It’s funny, I was watching the film on my laptop and my wife walked in the room and heard what was going on onscreen and commented “I don’t know what you’re watching but it sounds disgusting and I want no part of it!”
On the other side of the coin, you really do explore the relationship between The Kid and Apple. How do you find ways to balance the drama and human moments in between the gore and carnage? It’s not necessarily a romantic relationship between the two, but it’s a deep friendship that grows very quickly.
Yohann: That was the part we had the most fun writing because it goes against the grain of the rest of the film. We had so much fun cultivating that in the story because we had fallen so much in love with those two characters and we wanted to have everyone who sees the film fall in love with them as well. It’s fun to play against the over the top gore with the cuteness. It’s something different from other films.We wanted a very human story. We actually cut some gore because we wanted to take care of that love story and make sure it had all the time it needed to fully develop. You can do all the gore you want but if you don’t care about the characters then eventually you tune out.
So even though the film is low budget, the world is fully formed and it looks so lived in and like it had been in place forever. What are the challenges in creating that world and making it feel so tangible and believable when you might not have all the resources you want at your disposal?
Yoann: You need to be creative. Some places partially worked so we had to find our filming angles and ways to make it work. We were lucky to find some great places and we were really lucky because we lost one of our primary locations just weeks before the shoot. We were able to find alternatives that worked as well. It was never as easy as just walking in to a place and it being perfect but everybody from the technical team to the actors and the whole Turbo Family just make it work.
So what’s next for The Kid?
Yoann: Hopefully we can do a sequel. The universe has so many stories to tell. Why not a trilogy? It depends on audience reaction, but so far so good!