Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. SXSW is about to come crashing down on me… well, technically it already has, but the full brunt of it starts tomorrow night when Cabin in the Woods kicks off this crazy fest.
In advance of the fest I’ve been watching screeners, catching press screenings, lining up interviews and, in this case, did one of my interviews in advance.
I saw Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones at SXSW 2010 and loved it. This story of a disturbed father and his even more disturbed teenage daughter is intense, creepy, insane and just a fun time for anybody inclined to like the genre.
It was a long road to US distribution, but now Paramount Insurge is putting the film out. To mark that occasion SXSW has decided to do a celebratory screening of the film that made such an impact a couple years back.
The movie plays tomorrow night at 9pm at the Alamo Village and I have some tickets to give away, the debut of the new poster below and an interview about Australian genre film and the long road The Loved Ones took to find its US distribution with director Sean Byrne below.
I have 10 seats to the screening tomorrow night (Friday, March 9th) at 9pm at the Alamo Village. I’m going to give them away as five sets of two, but I need your swear-on-a-stack-of-bibles solemn promise that you can go to the screening should get the tickets, so only enter if you know you can make it.
You don’t need a SXSW badge to win these tickets. I’m going to take the first people who email me at this address with the subject line “I want to take Princess to the Prom!” until I’m out of seats.
I’ll email those who win tonight!
Without any further ado, here’s the brand new poster (click to enlargen) and the interview with Mr. Byrne. Hope you enjoy!
Quint: We should start talking a little bit about The Loved Ones’ long road to release. You made the movie independently, right?
Sean Byrne: Yes, with government assistance obviously and you know we had them onboard and a production company, but outside of the studio system.
Quint: Yeah. So how did you convince the government to give you some money for this whacky tale that doesn’t involve the plight of the native settlers or any other culturally significant Australian historical moments?
Sean Byrne: Well fortunately WOLF CREEK made a lot of money internationally, so they were more friendly towards genre, which was the first time that such a trend had existed in about 15 years. (Laughs) The golden age of Australian cinema with MAD MAX and… We had this string of Australian genre films with MAD MAX and RAZORBACK and THE MAN FROM HONG KONG.
Quint: Brian Trenchard-Smith, man. Got to love him.
Sean Byrne: Yeah, definitely. So I mean it just kind of takes one hit to provide enough proof to the powers that be to keep investing in that styleof film. I think that it’s kind of like that everywhere. It’s cyclical. If a film takes off, then it with be flogged to death until it doesn’t make any more money and then another film will pop up and then that will be kind of recycled for a while. I feel like I’ve paid my dues and I’ve waited enough years for horror to come back into vogue. WOLF CREEK was kind of the spark that got the funding bodies interested.
Quint: I would have loved to have seen you pitching the government guys this story. “So, she tortures this guy around the dinner table and you think it’s as crazy as it’s going to get… and then the floor opens up.”
Sean Byrne: I’ve had to provide a cultural imperative, because that’s the kind of cornerstone of government funding is that it has to shed some light on Australia as a culture and I basically relied on the old isolation chestnut. You know, Australia’s a big country. It’s very easy for people to go missing. I managed to put a Kingswood in there, which is a kind of iconic Australian car, but I’ve got to say that part of the interview I was scratching and clawing and bullshitting… I think they liked the script and that’s kind of what got me over the line, so they kind of came to the party when it came to that. (Laughs)
Quint: So at a certain point they were just kind of onboard is what you’re saying?
Sean Byrne: Yeah, we had a couple of script evaluators and they are all big fans of film. They did their best to meet me halfway and yeah, that’s certainly not where… Most of the focus of the film didn’t really go into the tourism of Australia side of things, it went into the hardcore horror and trying to make believable character arcs.
Quint: With the government funding, you had Australian distribution, right?
Sean Byrne: Yeah, we had Australian distribution before.
Quint: Then you hit the film festival circuit for international, yeah?
Sean Byrne: Yeah, that’s correct. Our international premiere was at Toronto and we won the “Midnight Madness Award,” which was a really great launching pad for the film.
Quint: And now you’re finally getting to put this out there. It must be crazy for you to… When did you wrap on this? Early 2009?
Sean Byrne: The latter half of 2009 we finished and then we premiered at the Melbourne International Film Festival, because they are also one of the investors, so that was a condition. That screening went really well and then we went straight into Toronto. So yeah, it’s been a long ride, but I’ve never gotten sick of the film, so it’s been worth the wait and I feel like it’s found a really good home now.
Quint: Can we talk a little bit about you writing the film, in particular the father daughter relationship, which is equal parts creepy and sweet and weird and sexual. I think a lot of what makes the movie work for me is that relationship.
Sean Byrne: Yeah, sure. To me it started before Princess was born and I think Daddy was basically a serial killer in waiting with no real social skills, no real conscience, couldn’t fit into society. In my own head he met his wife, who was probably a very shy country girl who’s parents probably forced them to marry, but I don’t think he’d ever felt alive until his daughter, Princess, was born. And because that’s the first time that he felt anything he would do anything for her and to defend her. In my own back story anyway.
I think the first time a boy hurts Princess’s feelings at school Daddy taught the boy a lesson. He had studied up on Dahmer and other serial killers and ways to lobotomize and perhaps Bright Eyes, Princess’s mother, tried to go to the police and so Daddy had to stop her and lobotomized her as well.
So that’s basically what leads up to the start of the film. I’ve probably just given away an entire prequel there, but I’ve got a 12 page back story which is sort of how Princess was born. I’m just really, really fascinated by extreme natures and I was trying to figure out a way to make this girl’s seemingly insane actions rational and I think if you come from such a sheltered upbringing and there’s potentially been incest in the family, then you’re going to struggle to exist in society like a normal member of society would.
Quint: The family dynamic reminded me a little bit of TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Obviously there was thought put into making it not just a cartoon show of these crazy people, that there was a little bit of a grounding to them where you could feasibly see a scenario like this happening with the right amount of mental illness thrown into one family. Was that at all an influence or a thought while you were coming up with this?
Sean Byrne: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE gets brought up a lot, especially the dinner table scene, and I’m sure on a subconscious level it was an influence, because I’ve seen that film so many times and I love that scene, but it wasn’t one of my immediate touchstones when I was writing the film. I think that’s because when I was writing it I was kind of thinking about things more objectively and it’s like… Well, imagine if I paired let’s say CARRIE and EVIL DEAD and brought the prom to the cabin in the woods… that would give me a concept that is affordable, because the locations are kept to a minimum and I haven’t seen that done before. I was kind of thinking about it mathematically whereas I think with THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE it’s just kind of in my head, in my heart, naturally. (Laughs) I think that’s how it found its way in.
Quint: Then you’ve also found Robin [McLeavy] for Princess. You must have freaked out whenever you found her, because without her the movie doesn’t really work. If you miscast Princess, then the whole movie is in jeopardy, so what was that process like? Did you audition girls or was this somebody that you knew you wanted to cast before?
Sean Byrne: No, I auditioned and then I thanked my lucky stars the second that she walked in the room, because she’s just a consummate actor and a very highly respected theater actor in Australia and she was the only one that knew how to play the character realistically, but not skimp on the fun if that makes any sense.
Quint: Princess is having a lot of fun in what she’s doing and that kind of has to show through.
Sean Byrne: Yeah, to her it’s the greatest night of her life. It takes a rare kind of actor to get into that headspace and still show how damaged she is without sacrificing the hell of a good time that she’s having. (Laughs)
Sean Byrne: I was blown away, because she came in and right from the beginning she was brashy and insecure and sexy and schizoid… She just walked this really incredible tight rope. I think horror fans love a great villain and I don’t think we see enough great villains, but I think with this one she just does an amazing job and she’s incredibly entertaining to watch and she wears a pink dress well. (laughs)
Quint: I see a lot of filmmakers, especially genre filmmakers, for some reason in low budget they don’t seem to put a lot of big moments to their film. It seems like they are just there to tell the story, get it told, and get it done. What I love about what you did is that you make moments of things others would just let happen, whether it’s holding on the shot of the feet nailed to the ground, making the audience cringe, or the reveal of what’s in the basement or my favorite shot, that great long held shot from the finale, which I’m pretty sure you know which one I’m talking about. You actually make these moments in the movie and there’s a little bit of flair there, you’re not just sitting back and doing the bare minimum of telling the story. Can you maybe talk a little bit about your approach to the filmmaking and if that was something that you intended to do? Or was that just something that was natural for you?
Sean Byrne: I think it was a bit of both. Rather than thinking of it as a horror film, I tried to think of it as a drama. It’s just these characters are put into this incredibly disturbing situation and there are moments of life or death. To me, those moments should theoretically be the most dramatic moments in the world and it surprises me with a lot of horror that those moments aren’t milked. They are just kind of shown in a really quick, efficient, flamboyant way…
Quint: They just happen. I’m kind of sick of movies where everything just happens. I like to feel the director’s vision in there. I like to see some artistry put into it. It’s one of my big pet peeves now, I’m seeing a lot of movies where things just happen, there’s no highs and lows, no peaks and valleys at all with the drama.
Sean Byrne: Yeah, I mean if I put myself in the character’s shoes and the moment of impending death by whatever instrument… I mean my senses are going to absolutely be on fire. I’m going to be so scared that my eyes are bulging out of my head. Everything is going to slow down if it’s your last moments on Earth and I just think to not milk those moments is not being true to the character or the drama. I think it applies triply so for low budget horror, because as you say you don’t have a lot. You’ve only got those moments. You’ve got those moments of death, so you half to kind of try and turn them into something. Hopefully each different kind of violent moment in the film… I tried to create a different rhythm for each of those moments, so that it never ever felt one note.
Over the course of the night I imagine if I were stuck to that chair, to begin with I’d be completely disoriented. I’d think “Where the fuck am I?” Then I would start to think “How the hell do I get out of this?” Then if I was tortured I would start to become exhausted to the point that maybe I wanted to die and then maybe I’d start to think of my loved ones and the primal animal would kick in and you’d go to that place that’s almost beyond insanity. I think with any death there is a natural character arc. The emotional side of impending death isn’t explored that often.
Quint: Another thing is I like that you’re willing to take your characters to that level where it’s not that this kid was threatened with having a drill to his temple, you put a fucking hole in that kid’s head. I love just how close to the edge you take it, because it does give you a feeling of you’re not sure where the limits are in this film. You don’t know how far you will take it and once that happens and you don’t know where the boundaries are, then as an audience member that just really helps the tension build and it helps the story unfold.
Sean Byrne: I think horror audiences are really smart. They’re genre literate and usually they can second guess the filmmaker. They can third guess, so I was trying to kind of tenth guess (Laughs), but do it without contrivance. I just wanted to make the building blocks still really logical, because as you say if you don’t know where it’s going, then there’s no safety net and that’s kind of my motto with genre films. I love genre, because it’s theoretically commercial, so there should be a built in audience, but they don’t want to see the same thing, so my motto is one foot firmly planted in commercial territory and the other foot dangling over a cliff. I don’t think anyone wants to go on the same rollercoaster twice, although sometimes I like to go on the same rollercoaster like 20 times all in the same day… (Laughs) But you know what I mean. You want the rollercoaster to have loops in different places, because then it’s exciting. Well, loops in new places anyways.
Quint: I get what you mean and I totally understand and agree.
Sean Byrne: Cool.
Quint: So you said you’re writing now. Have you got another thing on the way for us?
Sean Byrne: Yeah, yeah hopefully. I’m writing away. I won’t go into too many details about the story, but there’s a couple of screenplays that I’m working on and hopefully they are getting towards the finishing line. I wish I was smart enough to click my fingers and write a script in a month, but I know for THE LOVED ONES it was a really, really painstaking process having to write something and get rid of the exposition, so that the story seems to move forward on its own two feet rather than the blue print standing out.
Quint: Are you still writing genre? Is that where your heart is?
Sean Byrne: Yeah. Yeah, I’m still writing genre definitely. I mean I just love the movies. I like gong to a Cineplex and I love just getting the biggest possible screen with the best image and the best possible sound. I mean I think that’s it to me. To me, that’s really magical and you know it’s where the biggest audience is and what really excites me is kind of getting in touch with that audience, but giving them something new.
Quint: Cool, well I look forward to whatever you put out. Are you coming down to Austin for the SXSW screening?
Sean Byrne: No, I was going to. I really, really wanted to. The SXSW screening last time was the best screening that the film’s had. I mean it’s played really well around the world, but I saw a couple of screenings the last time it played at SXSW and I ended up just watching the audience, because the audience reaction was so fantastic and people were hiding behind their fingers and screaming at the screen and a couple of people kind of punched the air. It was just so incredibly exciting, but unfortunately I’ve got a deadline which is fast looming, so I’m kind of writing against the clock at the moment.
Quint: Cool man, well congratulations and I wish you luck on the big US release of the movie and hopefully we will talk to you on the next one.
Sean Byrne: Alright, great. Thanks so much, Eric.
Quint: Later on.
Sean Byrne: It was great to talk to you.
There you have it. The film sees US distribution sometime in June, so if you dig good horror and it plays near you make sure to seek it out!