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SXSW 2015 Interview: Turbo Kid’s Yoann-Karl Whissell, Anouk Whissell and François Simard

Courageously embarking on an emotionally and physically daunting journey in order to achieve what you truly want in life can be a terrifying process for anyone, no matter what stage in their lives they’re at, or what kind of experience they have. The daring young protagonist in the new adventure horror film, ‘Turbo Kid,’ fearlessly fights his enemies to protect not only himself, but also the people who have come to depend on him. In order to brazenly make their feature film debut, writer-directors Yoann-Karl Whissell, Anouk Whissell and François Simard, who go by the collective name RKSS (Road Kill Super Stars), boldly overcame their struggles of making the movie independently to powerfully showcase the characters’ action sequences and emotional motivations.

Set in a world that has been left in a permanent nuclear winter decades after the apocalypse, during which countless wars and environmental catastrophes led the Earth to become barely habitable for humans, ‘Turbo Kid’ follows an orphaned teenage who’s only known as The Kid (Munro Chambers), who has raised himself in the Wasteland zone. In order to financially support himself, as well as gather fresh water, the most valuable commodity in a land that has been forsaken by toxins, he gathers memorabilia from the 1980s and begins selling it to Bagu (Romano Orzari), who runs a one-man flea market. Otherwise, The Kid has been determined to otherwise stay away from humanity’s remaining survivors. He’s most particularly afraid of the violent BMX biker gang that’s led by Zeus (Michael Ironside), who likes to send his men to capture unfortunate survivors and extract Earth’s most precious resource, water, from their corpses.

But The Kid soon begins to see the exciting world he’s been hiding from all these years, after he meets the mysterious Apple (Laurence Lebeouf), who refuses to leave his side. Just as she starts to ease him out of his isolated world with her humor, she’s kidnapped by one of Zeus’ bounty hunters. While The Kid barely escapes capture himself, he then stumbles upon what he perceives to be the remains of a real life Turbo Man, his favorite comic book superhero. Utilizing the superhero’s suit and the help of one of his other new friends, Frederic (Aaron Jeffery), who has escaped Zeus’ gang, The Kid embarks on a journey to not only rid the Wasteland of evil, but also save the girl of his dreams. In order to prevent the two boys from saving Apple, and to retaliate against Frederic for leaving his gang, Zeus and his supporters are determined to down and kill all three escapees.

RKSS generously took the time to sit down to talk about writing and directing ‘Turbo Kid,’ during an exclusive interview at SXSW 2015, where it won the Midnighters Audience Award. Among other things, the writer-directors discussed how they decided to adapt their short film, ‘T is for Tubro,’ into their first feature film together after meeting filmmaker Jason Eisner, who encouraged them to expand the story of the post-apocalyptic horror action adventure; how they were immediately drawn to cast Chambers as the movie’s protagonist after he committedly prepared scenes for, and connected with, the young and determined teen; and how making the movie independently on a short shooting schedule forced them to not only work closely together, but with the entire cast and crew to capture the story, character and action elements they truly wanted.

ShockYa (SY): ‘Turbo Kid’ is an expansion of your 2011 short film, ‘T is for Turbo.’ What was the process of expanding the short into a feature film? Why were you all interested in continuing the story in a longer form in the feature?

Yoann-Karl Whissell (YKW): Well, we’ve been making films together for over 10 years, and we always make our movies as a team. We started the process of the short film when (the 2012 anthology horror comedy film,) ‘The ABCs of Death’ was having a contest for the spot for the letter T, which was open. We weren’t sure if we wanted to enter another contest right away, because we had already taken part in a couple other ones right before then.

But then we met Jason Eisener, who directed ‘Hobo with a Shotgun,’ at Fantasia (International Film Festival), and he said, “You have to enter the contest-it’s going to be big.” Later that night, we were already in pre-production. Jason has a way to pump you up completely. So we shot the short, and we ended up first in the public vote, but we didn’t make it into the feature.

But the short caught the attention of Ant Timpson, one of the producers of ‘The ABCs of Death,’ who asked us if we wanted to turn it into a feature. Of course we said yes. (laughs) So we wrote the first draft of the film, and went to the first ever Fantasia Film Market, and that’s where we met one of our other producers, Anne-Marie Gélinas. So the ‘Turbo’ team was being built, and from then on, we started working together. The film then became a New Zealand and Canadian co-production.

François Simard (FS)
: We could say the difference between the short and the feature is that with ‘T is for Turbo,’ we had a cool concept, like ‘Mad Max’ on BMX and with cool costumes. But the entire short is basically just a cool fight scene. For the feature, we knew we wanted to also have a cool story that also had a heart, so we worked on that, and we’re pretty happy with it.

YKW: Yes, we’re very happy with it.

Anouk Whissell (AW): We did have to expand the entire story and universe of the wasteland, and we’re happy with how it turned out.

SY: Besides scribing the script together, you all directed the feature, as well. What was that process like-how did you decide who would take control over each aspect of filming?

YKW: That’s the crazy thing-we’ve been writing and directing as a trio for over 10 years now. Over the years, we have developed that process of being interconnected, and we naturally understand where we’re all going. We plan and storyboard everything. We do all the grunt work during pre-production, which is when we do all the shouting at each other. (laughs) That way, when we get on the set, we have a one-track mind.

The fact that we work as a trio keeps us on our toes a lot, and sometimes makes us second-guess ourselves, and we can fight over ideas. In the end, I think working together makes us better.

FS: This a question we get a lot-everyone is surprised when they hear we’re three filmmakers who always work together and are still friends. On the set, we don’t want..

AW:…any chaos. (laughs)

FS: That’s right, we don’t want any chaos. If anyone on the set has a question, they need to know who to ask. Yoann works more with the actors, I work more behind the camera with the storyboards and Anouk’s the director of directors. (laughs) She makes sure everything’s perfect.

YKW: She’s the brains of the operation. With us two goofy guys, we need an intelligent woman. (laughs)

SY: Speaking of the actors, what was the casting process like for the main characters in the action film, particularly for Munro Chambers, who portrayed The Kid, and Laurence Leboeuf, who played Apple?

YKW: Well, the casting process for every one one of the actors for the feature was crazy. When we met Munro for The Kid, we were holding auditions for the role. We went to Toronto with a list of actors we were interested in auditioning for the character. Munro was actually the first person on the list. When he came in for the audition, we were going through scenes. He had prepared scenes, and wanted to try ideas that he had come up with, beforehand.

When he left the room after the audition, we all looked at each other and said, “We’ve got our Kid. He’s totally brilliant!” We felt bad because there many other kids who were waiting to audition. Everyone who came into audition was really great, but there was something about Munro that’s brilliant.

The crazy story about casting Michael (Ironside) as the villain in the film was that when we were writing the character, we had him in mind.

FS: But we thought it would be impossible to cast him. It’s been a dream to have gotten to work with him on the film.

YKW: When we were casting Zeus, we went to Toronto-everything happened in Toronto! (laughs) We went to a cocktail (party) at TIFF (the Toronto International Film Festival) with our producer, Anne-Marie. Out of nowhere, Michael walked into the cocktail, and he wasn’t initially supposed to have been there. But he bumped into a friend while he was there, who said, “I’m going to this cocktail, and you have to go with me,” and he said he would go.

When he entered, we gasped, and we said, “He’s our Zeus!” So we went to Anne-Marie and said, “He’s here-we have to talk to him.” She took us by the hand, put us in front of Michael and said to him, “I’m a producer, and I’m producing this film they’re going to pitch to you. Bye.” Then she just walked off. (laughs) We were stunned, but we pitched it to him anyway. Later on he read the script, and wanted to be a part of it. Michael’s been incredible, and he’s the biggest sweetheart in the world.

FS: We have to say the entire cast was really amazing, including Laurence Leboeuf, Aaron Jeffery and Edwin Wright. The shooting conditions were really tough-the weather was very cold.

YKW: The weather was usually about -10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit), and there were even a few days where it was -20 (Celsius/-4 Fahrenheit).

FS: But even with that harsh weather, everyone was very enthusiastic to work on the movie.

AW: I think we were very lucky to have a lot of passionate people who were working on the project with us.

YKW: We all came together as a family, and everyone fought to get the film made. No one complained, and everyone had such a blast on the set. It was the greatest time of our lives.

SY: Were you able to have any rehearsal time with Munro, Laurence and the rest of the cast to discuss their character’s motivations and arcs throughout the movie?

YKW: Yes we did. The way we approached bringing the characters to life was to give the actors the liberty to play their roles the way they best saw fit. We had a specific idea behind each of the characters, but it’s all about give and take. I think the final version of the film came out very well.

FS: There’s also another villain in the film named Skeletron, who’s played by Edwin Wright, and he’s an awesome actor. He wears this cool mask, and in the beginning of the filmmaking process, we envisioned the character to be very strong…

YKW:…and almost like Jason Voorhees from the ‘Friday the 13th’ series.

FS: But Edwin wanted to do something very different with the role, and wanted the character to be very twitchy. At first we were hesitant, but told him, “Okay, we’ll let you try it that way, and see how it goes.” But by the end of the shoot, we fell in love with the new Skeletron. I think the character came out so much better than what we wanted at the beginning. His portrayal definitely improved the film, and we’re happy to have been able to have worked with those actors.

SY: Speaking of Skeletron’s mask, what was the process of creating all of the characters’ costumes, make-up and overall looks and designs, since the film is set in a post-apocalyptic future?

YKW: It was fun, especially since Anouk and François are very skilled drawers. So we collaborated on the drawings of how we envisioned the characters. I think that process helped everyone understand where we wanted to go with the costumes. Since we were on a tight schedule, the final look of the costumes came as a surprise, even for us.

AW: We were lucky to have Eric Poirier working on the costumes-he’s such a talented guy. We discussed our inspirations with him.

FS: He created miracles with such a tight budget.

YKW: He came up with some amazing designs. He went with us to the film’s premiere at Sundance, and he’s part of the family now.

SY: You shot most of the effects mechanically on the set. Why do you prefer working with practical effects, and what was the process of creating the stunts, including such elements as the BMX tricks and explosions, like on set?

YKW: Well, we’re huge fans of the old Aussie film, ‘BMX Bandits,’ so the origins of the stunts in ‘Turbo Kid’ are definitely linked to that movie. Also, the colors we used in ‘Turbo Kid’ were largely influenced by that film. Growing up, we were obsessed with that film-I had a similiar bike as the kid in the movie. It wasn’t the exact same brand, as I think he had a Mongoose, but my BMX looked like his.

We also thought that in the wasteland of our movie, there isn’t any more gas, so the cars wouldn’t work. So people had to find another way to get around.

FS: So it was logical that people would ride bikes to get around.

YKW: We also dig BMX,…

FS:…and the brand’s very ’80s.

SY: Speaking of the ’80s, ‘Turbo Kid’ is a love story to that’s surrounded by exploitation elements you grew up with in that decade, including a post-apocalyptic scenario, over-the-top gore, turbo explosions and BMX tricks. What movies and filmmakers inspired your interest in setting the romantic relationship between The Kid and Apple amidst such graphic and intense action and horror visual elements?

YKW: There were a ton of films from the ’80s that we took influences from for our movie. ‘The Goonies’ influenced the friendships in ‘Turbo Kid.’

FS: We were also influenced by ‘The NeverEnding Story,’ ‘The Road Warrior’ and ‘Braindead,’ which features over-the-top and horrific gore.

YKW: Growing up, we were also influenced by the Italian rip-offs of ‘Mad Max,’ which weren’t made with the same budget, but still had a heart. There was something cool about those stories. It was important to us when we were making ‘Turbo Kid’ was that we weren’t making a spoof of those films; we instead wanted to make genuine love letters to those ’80s films.

FS: We also have to mention that the new ‘Barbarians’ was a huge influence on us. We loved that film-it has silly costumes and cheesy music-it was great. (laughs)

SY: What was the process of filming the action horror film independently-did it create any challenges on the set, or did it offer more creative freedom, particularly with the stunts and action sequences?

YKW: Those elements force you to be creative-you don’t have a choice. You have to be clever, because directing is all about problem-solving. But when you’re filming a shorter schedule, it forces you to be even more creative, and work faster. That’s probably our biggest strength of working as a trio-if we have a problem, we have three minds to solve them. We really understand each other, so when one of us finds a solution, we’ll all jump on board. Filming is always a huge challenge, but it’s the funnest thing in life.

FS: There is a lot of stress in independent filmmaking, but in the end, it pays off. When we have problems and don’t have time to do what we originally wanted, we’ll have to re-write the scene or storyboard. We can create a storyboard in five minutes.

AW: After that process, everyone will know where we’re going.

YKW: Working with storyboards is the best, because you have a visual aid for everybody. You can tell them, “We’re doing this,” and just point to the picture. Then everyone will immediately understand what they have to do, and where the camera and lighting have to go.

SY: Like you mentioned earlier, ‘Turbo Kid’ had its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and also (had) its SXSW premiere during the Midnighters Section (on March 17). What does it mean to you both that the film is playing at the festivals?

YKW: It’s been surreal. The crowds have been incredible, and we’re loving Austin-the people are so nice here. So SXSW has been great, and Sundance was fantastic-we had a blast there. We’ve been enjoying every moment, and we’re living the dream right now.

FS: The funny thing is that we went to Sundance with a list of films we wanted to see. But we didn’t realize that we wouldn’t have the time to watch other films. We were doing interview after interview, but we’re loving it. The festival circuit is the best exposure for both the movie and us. We’re hoping the festivals will help us launch our careers, and going to Sundance and SXSW have been some of the best places to bring ‘Turbo Kid.’

AW: We’re very grateful for our experiences at the festivals.

SXSW 2015 Interview: Turbo Kid's Yoann-Karl Whissell, Anouk Whissell and François Simard

Written by: Karen Benardello

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As a life-long fan of entertainment, particularly films, television and music, and an endless passion for writing, Karen Benardello decided to combine the two for a career. She graduated from New York's LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic. While still attending college, Karen began writing for Shockya during the summer of 2007, when she began writing horror movie reviews. Since she began writing for Shockya, Karen has been promoted to the position of Senior Movies & Television Editor. Some of her duties in the position include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, producing posts on celebrity news and contributing reviews on albums and concerts. Some of her highlights include attending such festivals and conventions as the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival, SXSW, Toronto After Dark, the Boston Film Festival and New York Comic-Con.

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