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Q&A: The Creators of “TURBO KID” Talk ’80s Influences and Ironside

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In the year 1997, amidst a postapocalyptic landscape that looks a lot like the ’80s, The Kid (Munro Chambers) is on a quest to save newly found robot companion Apple (Laurence Leboeuf), from the evil clutches of Zeus (Michael Ironside) and his gang of BMX bandits. So begins RKSS’ (Road Kill Super Stars) TURBO KID—a throwback to the old days of super-low-budget MAD MAX knockoffs.

But where TURBO KID (in theaters and on VOD today) is concerned, the idea of a “knockoff” is different. Its authors seek to create endearing nostalgia pieces—careful remixes of a fetishized analog style of cinema gone by—rather than to cash in on a craze. FANGORIA sat down at SXSW with writer/directors Yuan-Karl Whissell, Anouk Whissell and François Simard, the collective mind comprising RKSS, to speak of themes, techniques and collaboration—but really, we’re here for the Michael Ironside stories…

FANGORIA: How does your collaborative process work?

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: We’ve been doing it for 10 years, so we’ve developed a one-track mind. I’ve always called it a “hive mind,” like we share a brain now. We can communicate just by looking at each other; it’s a little bit scary. It’s akin to a special power—telepathy?

FANG: Kind of like SCANNERS.

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: Yeah! Exactly! Why didn’t I go for SCANNERS?

FANG: I gave it to you, because I’m from FANGORIA. [Laughs all around] What was the inception of this project?

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: We entered the ABCs OF DEATH contest with “T is for Turbo,” and we had it up for public votes, and [producer] Ant Timpson called us and said, “Do you want to turn this into a feature?” And we went, “No, of course not!” [Laughs] We said, “Yeah, sure, man!” and that was the genesis.

FRANÇOIS SIMARD: Unfortunately, we didn’t win the contest, but we ended up with more.

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: It went very, very well. We wrote the first script and went to Frontières film market at Montreal’s Fantasia festival. We met our producer from Canada—

ANOUK WHISSELL: Anne-Marie Gélinas, and we instantly connected—it was like love at first sight! That’s where the big TURBO family was created: producers Ant and Tim Riley from New Zealand, Anne-Marie and Benoit Beaulieu from Canada, the awesome Jason Eisener and us three directors. There’s a lot of passion involved from the whole team.

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: Also, we love Stephanie [Trepanier, one of the executive producers]. She’s great. She started the Frontières market all by herself. She’s a woman possessed! When she wants to make something happen, she’s incredible. She’s a big part of why TURBO KID exists. And Ant’s great. He’s a crazy motherf**ker. He understands us. He comes from this world of genre films. It’s not hard to sell him on guts flying all over.

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FANG: How was it was it working with Michael Ironside?

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: It was something! We were very lucky.

SIMARD: We’d always wanted him, but we thought that was just a dream.

ANOUK WHISSELL: It was our first feature, and he’s a veteran!

FANG: When you’re writing a part for Ironside, what aspects do you focus on?

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: His voice [laughs]! Every time we would write dialogue for Zeus, we would imagine it the way he would say it. If Michael was delivering that line, how would it sound? We would rework some of it just to make it sound Ironside-ish. But we didn’t expect to get him! It was luck, complete luck. We met him randomly at TIFF, at a cocktail party. He was not even supposed to be there; he had just bumped into a friend who said, “I’m going to this party, you should come,” and he said, “Fine.”

SIMARD: He entered the room, and it was like everything stopped—at least for us!

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: Everything started moving in slow motion…

SIMARD: [whispered, awed tone] “It’s Michael Ironsiiiide! We have to speak with him!” So we went to our producer and told her, “Michael Ironside is here! We need to talk to him!” She took our hands, led us over to him and said, “Hi! I’m producing their movie, they’re gonna pitch to you,” and she just left.

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: So we live-pitched to Michael. He really dug the film and thought it sounded very cool, but he wanted to read a script—which is normal. So we sent him the screenplay and he loved it, and called us right away. He wanted to be a part of it.

FANG: What is his process on set like, since he plays such intense roles?

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: He is a little bit Method; he becomes the character. You can actually see the Michael in the morning, the Michael during the day while you’re filming, and the Michael at the end of the day. He completely becomes another person while he’s working. It’s actually very interesting to watch that switch, because Michael looks like a mean guy, but he’s the biggest sweetheart. He was like the biggest teddy bear in the world—and then he became Zeus.

SIMARD: It could be impressive sometimes—“Holy shit! It’s Michael Ironside!”

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: One time I was impressed: We were arguing about a line, and he grabbed me by the collar—it was really funny. He becomes the character!

ANOUK WHISSELL: He also became kind of a father figure to us; he was so generous with his time and guidance. One day he came on set during his day off. I remember being at the bottom of the cold, empty pool behind the monitor, and I heard, “Hello, darling” behind me. I turned around, and it was Michael. He wanted to show his support, and it really boosted everyone’s spirits!

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: And he has stories about everyone! He told us the coolest story in the world…

FANG: Can you share it?

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: I don’t know if we can. Some of those stories are pretty hardcore! Insane on-set experiences. He’s worked with everybody, so he has stories about everybody—every director, every actor! I hope one day he will write an autobiography, because he’s had a crazy, out-there life. Michael, if you’re reading this, you have to do that!

FANG: What interests you about the 1980s?

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: We’re ’80s kids. We had the first Nintendo. We grew up wearing pj’s and eating way too sugary cereals.

ANOUK WHISSELL: Pac-Man cereal!

SIMARD: Eating it in front of Saturday-morning cartoons. Everything was great in the ’80s: the music, the hair, the costumes.

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: The movies were incredible. The way you planned your Saturday morning, you knew what time to change channels. “OK, now I’m watching TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, and then I switch the channel because G.I. JOE starts, and then I go back to the other channel because GRENDIZER is starting.” All that planning as a kid—I loved it!

SIMARD: We wanted to stay true to that. That’s why I think TURBO KID is not a spoof, it’s really a homage.

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: Yeah, it’s a love letter to everything we love about the ’80s.

ANOUK WHISSELL: We’re playing a lot with nostalgia.

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FANG: Did specific films influence TURBO KID, or was it more the overall culture?

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: BMX, for sure, influenced TURBO KID a lot. We all had BMX bikes as kids. Mine looked exactly like the one in the film.

SIMARD: For movies, we have to say The Road Warrior, DEAD ALIVE for the gore, THE Goonies, The Neverending Story—

FANG: Cherry 2000?

SIMARD: Yes.

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: Oh yeah! A huge influence!

SIMARD: And all the Italian postapocalyptic ripoffs—

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: —of Mad Max—

SIMARD: —like The New Barbarians, which is awesome.

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: We love those films so much! Also a kids’ movie from Quebec called THE DOG THAT STOPPED THE WAR. That is a brilliant film that everybody should watch. It’s about a boy building a fort bigger than a house, and having snowball fights.

FANG: Where was TURBO KID shot?

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: We shot it in Montreal. There’s a rundown warehouse in Lachine where we filmed, and also a quarry that not a lot of people know about, because it’s hidden, and it looks like a wasteland.

SIMARD: The only wasteland in Montreal. We’re lucky to have found it.

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: We had the worst spring in 70 years in Montreal during production; winter just didn’t want to go away. The first day of filming, we had a snowstorm, which made things complicated. We did a lot of searching for locations on the Internet, then got a location scout to make the deals for us to shoot there. The crazy thing was, a week before we started, we lost a place where we were supposed to shoot 60 percent of the film, so we had to scramble during that last week to find a new place. We were very lucky, because we found an amazing location in the end, but that was scary.

FANG: Can you talk about the synth score?

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: The music is by Le Matos, a band from Montreal, and what’s interesting is that one of its members, Jean-Philippe Bernier, was also the DP on TURBO KID, so he knew the universe. Even when we were making shorts, he was doing the music.

SIMARD: We’d been doing shorts together for seven years, maybe more, so it was natural to bring him along. The soundtrack is amazing; I’m so happy with it. There’s “Thunder in Your Heart,” which is more of an ‘80s rock song, at the beginning…

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: But for the rest, we wanted something more Carpenter-esque, because the soundtracks of those old postapocalyptic films were more like that. The Italians were very heavy into those types of sounds, so we wanted to reference those movies.

ANOUK WHISSELL: Le Matos had all the same inspirations as we did; they’re kids of the ’80s as well. The fact that Jean-Philippe was involved from the beginning of the project definitely helped!

FANG: How did you come up with TURBO KID’s look?

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: A lot of drawing, and watching a billion films. We were very lucky, because Anouk and François are very talented artists, so everything we had in mind, we are able to put on paper and give to the team, to see what we were going for.

ANOUK WHISSELL: After that, the production director [Sylvain Lemaitre] and costume Designer [Eric Poirier] and their teams worked miracles making these inspirations and wishes real. They’re insanely talented and resourceful! We wanted the movie to look like a lost, f**ked-up ’80s kids’ movie that was discovered in perfect condition!

FANG: How did Jason Eisener come aboard?

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: That was the crazy thing—we didn’t originally want to participate in ABCs of Death, and it was actually Jason who said, “Guys, you have to do it! Jump in!” That night, he pumped us up so much—because Jason knows how to pump you up to do something—that we were brainstorming in the car, driving back home that night. The next day, we were in preproduction on “T is for Turbo.” Jason was part of that TURBO family from the very beginning. If he didn’t grab us by the collar that day and tell us, “You have to be in that contest!” there wouldn’t probably be a TURBO KID.

SIMARD: The first time we met him was at the Montreal premiere of HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, and he knew all about our short films.

YOANN-KARL WHISSELL: And we knew who he was. We were fans of each other, and we became friends. Whenever somebody asks me to describe Jason, I say he’s the best friend you don’t know you already have.

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About the author
Heather Buckley
Heather has a dual career as a Producer (Red Shirt Pictures) and a film journalist. Raised on genre since the age of 13, she’s always been fascinated by extreme art cinema, monster movies and apocalyptic culture. Her first love was a Gorezone no. 9 bought at Frank's Stationary in Keyport, NJ. She has not looked back since. Follow her on Twitter @_heatherbuckley
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