Tell us about your filmmaking journey so far.
I became obsessed with film pretty early on. The first film I saw in a cinema was Star Wars, so that was a hell of an introduction. From then on I just became determined to see as many movies as I possibly could. I just wanted to devour them. It didn’t matter how or where: the cinema, the drive-in, on VHS or late at night on TV, I just watched anything. I was lucky enough to have my childhood coincide perfectly with the advent of VHS and that whole glorious “summer of 1982” when you had Conan and Star Trek II and The Thing and E.T. and all these amazing movies all come out at once, so that was where it all started for me. And alongside all those new blockbusters, I was also watching tons of classic movies that my Dad was ferreting out at the video shops and bringing home to show me. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve my Dad and I sitting down to watch stuff likeThe Taking of Pelham 123 or The African Queen together. He kind of curated my childhood movie diet and he did a great job because he has great taste. And when Dad wasn’t around I was watching dodgier genre-type stuff like The Land that Time Forgot and The X From Outer Space. So from early on, I knew I wanted to make movies. But going through high school in the ’80s and ’90s in regional New South Wales, there was absolutely no film class, there were no other kids interested in making films, and I had no access to any kind of film production gear, so I decided to turn my hand to writing and try to get into filmmaking that way. I wrote some feature-length scripts and sent them off to various producers, but never made any inroads, which was probably because I was mostly writing Jerry Bruckheimer-style actioners that would’ve cost a fortune to make. Plus they weren’t really the kinds of films we make in Australia anyway, and they still aren’t. Then, in 1998, inspired by Robert Rodriguez’s DIY attitude, I decided to do a one-year TAFE course to learn the technical skills I needed to empower myself, so I wouldn’t have to sit around waiting for someone in an office to say, “Yes.” I came out of that year with three short films and a TV commercial under my belt plus a number of awards for my work. I wrote some low-budget feature scripts and tried to use the success of my shorts to get them up and running, but I couldn’t get arrested, so I decided to make a cheap and cheerful Mini DV feature with my own money. The result was Scratched, a comedy-drama I shot for about $3,000 doing all the main jobs myself: camera, sound, editing etc. Scratched screened in Brisbane and also at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival but couldn’t find a distributor, so it just kind of faded to black. Around that time, the Spierig brothers were enjoying enormous success with Undead. I saw what they were doing and thought: “I’ve got to make another low-budget feature, but make it a genre film this time, because genre films have a better chance of selling.” So that’s what I did. That’s how Throwback was born. Now it’s all done and dusted and being released around the world, and I’ve just made a short film called Little Nippers as a fun project between features and it’s starting to do well too.
What can you tell us about your film and the overall production?
Throwback came about because I really wanted to make a monster movie but it had to be one I could do on a shoestring budget, because all I really had to work with was my credit card (Sadly all my attempts to obtain funding from the government screen funding bodies over the years have failed, despite my best efforts and multiple applications). I nostalgically looked back to several 1970s Bigfoot movies that had scared me as a kid on VHS, like Creature from Black Lake and The Legend of Boggy Creek, and I had a light-bulb moment about how cool it would be to fuse the style and sensibility of those old movies with a modern monster/survival story that revolved around the Yowie, Australia’s Bigfoot. At the time I started the project, nobody had made a feature film about the Yowie, so I got a furry costume and some volunteer actors and shot the film on weekends all around Cairns between 2010 and 2013. In 2012, Vernon Wells saw the teaser trailer, liked it and put his hand up to play Detective McNab in the film, and he came to Cairns for one day to do his scenes while he was in Australia shooting a travel series. We had a great time working together and now we’re prepping my next feature together, the sci-fi/horror thriller Starspawn.
Is this your first time at MUFF and what does the festival mean to you?
This is my first time attending MUFF but it won’t be the first time one of my films has been selected. In 2005 my debut feature Scratched played at the festival. I wasn’t able to attend but I heard afterwards that it was well-received. I think festivals like MUFF are important because they showcase films that wouldn’t normally get a look-in with the big, prestigious fests. There seems to be a certain amount of snobbery with some of the big “blue chip” festivals, and MUFF was obviously borne out of Richard’s frustration with that snobbery. I think those fests have their place, and obviously, there’s an audience for art-house films and whatnot, but the so-called “low art” that screens at MUFF also has an audience and deserves to be seen and celebrated, and I’m looking forward to doing just that with some like-minded people.
What's next for the film in terms of festivals and potential releases?
After nearly two years, Throwback has pretty much finished its festival run, so from here on in, it’s just going to continue to be rolled out on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD around the world thanks to the gang at Monster Pictures. The next major release is a Blu-ray for Germany in October. They’re calling it Das Biest Lebt! over there (“The Beast is Alive”). Throwback came out in the US in July but the release was botched because the US distributor unwittingly released a faulty disc which skips through key scenes in the film, cutting almost all of Vernon Wells’ character out! They’re in the process of recalling that release and they’ll be re-issuing it in September. I’ve heard that it’s also slated for release in China and South Korea later in the year, with other countries to follow, so it’s been a very well-travelled little movie.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
I’m currently in pre-production on my new feature film Starspawn. It’s a sci-fi/horror thriller inspired by the films of John Carpenter and the works of horror author H.P. Lovecraft. It’s about a TV current affairs journalist who stumbles upon evidence that ancient aliens who once ruled the earth may be planning to return and reclaim it. The film will have some CG in terms of greenscreen work and so forth, but we want our actual aliens to be 100% practical. My team and I successfully raised $30,000 on Kickstarter in July to get us underway, so now we’re using that money to finance a proof-of-concept short that will showcase the project’s visual style and effects. The short will be a little prequel to the main feature that will stand alone as a self-contained film in its own right. We’ll submit it to festivals, screen it at conventions, and show it to potential investors, in the hope that they might put up the finance required for the full feature. So it’s a multi-stage process, and the plan is to have a finished feature done and released by about 2018 at the latest. In the meantime, we hope to shoot the proof-of-concept short by Christmas and with any luck start filming the feature around July/August 2016. Vernon Wells is on standby to fly out to Australia to film his scenes when everything’s ready to go, and we’ve also got a couple of other name actors circling the project, so fingers crossed it all falls into place over the next 6-12 months. My dream is to keep making features, but I’m also really interested in getting into TV drama now that it’s now basically reached the same level of quality as cinema. I grew up watching great mini-series back in the ’80s and I’d like to try my hand at making some of those, as well as some ongoing drama shows. I’m going to have a crack at writing a pilot soon for a post-apocalyptic series. It’s ambitious, but it’s something that my team and I could shoot on a low budget here in Cairns, shop around to broadcasters, and see if it can get picked up for full series. But that’s a sideline project right now. It’s all hands on deck for Starspawn.
Travis will be hosting a free MUFF Academy class on Sept 12 @ 2PM at Hogan Gallery.
THROWBACK SCREENS LATER THAN NIGHT AT THE BACKLOT with live Q&A.
Click here for more info and to purchase tickets.