Q&A with Ant Timpson, producer of The ABCs Of Death and Housebound

Cult Projections: I came to the early Incredibly Strange Film Festivals at the Paramount Cinema in Wellington New Zealand. The destruction of the piano on stage was a memorable event. What have been some of the movie highlights from that festival in the past twenty years? Have you ever had a movie banned or received personal abuse from outraged patrons?

Ant Timpson: Our destruction of The Piano with sledgehammers on stage, with myself as Holly Hunter and my buddy Mike as Anna Pacquin, was in the inaugural year of the festival, 1994. There are way too many highlights to even begin to go down that nostalgia path. We blew a lot of minds over the years. To this day I still have people coming up and saying something like “Psyched by the 4D Witch altered my perception on the world”. We got into numerous tussles with the Society For The Promotion of Community Standards. They worked out a legal loophole to hold up films from festival screenings – so it became very personal. We ended up battling in High Court over films like Irreversible.  Outraged patrons hardly ever. Our advertising and promotion was so over the top that anyone attending and then complaining about content could be classified as severely mentally challenged.

CP: Your 35mm film print archive is apparently the largest personal collection in the Southern Hemisphere, what are your five most prized prints? When did you start collecting and will you stop?

AT: I guess the top five wouldn’t have anything to do with value or rarity, it’d be the ones that have given myself, friends and audiences the most enjoyment… in no order, The Naked Prey, Manos Hands of Fate, Story of Ricky, Boarding House, Pink Flamingoes. I started print collecting in the late 80s – I think Shogun Assassin was my first print.

CP: What’s your two cents on the whole film vs. digital aesthetic/politic?

AT: Film is your oldest friend. Digital one of your facebook “friends”.

CP: Boom! What five horror and/or exploitation movies changed your life?

AT: Well having kids “changed” my life; films like The Exorcist, Jaws, Behind the Green Door, Kill Squad, Boarding House impacted my world in other ways.

CP: What are your five desert isle blue movies?

AT: What does “desert isle blue movies” mean? Are you asking for my fave XXX films? Okay you asked… Behind the Green Door, The Devil in Miss Jones, Raw Talent, Talk Dirty To Me, Barbara Broadcast. [Ed: And I bet he has 35mm prints of them all too!]

CP: Tell me a little about the nightmare that inspired The ABCs of Death.

AT: No actual nightmare involved – just the fusion of two things I liked – kids alphabet books and anthology films.

CP: Do you have a personal favourite segment or two from the first ABCs of Death?

AT: Yes but I can’t really play favourites in public as I know all the directors involved.

CP: I hadn’t heard of many of the directors who’ve contributed to The ABCs of Death 2, how did you compile the list of contributors? Were there many who turned you down?

AT: Then you need to start watching more films then Bryn! Most of the directors involved with Part 2 have had some sort of presence in the genre world either with a strong first feature or a knockout short. All of the producers involved put forward names and we compiled a list of people we liked and then we went hunting. Some who ended up on it had approached us originally and said if we do Part 2 we want in. Yes we had a couple turn us down but mainly we couldn’t approach certain directors because we couldn’t have any signed to the DGA involved. So we had to nix many that were interested.

CP: You grant your contributors complete artistic freedom, but have any filmmakers delivered a segment that caused you grief in terms of being too long, or simply not good enough for inclusion?

AT: Well we say we grant them total freedom but here’s the rub…. they still had to deliver a segment that wouldn't cause Walmart to pull the title off the shelves (which happened for Part 1) after receiving complaints from concerned citizens. So we say we don’t censor or edit the directors but we do provide legal guidelines to satisfy our financiers that the finished film could be sold. Some ignore our plea for condensed running times and show us a rough at 9mins – three times longer than planned. So we give a lot of feedback and many are happy with tightening them segments. There really is zero fat in the finished film. It’s lean and mean.

CP: How many more ABCs of Death can you foresee being made? Is there any way the bar can be raised for future compilations? Or do you see it simply as a great continuing platform for lesser-known directors?

AT: They are a lot of fun to be involved with but they are an administrative nightmare. We also ask a lot from the directors for a pathetic amount of money. It really is a labour of love for all involved. Tim and I are partners so we need to agree to move forward – the minute they’re not fun and/or we lose money then we’ll pull the plug. Personally I think they’re like the ultimate visual mixtape for fans or the bloody best Whittakers sampler box ever conceived. They definitely showcase new talent but speaking as a fan I just think it’s fucking fun and there just isn’t enough fun in genre films these days.

CP: What are a few of your favourite segments in ABCs of Death 2?

AT: Again I’ll choose the right to remain silent. I’ll just say they’re all great.

CP: Congratulations on Housebound, it has been getting rave reviews; did you know it would be that successful? What is it about the screenplay and the direction that makes it so broadly appealing? Would you describe it as a comedy first, or a horror?

AT: I certainly thought it’d find an audience, which was the primary reason for becoming involved with the film. I also have known [director] Gerard for a long time – we go way back to when he won the inaugural year of my national film comp 48HOURS. He’s a gifted writer with a cracking good ear for dialogue. He’s a good study as well which served the film well after he analysed what made other genre films successful and then applied his skill set on top of those strong foundations. To me it’s an in-betweener – it’s being sold as a horror but the comedic elements are just as strong. It’s a good film and I think that’s probably the way to describe it – we get bogged down with categories sometimes and you lose your way a bit. It makes marketing easier though if you can pigeonhole a film.

CP: You directed a short, Crab Boy, ten years ago, any desires to return to the director’s chair? If you could remake ANY movie, what would it be, and whom would it star?

AT: I honestly don’t think I have the patience or focus to be a good director and there are enough mediocre folks out there cluttering up the bandwidth already. I’m not adverse to remakes on principle like many are – they’ve always had a place in a cinema. Online fans that don’t know the history of cinema are always the most vocal … and usually the dumbest unfortunately. I wouldn’t mind remaking The King of Comedy with Dave Letterman as the Lewis character & Michael Fassbender as the De Niro one. How’s that for sacrilege?

CP: I dig. What are your favourite film festivals around the world?

AT: Anything with great bars and/or beaches is AOK with me.

CP: Thanks for your time!