Before their film took home the Audience Award in SXSW 2015’s Midnighter category, “Turbo Kid” filmmakers Yoann-Karl Whissell, Anouk Whissell, and Francois Simard, collectively known as the “Roadkill Superstars” (RKSS), had a few things to say about working together, writing love letters to the 1980s, and how a short film that missed the cut for “The ABCs of Death” became a crowd-pleasing midnight movie sensation.
Culture Crypt: Has this been a fun SXSW experience so far?
Yoann-Karl Whissell: Yeah man, it’s really fantastic! Love the weather, by the way. We’re coming from -15 right now, so it just feels good to be outside in a t-shirt.
Francois Simard: We just got here last night, but we’ve heard great things about SXSW. This is our first time here and we can’t wait to hear the crowd.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: We partied last night with other genre directors, amazing creators, and we had a lot of fun.
Francois Simard: Yeah, we hung out with the director of “Deathgasm.” We have the same producer, Ant Timpson, so it’s like family.
Culture Crypt: When you made the short that “Turbo Kid” is based on, how much of the backstory did you already have in mind, or did that come later when you developed it into a feature?
Yoann-Karl Whissell: We had a little bit of the concept, like the BMX and the wasteland. But the short was really a big action setpiece. There was a story, but when we started the feature, we definitely needed to come up with the actual story and flesh out the universe.
Anouk Whissell: To expand on the world and to make it work.
Francois Simard: That’s when we came up with the very cute love story that I think is the heart of the movie, even though there is tons of-
Yoann-Karl Whissell and Francois Simard: (at the same time) –blood and gore.
Culture Crypt: Did you make the short knowing that you might want to develop it into a bigger picture?
Yoann-Karl Whissell: That came later. That’s when Ant Timpson from “ABCs of Death” (review here) asked us if we wanted to turn that film into a feature. We wrote the first draft of the script in a little bit less than three weeks to make it to the Fantasia Film market. It was good enough that the script was selected to go to Fantasia, but I think in that three weeks we definitely were going the right way with the story.
Francois Simard: To go back to the contest, we finished first with the public’s vote, but we didn’t make it in the features sadly. We were kind of bummed that we didn’t win, but in the end, we got the attention of Ant Timpson and I think we ended up with more.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: With more, definitely.
Culture Crypt: How do the three of you work together creatively? Who comes up with an idea first? I have this vision of you all hanging out together casually and just saying, “this would be a fun thing to do.”
Yoann-Karl Whissell: That’s exactly it.
Anouk Whissell: Yeah.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: It’s just us hanging out with a beer, watching films, and just chatting about stuff. Then suddenly, somebody will come up with a cool idea and we’ll all start jamming on it. Eventually we get to write together, and we do write at the same time. We all sit around the table and write live together.
Culture Crypt: Ah, okay.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: I know it’s a bit rare. Most people write everybody on their side and then they compare notes, but we write together.
Francois Simard: Maybe that’s the only time that we argue.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: (laughs)
Anouk Whissell: Yes!
Francois Simard: But after that we are set and we all know where we want to go.
Culture Crypt: You seem like you have an “anything goes” attitude. Does anyone ever say no?
Yoann-Karl Whissell: Never to censor ourselves. I don’t think we ever truly censor ourselves.
Francois Simard: Anouk kind of knows when we go too far.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: Yeah, it’s true! Now that I think of it, when we start chatting and we’re going too far - and she participates, she goes too far as well - suddenly she goes, “oh no, we’re too far now.”
Culture Crypt: How do you know you’ve gone too far?
Anouk Whissell: I don’t know, it’s instinct?
Francois Simard: Her spider-sense.
Culture Crypt: What’s an example of something where maybe Yoann-Karl and Francois wanted to do something and you said, no that’s too much?
Anouk Whissell: I don’t think I can even say it.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: Oh, yeah!
Anouk Whissell: No, I’m not saying it. (laughs)
Yoann-Karl Whissell: It wouldn’t have fit with the tone of the film anyway. It was really out there and probably way too dark for what we were trying to do. Anouk said, “no, this is too dark.” And we looked at each other and said, “yeah, you know you’re right. It is too dark. It is a little bit messed up and wouldn’t feel right.” People would disconnect from the story right there.
Francois Simard: In the short, there is a gore effect that we wanted to do in the feature, but sadly we had to cut it. There’s a guy that is throwing up and then his head is being cut off-
Yoann-Karl Whissell: -there’s vomit and blood at the same time.
Francois Simard: So we had some words about the idea, but that (one) may be the limit.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: It will come back in “Turbo Kid 2,” that effect. The crazy thing, the effect was done, we were ready to do it, but we didn’t have time to film it for “Turbo Kid.” So the prop is done. We’ll do it eventually!
Culture Crypt: When you’re talking about the tone, how do you get your cast in tune to exactly what your vision is?
Yoann-Karl Whissell: Through discussion. Just talking about it, going over scenes, explaining your vision and also their vision of that scene. Just through discussion you can get to the point. If you’re precise, you can get to the point. Also, (Anouk and Francois) draw very, very well, so a lot of it we can put in drawings. It helps the imagination to be able to visualize certain things.
Anouk Whissell: Also, one thing that I think was key was that the world is crazy, the universe is out there, but these characters are real people in this crazy world. That’s kind of what we told (the actors).
Francois Simard: We knew at that time we didn’t want them to do-
Anouk Whissell and Francois Simard: (at the same time) -a spoof.
Francois Simard: It was a love letter.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: A love letter to those 80s films, like those Italian ripoffs of “Mad Max.”
Francois Simard: It was important to not overact or wink at the camera.
Culture Crypt: Did you have a list of “must have” 80s references that you wanted to include in the movie?
Yoann-Karl Whissell: They came naturally while we were writing the script. We never made a list. We never wanted to have a scene just because it winks to (a certain) movie. While writing the scenes, they will pop up, like, “oh, this will carry the story.”
Francois Simard: If it helps the story.
Anouk Whissell: Yeah.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: To never just wink for the sake of winking. To (make sure) it feels genuine.
Culture Crypt: Even when Indiana Jones is arm-wrestling Mola Ram?
Anouk Whissell: That’s an accident.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: That’s an actual accident! We got it when we were filming the scene that we were doing that.
Francois Simard: We were at the monitor and our stunt coordinator said, “hey, it looks like Indiana Jones is doing an arm-wrestling match with the bad guy from ‘Temple of Doom’!”
Yoann-Karl Whissell: It must have been in our subconscious while designing and everything.
Francois Simard: I remember on set we definitely told ourselves, “yeah yeah, we’ll tell them that’s what we wanted!”
Yoann-Karl Whissell: That we had the idea!
Francois Simard: But I’m so happy about that reference. I love Indiana Jones.
Culture Crypt: What were some of the biggest 80s influences? “Turbo Kid” has a lot of video game references, too.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: Definitely Mega Man. That was huge. There’s an obscure one from Zelda. The guy that tends the bar in “Turbo Kid,” his name is Bagu. He’s an obscure character in “Zelda II” that lives in the village. There’s a ton of it like that, just little winks hidden everywhere.
Francois Simard: If you were a kid in the 80s and you grew up watching cartoons with your sugary cereals and pajamas and playing with He-Man, it’s definitely a movie for you. Because it was our lives and it was so cool, we wanted to frame that into the world of “Turbo Kid.”
Culture Crypt: Was that part of why it was important to have Michael Ironside play the villain, because he has those callbacks to 80s movies and villains like that?
Francois Simard: Oh yeah, we were always dreaming to have him. In fact, we wrote the character with him in mind. But we thought that it was impossible, like it was just a dream.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: Yeah, unreachable.
Francois Simard: We were very lucky to- that’s a fun story.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: Yeah, we met him randomly at a cocktail party. We were at TIFF, and he was not supposed to go to that cocktail. He just bumped into one of his friends who said, “I’m going to that cocktail, do you want to come?” And he just pops in.
Francois Simard: So we had to pitch-
Yoann-Karl Whissell: -live to him right there! And he loved the script, that’s why he wanted to do it. So that’s really, really cool.