by Stuart Willis
A longstanding popular indie filmmaker here at SGM, Jason Impey has long been entertaining the muties with his own special brand of Britsploitation filmmaking fun so to celebrate the release of his incoming undead opus THE TURNING our very own indie guru connoisseur Stu Willis kicked back with the man himself to discuss his work…
Stu: Hi Jason, it's good to speak with you again. First off, you seem to have been very busy in the last couple of years. I understand your film TORTURED is getting a DVD release shortly?
Jason: Yes finally! The original uncut version is getting a DVD release from Brain Damage Films on 6th July 2011, it has took a few years to get this after a number of failed distribution deals, and censorship issues, there is in fact seven versions of this film now, there is information on all these different versions on my website, but it is very nice to have my original vision coming out.
Stu: The 'harder' version of TORTURED, known as SEX SLAVE, was alarming for its scenes of Michelle Young getting candid in front of the camera. Had this presented problems for the film finding distribution?
Jason: I was concerned about finding distribution due to how graphic the film is, so I did a slightly cut version (about 2 minutes of cuts) and sent it to a distributor who liked it but said it was well too graphic including disgusting dialogue and were not sure if they could release it. However they did change the title to Deranged and released it on amazon.com for a very brief period and it was suddenly pulled off the site and I was told this film was too graphic sexually to stock! So I then cut 10 minutes out and re-titled the film to Escaped Convicts that has been put with my 40-minute film Tormented to make a double bill that Chemical Burn Entertainment have. But good old Brain Damage Films who released my earlier features Home Made & Sick Bastard agreed to release the uncut version under the title Tortured with extras including explicit making of documentaries!
Stu: More recently, you've been working on a HOME MADE REDUX. Can you tell us a little more about this? HOME MADE was the first of your films that I saw, and I was very impressed with it.
Jason: I made Home Made back in 2006 and managed to get a very good DVD release for the film, however it did not receive great reviews and actually caused me problems because of these reviews, other distributors were weary of releasing my other newer films because of how bad reviews Home Made got - even though a great amount of DVD's of this film have been sold! This film has bugged me ever since, I spent 9 months shooting it on various formats including Super 8, miniDV, DVCam & HDV, and some of the footage is great. I have hours upon hours of footage and I recently cut Home Made down from 88 minutes to 30 minutes for inclusion with my horror anthology Killer Stories. After re-watching Home Made for the first time in a few years I could see how it could be improved, I could also see how my films have changed and got better, I am also more experienced and know how to do edit better. So what I have decided to do is dig out all my rushes from the loft and re-capture all the footage and start the film from scratch with all the original footage. I am re-scoring the film, re-editing it - and in doing so changing the way the story is told, in fact I am editing the film I originally wanted to make but ended up trying to pursue the more mainstream look which did me no favours in the end. I am hoping to have this version finished by summer this year and will be seeking reviews and distribution shortly after.
Stu: Watching THE TURNING, I was struck by how much it appears to be influenced not only by horror cinema, but by the likes of Shane Meadows and even Mike Leigh: that socialist aspect, the stories of illicit affairs, rough housing estates etc. Do you agree with these observations?
Jason: Yes I do, I wanted to make a film that stood out, especially from my past films, I had gained a reputation of making very extreme controversial films, especially after Tortured AKA Sex Slave, and so I thought it would be nice to show a different side of my filmmaking. I still ended up being controversial but also concentrated on characters a lot more, and spent time developing them more and showing their backgrounds. The Turning is also a semi drama, and something I like doing is mixing different genres that I have done in The Turning, although not everyone likes films that mix genres, especially several like I have done in this case.
Stu: THE TURNING is a real hybrid film in terms of genre, full of ideas. What was the general inspiration for you?
Jason: I really wanted to make a new feature, but it is extremely difficult raising finance, and at the time I was finding it very difficult to gain distribution for some of my previous features. Kemal Yildirim who works closely with me on all my films since Revenge of the Dead wanted me to make a new feature and wanted to re-explore his acting roots. I came up with a very simplistic idea of a woman and her lover stuck in a barn after she had been bit and slowly turning, unable to leave due to the undead hanging around outside, cut off from everybody in the middle of nowhere and her lover looking on in horror as she slowly becomes a zombie, helpless and in pain that he cannot do anything to help. I pitched this idea to Kemal and he loved it and so I started to plan, Kemal was going to produce the film, but also star, he usually is my DOP and camera operator so I was going to direct, shoot and edit this film while he stars and produces. After a few meetings we started to develop the film and suddenly it was growing out of control with sub plots, crazy characters and political statements. Kemal was encouraging me and did not want my vision compromised due to funding. So I used this opportunity to make a film with scenes and a style that I had wanted to do and not explored so much of. I had a lot out of my system when it comes to filmmaking, but I had wanted to do a shocumentary like 'Faces of Death', a film that I found very disturbing and shocking, a film that stands out to me and I will never forget. So I decided to shoot the film in a documentary style, and to add to this style I thought I would revisit the Dogme 95 style of filmmaking that I had used with my earlier feature 'Troubled'. I really enjoyed 'The Idiots' by Lars von Trier and enjoyed making Troubled even though the film went to darker places than I thought it would. So I combined the shocumentary style of filmmaking with the Dogme 95 style of filmmaking to create the look of The Turning and then thrown in the genres I love and ones I wanted to explore more. I had made zombie films before, mainly shorts, I had won best film with my 10 minute short 'Zombies in the Wood' made back in 2004 and had grossed people out with the infamous zombie rape scene in 'Revenge of the Dead' 2007, but I had never made a full length zombie feature. The closest I had come was my 40-minute zombie flick - 'Zombie Village' that has now become 'Woods of Terror'. So I used the zombie sub genre as my main blue print for the film, which was exciting as I love zombie films, especially the old school flicks 'Zombie Flesh Eaters' & 'The Beyond', hence why the zombies are slow moving in The Turning. I am a big fan of the Nazi sexploitation films of the video nastie era, and that is where the Nazi sub plot comes from in The Turning, but it is also homage to 'American History X' that I really enjoyed and found very powerful and moving. As I am a fan of grindhouse/exploitation cinema I love some of the cheesy martial arts flicks and so decided to write in a bounty hunter character that would have a big showdown with the protagonist Dillon Slater.
Stu: Where and when was it filmed?
Jason: I shot the Turning in 11 days over April & May 2010 in Milton Keynes & Northampton
Stu: Would you agree that the zombie scenes are influenced by THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE - or am I way off?
Jason: I love that film, and even wore the T-shirt of it on the set of The Turning as well as owning the pre-cert VHS of it and the Anchor Bay and Blue Underground DVD releases of it so I would agree, and again I love the slow moving eerie look of the zombies in that movie, and wanted my zombies to act the same, that's how I think a zombie should be as it is a decaying body after all. Also that film has a strong political statement about destroying the world by means of messing about with science to improve crops, my statement is similar, but instead of messing about with our food my Nazi scientists are messing about with human genetics to create the perfect race.
Stu: You play a particularly loathsome character in THE TURNING - you're a real cunt from the second you're on the screen. Tell us something about this character; is he based on anyone?
Jason: I play Leon, the name inspired by the film 'Leon'. My character has a hat-ridge for life and is just not happy with the world he lives in, in particular the country he lives in. He is a racist (this character does not resemble me in anyway) and wants to purify the world in what is in his eyes full of diseased scum. Playing such a nasty character is great fun because you can really push the boundaries. I have met a lot of nasty people out in the world and even tried to be done over by a few so Leon is my ultimate character reflecting on all the nastiness out there in the world, he represents what's wrong with the world - people like him, which sadly people like Leon do exist and there are far too many people like him out there.
Stu: There's a lot of focus on the script in THE TURNING. What do you hope audiences take away from it?
Jason: I hope the audience have a roller coaster of a ride with the film and hardly have a chance to catch their breath. I also hope they hate Leon so much they want him punished for his sins and crimes, and I want to make them think about the state of current affairs and why there are people like Leon out their and these people should not be ignored but exposed, freedom of speech is a good thing, but respect for others is more important.
Stu: You've toned the gore down a little for THE TURNING?
Jason: Yeah, I wanted to make the zombie scenes graphic, but I also wanted to add more action in this film than my previous ones. I also wanted to make the film more mainstream and accessible to a larger audience, I did not want to restrict myself to a small audience due to how graphic the film would be and I also wanted to show people that I can do more than just gross out gore although I do love the glory gory films hell of a lot.
Stu: I haven't mentioned Rami Hilmi's dodgy American accent in my review. But, come on, it's iffy (enjoyably so). As his director, did you not dare mention it to him because he looks pretty handy?
Jason: I did a well dodgy accent in Home Made, and I really don't know where the hell that came from, my wife gives me stick about that a lot, but it added to the madness of my character Jack Hess, and like with Home Made Rami's accent in The Turning I felt gave his character that fun cheesy exploitation feel that I love, I did want a bit of humour and light relief in The Turning as it does deal with quite heavy subjects such as race, identity, and an extreme version of politics. Rami made his character Quaid into a Texas cowboy bounty hunter, and I love my spaghetti westerns so I loved the fact that I had a little homage in there, it is a shame because I had to cut some scenes out for the pace and some just did not work, but his cowboy background was more established in some of these scenes.
Stu: You bagged Eileen Daly for a role in THE TURNING. How did this come about? Care to share a few memories of working with her?
Jason: While shooting the film I was still planning the last 2 days of principal photography that were to be the Nazi liar with Ilsa (Eileen Daly). So Kemal set out to get someone and managed to get in touch with Eileen Daly who agreed to come down for 2 days to do a monster of a scene. This was so exciting to us as we are big fans of independent films like Razor Blade Smile and thought it would be a nice pay off to fans as well. Eileen is very supportive of independent filmmakers and she threw herself into the character and we had a real blast shooting this scene, it was one of the best shoots of the film and in fact best shoots I have ever done. She had a laugh with us and yet was very professional and took her character to another level, she even acted along side my son who plays the baby she holds in the scene, and my father is her henchman that Dillon kills. My dad and Eileen had great time and went to get drinks and ended up breaking into song in the coffee shop a story much talked about.
Stu: Your budget for the film was reportedly £500.00. How was this calculated? Don't worry, I'm not auditing you: I just think it would genuinely interest other aspiring filmmakers to learn how you apportioned the funds.
Jason: I am in a good position in that I have cameras and editing facilities and audio equipment etc, so between me and Kemal we had all the kit we needed to shoot the film. Rami is an actor me and Kemal have worked with since 2007 and built a great working relationship with so he gave up his free time and came and stayed with me for a week while we shot all his scenes, and did it for the support of me and Kemal and the project. Kemal rounded up the zombies from Northampton University to give all the graduating actors a chance to get a feature on their CV. I used my nans house as a location, my mums back garden for part of the forest, and we did guerrilla filmmaking in the rest of the forest and urban areas. We also managed to get a basement of a pub for free 'The Crauford Arms' in Wolverton Milton Keynes that is where we built the Nazi lair set. We just paid the pub for lunch, some drinks, and we put Eileen up there in the hotel part. The shack that gets smashed up in the 10-minute fight scene is my old shed in my back garden that I was getting rid of for a new one so it did me a real favour! A family friend (Jenny Buckland) who is self employed in beauty make-up came down and did the special effects to build her portfolio up with her assistant Becky Stone. When Eileen got involved a man called Ralph Cardell got in touch with me regarding the score of the film. He had worked in a band with Eileen in the past and is good friends with her who is still doing music in the TV industry, but he wanted to do something different and too loves zombie films and offered to do the score to make a change from what he normally does that was fantastic news to me and in fact he did a great job and we clicked straight away once we started talking about soundtracks we like and the style of film The Turning would be. My wife Sharon Impey has been my rock and generally my assistant, she has supported me and she filmed a lot of the making of footage and took a lot of the stills. She also looked after my guests and fed them and Kemal's wife Saima also made lots of food for the set and helped do the catering. So the only real crew was Kemal and me with help from Sharon and Rami was a great support on set choreographing with Kemal the epic fight scene. The money mainly went on travel expenses, stock for the camera and some props and costumes.
Stu: How are you finding attempts to get distribution for the film? As a low-budget UK filmmaker, you're in a prime position to put into perspective the state of the industry at present.
Jason: Sadly I am finding it extremely difficult to gain distribution. A few indie labels have gone bust or folded, and a lot of the others are not taking on new titles due to lack of DVD sales, which is partly due to piracy and downloading movies. I am constantly searching for distribution with my back catalogue of feature films, it is a bit disheartening to be sat here with a pile of films that are just gathering dust not reaching their potential audience. I would love to get a UK release, but it is dame near impossible for an indie film with the BBFC charging so much for submission and being harsh with censorship. Also some of the distribution deals out there are not great, and you do not gain much out of it apart from a bit of publicity. I am sure if all else fails I can get a minor release for The Turning, but I would like a better deal than I have had for previous films as I do feel that it is one of my strongest films along with Tortured.
Stu: You've revisited a few of your earlier films, re-edited them etc. Can you tell us a little more and the how and why behind this?
Jason: I like to get the most out of a film I make, and I also have become a bit more anal on my projects, so I have tried to improve on my older films, also this is a good way to keep busy and stay in the game of filmmaking without having to fund a whole new project. I have recently made a feature called Killer Stories that is a horror anthology I directed under my alias name of Joe Newton. I shot a wrap around story and cut down my films 'Tormented', 'Sick Bastard' & 'Home Made' to 30 minutes each to use as the short stories, and I think the films are a lot better now they are tighter, and the film has started to get good reviews as a whole unlike when Home Made was its own 88 minute feature. I have also just sold the rights to my XXX feature Naked Nazi to SRS Cinema, but to get it from 50 minutes to 65 minutes I added a brand new shot and re-edited 10 minutes from Tortured to add to the story to get a distribution deal. I have also revisited Tortured AKA Sex Slave for the final time to create my definitive version, a true grindhouse flick. I have read the reviews, watched it threw, seen what works and don't work and decided to improve it and make the film I originally wanted to make. I have taken the zombie element out, changed the timeline, used the opening as a flash back to build the characters, shot a brand new beginning and ending and additional scenes and cut some of the XXX shots out and made it a pure sleazy violent exploitation film and titled it 'Psychopaths' which runs at 78 minutes and am currently seeking distribution for it at the moment.
Stu: And how is JI Productions, your own production company, developing?
Jason: J.I. Productions is going well, I have 14 feature films under my belt at the moment, and on the verge of 30 short films, but am mainly focusing on making one feature film at a time. After Home Made Redux is complete there are 4 more ideas for features to be made, plans have started and each idea is very different, I have an order in which I want to make them as well. I have managed to keep J.I. Productions running since 2003 and every year it has grown stronger with more success so fingers crossed the future looks to get better.
Stu: Finally, what are your favourite genre films of the last few years?
Jason: I have a very wide variety of taste when it comes to watching films, I honestly watch just about anything, but my favourite genre is obviously horror, especially independent horror. I like films that stand out and leave a big impact on me that is usually due to a shocking nature and being controversial. Some of the recent films that have left their mark on me are A Serbian Film, Antichrist, The Saw Films, The August Underground Films and I am loving the Arrow Blu-ray releases of the classics, am getting myself quite a collection.
Stu: Cheers Jason, all the best with the film - it deserves to be seen and I hope you get the distribution it's worthy of.
Jason: All the best, Stu
Special thanks to Jason Impey