Michael – At the helm of Ozploitation

David Black interviews Michael Helms of Fatal Visions

 

DB – Today, I’m chatting with an amazing guy who’s been active in the Australian indie movie industry as a writer, publisher and distributor for a massive 30 years or so.  I first heard of Michael Helms when his magazine, “Fatal Visions” graced the racks of those Melbourne shops that stocked zines back in the 1980’s.  Michael didn’t just write about local movies though, he also distributed them.  I saw the infamous Melbourne vampire flick, “Bloodlust” at the State Film Theatre in 1992 thanks to his efforts.  All these years later, I’m collecting up the Ozploitation movies released on his Fatal Visions label, such as Cat Sick Blues, Mondo Yakuza and Sheborg Massacre.  Without Michael, many of these would not have made it to the dvd shelves.  It’s an honour to be able to speak with a man who has helped so many and fed my appetite for local horror movies over the last few decades.

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Hi Michael, thanks for taking the time to chat to me today.  You’ve worked tirelessly within the local indie movie industry for years.  Fatal Visions mag ran from 1988 – 1998, which is an amazing run for a fanzine.  Can I ask what attracted you to horror, action and exploitation movies originally?

 

MH – Sure, several salient points bleed into each other: Being raised Catholic helps a lot. From the outset you are told what you can’t watch or do (actually, that sounds like a completely modern corporate plan performed by HR departments across the planet in dealing with a company’s major liability: their employees) and that a severe punishment is waiting for any sort of transgression. At the very least Catholicism can create a deep appreciation of darkness and fear (especially of concepts of The Devil) and even art. It can also make rebels of the more strong-minded. You wouldn’t believe how many dedicated horror filmmakers are Catholics by family but not conviction and who readily agree that this particular religion really made them horror fiends.

Secondly, as a child of the 60s, being born at the end of the baby boomer cycle meant that at this particular juncture in history there was an overflow of horror goodness surrounding me at the most impressionable age. In the late 60s/early 70s from rubber monsters and the Scanlen’s version of horror movie bubble gum cards at the local milk bar to monster masks, Deadly Earnest and horror movies on TV in general, and going to Burke’s ACTU department store to pick up the Aurora model kit of, “The Victim”, with your mother, an interest in horror movies could easily become a 24/7 thing especially if you are encouraged to be an Arts lover and supporter, which I was. From a very young age and as an avid reader of everything I could lay my eyes on, I felt constantly let down by mainstream media especially daily newspapers who even I could see were blindly accepting the ad dollars from the distributors of films just for the privilege of placing large and lurid advertising in their publications without providing any sort of editorial response. When the odd review of a horror film did appear in the daily press it was rarely positive and often snide, principally designed to make the writer look good but in an entirely imperious manner. At this point I think I made some sort of vow to myself that one day I was somehow going to turn around this, ‘love to hate you’, approach to horror films.

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Years later I came across a couple of these pompous blowhard daily print critics in a completely reactionary situation after a preview screening of BRAIN DAMAGE that involved the brandishing of a walking stick at the female publicist. My empathy for distributors ballooned although it would not be a smooth relationship especially when major distributors would treat their own horror products with contempt. At the time, besides Deadly Earnest, there was only one place to turn for critical responses to horror films: the Catholic Church. In the weekly publication The Advocate they carried comprehensive title listings for the latest releases. They were rated by being divided into columns, one of which was for, ‘advised against’ films. Of course, unintentionally, these films instantly became the most desired and sought after especially for those who wouldn’t be able to legally view them until many years later.      

Most importantly I was brought up in a house that was lined with books. Never underestimate the power of literature, nor as a source for cheap films when their copyright has expired. Everyone in my family had a subscription to something. Even though I ended up getting The Story Of Pop every week and that helped create another important part of me, I can cite two books that directly influenced the reason we’re talking today: Play Power by Richard Neville & Horror Movies by Carlos Clarens. Both books were the first things I borrowed as an 8 year old from a certain suburban library not long after it opened. Over a period of months I got my Dad to photocopy (a new technology then) nearly every page of the Clarens book especially the pictures. Incredibly, some of these photocopies still exist today while lots of the historically interesting faxes (like Larry Buchanan explaining how he wasn’t up for an interview or Ollie Martin chewing up nearly a whole fax roll to tell us everything we wanted to know about HOUSEBOAT HORROR when he realised that we were very serious about horror) that were sent to Fatal Visions in the 80s and printed on thermal paper that allowed them to fade away faster than the runs of many of our favourite films, which were often given the shortest of release windows.

Play Power was all about the documenting of youth or new culture in Oz magazine, and became engulfed in the most drawn out and expensive obscenity case ever put upon a publication in a court of law. I already knew I was attracted to horror films because of their ability to take on and present numerous contentious issues. I liked how they needled and provoked people including myself and felt that this wasn’t just a matter of personal taste but one of almost social political communications that needed to be continued and supported. The mission was taking form. Armed with my growing collection of horror film ads cut out of daily newspapers, a growing horror film book library (I also decided then to build the largest horror film book library I could, something I’m still working nearly 50 years later) and my knowledge of the legal travails of Oz magazine I felt prepared to fight any battle regarding the public display of love for horror films. I began to get vocal and argumentative with anyone about horror films. Then I discovered Space Age Books, the precursor to Minotaur Books, who began importing American fanzines emerging from the messy era of the mimeograph (Mum was a teacher and the Roneo machine was an every day tool) with thick offset printed publications jam packed with stills and in the case of one, the very smart Photon out of New York, each issue actually contained a beautiful black and white 8” by 10” still from a horror film. As a matter of fact, a framed copy of filmmaker Tod Browning surrounded by his cast members from FREAKS sits just above my head right now. I was also heavily influenced by early issues of Cinefantastique, in terms of writing and analysis and layout and design but especially for their coverage of Euro-horror (which of course, wasn’t labelled as such then).

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DB – Amazing!  Let’s chat about the Fatal Visions fanzine Michael.  Most of the younger generations won’t understand the difficulties and risks involved with publishing way back in the 80’s and 90’s.  Blogging on the web is easy and anyone can get their story up within minutes with just the click of a button.  You don’t have to get bromides of pics, print out type, cut it with a scalpel and metal ruler and then lay it out by hand and paste it onto graph paper.  There are no costs for physically printing and none of the hassles of carting the mags to outlets or the cost of postage.

I published 3 zines way back then (Gooby Comics, Sartorial Titbits and St Kilda Funnies) that were stocked at Greville Records and Minotaur Books, so I remember Fatal Visions well.  It looked good and really stood out.   But what I recall most was the risk of pushing the bar too far.

You were there in the bad old days of the 80’s and 90’s when there was always the chance of being busted and having the police seize your product.  Publishers and shops that were brave enough risked legal charges and hefty fines.  Amongst those I remember being hit were Missing Link records around 1981 who had stock seized and faced the beak for displaying a Dead Kennedys single. Local cartoonist, Fred Negro was also hit, when his booklet “Fred Nile Suck This” was declared obscene and confiscated in 1985.  Also Polyester copped it a few times over.  They were raided the first time in 1997, their shelves emptied, and the owner, Paul Elliott got fined.   Was this ever a concern for you Michael?

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MH – Personally, I really dug the opportunity to hand assemble the first six issues of Fatal Visions and believe it thoroughly grounded me in the basics of publishing. Things like dealing with contributors and their copy, editing, proofing, layout, marketing, promotion, distribution, schedules, postage and freight, expenses, budgets, previews, advertisers, filmmakers, interviewees, publicists, retailers and perhaps the most important: deadlines. No matter what production method is utilised publishing is always labour-intense, as you yourself might have experienced. I think you should use this understanding to prime yourself to present the best version of your work possible and not become lazy at the last minute just to get it quickly to the printers or online. Despite electronic publishing allowing you the luxury of fixing your work on the fly with a sly edit or two, as far as I’m concerned dead tree technology is a superior publishing medium in every way. Especially if you’re some whiney millennial who thinks google is the sole receptacle of world history.  

As far as content is concerned I knew that what I was doing with Fatal Visions should it receive mainstream attention, could provoke adverse reactions way beyond the small but loyal band who took it to their hearts and minds. You can only live in hope. What I’m referring to here is the serial killer component to Fatal Visions. Violent onscreen death is integral to horror movies as is the monster that performs it. The interest in serial killers who have always been a part of film history and an ongoing and long time fascination for humanity in general, reached some sort of peak during the 90s. Thanks to Fatal Visions friend & columnist David Nolte, the editor and founder of the zine Crimson Celluloid originally out of Sydney, who I found a contact address for in the letters page (edited by Graham Kennedy) in what was perhaps Australia’s best consumer video magazine The Video Age, we had a direct line to some of the world’s most infamous prisoners (the previously mentioned FREAKS pic presently sits next to a Manson original). So, why not utilise this vast and untapped resource?  Nolte was and remains Australia’s most prolific pen pal to local and international serial killers and his interviewing technique and style is humorous and second to none and by the way, continues to this day. However, despite publishing what could sometimes be described as jailbird ravings was also able to offer insight into the mythical world of Snuff film production, which I’d never seen written about before especially from the perspective of production and distribution. You’ll notice that the second Fatal Visions compilation book contains very little serial killer material. This was a conscientious decision simply predicated on the fact that some of it especially the Snuff film related material, had been reprinted in the first two versions of the fantastic book Killing For Culture by David Kerekes and David Slater. They utilised even further FV material and new interviews with Nolte and I in their incredible re-worked and much-expanded edition published in 2016 that was sub-titled From Edison to ISIS and A New History Of Death On Film, altogether, a highly recommended work that should be of great significance to all sorts of horror enthusiasts.

Despite the busts you mentioned I was only ever really concerned about Fatal Visions not receiving attention and then any sort of attention, even the wrong kind. Getting charged with sedition was something of a career ambition for a while but in retrospect it’s perhaps good that I’m yet to achieve it. Also, I think that culturally within Australia the emphasis had shifted from literature to videotape by the mid 80s. Of those events you mention above most of them were connected to music and packaging infringements and bootlegs but I’ll always remember the Polyester bust that was conducted by the Federal Police and one representative from the O.F.L.C who asked then proprietor Paul Elliott, “Could you please show us to some of the tapes we’re supposed to be confiscating?” Wouldn’t you know it that that raid and one would have to suspect the few like it, were being conducted by knuckleheads who couldn’t even do their own research! The next Fatal Visions book will include further investigation into dealings with the authorities by independent distributors and others. Even though FV received a massive amount of vhs tapes we were never once given a letter of warning that an item had been confiscated. Yes, it’s true that it only takes one complaint from one person to send you into a downward legal spiral but Fatal Visions simply never received one. Instead the most common gripe was the age old, “When’s the next issue?” even if you’d just slapped the latest issue into their hands.    

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DB – From writing about films and publishing, you moved into distributing them. Was this a natural pathway that presented itself, or was it something that you had to pursue?  Way back then, discovering information on anything non mainstream wasn’t easy so finding the films must have been hard. Can you tell us how you got into film distribution?

MH – First of all I was always interested in film as industry. It always helps to look at it more closely in those often seemingly endless gaps between the releases of really cool films. Keeping your ear to the ground and eyeballs constantly immersed in everything from the latest trash film fanzine to the variety of industry mags that in the late 80s/early 90s could even be found in the largest and best newsagents (McGills in Elizabeth Street for example, now long gone) was the best way to proceed. Attending film festivals wherever they may be is also a definite must. Nowadays it seems to be the only way I can watch a lot of films at once is at festivals. Working for an advertising company that was also a partner in FV and had associated businesses in distribution, exhibition and even a little bit of production, made the whole process not only highly organic and natural with highly exchangeable information flying around corridors at all times but enticing. With FV attracting interest from filmmakers from the beginning this was also a major fillip especially when we got into promoting screenings and developing a short-lived film national festival that did attract a major film distributor (but they wouldn’t let us show any more of their horror product). Same as now you could always glean information from others by simply talking. I have never abandoned writing and see it as more important than ever before actually. It just matters how you do it and where you put it.

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DB – At the time that you were handling Bloodlust, there were a number of indie movies being made, such as “In Too Deep”, “Salt, Saliva, Sperm and Sweat”, “Dogs In Space” and “Done 2 Death.”  Some made it to the shelves of our local the video shops while others were not so lucky and have been forgotten.  I only knew about Done 2 Death because it was shown at a house in Acland St, in a similar way to how indie short film nights get run at pubs nowadays.  As for “In Too Deep”, I didn’t manage to see it until recently, despite having been an extra in it.

This obscure era is almost lost to time.  It comes after the golden age of Ozploitation, which was fuelled by a tax concession called 10ba.  It ended with the digital revolution that made filming and editing cheaper and easier while online platforms enabled distribution to the masses.  You were as close to the heart of it as anyone could get.  Can you tell us a bit about this crazy time?

 

MH – Let’s say from Mark Savage’s MARAUDERS, the first feature shot on tape in Australia circa 1986 (and never officially released here in any format other than at special one-off and festival screenings) which I’d learned about from Philip Brophy and Bruce Milne’s EEEK! radio show and screenings at the Melbourne Super 8 group. Yes, things would get busier but it didn’t happen overnight and I wouldn’t call it crazy activity in fact it would be nearly five years before the next comparable film would go into production: BLOODLUST.

The producers of BLOODLUST spent most of their $75,000 budget on hiring a three-chip TV broadcast standard camera and an operator. By the end of the decade you could buy such cameras for under $500.00 at the nearest JB! However, after BLOODUST was completed and had travelled right around Australia four times with various festival appearances (which in itself was pretty amazing considering it only existed on video tape and projection wasn’t half the thing as this projected world we now live in, much less the ability to be programmed at all), the chatter factor was amplified and suddenly it had a set a benchmark that everyone thought they could beat. Everyone included everybody from film-schooled genre fans to people who probably had never previously thought about even making a film. Peter Jackson’s BRAINDEAD which was shot in 1993 (after BAD TASTE & MEET THE FEEBLES) soon began to create waves of influence across the planet and when BODY MELT was shot a year later in Melbourne and began to receive it’s own very spotty theatrical release there was more than a moment of, “Bloody Hell, there really is a genre explosion going on!” But it never really panned out. Nonetheless, an output that became a solid dribble did eventuate.

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Out of Sydney came MAD BOMBER IN LOVE while country Victoria produced MAD MAX piss-take RANKO. Melbourne hosted DAWN OF THE D.M.Fs while BLOODLUST co-writer & co-director Richard Wolstencroft shot DELIVER US FROM EVIL and then PEARLS BEFORE SWINE. DAWN, DELIVER and PEARLS all remain unreleased in Australia with DELIVER still in post-production. Even Tasmania chipped in with the destined to be unseen gore-fest BACK FROM THE DEAD. Queensland produced DEMONS IN MY HEAD and naturally with Warner Roadshow Studios nearby on the Gold Coast it was perhaps inevitable that more little films would originate from there. Across the pond in Wellington a low budget film about killer lizards in a snowbound environment called ABERRATION was made in a co-production situation with a British film company and Grundy Films who despite their ability to produce TV and establish themselves as an international production powerhouse only ever made two features. The other being ABBA: THE MOVIE. ABERRATION received tape releases in some territories but largely remains buried with the exception of a Fatal Visions screening in 1997. A little film made in Melbourne called STYGIAN produced by some very keen RMIT students, drew the attention of Madman Entertainment, genre distributors on the rise, who advertised it in one of their catalogues but failed to release it.

From the turn of the century no-budget production has definitely been on the upswing with technology getting even cheaper but one early win was Mark Savage’s low budget SENSITIVE NEW AGE KILLER which saw his attention to twisted detail pay-off with a national release into multiplexes. Nothing like that release has really happened since though.

Unfortunately, as noted, many of the films mentioned above and quite a few others haven’t achieved any sort of release.  So, while the Fatal Visions label will attempt to bring the widest range of new genre films to rapidly shrinking Australian retail spaces, until we can establish a Fatal Past retrospective release line, then they may forever remain unreleased. Or until streaming can broaden it’s own content and play schedules.

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DB – Michael, you’ve been active over four decades, publishing and distributing in what many would see as an obscure genre that has little support.  Ozploitation is now re-emerging with a new generation of fans.  There are many hopping onto the band wagon now but you’ve slogged it out for all this time and have been vital to keeping the torch going. Has it been hard to maintain enthusiasm over all these years during the lulls?

MH – That’s one of the questions I frequently ask filmmakers who rarely come up with any sort of satisfactory answer on the spot. Even little films act like unstoppable juggernauts once in production and are difficult to walk away from especially if you’ve designed and lived with the project for sometimes years before actually making it. For every film I write about there seems to be almost as many that don’t quite make it across the line no matter who is attached to them. I often reassure myself though with the observation that there are several things that are constant in life: death, taxes and horror films. There’s always something on the way. Maybe it will be the next hardcore horror winner!

Of course, you can always do the obvious and that is go and watch a horror film! CAT SICK BLUES should do it for you…

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DB –   What have been some of the highlights of your career so far Michael?  I’m sure that you must have a few really wild stories to tell!

MH – While I forever remain proud of the title Weird Film Expert that was bestowed on me by People magazine when I wrote for them in the early 90s, that’s hardly a wild thing. I could mention my absolute surprise and shock discovery of unisex showers when I was on the set of BRAINDEAD actually in a shower but for the minute it’s going to be this: On a Sunday morning just before dawn I found myself reluctantly driving towards a ‘set’ at the end of the earth outer suburb of Bayswater. Next to a building that was so decayed it barely existed but housed their minimal catering services and a nice backdrop for all of the characters to be photographed next to, I was soon under a bridge standing next to the director who was wearing a fully functional hyper-dermic needle glove on one hand and in the other held a camera that he was using to shoot a scene involving the Bruce Campbell–type lead and the needle fingers.

The actor was stationed out of sight on the other side of the bridge so the director had to set it all up with him via a walkie talkie to get him to run towards him but stop in a certain spot. Simultaneously he ordered me a cup of coffee while filming and got the shot with a minimal amount of takes. All the while he also kept conversing with passing production assistants as he was well into setting up the next shot. He also operated his needle fingers himself leaving me simply amazed that he could remain so focussed with so many distractions and communicate effectively with everybody at all times and even seem to enjoy it! Actor Michael J. Fox once told me that directing was like being nibbled to death by ducks and wasn’t for him after earning his sole directorial credit on a TALES FROM THE CRYPT episode. The name of the director was James Wan and the film was STYGIAN. To this day I have never seen anyone multi-task like James Wan on a film set and let me tell you from Peter Jackson to Alex Proyas and the Wachowski siblings and beyond, I’ve witnessed some of the biggest names in filmmaking working on some of the biggest most expensive sets and none of them have ever even come close to demonstrating such natural and almost casual ease on a film set as that kid did. I was never surprised that his career in filmmaking has had the trajectory that it has.  

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DB – I believe that the next couple of releases on Fatal Visions are a zombie movie “The Last Hope” and Daniel Armstrong’s latest release “Tarnation.”  I’ll be excited to see them because I had a small involvement with both.

With the first one, I helped them achieve their massive zombie horde by getting the newspaper articles in The Leader and Star Weekly newspapers that went viral.  I was also the zombie on the front cover of five Star Weekly mastheads.

With the latter one, Tarnation, I got to be the scarecrow extra in the bonus feature, “God vs Oscar”.

I haven’t seen either movie yet though, so please, tell me about them.

 

MH – THE LAST HOPE is a viral outbreak survival film that utilizes as you describe, a massive amount of zombie extras. I think it’s actually something of a record for an Australian no-budget film. Undoubtedly, it also helped THE LAST HOPE become the first ever Monster Fest film to sell out three sessions. But while it’s one thing to logistically organise several hundred extras onto a location set (and one of the two directors has indeed practical logistical organisational skills developed from his day job in the Australian Army) but it’s a totally different thing to actually have make-up applied (by a team of 30) and give them direction that makes them look and act like a totally dangerous and out of control mob, especially one that seems to be only concerned with swallowing the still steaming entrails of their non-diseased victims. Amazingly the two directors Leigh Ormsby & Glenn Ellis also portray two main characters in THE LAST HOPE and also film it!

Joining previous films MURDERDROME, FROM PARTS UNKNOWN and last years SHEBORG MASSACRE (also a Fatal Visions label film), TARNATION is what director and no-budget auteur Daniel Armstrong describes as his first real horror film. A spam in a cabin film that Armstrong likes to emphasize with an oversize poster for the EVIL DEAD soundtrack that just about dwarfs all the actors who appear near it, TARNATION also includes a black unicorn, some impressive wing flapping flight from one of the main characters, demon possession and naturally enough a superb sense of non-stop mayhem. It’s also perhaps Armstrong’s most psychedelic film.

THE LAST HOPE is due for release in April while you can expect TARNATION out in May. There will be at least one other Fatal Visions release before the end of the year.

 

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DB – Thanks for taking the time to chat to me today Michael.  I normally make a comment here about how interesting the chat is, or something along those lines, but my mind has been totally blown away by all of this.  Do you have any links where people can keep up to date with your work?

 

Links go here –

http://cultofmonster.com.au/

http://ledatape.net/lto/

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From America With Love

David Black talks about the great Aussie cultural cringe and interviews two American film distributors that love Aussie Movies.

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One of the biggest hurdles for our local indie movie makers is the Australian public themselves.  Often, we are the ones that tear down our talent when they are at their most vulnerable early stages of their careers.  If we were to visualise this, it would be the very image of a large grotesque creature, malevolently hovering over a baby in its’ pram, face contorted with anger and disdain, mocking and jeering.  It’s not a pretty picture, but that’s how it feels to be on the receiving end of our cultural cringe.

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It’s not that we don’t love Australia. We do and are proud to be Aussies.  But when it comes to the culture that we so adore being presented to the outside world, we become more like shy, self-conscious little children.  We crave the approval of our elders but somehow feel that we are inferior when this mirror is presented to us via our local film makers.  Suddenly we feel naked and vulnerable.  We see all that which makes us unique and try to destroy it as though it were some hideous monster that is out to destroy us.

Our media outlets have always been dominated by American and British films and TV shows.  It was never that we lacked the population to sustain our industry.  We could have been producing so much more and exporting it to the rest of the world.  Instead, our support of Australian films and actors has usually been only once they’ve been snapped up in the USA and sold back to us.

Today I will be talking to representatives of two media outlets in the USA that absolutely love Aussie movies and are putting their money where their mouth is by giving them a desperately needed outlet and a sanctuary from the dreaded cultural cringe and tall poppy syndrome.  Raven Christina Corvus runs Fizzy TV, in conjunction with her partner Jerome Perce.   Ron Bonk runs SRS Cinema.   Fizzy TV is a VOD site that has a whole section called “The Australian Invasion” and SRS Cinema is a motion picture production and distribution studio who specialise in national and international exploitation/ horror releases on DVD and VOD.

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DB – Hi everyone.  Ron, I’ll start with a question for you.  SRS cinema has been around a long time.  Could you tell me a bit about how it all started and what you do?

Ron – First, thanks for having me.  As far as my beginnings, I started off wanting to just be a filmmaker.   I was shooting on analogue consumer brand video, and there were only two distributors I knew of for these types of movies.   Both didn’t have great reps, and one was getting out of distribution anyway.   So I launched my own distribution company to handle my work, then branched out picking up other movies.  And here we are today, 100s of movies later.

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DB – Raven, Fizzy TV is a relative newcomer and mainly a VOD site at this stage.  Can you tell me about about its origins and what you are currently doing?

Raven  We started out as just shooting for our shows White Noise Paranormal and Locked Into Darkness.  We had a network contact us and wanted our series on his Roku channel.  Long story short the owner was not an honest person and no longer has his network.  We then decided to start our own network to help people like ourselves to get more exposure.  I believe if you rely on just YouTube for getting seen you’re going to get lost in the sea of cat videos.  I have seen amazing web series and short movies with only a few hundred likes, but yet a cat playing with a ball of string can get millions of views.  I feel very strongly after my experience that you need to get your work out to as many outlets as possible.  How can you expect to be seen if you don’t put it out there?

Right now Fizzy TV is still looking for fresh new content.  The cool thing about Fizzy, unlike other platforms, we will not turn anyone down.   Just because one person doesn’t like something doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t.   We do not critique, we let the masses.

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On the set of White Noise Paranormal

DB – Now, to jump straight to the big question that Aussies are reading this article for….  What is it that attracted to you to Australian movies?

Ron –  I love Ozploitation movies.   Many of them are among my all-time favourite flicks – “Mad Max”, “Dead End Drive-in”, “Razorback”, etc..   These movies are original and insane, a great combo in my book.

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 A couple of SRS Cinema releases

Raven – I love the Aussie movies for their cutting edge content.   I have seen some great work.   In America we are so concerned with being politically correct we are losing ourselves with the fear of offending someone.   Horror is my first love and right now YouTube will not monetize anything horror because they feel that their advertisers will not approve.   I LOVE the Aussie horror shorts we have on Fizzy.

DB – Are you surprised to hear that it is common for Australians to be embarrassed by Aussie films?  So much so that the term, “cultural cringe” is virtually a cliché here?

Ron – Yes, I was at first, I would have expected them to be embraced by their natives, but I’ve seen this before… culture rejecting an art form, then later will often “discover” and embrace it.   The same thing happened with shot on video movies by and large.  They were hated by so many in the 90s when they were being made, now underground horror fans seek them out, celebrate them, sometimes pay crazy amounts of money to own them, especially if they never made it to DVD. 

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Raven – I was really shocked when I heard from a few people in Australia tell me that.   I can’t really wrap my head around that.  Why would anyone be ashamed of their own culture?   You would think that it would be embraced and proud.   It’s not like the content is below par, in fact it is above most that I see in the states.

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Raven Christina Corvus

DB – How have your current subscribers/ customers responded to the addition of Australian movies to your catalogue?

Ron – Well we just acquired our first ones from Nathan Hill and it’ll be a bit before we start the various releases of it… but I’m hoping they embrace them as much as I do.  I’d love to bring more underground Australian horrors to North America and the rest of the world.

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Tomboys – A Nathan Hill movie

Raven – I love that we have an Aussie Invasion section.   We have many viewers that come just to Fizzy for that reason.   I feel that the Aussie movies are up and coming and we are ahead of the curve.   The amount of traffic to Fizzy exploded when we first started getting the Aussie content.   We want to keep that up!

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DB – What are your future plans and do they include increasing your distribution of Australian movies?

Ron – – I’m just always on the lookout for cool horror flicks, films with a good story and a healthy heaping of gore.   I don’t always get every movie I want, but there’s plenty out there so I never seem to run short.  I’m hoping Nathan’s movies do well with us and word spreads to other underground filmmakers in his country.   I’d really like to see the imports expand, we’ve released movies from Germany and Japan this past year, and there’s more interesting overseas pictures to come.

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RavenThe future of Fizzy is always developing and making it a great experience for the end user.   We are always updating all of our platforms.   We are lucky that we have a programmer that is a co-owner so Fizzy is always getting up to date features.

Of course we are always looking for more content.   In the states people LOVE international films, web series etc.   We want to have a large and growing selection for our viewers to keep them coming back.   It’s like with any VOD site when you are checking regularly for new content.

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DB – Do you have any advice for Australian film makers?

Ron – Yes, don’t hold back… go as crazy as you want to with your story, add as much gore as you can, shoot on (at least) HD, take your time to make a well made movie with strong acting and good sound, so nothing holds us back from make it every bit as successful as it deserves to be!

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 Empire State of the Dead – an SRS movie

Raven – I would just have to say don’t create for others, create for yourself.   We have seem to lost that art of the camera being your eye and what you see.

There are still hurdles in this industry.   For me, believe it or not, it’s being female. Not many people seem to pay attention that I actually DO film.   I have been filming, along with Jerome, for White Noise for many years.   I am trying to branch out of the reality tv genre with a new web horror series.   To all of the women filmographers out there… make yourself seen and heard loud! We do exist.

DB – Thanks Ron and Christina for chatting to me today and sharing your insights.  Many of the readers here are going to be wanting to visit your sites and see what you do.  Could you please give me some links that they can check out?

RB – – Sure please look up SRS Cinema on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and swing by the site www.srscinema.com.  We have awesome underground horror flicks from all over the world – support them as much as movies from your own country… all these filmmakers are in it together and need your support. 

 

RCC – I am the owner of Fizzy Tv www.fizzy.tv.

I am the director and producer of White Noise Paranormal www.whitenoiseparanormal.com, Locked Into Darkness www.lockedintodarkness.com and Small Planet, all can be seen on Fizzy TV.

If you are interested in adding your content on Fizzy you can e-mail me at ravencorvus@hotmail.com.

Kudos and Cronyism

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Opening night at the 34th St Kilda Film Festival seemed magical at first glance.  The grand old Palais theatre that hosted the affair is just breathtaking.  Shimmering across its’ face and highlighted by moving spotlights, the name of the festival was proclaimed for all to see.  At street level, a horde of photographers and cinematographers milled around the red carpet, while an ever growing crowd waited patiently for the doors to open.  This was my first ever St Kilda Film Festival opening night, and I was excited!

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I got there super early, which is why my blurry photos don’t actually show the big crowds I saw later on.  Apologies for that, but I still feel new to the indie movie scene and sometimes even feel like an impostor with the small successes that I’ve had in such a short time.  I’m still learning about what attracts movie makers to the whole festival circuit.

I can understand that it’s exhilarating to see your film on the big screen and experience that audience reaction.  Many film makers crave the kudos of earning laurels for the selection and dream of picking up a trophy.  In the case of the St Kilda Film Festival, there are also cash prizes if you win certain categories.   Many enter festivals in the hope that international buyers will see their short movies and make an offer to have them developed into a feature.

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I went to a few of the local festivals last year, including Melbourne Underground Film Festival, Made In Melbourne Film Festival and the Warrandyte Film Feast.  In the case of the latter, the first short movie I’d ever released had been accepted, and so I earned laurels for “Dark Night of the Zomboogies”,  got to see it on a big screen and experience the audience reaction.  It was all just for a bit of fun because I didn’t expect there would be international buyers there or a horde from the press ready to cover my little film.

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Opening night at the St Kilda Film Festival was a totally different affair to a small country film festival, so I can imagine people taking this very seriously.  The very claim that they will be showing Australia’s top 100 short films is a biggie, so you’d hope that every effort would be made to ensure that there is a strong element of truth to it.  I wouldn’t hold them to this being 100% true as not everyone that made a short film in Australia would have entered, but I would expect that there would be fairness in the selection.  I couldn’t say that any of the film festivals I attended last year were 100% true to their claims anyway.  I saw people managing to multiple vote on people’s choice at at least one of them — and win, despite feeling that another film had been head and shoulders above the winner.  That particular film festival had a bit of an anarchic feel to it anyway.  This had a far more organised, formal and establishment feel to it.  You would be right to expect far more.

The St Kilda Film Festival opening night was packed out!   It was not a snooty, nose in the air affair either.  The crowd seemed to be refreshingly down to earth.  I listened into a few conversations before the doors opened and many seemed to be true film lovers.  Some were familiar faces from the local indie movie industry, while others were there because they attend many of Melbourne’s cultural events.  A few were even St Kilda locals.  The most common topic of conversation though was how long the speeches at the start of the night went on for last year.  Fortunately, they seemed interesting and brief for this one.  I especially enjoyed the “welcome to my land” type speech from a representative of the local Aboriginal tribe.

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There were a lot of advertisements from sponsors, such as Screen Australia, Film Victoria and local businesses.  I didn’t feel that sitting through advertisements, as though this was free to air tv was necessary. The opening night was packed and the claim on the festival website is that 3,000 would be there.  I don’t know what that number of people looks like but the Palais claim a capacity of around 2,800.  If those numbers are anywhere near accurate, then ticket sales would have been in the order of $100,000, so selling so many advertisements seemed like a money grab to me.  Even if the numbers had just been 300, then we would still talking about more than enough money raised that a simple slide showing the sponsors would have sufficed.  Between film makers paying to enter, business paying for advertising, government sponsorship …… the film festival people seem to know how to turn a buck.

I had intended to write reviews on each of the films shown, rather than knock the festival for being good at raising revenue, but I really struggled to sit through most of the films.  I’ve seen far better at just the regular local movie nights over the last year. None of the films shown were crappy, but not a single one was fantastic.  Yet, there they were on the big screen on the opening night.  I noticed that most had been funded by various bodies such as Screen Australia and Film Victoria, so I just got that sinking feeling that I was witnessing old school, establishment cronyism.  It can’t possibly be that the best short films made across Australia over the last year are mainly the ones that were funded by the night’s sponsors?

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The first of the films was “Graham Kennedy: The King of TV.”  It was just a 3 minute snippet of a bigger film and I loved it.  I have something near identical on an old vhs video.  This looked like the tv special from years ago.  It might have been there for other reasons, but I don’t consider a tv show to be a short movie by local movie makers.

The second up was “Pillars”.  I think it was about suicide?  It just took forever it to get anywhere.  It eventually did, but if this was on the web where people can just turn off, they wouldn’t sit through it.  There was an enjoyable animation called “Fish With Legs.”  I loved it but it wasn’t head and shoulders above anything I’ve seen locally in animation over the last year.  It was simply ok.  The rest of the films pretty much dragged on like that.  I just didn’t feel that they were the knock out, wow movies that I was expecting for the top 100 short Aussie films of the last 12 months.  I’ve already seen far better and these were fairly pale by comparison.  Thematically, the selection may have been influenced by left wing sympathies as we saw films about prejudice, suicide, refugees…I was getting the feeling that to be selected, you had to be pushing for some sort of social change or highlighting a popular issue.  There was not a zombie to be seen!

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There was one notable exception to all of this.  “The Eleven O’Clock”, directed/ produced by Derin Seale.  It was last on the list and had the feel of many of the movies that I’ve loved seeing at the local indie movie nights. I didn’t notice anything in the end credits saying that it was funded by one of the night’s sponsors, but I don’t know. The crowd was leaving in small groups during this film and often there were people walking through my line of view.  That couldn’t have been due to the film being bad because it was one of the only ones to keep me engaged throughout.  I’ve noticed people do leave after their film has shown on many of the movie nights, so I am guessing that being last on the list that they fell victim to that.

In fairness to the festival though, I must say that the free workshops they are providing over the next week and the opportunity for film makers to see their projects on the big screen is fantastic.  Yes, the film festival is needed.  Aside from the  money grabbing activities of raking in from every source, including over 100k for the opening night and then handing back 40k in prizes, and the dubious selection of opening night films, on the whole, it is worthwhile.

Will I go next year?  Probably.  It’s not hypocrisy because I accept that this is the way of the world and have seen that true talent always finds a way to shine through the darkness.

Turkey Shoot (1982) aka Escape 2000, aka Blood Camp Thatcher – Movie Review

By David Black

Hi Everyone.  Today I’m going to be reviewing a movie from the golden age of Ozploitation films. Turkey Shoot came out in 1982 during the time when the Australian film tax exemption scheme, 10BA, offered generous tax incentives to encourage the creation of local movies.  The 1970’s and ‘80’s saw many low budget cult movies being made such as Mad Max, Dead End Drive In and Razorback.  It was an exciting time and many of today’s local indie movie directors can only dream of having budgets of 2-6 million dollars.

Although some movie fans feel that we’ve had our heyday and choose to live in the past, I believe that Aussie indie cinema is currently going through another explosion of creativity.  One actor who bridges the eras is Roger Ward. Roger was in Mad Max and plays “chief guard Ritter” in Turkey Shoot.  He is also active in today’s Indie movies.  Turkey Shoot was remade in 2014 where Roger played “the dictator.” I asked Roger if he could say a few words to lead into my review on the 1982 version.

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RW – As far as Turkey Shoot is concerned, It was just a damned good fun shoot.  We shot in Cairns for about 4 weeks. I was unsure of the end result, as one is with all films, Mad Max included, you just do the best you can, with what you have in the way of script and crew, and hope for the best. Not that the end result, good or bad made any difference to us actors as we only ever received residuals when we shot with the yanks, the Aussies never gave them, not up until this date anyway, but a good actor, or dedicated one, will never walk through his part, and for that I am grateful, for one was unaware during those days, 30, 40 years ago that those films we were working on would be cult films today.

DB – Can I use that at the start of the article? Its’ well written.

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RW – Sure, use it if it will help.  You could also mention that there is talk of 20 or so pages of the script being ripped up owing to budgetary constraints, that is true, but it hardly made a difference to the directing skills of Brian Trenchard Smith with whom I had worked throughout his early days, on doco’s and shorts and who has a very creative and intelligent mind and could probably make a block buster from the telephone book.  So while the statement is true, it had no effect on the end result of the film, just a little difference in the story line.

DB – your character in Turkey Shoot was such a strong character.  I remember the indie comic, “The Dazzling Career of Gary Goo Goo Gillespie” having a tennis coach in military gear that was a dead ringer for your character.  The page was drawn by Dave De Vries.

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RW – I’d like to see that, the tennis coach thing.  But this www is amazing to see the characters from all over the world that dress like some of the characters I’ve played.  In fact I went to Japan last year for a Mad Max Convention and was met by three Fifi look alikes, all Japanese.  Quite a sight but nice.

DB – How do you feel that the indie movie industry today compares with film industry back when Dead End Drive In, Turkey Shoot and Mad Max were being made?

RW – In answer to your question Indie Movie today etc… I was only saying to Richard Wolstoncroft who wrote and directed Debt Collector, that the indie industry is emulating those glory days that I mentioned earlier, the 70’s with Stone and The Man From Hong Kong, Irishman and Mad Max. The 80’s with Turkey Shoot and Quigley Down Under, in fact in those days we were going from one film to the next and then it died.  But now, within the last 2 years I’ve chalked up, six films and I have two more to go this year, so I have a bubbly feeling that there is light on the other side of the tunnel that we’ve been in filmicly since the end of the 80’s

DB – thanks for helping me out there. I’ve been a big fan ever since I saw Turkey Shoot. But I have to admit that I went to see it initially because I had a crush on Lynda Stoner.


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Wikipedia introduces Turkey Shoot as follows: “Turkey Shoot, also known as Escape 2000 and Blood Camp Thatcher, is a 1982 Australian dystopian exploitation-horror film directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith and starring Steve Railsback, Olivia Hussey and Michael Craig. The cast is a mix of international actors, Australian soap opera actors and television personalities.”

After that, it gives away too much of the film and the last thing I want to do in this review is give spoilers. I just want to say enough to do it justice and then let you see the movie for yourself.  Before I saw it at the cinema, about all I’d seen was the trailer on the tv.

IMDB describes the movie as – “Deviants are held at a rehabilitation fortress until they’re set into a deadly game of survival, in the hopes of returning to world society.”, and that’s probably enough background.

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Turkey Shoot certainly is a wild, new world order/ totalitarian, dystopian movie.  It starts off with the usual break down of society scenes taken from news footage. This is during the opening credits though, so it is enough to set the scene without getting us bogged down into the same type of opening that many other movies have since used. Despite this type of introduction having since become cliche`d, in it’s day, this was pretty amazing and even now it still gets my heart racing.

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If you’re looking for a movie with all the action, guns, explosions and way out characters of Mad Max 2, then Turkey Shoot will not disappoint. Rather than a desert setting with a run down oil refinery, we’re in the jungle this time with a futuristic prison camp. This gives us the perfect opportunity to have the obligatory nudie shower scene. You can’t have a decent exploitation movie without boobs and gore. And this one has both, as well as a great big hairy mutant!

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Turkey shoot is well paced, keeping you involved by moving through different scenarios whilst always keeping the tension and cruelty coming. It’s edited well, so you can easily follow the movie.  The jungle scenes make Tarzan movies seem a bit lame as our main characters are pursued relentlessly and fired on by all manner of weapons by a larger than life group of over privileged, sadistic, nobles.

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Interestingly, a lot of reviews I came across panned the film. Even actors within the movie described it as grotesque. This was possibly due to the gore and cruelty of the time. By today’s standards, it’s a bit tame in those areas. Shows such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones have well surpassed this in gore. Game of Thrones, Spartacus and a few bazillion other shows are way heavier than Turkey Shoot when it comes to nudity. I think this attitude really comes down to Australians themselves.

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I went through this same bullshit when I was a cartoonist trying to sell my comic, “Punkz In Space.” Australian newspaper editors would be afraid that the idea of punks in a comic could be offensive. Within a couple of years, The Simpsons, Ren & Stimpy and others were flooding the Aussie market and Punkz in Space seemed very innocent. Turkey shoot is not some third rate grotesque movie. The only thing bad is our cultural cringe.

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As far as the Ozploitation tag goes, I can only say that it was Ozploitation in its day. If it came out today, and from the USA, it probably wouldn’t get the “exploitation” tag at all.

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Stand out performances are by Roger Ward, Lynda Stoner and Noel Ferrier. The one drawback I found was the usage of overseas actors that so many Aussie directors feel are needed if they wish to sell their movies internationally. I really couldn’t say that Olivia Hussey or Steve Railsback brought anything special to the movie. Both were good, but it’s our the local actors that really shone through. This isn’t a dig at overseas actors.

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There were plenty of locals, such as Gus Mercurio, that were born overseas and settled here. I just felt that Olivia and Steve were patchy in their performances.  As the movie goes on, they really come into their own and deliver some amazing scenes, however, they start off so wooden that some viewers might be tempted to just turn the movie off.  All up, the movie is an enjoyable watch from beginning to end. In fact, if you are into Aussie movies and like a bit of sci fi/ action, then Turkey Shoot is a must see.

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A dream of what could be……

By David Black

Hi everyone.  Sorry I’m late with this week’s interview.  Some of the amazing people I’ve been chatting to are very busy, and due to this being a newish blog, I don’t have any interviews or reviews in storage to use if things run late.  Instead, I would like to share a post that I made on the Australian Actors and Extras Castings facebook group.  It’s a group that I help run and occasionally post ideas to get the conversation going.  This one seemed to be very popular, and it sort of fits here with what I am doing.  So here it is …. enjoy!

Chat time.

I have a dream! And it’s a dream that we can all make happen.

I dream of a day in the near future where we have a thriving local indie movie industry where we see great local movies coming out every single week. Yes, every week we would be catching up with friends to see our own movies on the big screen at the Astor and other indie friendly cinemas.

We would all be talking about the directors and actors and be following their productions. We would buy their dvd’s and books as we leave the cinema to hang out with friends.

I know that this is possible. I watched a documentary by a local movie maker called Andrew Leavold last night. In his doco, “The Search for Weng Weng”, the Philipino people during Weng Weng’s era of acting used to go to the cinema around 3 times a week and there were roughly 300 movies being released a year.

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If I crunch the numbers, a cinema only needs 150 or so to screen a movie. There are probably 1,000 in Melbourne alone chasing roles or positions in the indie movie industry here —- and that is without looking at the general public for support. Yes, that is just us. If I am wrong, it can still be done with just 500 people.

Some movie tickets can come down to as low as $12:50. DVD’s can be produced for as low as 3 dollars each, including slicks (as long as you don’t bother with the rating board fees). DVD runs can be done in small batches too, but 500 is roughly the spot where the prices come down. That means that movie producers can break even on 100 sales at 15 bucks per dvd.

It’s even possible to print glossy books of the behind the scenes and on camera pics. Once again, not many sales need to be made. Basically, from cinema screening to dvd production to book production ….. it’s all do able and we can make this dream come true.

The only things stopping us, is us. Our film industry nights often only get 20 people coming along because most wont go to support a movie if they weren’t involved in it. Its only when each of us stops thinking about ourselves only and decides to support our local indie industry itself that this dream will come to be.

We have the numbers already to make this happen, just from those already in our industry. When this great day happens, the general public will start seeing that something is happening and it will take off big.

But for now. I have a dream. And it’s a dream that we can all make happen……..