Horror-on-Sea interview with Cute Little Buggers director and co-writer Tony Jopia

Interview Tony Jopia Cute Little Buggers (Saturday 19th January 20:00hrs)

Cute Little Buggers (2017)

Directors: Tony Jopia

Writers: Garry Charles, Andy Davie, Kristofer Dayne, Tony Jopia

Stars: Caroline Munro, Honey Holmes, Dani Thompson, Gary Martin, Kumud Pant

From the Director of DEAD TIME (2012) and Cry Wolf (2015) comes Cute Little Buggers! Will you let them take our women? Its Gremlins (1984) meets Hot Fuzz (2007) set in the English countryside. When hostile aliens crash land on local farmland the villagers at the summer ball get suspicious when young women start going missing. The villagers soon band together around our hero Melchoir (Kristofer Dayne) to fend off the invaders and bring back peace to the sleepy English countryside! B-movie laughs in this creature feature from Director Tony Jopia.

Date & Venue: 19th January 2019 at 20:00pm

Park Inn by Radisson Palace Southend-on-, Church Rd, Southend-on-Sea SS1 2AL, UK

Cute Little Buggers is a new horror-comedy writer-director Tony Jopia will have its UK premier at Horror-on-Sea Film Festival. I got a chance to ask Tony Jopia a few questions about what we can expect from the film.

Q. Cute Little Buggers has been selected to play at Horror-on-Sea, what can we expect from the film?

The thing about Cute Little Buggers is that you can’t take it too seriously, it’s just a lot of silly playful horror fun made by horror fans. We all know some aspects of the film could have ended up better but remember it was made in three weeks with a tiny budget. If you let yourself go and go with the flow, you’ll enjoy it. It has action, outrageous comedy moment, daft situations and lot of exploding bunnies. There’s also lots of little homages to movies so look out for them.

Q. Giving them a bad name once again, Cute Little Buggers has the most blood thirsty rabbit we have seen since Watership Down (1978). How did the original concept for the film come about?

I’ve always loved creature features and deep in my heart I knew I would make something crazy like Cute Little Buggers. I watched Gremlins one afternoon followed by one of my favourite films ever Its a Mad Mad Mad World (1963). A chaotic comedy that just sang out to me. Along with my love for classic Hammer movies and monster movies from the 50’s fuelled the idea of a story where something cute goes bad. Later I remembered my grandma used to breed rabbits and wondered one evening…what if…..and literally said to myself they had to be Cute Little Buggers…and the rest is history, I called my writing partner Andy Davie to pitch him my idea and after he called me Stupid Little Bastard, he warmed to the idea and the first draft was born. Andy is a fab horror writer and we both agreed we needed more comedy so heard about another awesome writer called Garry Charles, sent him our draft and he came on board to do a version. Kris Dayne and I shot a teaser to convince the Executives such as Fabien Muller and he loved it and we went into production with enough budget to shoot Cute Little Buggers in 21 days. It was one of the best shoots I experienced, having co producers and the team from The Film and TV Company on board along with Andrij Evans at Brainy Monkey looking after the post meant we achieved wonders with almost nothing in an incredible amount of time.

Q. What were your inspirations for the look and style of the film?

Aside from loving and taking loads from the old monster movies from the 50’s such as THEM (1954) and The Black Scorpion (1957) I started by writing a list of things to aim for. From the silly humour of Carry on films to the crazy set ups of early Peter Jackson. The action was a must as you have to have action in a creature feature. But we also wanted to give it some credibility by having the touching tale of father and son making up to save the day. The humour though definitely led the way, it allowed us to take the ridiculous scenario and make the most of it. I wanted to appeal to a broad audience, something for every horror and comedy fan sort of Gremlins meets Hot Fuzz. Lots of all guns blazing and creature invasion gore with jokes topping the pie! It’s pretty full on! I really wanted to have practical rabbits/creatures,but we simply couldn’t afford it or had the filming time to give it justice. Overall, I tried to create the most cinematic film I could, fast paced and packed with enough to keep everyone watching for as long as possible. I’ve always enjoyed Horrors. John Carpenter’s Halloween and The Thing were a massive lesson in horror movie making for me as well as being two of my favourite films of all time. An American Werewolf in London (1981) also connected with me, on this occasion it was more the humour and Jenny Agutter that stood out. Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead (1981) is a great example of horror and comedy working incredibly well together. Absolutely made me jump of my chair one minute and then laughing at Ash’s brilliant one liners and outrageous situation. They are the best viewing a horror director can do to get inspiration before making a creature feature.

Q. Gary Martin appears in the film as Randy Rocksoff, who sings a song called ‘Rock on with me’ which also has its own dance routine. How did the idea of the song and dance routine come about?

LOL! Great question. Gary is a good friend of mine and such a great sport. Before appearing in classic 80’s horror movies he was a very successful singer in some of the biggest West End theatre productions. As Gary has a brilliant sense of humour and the film was a silly tongue in cheek caper, I ask him to come along and be part of the quirky jaunt.The music was written by Jeremy Stephens and a couple of the actresses in the film helped us out with a dance routine.We actually have lots of behind the scenes footage of the crew and cast doing the dance which is hilarious.

Q. Maybe someone from the film could perform it at Horror-on-Sea to see if it can catch on as the next dance craze?

What a great idea. Way to go Phil – we’ll bring the song and you can get the dancing going! GET DOWN!

Q. The film also has scream queen and former bond girl Caroline Munro as Mystic Mary, how did she become involved in the film?

Caroline worked with me on Cry Wolf, my previous‘werewolf’ movie, we had such a blast working together that I asked again for Cute Little Buggers and she said yes straight away. Amazing lady and brings a sparkle to everything she does. It really helps the film having a horror legend like her.

Q. What makes Cute Little Buggers stand out as something different in the horror genre?

It’s not that there’s anything particularly original or unique about Cute Little Buggers I think it’s the fact that the film is an explosion of fun, created by a bunch of horror fans with peanuts to work with but doing it because they simply wanted to make it and enjoy the experience. People always look to make comparisons…oh it’s like the Monty Python sketch, it’s trying to be Watership Down (1978), it’s this and it’s that but to be honest we didn’t set out to copy any film. We just wanted to have a blast making a daft silly film that we hope would be good enough to release. A bunch of international releases later I guess shows we did something right and there’s people out there that can seethe fun in it. Low budget films get a hard time because viewers expectations are the same regardless of how much is spent of the film. To them it either connects or it doesn’t. Critic always target the production values and the abilities of those making the films. We had 25K to make a full-length feature with a bunch of inexperienced actors, for us it didn’t matter it was a little rough around the edges it was just a project we loved experiencing. People watching it and liking it around the world is a massive plus and fuels us to keep going. It also proves that you don’t have to be a Hollywood producer with millions to realise a dream!

Q. Did you have to adapt any elements of the original script during filming?

Not really, we were very organised and shot 99% of it, I only had 21 days to capture everything so couldn’t really mess about with the plot and script in general. It was one of the best shoots I’d ever experienced, we were so well planned, most days ended on time, nothing really gave us too much of a problem. Perfectly scheduled and the weather behaved. LOVE IT! It was a genuine blast, it was so brilliantly line produced by The Film and TV Company that everything fell into place, we had hardly any over runs and most of the time the brilliant schedule delivered everything we needed on time and on budget. It really was a dream production. We were also having so much fun too that the general vibe was great, I think the cast and crew genuinely enjoyed it.

Q. What were some of your favourite moments during filming?

I do love, even if it nearly gave me a heart attack, when Lesley Scoble does her fall, overseen by ace stunt coordinator Mark Johnston. Of course, she’s very pissed off the rabbits have killed her dog,she dangles her half-mutilated dog in front of the policeman then storms off to confront the rabbits and kick their arse in a fuming rage of revenge – basically she tumbles over and get completely covered by rabbits, who then tear her apart. Hell, of a rabbit swing massacred I tell you! enough said. One other memorable scene is the weapon refill moment with the two plumbers, has to be seen to be believed! That’s all I’m saying.

Q. Did you have any issues during filming?

Not that much during filming, it was more the post production that was a challenge but relying on CGI rabbits, due to time and budget constraint, meant that during the filming it was a matter of working with cuddly toys and or imaginary rabbits. Play it straight I said, however cute they are if one of the little bastards ripped your throat out you wouldn’t be blowing kisses back at it. For me, it was about identifying the threat and the danger they offered. Often, I would describe the killer alien that lies within the rabbit rather than the furry cute lovable pets we all adore, and this really did the trick, by day two most of the crew and cast were ready to instigate global rabbit genocide…I must add that no real rabbits were ever harmed in the making of this movie. I would definitely have preferred working with practical effects or at least more of them but getting rabbits to do what we needed was almost impossible with real animals or the micro budget we had,it’s a real challenge that tests you on many levels. How to be creative and effective with minimum time and resources is a massive ball ache but we got there and did the best we could. With the pain and tears comes the pleasure of meeting some wonderful people too. As a director, if you can get everyone on the same wavelength then magic truly happens. For me working with my son Alex Jopia and brother Stuart Jopia who made the Christmas slasher Good Tiddings (2016), my regular team and friends such as Stunt Coordinator Mark Johnston is always a pleasure because he, with his team, give 150% into everything. We have worked with the same bunch of people across all 4 features because they are amazingly generous individual with a lot of talent and a matching desire to produce the best possible movie. That’s what it’s all about…getting the best possible results all the time. The audience don’t take into consideration that you have 21 days and 25K to make a movie, for them its either good or crap, so what you deliver on the night has to pass the test of expectations and when you have so little to achieve it, you really need your crew and cast to make it happen.

Q. Do you have any other projects which you are currently working on?

Cute Little Buggers 2 Hogs of War is green lit and in pre-production. This is going to bigger and better than the first and most if not all, the creature effects will be practical. We have stunts galore with masses of explosions and total chaos, a kick ass female special forces unit, nasty aliens, a shit load of gun action and of course cute little buggers in the shape of hedgehogs imitating the metal ball from Phantasm (1979).This time we are making Mars attacks (1996) meet Hot Fuzz meets Die Hard (1998). A very special Christmas movie we can’t wait to share with the world particularly Japan who love our Cute Little Buggers. In addition, I’m booked in for 2020/21 to make two action creature features, one a western and another set in an apocalyptic desert town in Northern Chile plus a full-length feature version of our WW2 action pilot called Suicide Platoon,alongside the film I continue doing my day job as creative director for a major broadcaster, which I love.

Q. If someone was looking to direct their own film, what advice would you give them?

WORK WITHIN YOUR MEAN – basically if you have to start somewhere out of the fully funded route then definitely find ways of making things – the best education in this business is …MAKING STUFF, get involved, even if you have to do it for nothing as long as you gain as much experience as possible, this leads to getting more knowledge and contacts and before you know it you meet the right people that that can elevate you to where you want to be. If you are going to embark on your own productions, then make a list of what you have available first then write around this. Make the little you have go as far as possible. Manage expectation and produce what you can, as well and professionally as possible. PLAN, PLAN and Plan more, schedule,rehearse (if possible) and believe. Making movies, as amazing as it is, it still brings a lot of pain and tears but ride it, believe in yourself and those around you. Turn to them and make them feel a part of your vision, your project and your ambition…and most important HAVE FUN. Do things that interest you,that you know a little about and never forget this…it’s fine to make movies YOU love, but they need to be appealing to the mass because from commercial success comes commercial support. If your movies bring a return then others will trust you, your talent and your movies and eventually this can lead to having a little more support and control of what you do in the future. Every project you make will be an education so the more you do the more you learn and the better you will get. Never give up and go out there and make your dream come true…because you can!

You can find out more about the feature films playing at Horror-on-Sea Film Festival and details of tickets on the website.

Philip Rogers

Philip Rogers

Published in various websites, Philip is a reviewer who is best known for his interviews and media coverage of independent projects including; films, books, theatre and live events. Always on the lookout for something different to cover!