20th Oct2017

Interview: Tony Jopia talks ‘Cute Little Buggers’

by Philip Rogers

With the upcoming worldwide release of the modern creature feature comedy Cute Little Buggers I was lucky enough to spend some time with the film’s director Tony Jopia to talk about his influences, bringing the bunnies to life and having fun on set.

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How did first get in to filmmaking?

When I was 9 years old I was asked what I wanted to do at school. I remember seeing Airport 1975 (1974) and then not long after another film called the The Poseidon Adventure (1972). They both kind of set a firm seed in my mind that making moves is what I wanted to do. My father used to wake me up at midnight to watch all the creature feature movies that used to appear late at night. I had school the next day yet he would still wake me up at midnight and say, “Come and watch this”. It was the Black Scorpion (1955) or Tarantula (1955) and these sort of classic 1950 -1960s movies. So, the seed was planted that I would turn to movies.

I basically went to film school and then picked up a career in television, doing creative work in TV, directing, producing and alongside that I got to learn and practise the craft of filmmaking particularly commercials, promotions and music videos. Alongside working in TV and film crews, producers allowed me to have enough knowledge to turn my skills into making low budget movies.

With Cute Little Buggers you use a lot of CGI effects. Why did you choose to use this rather than prosthetic effects?

The budget was tiny. There were there options; 1) We use real rabbits, but I don’t think we could have got away with it somehow 2) We did look at trying to get some toy rabbits. I would always go down the practical effects if I could, just because it usually works better but animatronics and good puppets are very expensive.. Unfortunately, the whole stack of rabbits that we did buy online just weren’t good enough. When you actually stick them in front of the camera, no matter how creative your lighting is, it shows whether they’re real or not. The budget didn’t have enough to get anything made bespoke, so the only option to turn to was to have some CGI work done in post.

Bear in mind I only had 21 days to shoot the whole film in. Inevitably I had to find a device that would allow me to shoot all the live action and then work with it in post-production. So, it was a budgetary driven decision rather than a creative one. Obviously if we had the budget we would have had some nice rabbits done.

With both Cute Little Buggers and your previous feature Crying Wolf, you had comedy elements to them. Do you prefer comedy horror to straight forward horror?

I think they can work together really well, but with my films we wanted to have a lot of fun making them. We knew that because of the nature of what we had in terms of budgets and time, we were either going to go completely bonkers at the end of it, or we were going to have a bloody great party making it. I just thought embrace it for what it is. We had a really good laugh making it. We tried to make it as funny and as good as we could. The comedy felt very much a part of it and when you are dealing with rabbits, there is only so much you can convince the audience that it’s a legitimate threat.

When I originally set out to make the movie, I was really inspired by some of the humour in Gremlins (1984) and a movie called It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) which is a classic Hollywood movie. There is absolute chaos going on and its full of characters, crazy situations, which just seems to go crazier and sillier. I felt that was the kind of approach that I wanted to take to it. You can’t take it serious that you’ve got rabbits turning into aliens attacking you. We wanted to create a crazy looney movie that’s about having the humour a key drive in the personality of it, rather than taking it too seriously.

The first film we made, Crying Wolf, we made that for like twelve thousand and it was originally a short filmwe shot in a weekend, over two days. Then we thought we had such a blast doing this, let’s see if we could extend it. We knew by then we already had a humorous approach to it, so in order to use what we had shot, we had to continue that personality, that slightly quirky aspect of it. This mentality also applied to CLB. Had we set out to do a serious movie from day one that would have been a different approach to how I directed it, but we had such a blast making it we were just enjoying it and the comedy came out of it naturally.

It does look like you had a lot of fun on set…

Absolutely, the Cute Little Buggers set was, I am going to sound vain, but it worked to perfection. We didn’t overrun. We shot exactly in the schedules we had planned and shot everything in 3 weeks. As a production it was perfect and we still managed to have a lot of fun. The actors loved it when we was telling them that a rabbit is coming at you and there are tentacles coming through your stomach. It was just ridiculous. But everyone took it seriouslyand professionally. No overruns, no real dilemmas, it was just brilliant and we just embraced it.

Do you have any funny stories from on set?

Because we were quite a bit with blood and so on, we soon realised that we were seeing a lot more wasps materialising and it was almost going to become The Swarm (1978). At one point I was thinking about changing the plot line, “Wouldn’t it all be great if we had this swarm of bees… NOOOO SHOUTED EVERYONE!!!”, I was very quickly talked out of it, because it as ridiculous as having the rabbits.

I have a double question for you. Who came up with the dance routine when Gary Martin sings as Randy Rocksoff and do you think that will be the next dance craze in the UK?

Will it be the next craze? We’d love it to be the next craze. We did generally think about doing a video. We did quite a lot of videos for our other films and they do great in terms of creating a bit more awareness to the films. So, we did think about it and possibly we will, but we were so concerned about getting the film done, we just had to priorities and making a video for this particular dance wasn’t considered important enough to take over the completion of the film.

In terms of the idea of it, I wrote it in the script with Andy Davie and Gary Charles. Gary (Davies) used to star in a lot of features in the 80’s with films like Slaughter High (1986) and in his early part of his career he starred in the West End Musicals. So, Gary is also a very recognised singer in the theatre world and also a very funny actor working in many comedies and TV shows.. I just put the two together and I just said “Gary we’ve got to make this guy obnoxious and come out with the cheesiest thing we could think of”. We tried to give all the key characters a personal trait. A little thing that made them a little more interesting. With Gary, he is meant to be this old rock star who has reached the point where no one hires him and he’s a z-list celebrity but fortunately for him the only well know person in the village hence being booked to open the fate. YOU have to imagine his hits were in line with classics such as Black Lace’s ‘Agadoo’. It’s kind a shame really that he’s this sad soul… (arse soul), but funny in another way.

I think it might have been Rosie Pearson and Honey Holmes who worked on the dance routine. And this is what I mean by the nature of the production, the whole crew were doing it. We have loads of outtakes of people dancing that we were filming as we went along. Whenever there were a few moments we filmed a load of crew members doing some silly dancing. So, I know we have the contents to make a video.

It would make a good DVD extra. Are you expecting a UK DVD release?

We have two companies handling the distribution. We have the brilliant on Uncork’d Entertainment handling the US and Canada and another company called High Octane who are handing our global releases. Globally it’s been massively well received, it’s getting released in India, Japan, Scandinavia, Spain, Germany, Taiwan to name a few. All those are going to be releasing it and we believe the UK is in there as well, we just haven’t got the dates yet.

It’s surprising because it’s got a very British humour, but it’s been received so well worldwide

Particularly in the US they loved it. We got so many compliments, it was a real boost for us. We weren’t really sure, hands on out heart how it would be received. Because it is very British, very boisterous and very silly, but it seems that playfulness has connected with a lot of people. The key to it is, we always say don’t try to make the film any different to what it is. It’s just meant to be aa silly hour and a half of silly craziness going on, where a bunch of people are fighting off aliens. It’s not The Exorcist (1973). So, when you look at it with these eyes it’s actually a lot of fun and it does go way overboard sometimes, but that’s just embracing what it is. It’s not trying to be anything different to what it’s promising to be, which is just a great big fun rollercoaster ride. We know a lot of people will find lots to criticise such as the VFX, the jokes…but when you have a tiny budget and a little time you try to make the most of it and you know what we are all really proud of our effort…but you know the song…you can’t please everybody so you gotta please yourself! It was a blast to make it with some bloody nice people all getting involved and that really matters

It’s one of those films where you get the humour or you don’t…

Yeah, it’s like the early Peter Jackson kind of mentality with his early work. You knew they were cheesy effects, you knew it was mainly a small crew making it. You just go with it. Sometimes having fish and chips is better than going to a 5-star restaurant, because if the times right and you go with the right attitude there is nothing better than fish and chips…with loads of RED ketchup of course.

What’s your favourite scene in the movie?

I like it when there all reunited outside of Pissy Walters (Benji Ming) caravan and Lisa, played by Lesley Scoble, dangling half of her mutilated dog wants to confront the rabbits and kick their arse. Whilst they are all arguing about who’s gonna do what, she storms right through them towards the creatures. You just see this actress basically tumble over and get completely encased in these rabbits, who tear her apart. Apart from Lesley’s brilliant falling stunt over seen by ace stunt coordinator Mark Johnston, nearly gave me a heart attack, it did also cracked me up seeing her swinging her half a dog around in the air, getting knocked over and massacred by these alien rabbits…enough said!…not quite.

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.

Do you have any other projects you are working on at the moment?

The next film that we made is called Dawning of the Dead (2017). That lead on from the success of the film Cute Little Buggers and being supported by the executives to make a zombie film. That is getting released on 5th December. It is full on zombies and a much bigger budget than CLB. We just had four creature features greenlit and coming out between 2019-2020. They were specifically requested as creature features and we are producing those for a client. They are going to be amazing now that we are a little bit more knowledgeable in low budget horror movies production.  From nasty ghosts to creature in the wild west, and a monster extravaganza set in post-apocalypse Jason and the Argonauts (1963) type of movie…and of course CLB2: The Quills of Death which of course will be bigger, better and more BAD ASS!

If someone is looking to direct there first film what advice would you give them?

The key thing is anyone can make a film, but not everyone can make a good film. You have to make films to get better. Making a low super micro budget film has a lot of benefit and will steer you in the right direction for learning the art. The key to it is work within your means.  A lot of people come up with these fantastic ideas but they need budget, time, location, massive crews and they don’t have it. What they end up with is perhaps never quite as good as they could make. But if you create around what you have, what you’ve got at your fingers tips, in terms of location, in terms of crew and also, what is there skill set, what can they do really well.

It’s not worth getting your grandma to be the camera woman if you know she has never held a camera before, but if you know she’s good at doing the food, get her to do the food rather than the camera work. Look at what you have around you from every aspect of the production. So, if you’ve got a location write a story around the location you know you can get for the period of time that you need. If you’ve somebody who does good special effects, then talk to them in advance about what they can do for you in the time you have. If you have certain actors that are better at certain genre of film and this fits your plan, then work with those actors. It’s a big commitment to ask people when you’re working on a low budget so be straight from the start, play your cards open and do all you can to convince those around you that YOU are serious about the project. So, the main rule is work with what you’ve got rather than what you dream of.
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Cute Little Buggers is released on VOD across the US on November 7th, courtesy of Uncork’d Entertainment.

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