While we're not very familiar with the work of Travis Bain, his upcoming film "Throwback" is one that have been exicitng us. We love the movies it's inspired by and the general subgenre (bigfoot horror) is just extremely fun. Even when done bad! As we're so excited for his film, why not try and motivate other people to look out for it? What we found out with this interview is that Travis Bain is a man with a very good taste in film and respectable ambitions. Enjoy!
Thank you for doing this interview with us. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in ﬁlmmaking?
I grew up in the late ’70s and early ’80s in a seaside town called Port Macquarie. While most of my friends were surfing, I was watching every movie I could get my hands on. I believe that time period was a golden age for genre filmmaking. So many great fantasy films came out of that era: "Dragonslayer", "Time Bandits", "The Empire Strikes Back", the list is endless. At the same time, I was also watching a lot of classic films that had just been released on VHS for the first time, like "North By Northwest" and "Deliverance" and things like that. My dad introduced me to a lot of those films because he was a real movie buff. I didn’t have a movie camera when I was growing up, so I made my own radio serials instead, using a tape recorder. They were usually sci-fi epics and had crazy sound effects and everything. I used to rope my friends and cousins into playing various roles. I was about 10. I guess that was when I started directing! But I didn’t start messing round with video cameras until I reached my twenties. In 1993 I read a newspaper article about how Robert Rodriguez had broken into Hollywood by making "El Mariachi" for $7,000. I was so inspired that I started hiring out big clunky camcorders and learning how to shoot and edit little short films and things. The university I was studying at had a tape-to-tape editing system so I learned how to edit on that, years before computer editing became a reality. It was good discipline because once you start editing on those tape-to-tape systems, you can’t go back and change anything!
Were there any speciﬁc movies or ﬁlmmakers that really pushed you to start?
The first movie I ever saw was "Star Wars", so as you can imagine, it was one hell ofan introduction to cinema. I suppose it and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" were the two key films of my childhood that made me want to make movies. Later on I developed an appreciation for guys like Kubrick, Sergio Leone, Hitchcock, David Lean, Terrence Malick, William Friedkin and Francis Coppola. I also love those “journeyman” directors who are a bit lesser known but still really talented, like Walter Hill and Peter Hyams, and the old western directors Budd Boetticher and Anthony Mann. These days I’m a big fan of David Fincher and Steven Soderbergh.
In 2005 you made a drama movie called "Scratched". What can you tell us aboutthat movie?
In the late ’90s, after making a series of short films, I decided I was ready to make my first feature, so I started writing some low-budget feature scripts and sending them out to producers. But none of them got picked up, so I realized that if I was going to make my debut feature, I’d have to finance and shoot it myself, on the cheap. To do that, I had to devise a storyline that I could film in mostly one location with a small cast of unknown actors. The idea for "Scratched" was born out of those parameters. The film is about a share house full of university students in the tropical city of Townsville, Australia. One of them wins $1 million on a scratch lottery ticket and hides it somewhere inside the house for safekeeping, but then through a series of unfortunate events, he ends up in hospital in a coma. His five housemates don’t expect him to survive, so they decide to search the house, find the winning ticket and split the money between themselves. But the catch is that there’s a severe tropical cyclone heading for Townsville that’s threatening to wipe out everything in its path. I shot "Scratched" in Brisbane on a Panasonic 3CCD Mini DV camcorder with volunteer actors. Altogether the movie probably cost me about $3,000. It screened at two major film festivals in Australia and is now available on DVD through Amazon.com. Making it was a great learning experience, but it didn’t launch a Hollywood career for me. In hindsight, it had three main strikes against it: one, it wasn’t a genre film; two, it had no “name” actors; and three, it was shot on standard-def video, so it was a hard sell to distributors. After "Scratched", I was determined that my next feature would be a genre film, shot on HD, with at least one well-known actor in it. "Throwback" ticks all those boxes, and thankfully it’s having way more success and getting way more attention than "Scratched" ever did. But "Scratched" was a great way to get my feet wet in feature filmmaking.
You said you made some short ﬁlms prior to jumping into "Scratched", what can you tell us about those?
I made six short films before I made "Scratched". They were a great way of learning how to direct actors and where to put the camera and how to light a scene and things like that. I’ve made three of those films available to watch on YouTube: "Snowdroppers", "Daniel’s Jack" and "Full Moon, Dirty Laundry". Making them gave me confidence in my own abilities. When I started making shorts, I didn’t even trust myself to operate the camera, I wanted someone else to do it in case I screwed up. Now I can walk onto a film set and operate camera, record sound, set up lights and do all kinds of jobs. But I prefer to concentrate on directing. When you wear too many hats, you get stretched too thin.
I've heard from many Australian ﬁlmmakers that it's a tough industry there withrather little support. How was the experience making a movie in Australia 2005? Do you see any difference to how it is in 2013?
It’s very tough making independent films in Australia. There are various government bodies who supposedly provide funding support for domestic films, but you have to provide mountains of paperwork and jump through multiple hoops to get it, and usually it’s all for naught anyway. I’ve tried multiple times and never had any luck. And I don’t know any of my peers who have been successful either. It’s not like we’re asking for a handout, just a hand-up to get us started. But unfortunately, if you want to make a film in Australia, private funding is really the only way to do it for the majority of us. It’s widely believed that the government agencies won’t even give you the time of day if you want to make commercial genre films. They’re only interested if you lean more towards arthouse fare. I’ve spoken to filmmaker friends in Europe and they say it’s the same over there. Since 2005 and the Global Financial Crisis, the situation has only worsened. Camera technology has advanced to the point where it’s now possible to make cinema-quality feature on a very low budget, but the downside is that it’s enabled everybody to make movies, so the market is now oversaturated. I expect that it’ll be harder to sell "Throwback" in 2014 than it would’ve been in 2005, largely because there’s a glut of horror movies out there right now that were shot on DSLRs.
The real reason we're talking to you now is because of your newest ﬂick "Throwback". We personally love bigfoot ﬂicks. Why did you want to make a bigfoot ﬂick over any other kind of monster?
It was partly to do with budget and partly to do with nostalgia. My first choice for a monster movie would’ve been a stop-motion dinosaur film. I’ve always loved stop-motion dinosaurs and I think it’s a shame we don’t see them any more. It’s all CGI now, which is very slick but doesn’t have the same aesthetic appeal for me that stop-motion does. When stop-motion is done well, it can look just beautiful. Phil Tippett’s dinosaur short “Prehistoric Beast” is a prime example. I just love that film and I wanted to attempt something like it, but unfortunately stop-motion models are extremely hard to come by, and expensive to boot, so eventually I gave up on that idea and decided to go with a man-in-a-suit monster movie instead. I was scared to death when I was a kid by the ’70s bigfoot films "The Legend of Boggy Creek" and "Creature from Black Lake" so I decided to pay homage to them but with the intensity and grit of a modern horror picture. On top of that, no one had ever made a feature film about Yowie before (Australia’s answer to Bigfoot), so it made sense to be the first horse out of the gate to do so, in a manner of speaking.
Did any speciﬁc movies inspire you while making it, maybe bigfoot classics such as the above mentioned "The Legend of Boggy Creek"?
"The Legend of Boggy Creek" was the main inspiration, but I was also influenced by films like the original "King Kong", "The Creature from the Black Lagoon", and two awesome William Girdler creature features from the ’70s: "Grizzly" and "Day of the Animals". Those monster movies inspired the “creature” aspects of "Throwback", but the story structure and characters were actually influenced heavily by classic westerns, particularly those of Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher. I wanted the film to be able to stand on its own as a robust psychological thriller even if you took the monster out of the equation entirely.
What can we expect from "Throwback"?
Old-fashioned entertainment. That’s "Throwback" in a nutshell. I’m marketing it as ahorror film but it’s not just for horror fans. It’s also just a good adventure yarn. It has action, suspense, humour, lost treasure, stunning Australian scenery, characters you will care about, great performances and lots of surprises. There are some twists in the film that you wont see coming. It’s not just your typical stalk-and-slash picture. There’s a bit more going on than just that. Hopefully viewers will feel like they’ve been on a roller-coaster ride by the end of it.
Of course we haven't seen the movie yet, but in the trailer we can see a few period scenes (1800s). How was it shooting something like that, what did you have to take into consideration for it?
First and foremost I had to find the right costumes. To sell the period setting, having costumes that looked right was essential. I researched places online where you can order colonial clothing from, but they were all very expensive, so in the end I just visited all the thrift stores in Cairns and picked out pieces of clothing that looked like they could’ve been worn in 1800s Australia. The key was to find a lot of subdued browns and greens and in natural fibres like cotton, wool and leather. Eventually I pieced together three costumes which, while they might not be 100% historically accurate, they certainly pass the realism test on screen. And because they were secondhand clothes, they already looked lived-in and well-worn. Luckily we didn’t have to worry about period buildings because the 1800s prologue takes place entirely in the forest.
I imagine some special effects were required, both for gore and bigfoot himself. You said you went for a suit, but was CGI also used?
We couldn’t afford blank-firing firearms for the film, so we just added digital muzzle flashes and smoke puffs to the replica guns later. Two bullet wound blood sprays in the film are CGI, but the rest of the FX are all practical. Our fake blood was simply chocolate sauce and red food colouring, and most of our body parts were created by Slaughter FX, a Queensland supplier of high-quality film props. We also did some of our own low-tech FX using foam rubber but I can’t say too much about those right now because I don’t want to give away any surprises!
You have quite the veteran in the cast with Vernon Wells. How did that come about and what was your experience working with him?
Vernon and I were already friends on Facebook, so when I put out a casting call on social media for the role of McNab, asking for a well-known Aussie male actor in his fifties or sixties, Vernon put his hand up and offered to do it. He was due to come to Australia from LA for a TV job and as luck would have it, he had one day spare to be able to fly to Cairns and appear in the movie. He arrived on a Monday night, did his scenes the next day and flew out that night. Fortunately we got all his scenes done in one day and the weather played nice. He gives a great performance and added a lot of facets to his character that weren’t in the script. We all enjoyed working with him. He has a real no-bullshit attitude. For him, the work is the most important thing. He just likes to turn up, get into character and get it done. No messing around. He was a true pro and very easy to work with. And he has a lot of great stories to tell.
How can people see "Throwback"? Do you have festivals or a release lined up?
As I write this, "Throwback" is only days away from having its US premiere at the Famous Monsters Film Festival in San Jose, California, on the weekend of 17th-18th May. Beyond that, I’m sure there’ll be other festival screenings around the world still to come. Later in the year, "Throwback" will be released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, and other territories will probably follow. Our sales agent Monster Pictures is handling all international sales for the movie, and they’re just about to present it at the Cannes Film Market, so hopefully releases in the US and other countries will happen later in 2014.
What is the next step for you - working on "Throwback" until it's out, any other projects, etc.?
We’re aiming to do a bigger and much more ambitious film next time around. My team and I are developing a new feature inspired by the works of HP Lovecraft. There’s been a shortage of decent Lovecraftian features over the years so we want to give fans the Lovecraft movie they’ve all been waiting for. We don’t want to disappoint the fans because we’re Lovecraft fans ourselves, so we’re determined to make the kind of film that we would want to see. We’re planning to launch a crowd-funding campaign later in 2014 and hoping to go into production in about mid-2015. We have a shortlist of well-known antipodean actors we want to approach, including Rachael Taylor and Sam Neill and various others.
Do you have anything you'd like to add or promote before we get out of your hair?
I just want to encourage people to check out our trailer, check our Facebook page, and if they like what they see, to please share it with their friends. We want to create as much awareness for "Throwback" as possible around the world.
Thanks a lot Travis, best of luck with your new feature!