A few weeks ago, Bloody Disgusting did a story on the teaser trailer for a short film by the name of Frame 137. Upon watching it, I was immediately struck with an interest in the project, being that it was made on no budget but looks like a million bucks. Mix that with the fact that it’s based on a short story written by James O’Barr (creator / artist / writer of The Crow), it features a ten-year old beating the crap out of post-apocalyptic punks, and did I mention it’s sci-fi and based on a comic? Of course I’m interested. Shortly after watching the teaser, I tracked down Australian Director Judd L.Tilyard to have a chat with him about his “little” project that seems to be generating quite a bit of buzz. So much buzz, that it is being featured at SXSW Film Festival. See what Judd has to say below.
Movie Geek Feed (MGF): First, can you give me a little insight into you? Maybe a brief biography about yourself and what you’ve done.
Judd L. Tilyard (JT): I’ve always wanted to create worlds. That (was) really my driving ambition behind becoming a filmmaker and I was fortunate to realize it early on, so from my youth a lot of what I did was focused on that. I’m 31 now, so I grew up at a time were video cameras were around but very few people had them. Particularly in small country towns which is where I did most of my schooling. Around the time I was 15, one of my friends bought a video camera (and) I fell in love with the power of the medium. Shortly after that, our high school got one, (and) I made lots of films that I hope will never see the light of day. (I) also spent about a year working for local network television, assisting with lots of things and actually doing some editing on TVC’s, etc. It was a really grounded technical knowledge and that’s always been one of my strong points, I think.
I’ve always been able to think both technically and creatively, and so as I developed as a filmmaker I’ve balanced my ambitions and desires of what I want to do the stories I want to tell with what I practically know I can accomplish, sometimes its held me back, when I should have just “gone for something” but its also given me a reputation at least amongst Brisbane filmmakers as someone who delivers if I say I’m going to make a feature film for $50K and its going to have explosions and gun fights and action and a name etc then threes a lot of people by now that will sign on for that because they know somehow I’m going to deliver.
MGF: There are countless original comic books out there that could be adapted into a movie. Why Frame 137 – a short story that was published in 1992 in a Dark Horse Presents comic?
JT: Frame 137 was a short I discovered while still at high school, already an O’Barr fan introduced to his work from The Crow. It had an instant appeal and the world of the comic came to life in my head. It was several years later that it occurred to me how perfect the actual story would suit a short film. It was at that point about 8 years ago, I believe, that I first contacted O’Barr about bringing his short story to life. What really impressed me about Frame 137 was the power of the story in the short comic strip. In four pages it conjures a world of emotion that is engaging and challenging, PLUS it does it using language that really invests the page with atmosphere – lines like, “The gin tasted like petrol and urine in equal amounts” coupled with James’ art really evoked the world for me and I felt a passion to bring that to the screen and to others.
MGF: How long did it take you to shoot the teaser trailer and give us a little insight into what it took to put it together?
JT: We actually shot a 14-minute short film which the teaser was cut from. The short film was shot over three days – one day for the drama and two days for the action. I also spent several days during preproduction working with Sam, helping him find what is arguably a very adult character. He also spent about six weeks training three to four days a week for several hours each day to learn the martial arts and choreography within the film.
Pre-Production wise we also built the set which is documented fairly well in the behind-the-scenes video posted on vimeo (by Sam Hawley) and the Facebook page. It’s notable that while I went in with some sketches and a specific vision for things in bringing the set together, Sam and I spent a lot of time just going through rubbish and seeing WHAT felt right. Since there were a few things I knew I wanted, mostly what I was after was a bar that looked like it was from a post apocalyptic city. I wanted it to look and feel like it had been banged together from junk that had been scrounged, and pretty much everything you see on screen in the bar is exactly that – it was rubbish reclaimed by us and transformed into a bar. I think that gave a sense of realism to things. The grit and rawness of the space felt like it could be a bar in another time – it didn’t feel like a “set.”
Tiffany, who made all the costumes (over 40 in total), also spent about a month sourcing and hand-making everything – giving each piece a particular practical authenticity so that it wasn’t about “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if they had gloves?”, etc. It was about “Hmm, this guy is the type of guy that will punch you in the face and take your wallet, so he needs gloves for his hands and somewhere to put your wallet after he grabs it.”
Likewise, the make up took several weeks of Pre and Verity (who had been one of the first people I’d spoken to about Frame years before it was made) had come on board with an assortment of great designs and references she’d found. Again, my prime directive was authenticity. I didn’t want “futuristic” makeups. I wanted tattoos, scarification, body modification – to me if there’s an apocalypse gone down and people are fighting for survival, 99% of (them) aren’t going to be worrying about having some mean-looking eye shadow. The 17 that do, well that says something VERY important about them, and so I really wanted to use that. Of course, we also had a lot of wounds and FX, as well as the character makeup and a hell of a lot of dirt. Nothing annoys me more then a “clean Apocalypse”, to which I (have) to say – The Road did a fantastic job.
There was similarly a lot of discussion with the other heads of departments (most notably my DP) covering the look and style. (This) ultimately lead us to shoot almost the entire film on Steadicam. Essentially, I was hoping to really create a subjective point of view to the action and I wanted the audience to feel (like) a part of the film and the world. So some of the subtle moves a Steadicam can give you that add personality to a shot became so important. The exception being the final sequence where Jonny confronts Leo – that was very specifically locked off, since that’s the moment of the “job” for Jonny. When he passes the curtains to confront Leo, he does so stone cold and ready to kill. I think having the camera locked off for that really gave a weight to that scene that mirrored the weight on Jonny’s shoulders.
MGF: You got James O’Barr’s permission to shoot the teaser. Has he seen it, and if he has what does he think?
JT: I’d been keeping James up to speed with the film’s progress – particularly when I got serious about making it and started locking in dates and looking at casting. He’s been very supportive throughout and should be attending the launch in Austin.
That said he’s really not much of an “e-mail guy.” He had noted in his last email prior to me uploading the trailer that he was about to start work on an author’s edition of The Crow graphic novel and was going to be quite busy. We had been discussing him drawing a few sketches that could be used in the opening sequence for the film. So, no, unfortunately I haven’t personally heard back from him on what he thinks. Though Michael, who runs all of James’ online sites, has been kind enough to post the link worth some kind words.
(UPDATE: A couple of days after the initial interview, Judd sent me this – “Hey, just to let you know – James just got back to me. Said the trailer was great…”)