The Movie Sleuth recently had the chance to talk with Stu Jopia, who served as a writer, producer, and actor on the recently released Good Tidings, which was included in Raul's list of the top ten indie horror films of 2016.
We had some time to discuss his background, Good Tidings, and upcoming projects.
TMS: Did you always want to be involved in filmmaking?
SJ: I've always loved movies, from the age of 8 years old I've watched horror movies. Sneaking into my brothers room when he was out and watching his epic collection of VHS. It was the best thing ever!!! I even taped the movie to an audio cassette tape so I could listen to the movies when I couldn't watch them. When I think about it now that's quite terrifying, listening to horror movies in audio form only. Hahaha. Mostly screams, but it totally opened up my imagination. When I left college I got a job in a local video rental store for 10 years. So from the age of 8 i knew that movies would be in my life one way or another and so began the road to here.
TMS: What type of training or schooling did you have?
SJ: The only real schooling I had was many years ago in college when I undertook a 2 year course in TV and video production. It was the first time I got to handle cameras, write, act in and direct our own stuff. It was great fun, we had total access to brand new cameras, edit suites, sound gear and production studios. I can remember we had to make a pilot to a TV show sitcom. We shot in a local launderette, I'm sure it was terrible but it was the beginning of the love affair with making movies. Most of what I've learnt over the years after that has come from watching tons and tons of movies until I got my break with acting in my brothers comedy b-movie creature feature Cute Little Buggers after that myself and Stuart Bedford wrote and sold our first screenplay for the British zombie movie, Apocalypse.
TMS: What were some of your favorite horror films?
SJ: I'm a lover of all horror and it's many sub genres so that's a tough question as I love so many but the classics always have a special place in my twisted heart. The Exorcist, Halloween, The Shining, Evil Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I have watched one hell of a horror movie this year though, The Night of Something Strange. It was exactly what the genre needed, a balls to the wall, horribly vile horror movie. Haha. It's got an old school Peter Jackson vibe. I urge all horror fans to check it out.
TMS: What’s up with Good Tidings? Where can people see it? And what do you want them to know about the movie?
SJ: Well, after a great run at film festivals and it's five awards wins Good Tidings was released on Digital VOD, Amazon Video, iTunes, Vudu, Googleplay and The Xbox Network on the 6th December to a North American audience. We are currently finalizing our International distribution deal with Uncork'd Entertainment. We are also running an Indiegogo campaign soon to help us with a physical DVD/Blu-ray release as our distribution deals consist of digital rent or buy downloads and the masses are crying out for hard copies. So a limited edition 2 disc DVD is on the horizon, packed with special features and awesome festive goodies.
TMS: What was the inspiration behind Good Tidings?
SJ: We love exploitation movies of the 70's and 80's and I personally have a fondness for Christmas themed movies, especially Silent Night, Deadly Night and Black Christmas. We also have a shared love for John Carpenter movies and wanted the movie to have a siege style plot, like one of our favorite JC movies Assault on Precinct 13 but mashed with another JC classic, Halloween. I came up with the concept of a Santa killer movie, but with a twist, not having just one masked killer Santa, we have 3!! And have them fucking with homeless people on Christmas Day. A heartbreaking scenario in my eyes. Scouring the internet we found masks and costumes to do a camera test. From the moment we saw the photos we knew we had something special and once the location of the courthouse came to us everything just fell into place and the concept grew into the story we have now.
TMS: You play one of the Santa slashers, was that always the plan?
SJ: It was yes, when we came up with the idea of the three Santa's I pretty much told the guys, "I have to play one of these psycho Santas!!" Haha. Stu B (The director) put his faith in me that I could pull it off. I think he was pleased. Haha.
TMS: At what point did you know who would be portraying each Santa slasher?
SJ: Well the moment we created the Santas we knew who we wanted to play them. And I just said I jumped at the chance to don the Santa suit. I worked alongside Liam Ashcroft in Cute Little Buggers and I knew he would be perfect for our alpha Santa. It took a little bragging to get Giovanni Gentile to don the suit but the moment he did he owned it.
TMS: Your psychopathic trio of Santas is named Moe, Larry, and Curly after the Three Stooges. How much did you want each actor to characteristically portray the Stooge that they were named after?
SJ: This was Stu B's idea and it was a good point of reference for us to take their dynamic and twist it up a little. We knew that we had the same kind of characters, a larger one who dominates, two who fight all the time with one always being treated the worst that you kinda feel sorry for so the stooges bled into the Santas playful and twisted ways perfectly. And each of us had those characters in mind going forward when bringing each Santa to life.
TMS: Did you spend much time before filming working in and discussing each Santa’s physicality and the sounds they would make?
SJ: To be honest we didn't do a lot of Santa rehearsals, Stu B gave us all his brief of what he wanted, especially with the sounds, the laughing and for us not to speak and portray of character with actions and physical movements. But he let us all roll with it and make the characters our own.
|Psycho Santas Cozy up to the director|
SJ: For the few few days it was awesome. I used to go the shop in it all the time. Haha. But once the blood started to cover it, not so much. They were hot and sticky and smelt really bad after 12 hour days in them. But that's all part of the charm of horror Cinema. Always covered in some kind of sticky horrid bloody goo. Hahaha. The masks were hard to see through at times. So lots of bumps and scrapes occurred. Didn't stop me getting up at 6am and putting it on every day.
TMS: Low budget film productions have been historically known for being difficult and demanding. How was this production on the cast and crew? Any challenges or funny stories?
SJ: Our cast and crew we're simply amazing!! Yes this was our first production and yes the three of us did a lot of pre-production ourselves but you know what the 18 days we shot for was hard at times but it was scheduled well and it actually ran quite smoothly. And with all the heads of departments doing such a fabulous job it all went really well. We worked as a solid team. The days were long for cast and crew but we always had a laugh and kept the moral up on set. That's so important. The one thing we did was make sure everyone is fed well. That's such an important thing on set too. And sometimes it's overlooked. There's one funny story, well a tad painful for me but when we shot one particular scene involving a door being kicked and knocking my character in the face. We ran through this many times with our stunt technician and it went smoothly but the moment the camera rolled it all went wrong. The door slammed me super hard in the head nearly knocking me unconscious. It was the first and only take so that actual head hitting is in the final product. I watch it and my head still hurts. Hahaha.
TMS: You took on many roles in this production; co-writer, producer, and actor (I could be missing more). What was it like having so many duties?
SJ: There were a few more, hahaha but it's indie cinema and if we can do it ourselves it's worth having a go. Myself, Stu B and Giovanni Gentile took on many positions throughout the movie so splitting them between us helped a lot. It was tough at times though but we knew we had to do this one way or another. Making a feature was our shared dream and nothing would stop us and a bit of hard work won't hurt us. Hahaha.
TMS: The score is something special and really adds to the film in my opinion. How did you go about selecting Liam W. Ashcroft and how much creative freedom was he given?
SJ: I totally agree. It's inspired. Liam is a great composer and we knew immediately he would knock it out of the park. I've known Liam since I was 14 years old and he's a genius with all things musical, so when he said he would come aboard and create the score, we couldn't have been more excited to see what twisted sounds the would come up with. He was given total creative freedom and he worked on it completely until it was finished. We didn't hear a single sound until he delivered it. And once we saw it with the visuals we knew we had another layer of awesomeness to the movie.
TMS: Can you tell us a little about the other projects that you are working on and when we might expect to be able check them out?
SJ: We are happy to say that we will be collaborating with PJ Starks of the Volumes of Blood movies fame on his next project this year. It's all a bit hush hush and I can't say much more than to expect more greatness and buckets of gore from him. We are also starting production on our next feature film, The Light Within The Darkness, a true crime investigative mockumentary. It follows documentary filmmakers investigating a cold case of serial murders that occurred in their home town 20 years ago. It's going to have a more cinematic documentary style than a shaky found footage style, it's going to be really exciting and we're looking at shooting that around spring time. We also are putting on a genre film festival this coming October in Southport, England. The Dead of Night Film Festival. It's all going live at the end of January so more news to follow. So a busy year lies ahead for Two-Headed Snake Entertainment. Just how we like it. Hahahaha.