31 Days of Hell: Interviews: Director Tony Jopia Talks About His Upcoming Horror Film Cute Little Buggers

Gremlins meets Hot Fuzz in Cute Little Buggers, premiering on VOD November 7, 2017.

Tony Jopia’s highly anticipated comedy-horror hybrid sees locals of a peaceful English village, enjoying their annual summer festival, when they are suddenly attacked by mutated killer rabbits!

Somewhere in the depths of space, aliens are watching the earth and planning their attack. Unaware of the impending danger, the locals of a sleepy English village are preparing for their summer festival. The aliens launch their offensive by mutating the local rabbit population, and when the furry demons are released, the body count starts to pile up as blood, guts, and fur flies in all directions as the humans fight off the alien threat.

Featuring genre icon Caroline Munro (Maniac, The Spy Who Loved Me) and from Tony Jopia, director of Crying Wolf, comes the wildest film of the fall, Cute Little Buggers – crash-landing November 7th from Uncork’d Entertainment.

TMS: What inspired this rather unique and very fun story?

TJ: I've always loved creature features and deep in my heart I knew I would make something crazy like CLB. In the one day I caught on TV Gremlins and one of my favorite films Its a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. A chaotic comedy just sang out to me. Along with my love for classic Hammer movies and monster movies from the 50's lead to me falling for the concept of something cute going 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 we heard about another awesome writer called Garry Charles, sent him our draft and he came on board to do a version. We shot a teaser to convince the Executives such as Fabien Muller and he loved it and we went into production with having enough budget to shoot CLB in 21 days. It was one of the best shoots I'd had ever been involved in and having co producers such as Jeremy and Andrij Evans at Brainy Monkey look after the post, it meant we achieved wonders with almost nothing in an incredible amount of time.

TMS: Did you sit down and watch similar movies before shooting?

TJ: Not really, as I like to give it my own stamp, but I always love watching some of my favorites to get me pumped to realizing my dream. 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 favorites films of all time. An American Werewolf in London also connected with me, on this occasion it was more the humor and Jenny Agutter that stood out. Sam Raimi's Evil Dead is a great example of horror and comedy working incredibly well together. It absolutely made me jump out 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 have before making a creature feature.

TMS: With all the computer generated imagery, could this movie have been done back in the Reagan-era?

TJ: We relied on CGI rabbits due to time and budget constraints. Often it was a matter of painting the picture of the scene with rabbits missing and often playing the rabbit role myself. 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. So for me, it was about identifying the threat and the danger they offered. Often, I would describe the killer look 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. If I had a choice, I would definitely have preferred practical effects or at least more of them, but making micro budget films is 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 with the pain and tears comes the pleasure of meeting some wonderful people. As a director, if you can get everyone on the same wavelength then magic truly happens. For me, working with my 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 individuals with a lot of talent and a matching desire to produce the best possible movie. That's what its all about...getting the best possible results all the time. The audience doesn'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 to make it happen.

TMS: How much of the effects are in-camera?

TJ: We did try to create as much in-camera as possible knowing it would enhance the visuals effects, but in the end I knew I needed consistency across the animation of the rabbits and their environments so reluctantly opted for CG creatures. If I had more time and finances, then practical would have been the way forward.

TMS: And are they still using corn syrup for blood?

TJ: Strawberry Syrup was definitely used along with colored water thickened with flour... I'm sure the make up team had a few other tricks up their sleeves.

TMS: Do you have you a favorite death in the movie?

TJ: There's two or three but the one I pick today is Lisa, played by Horror Star Lesley Scoble. It's the lead up that I love, having this older lady swinging her mutilated half a pet dog around from its lead then crashing to the ground (which nearly gave me a heart attack seeing her throw herself the way she did) to be set on by a herd of alien rabbits. ACE!

TMS: The movie has such a light tone that I imagine some actors struggled to keep straight faces at times?

TJ: It was a blast, it was so brilliantly line produced by The Film and TV Company that everything fell in place. We didn't have hardly any overruns 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. So I think the cast genuinely enjoyed it.

TMS: In terms of directing choices, anyone you emulated here?

TJ: I always like to add my own stamp to the films, but I'd be lying if I didn’t confess to having some influences such as Dante/Jackson/Spielberg/Raimi....just on a smaller scale. I did try to make everything I could as cinematic as possible and I'm overall happy with the finished film.

TMS: Do you consider the film a success only when it hits a certain monetary figure?

TJ: Bringing in a financial return does indicate some success, after all the executives would like to get some of their money back. Many films have failed in the box office, but later became a cult classic delivering a healthy return.  

TMS: Has the movie opened doors for you?

TJ: Oh, for sure! I have one serious horror movie to make called The Frequency of Fear, with my brother Stuart and son Alex. I'm booked in 2018/19 to make two action creature features, one a western and another set in an apocalyptic desert town in Northern Chile, all written by Tom Crinch and Stuart Jopia. The films will be produced by The Film and TV Company. CLB 2 starts preproduction early 2018 and if things go to plan my Drama ANGELITO will be filmed in 2020 and go on to win the Oscar in 2022. I'm very fortunate that I also have a day job as a creative director for a major broadcaster, so fitting in movies is a true labor of love and takes immense planning from myself. It also requires patience and tolerance from my wife, but she has been a massive drive in my push to make movies. So if I can continue to fit everything in, then I would love to carry on making films ideally with bigger budgets and more time. I love my day job, but nothing beats the feeling of watching a story brought to life and a film delivered at the end of the journey. So far SO GOOD!