TURBO KID Filmmaker Anouk Whissell Talks Sinister Thriller SUMMER OF 84!
RKSS – the directorial trio behind the 2015 cult smash TURBO KID, return with a sinister hit of 80s nostalgia in their unpredictable and legitimately unsettling thriller SUMMER OF 84.
Already garnering acclaim for the nailing the period in which the film is set, the realism of the central teenagers’ relationships, and the shockingly brutal edge the film shows in its latter half, SUMMER OF 84 is a striking film on every level – and much more than just another nostalgia fest.
Ahead of the film’s Australian Premiere on Sunday July 29th at MONSTER FEST TRAVELLING SIDESHOW Adelaide, Cult of Monster’s David Churack talked to RKSS member and SUMMER OF 84 co-director Anouk Whissell about recapturing the magic of the 80s, having the nerve to go dark in the teen adventure mode of film, and how far along TURBO KID 2 is!
SUMMER OF ’84 is an 80s period coming of age drama set against a sincerely creepy horror/thriller story. How did you achieve the right balance between these different elements?
The goal was to start with a light-hearted coming of age adventure feel, and to have a gradual shift as the fun and games evolve into a much darker reality that has real consequences—without giving the impression of having two different movies in one. This was achieved by making sure we had some subtle creepiness from the very beginning – in the music, the picture and the settings – and carefully playing with the tone throughout. The heart being the relationship between the kids.
How challenging was it achieving the level of 80s authenticity seen in the finished film?
The challenge really came from the limited budget. Doing a period piece is expensive when you want it to really feel authentic, because there are fewer and fewer costumes, props, furniture and untouched houses from that era around, and I mean, finding functioning period cars was hard! Our Production Designer Justin Ludwig and our Costume Designer Florence Barrett really made magic happen, they found real hidden gems. For us it was important to get the real feel of 1984 and not a fake generic tacky 80s.
For the picture itself, we wanted an authentic but modern look, and for it, our DP Jean-Philippe Bernier and us absolutely wanted to shoot in anamorphic to get all the pretty lenses effect, chromatic aberrations and texture that are typical to this era. And later with Andrea Chlebak in the grading room and with LE MATOS scoring, the same mindset was kept.
Speaking of authenticity, SUMMER OF 84 is a very realistic treatment of early adulthood: how much of it was informed by real-life childhood experiences?
We know Matt Leslie and Stephen Smith really dipped into their own childhood when they wrote the script, and right when we read it, from the very early treatment, we recognized ourselves and our friends. This is what spoke to us, the kids in this story are real and behave like real teens—swearing, talking about sex and smuggling alcohol from their parents’ home bar.
What 80s films served as your inspirations for SUMMER OF 84?
We picked our inspirations for the tone, picture, style and music from many movies of our childhood, some of them were: THE GOONIES, FRIGHT NIGHT, THE MONSTER SQUAD, THE ‘BURBS, STAND BY ME and a few Carpenter movies.
This is your second feature, and like your debut TURBO KID, it feels like a throwback to an earlier style of filmmaking. What appeals to you about this style?
It’s the style of movies we grew up with – it has a deep feeling of nostalgia attached to it. We feel that in the 80s, the movies were really careful with character and story development: there was no CGI, everything felt real, tangible, they trusted the audience, young and old. I remember the magic and how it sparked my imagination.
This is also your second feature collaborating with your RKSS co-directors François Simard and Yoann-Karl Whissell: tell us about your collaborative process.
We’ve been working together making short films for almost 20 years now and we’re literally family. We’ve developed some kind of a hive mind over the years and it just comes naturally to us. The only moment we ‘fight’ is when we write a script together, but no one else has ever witnessed this, we do this behind closed doors — haha. In prep and development, we decide and establish every little detail and we storyboard everything, so when we come on set, we’re just super prepared and ready to tackle everything in a common mindset and vision and in a very organized and structured way. This makes it possible then for us to split and become ultra-efficient. Munro Chambers on TURBO KID once called us a Three-Headed Dragon. Making a movie is a collaborative effort from everyone involved in the cast and crew, and this is an aspect that is highly important for us and this ignites passion from everyone involved, creating the perfect atmosphere to make the best possible movie!
A major part of the film is the soundtrack – it adds so much character and tension. How did that come together?
This is the awesomeness that are Jean-Philippe Bernier and Jean-Nicolas Leupis aka LE MATOS. We’ve had the chance to be collaborating with them for over a decade now—we come from a similar background and we’ve got the same inspirations. One thing that is unusual is that Jean-Philippe Bernier is also our DP (and fourth unofficial member of RKSS). We involve him in the very beginning of every single one of our projects in the early stages of development, so like us, he knows the project by heart, he’s passionate, resulting in a picture and music so amazingly intertwined.
One of the most striking parts of SUMMER OF 84 is the shock ending. Without giving too much away: why did you feel this was the right ending for your film?
This was one of the main reasons we jumped in the project, because the script wasn’t afraid of going there. Life is harsh, it’s not only butterflies and candies, and this felt like the appropriate ending. There was talk of filming an alternate version, that was less shocking, but we strongly felt we needed to keep it intact, and we were able to convince everyone involved, that this was the reason every one of us jumped in and why this script is different.
Your actors add so much to the believability of the film. Can you talk about you assembled this cast?
The casting process was a long one, we really needed to find the perfect kid lead and his three friends, we needed the chemistry to work between them. When we found Graham Verchere, we knew we had our Davey, and we built the group around him, we were really lucky to find such a group of talented young actors with Judah Lewis, Cory Grüter-Andrews and Caleb Emery and they bounded right away. For the role of Nikki, it was also a matter of finding the perfect girl, as she’s not only the cool girl next door aka dream girl, her character holds much more substance, behind her perfect mask and Tiera Skovbye incarnated her perfectly, it was a chance to have her in audition. And finally, Rich Sommer, being a huge fan of MAD MEN, I have to admit I geeked out a bit having him on set. He’s such a strong and talented actor, and he has this genuine likability to him that was key for the role of Mr. Mackey.
Can you give us updates on upcoming projects: how far along is TURBO KID 2?
SUMMER OF ’84 will hit the screens really soon, so we’re in the middle of the festival run and release promotion, but we’ve also been keeping real busy with our next projects. For TURBO KID 2, we’re currently writing a new version of the script, tightening everything up, making sure it’s as perfect as we can. We receive so much love daily by the TURBO KID’s fans around the world, we owe this to them and we do feel the pressure! We also have a cool Comic Book adaptation in the works, called THE Z-WORD with THE HUMANOIDS and we’re attached to direct one of the biggest IP from Quebec called AMOS DARAGON, this as well as several other projects in different states of development!