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PopHorror Interviews Tony Jopia, Director of ‘Cute Little Buggers’

Filmmaker Tony Jopia has been making dark comedies for nearly fifteen years. I honestly hadn’t heard of him until I watched his film, Cute Little Buggers (you can check out my review of the film here). As the final credits rolled, I knew Tony Jopia has a head and heart for what makes black comedies work. The film is about average sized, fluffy, bloodthirsty bunnies who terrorize the English countryside. For the black comedy connoisseur, Cute Little Buggers is the ultimate in gory hilarity. I actually had the chance to chat with Tony about his films, his process and working with his brother, Stuart. Here’s what he has to say.
PopHorror: You’ve been making films for over 14 years. What inspired you to be a filmmaker?
Tony Jopia: I wanted to be a film maker from a very young age. When I was about 6 in Chile, I religiously watched Tarzan movies every weekend with my grandfather. I remember coming to England in 1975, and one of the first things we did was visit the local cinema called The Classic. Airport 1975 was the first film I ever saw there and I thought about how gripping it was as an experience. I loved the reactions, not only from my perspective but also from my father. When the film finished, the buzz was electric!
Later on, my father would often wake me up late at night, even on school days, to catch the creature features on TV like Tarantula or Them!, which of course I loved. But I always preferred watching movies on the big screen. Once I was old enough to go on my own, I would catch everything I could. I thought the Poseidon Adventure was brilliant and cried my eyes out when Gene Hackman died. I was blown away by a cheesy B-movie called Damnation Alley with The A-Team’s George Peppard. I loved all the vehicles, mutations and apocalyptic scenes in this movie, even though the whole thing was rough around the edges. Then came Star Wars, Superman, Jaws and ET, which just blew me away. When I was 12, my father used the little extra savings he had to buy me an 8mm camera and editor. From then on, I made short films with my friends. My father even painted his van like the A-Team van for my action movies! Then came films like Halloween, Blues Brothers, The Thing and from then on, there was no turning back.
From that day, I knew my destiny was working with film and video. I just had to figure how to make it happen. Carpenter, Spielberg and Sergio Leone all inspired me. I took a side step very early on in my career into television and branding, which carved my way to becoming a successful creative director for a major broadcaster. I also became a husband and dad, which then became the most important thing for me. As much as I wanted to just be a film director, movie making had to be put to one side and my attention then went into creating for TV and earning a living.
Around 2008, I realized I wasn’t getting any younger, so along with my day job, I put in place a crazy plan to shoot a micro budget feature film in just over 2 weeks. Amazingly, I found an awesome bunch of people who all suffered with me to make our little slasher. It was one of the hardest things I ever did, but at the same time, a wonderful learning curve. I also met many of the people who have been a part of most of my crew on the features that followed. I’ve never had the luxury of massive budgets or ample filming time, so I have had to push the creative juices to the max. It’s amazing when you don’t have a lot of money, how much you have to dig deep to save the day.
Often, in in the eyes of the viewers, it’s never enough to just be creative. Sometimes you genuinely don’t have the resources or funds to improve or redo something, even though you know as a director you want it better. Audiences only want to see the best and are not interested in a sob story of how little or painful it was to make the film… Let’s be honest. The film is either good or not, and that’s all that matters to a paying audience. Making Deadtime was challenging but, for a first film, it really lit the filmmaking spark inside us all and we had a bloody great time shooting it. All our films have been hard work, but we all got inspired to get better and better.
PopHorror: Your brother, Stuart, is also involved in the filmmaking business. Do you two work together often? What’s it like, working with your sibling?
Tony Jopia: For me, the crew I work with is like a family. Some are closer to me than others, but having Stuart and my son, Alex, working alongside me is simply a gift! Stuart is a brilliant producer. He has a great way with people and getting the best out crew and cast when it matters. We have worked on a couple of movies now, and we’re planning to bring our talents together on four creature features greenlit for 2018. He knows so much about the horror genre, from who’s made what to what scene showed what. He’s a walking encyclopedia of horror! He really understands a good horror story, as well as the plot and the structure, which helps massively to carve out the best possible results. His Good Tidings film was a great achievement with the time and money he had. The project and story was very much his baby, so having him alongside me for the feature films means I have someone who understands low budget filmmaking. When everyone is in the right frame of mind and in creative sync, movie magic truly happens.
My amazing AD and producer son, Alex, has also worked with me on most of my projects. I’m not just saying that because I’m his father… He has learned the process of making films on micro budgets from a very early age, worked his way through many of the departments, and understands what they all need and how to adapt to restrictions and dilemmas when they unexpectedly happen. He knows my thinking process and is often one step ahead, which is exactly what you want from your AD. He’s now producing his first feature film, In The Woods, which is a collaboration with Stuart. It has a powerful script. I wish I was directing, but this is their project and, from a horror fan’s perspective, I think it’s going to be incredible. Definitely one to watch out for in 2019.
As I said your crew become your family. Jeremy Stephens, Andrij Evans and now Jonny Ross, Sean Wilcock, just to name a few… Without their dedication and commitment, all of those projects would not have been possible. As the leader of this band of rogues, you have to keep everyone together and uplifted, motivated at all times. So you can get the results that are needed, not just to satisfy your director’s vision, but to make the project commercial and professional enough to have it released and then be able to show everyone how their hard work was worth it.
Tony’s brother, Stuart Jopia, in ‘Cute Little Buggers’
PopHorror: Let’s talk a bit more about Deadtime. Can you tell our readers a bit about the film?
Tony Jopia: I reached a crossroad in my life in 2008, which meant I either did something then with the little I had or forget about making movies for good. Meeting some awesome people on a children’s TV pilot I shot meant I had talent to help me make Deadtime, so it was simple… now or never. Everyone came on board. I had just over 2 weeks, £6000 of cash and one location. The film was written by Stephen Bishop from an idea we both created. It was based in the one location we had as offices. Also, next door was an old rundown educational center that was eerie enough to provide atmosphere without having to worry about dressing and props. We listed everything we have in terms of locations, setting and cast, and he wrote the whole film to accommodate the list. We both love music as well. Stephen knew about bands and I knew about horror. So the story and way forward was simple …sort of! (laughs) We almost killed ourselves with hypothermia. The building we filmed, ate and slept in had no heating, and it was the beginning of December in the midlands. Cold! Darn cold! Check out the makings of the film on YouTube here and you’ll get a feeling for the pain and tears we went through to accomplish the film with the little we had.
Not only did I make some wonderful friend and recruited the best crew ever, but we got global release for a tiny film that was made with a lot of passion and dedication for only £6K. However, I have to mention two key people: Jeremy Stephens, who saved us from so many dilemmas with his van load of, well…everything. If we needed a music recording studio build, the next day, there it was. I also have to mention Andrij Evans from Brainy Monkey, who onlined the film and all the effects, and delivered a product we were able to have picked up by distributors and released globally.
Laurence Saunders as Zack in ‘Deadtime’

PopHorror: Before Deadtime, you had made several shorts. What do you find is the difference between creating a short and a full length feature?

Tony Jopia: Shorts are always a great grounding and education in filmmaking. I’ve done lots of shorts, and the first thing they teach you is how to tell a story. If you can condense it, tighten it to work in minutes rather than over an hour, then it really helps to get an understanding of editing out what doesn’t work and what’s sufficient to get the plot across. Technically, shorts also help to create your visual needs, from knowing how many shots are needed to tell the story to what what works and what doesn’t. It’s a perfect step up the ladder towards understanding the production needs, planning and schedules. You get it right on a short, and then you just extend the process over a longer production time, keeping the same ethics you put into practice with the crew, cast and overall production.
PopHorror: You’ve made two films about werewolves: Cry Wolf and Crying Wolf 3D. Do you have an affinity for these beastly creatures? What is it about them that draws you in?
Tony Jopia: The two titles are actually the same film. Andrij Evans created a 3D version, which worked really well. We will be releasing this version in 2018, along with a 3D version of Cute Little Buggers. I love all creature features, but wolves have always been on my radar since Landis’ An American Werewolf in London. The humor, the gore, the action… it just delivered on so many levels. Love it. Cry Wolf was another micro production made for £12K. Shot in a couple of weeks. The project was born from a short film version we made. We had such a blast and everyone loved the final result. We decided to make a sequel, and as we filmed part two, it dawned on us how we had so much material, why didn’t we shoot a little more and deliver a full length feature? Cry Wolf was launched. Caroline Munro and Gary Martin came on board after seeing the original short. It was a demanding, two week shoot, but we did it and for the money we had, I think we did really well.
PopHorror: You’ve made several horror comedies so far. Are you a big horror comedy fan? What’s your favorite one?
Tony Jopia: I love comedy horror, particularly An American Werewolf in London. From the classic Rock ‘n’ Roll Moon music tracks to the transformation VFX. It really opened my eyes and, of course, introduced me to the brilliant Rick Baker. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with great make-up artists who have been super generous with their time and resources, but sadly, I’ve never been able to give them the chance to create elaborate VFX. Yet they still stick with me. 
I do love comedy, and when you’re working on a crazy concept of alien rabbits, you are automatically driven to have a certain element of tomfoolery about the whole thing. Besides, we had such a laugh making it, we couldn’t really resist taking it slightly over the top. The plumbers trying to refill their weapons is one of the most outrageous scenes ever. Don’t get me wrong, I love serious horror. The Thing and The Exorcist are two of my favorite films ever, but when I saw An American Werewolf in London and The Evil Dead, their use of comedy really connected with me. The next film I’m making, I’m working with my brother, Stuart, and son, Alex, on a dark, psychological ghost story, so going to put my comedy boots away for a little while and hopefully scared a few people shitless. But Cute Little Buggers has been so amazingly well received globally that there are already plans to start production on Cute Little Buggers 2 The Quills Of Death in February 2018.
PopHorror: Ooh, I can’t wait for Cute Little Buggers 2! As far as filmmaking, you’ve spent most of your time behind the camera. Have you ever thought about stepping in front of the lens?
Tony Jopia: That’s a funny question… I have made minor cameos in some of my films. To be honest, it’s hard enough bringing a production together that I don’t think I fancy too many more appearances in front of the camera. I love directing and editing, so there’s plenty there to be getting on with. My brother was great in Cute Little Buggers but I can’t seem to persuade him to appear in the films… but watch this space.
PopHorror: We’ve talked a bit about Cute Little Buggers. Can you tell our readers a bit about the film and where the idea come from?
Tony Jopia: I’ve always loved creature features and deep in my heart, I knew I would one day make something crazy like Cute Little Buggers. In one day, I caught on TV Gremlins and one of my favorite films, It’s a Mad Mad Mad World, a chaotic comedy that just sang out to me. My love for classic Hammer movies and monster movies from the ’50s 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..?” I 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 a 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 a another awesome writer, Garry Charles, and we sent him our draft. He came on board to do a version. We shot a teaser to convinced the executives such as Fabien Muller, and he loved it. We went into production, having enough budget to shoot Cute Little Buggers 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. A lot of the cast from Crying Wolf came on board for the ride and we all had a blast making it.
Some of the cast of ‘Cute Little Buggers,’ including Samar Sarila, Stu Jopia, Gary Martin, Honey Holmes and Kristofer Dayne
It’s nice to also show some loyalty to those that give so much for so little. I loved working with them and didn’t hesitate to have them in a movie again. Kris Dayne played the lead with his good looks and he brought a number of great supporting actors such as Samar Sarila from India, Rodrigo Penalosa Pita from Spain, and the popular model/actress Dani Thompson. Dominic Took, who produced a lot of the film but left just before filming began, rounded up a lots of the cast from Crying Wolf such as Jonny Walker and Caroline Munro, one of horror’s most amazing dames. She was great in Crying Wolf and didn’t hesitate to come along to play the fortune teller predicting the end of the world. Gary Martin, Mr Slaughter High, was fantastic and so funny with his tasteless one liners and despicable novelty song that brought the house down… quite literally. There was also the brilliant Sara Dee with her gutsy action woman outfit. Lesley Scoble from Village of the Dammed was hilarious with her swinging her pet dog’s remains and then crashing to the floor overwhelmed by killer rabbits. The stunt nearly gave me a heart attack. Lee-Ann Robathan finished off the casting for us with some great additions from her agency.
PopHorror: Okay. So why bunnies?
Tony Jopia: Because they’re cute little buggers!
 
PopHorror: What was the biggest challenge in making Cute Little Buggers?
Tony Jopia: Making the rabbit! We relied on CGI rabbits due to time and budget constraint. 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 it’s 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, it’s either good or crap, so what you deliver 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.

PopHorror: What was your favorite scene from the film?
Tony Jopia: I like it when they’re all reunited outside of Pissy Walters’ (Benji Ming) caravan and Lisa, played by Lesley Scoble, dangles half of her mutilated dog and wants to confront the rabbits and kick their arses. While they are all arguing about who’s gonna do what, she storms right through them towards the creatures. You just see this actress basically tumble over and get completely encased in these rabbits who tear her apart. Lesley’s brilliant falling stunt – overseen by ace stunt coordinator Mark Johnston – nearly gave me a heart attack! It did also crack me up, seeing her swinging her half a dog around in the air, getting knocked over and massacred by these alien rabbits… enough said!
One other memorable scene is the weapon refill moment with the two plumbers. This has to be seen to be believed! That’s all I’m saying.
PopHorror: One of my favorite scenes was when PC Hitchins arrives in her new, ass-kicking wardrobe. She was just one of the strong women characters you had in Cute Little Buggers. Were these ladies eager to get out there and shoot some rabbits?
Tony Jopia: SURE! You know the saying: behind every strong man is an even STRONGER WOMAN!
Sara Dee as PC Hitchins in ‘Cute Little Buggers’
PopHorror: Who inspires you?
Tony Jopia: Without a doubt – Carpenter on the horror front, Spielberg on the storytelling and cinematography/directing, Sergio Leoni on the director’s composition and vision and Rick Baker for his VFX work. They all lead me to great visual worlds, journeys of discovery, experiences that touch me emotionally. Stories that grabbed me entirely. Just wished I had their budgets! (laughs)
PopHorror: If you could work with anyone in the industry, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
Tony Jopia: Sergio Leoni or Spielberg on the directing front, Claudio Miranda on the cinematography. Rick baker on VFX. Actorwise, Gene Hackman – I love his passionate deliveries and cold stares. Powerful and emotional. Although Jason Isaacs would be great, too. There’s one guy I really want to work with properly, not just on low budgets. I want to create a memorable, Oscar winning soundtrack that everyone will know and that’s with movie composer and legend John Roome.
PopHorror: Do you have any projects coming up that you’d like to talk about?

Tony Jopia: I have one serious horror to make in 2018 called The Frequency of Fear with my brother, Stuart, and son, Alex. In addition, I’m booked in for 2018/19 to make three action creature features: one is a western called Bullet For The Beast and another is set in an apocalyptic desert town in Northern Chile called Obliteration. All are written by Tom Crinch and Stuart Jopia. We also hope to make Damned Nation, our creature feature zombie TV series and movie to go with it. Plus we want to shoot a TV pilot called Angel of Death in December for a major broadcaster and, of course, Cute Little Buggers 2: The Quills of Death starts pre-production and shooting November 2018. It will be bigger, better and more BAD ASS! If things go to plan, my Anglo Chilean drama Angeglito will be filmed in 2020 and hopefully go on to win the Oscar in 2022… After that, I’m probably going to concentrate on producing more movies with my son and brother and hopefully become a successful content creator for my broadcaster. 

Our latest movie, Dawning of the Dead (2017), gets released on 5th December 2017 followed by Cute Little Buggers 3D and Crying Wolf 3D.
PopHorror: What do you hope audiences get out of you creating film? 
Tony Jopia: The aim has always been to make a fun movie not taking itself too seriously, and I think if viewers go to it with this in mind, they will enjoy it. I do love comedy, and when you’re working on a crazy concept of alien rabbits, you are automatically driven to have a certain element of tomfoolery about the whole thing. Besides, we had such a laugh making it, we couldn’t really resist taking it slightly over the top. So don’t take it too seriously, take it for what it is… a very silly fun comedy horror about a bunch of nutters fighting off alien rabbits! 

About Tracy Allen

Hiding out in the lonely Quiet Corner in Northeastern Connecticut, Tracy Allen has been an avid horror movie since she was a young girl. Growing up in the ’80s, Tracy has lived through many a change in musical stylings and movie trends, and uses that history to come up with as many colorful, well-rounded reviews as possible.

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