The Incredibly Strange World of Ant Timpson

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With the recent announcement of The ABCs of Death 2, which will be distributed by us here at Monster Pictures, we thought it would be a good time to look at the man behind the movie. Let’s look at the incredibly strange world of Ant Timpson.

There are two types of people in the world: those who see endless problems and those who see endless opportunities. Ant Timpson fits firmly into the latter category. Despite living in the far flung reaches of New Zealand, he’s managed to be in the centre of the cinematic counterculture for he past three decades. On top of that he’s managed to work in every aspect of the film industry and has introduced countless people to eclectic cult cinema.

Ant was first exposed to the weird and wonderful world of cinema at a very young age with classic adventure films such as King Kong and The Seven Voyages of Sinbad.  His interest was then fuelled by his parents who took him to see all kinds of cinematic delights such as Apocalypse Now and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Things really kicked into overdrive when his parents briefly relocated from New Zealand to Los Angeles. There he wasn’t limited by the restrictive tastes of the New Zealand censorship board and could bask in the hedonistic pleasures of 70’s cable television, well as much as he could sneak in when his parents weren’t looking.

Having no clear vision for his life, he enrolled in a law degree. At university he ran what could be considered a ‘makeshift film festival’. He charged people to watch rented VHS tapes. This seems outrageous (maybe even illegal) by todays standards, but no one cared as they were  starved for this kind of content.

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A flyer for Ant’s Incredibly Strange Film Festival

It’s important to remember that in these days paying an exorbitant amount of money to a dodgy tape trader for a horrible sixth generation dub of movies was considered a luxury. Genre fans couldn’t just download anything they wanted. They had to endlessly scour video stores for a title, or wait years (if not forever) for films to get passed by the censorship board. Sometimes just getting a film was a greater reward than the film itself. But Ant isn’t complaining. Talking to him, I got the sense that the only thing he loves more than tracking down obscure films is screening them.

His makeshift film festivals also gave him his first taste of the film life, and he wanted more. Ant realised he had zero interest in law, and he acquired a job as a production  runner. From there he’s worked in every facet of the film industry from a tape trader (which got him the red flag by customs for a decade), producer, managing an Arthouse cinema, and distributor.

Ant managed to keep in the thick of things by working at New Zealand’s leading post-production house doing VHS tape mastering, right at the height of the 80’s VHS BOOM! *drools*. This gave him advanced access to titles such as The Toxic Avenger and Street Trash. He also worked for the Crimson Celluloid which was Australias’ leading underground movie fanzine which was at the forefront of introducing many people to Asian cinema.

Crimson Celluloid, No 1, 1988.

Crimson Celluloid, No 1, 1988.

Through Crimson Celluloid he made contacts that would allow him to put on the Bad Taste festival which then lead to The Incredibly Strange Film Festival. The latter was a huge success as it came at a perfect time. At the time people had a strong interest in retro titles such as Plan 9 from Outer Space and Robot Monster, but had no way of accessing them. Ant talks about the opening night:

‘The turn out was phenomenal. It was huge. People went crazy. It was a real celebration of eclectic cinema. And the fact that people turned up in costumes. It was like a rowdy party. There was tequila flowing. The opening night film was The Trip and literally half the audience was tripping. I went into the toilet and four people were lying in the urinal. It was just out of control.’ From there he took the show on the road, and it became a kind of cinema circus. It was eventually absorbed by the International Film Festival.

Trailer for The Devil Dared Me To. Produced by Ant Timpson.

Then he got into producing feature films. He turned out strong genre entries such as The Devil Dared Me To, and The Good Song. All of Ant’s passions would culminate in his next film: The ABCs of Death.

How did he come up with the idea? Was it based on years and years of watching horror movies? His in-depth knowledge of the film market? Nope! It came to him one night when he was reading his sons an alphabet book.

This might be a good time to digress. While I have talked about Ant being a fearless, underground counterculture leader, he actually comes across as an incredibly loving family man. From talking to him I got the feeling that these days you’re probably more likely to catch him selling Lamingtons at his kids’ school fate, than being in an acid filled theatre.

So, where was I?  He knew he had a fun concept that would be easy to pitch. That is, it would be 26 short films that would all explore the idea of death. The directors had total creative freedom along as it resided somewhere within the horror genre. The next day he wrote up a proposal and sent it to his old friend Tim League, co-founder Fantastic Fest and Drafthouse films, who  jumped on-board right away. They were able to sign up directors due to League’s connection from the Fantastic Fest.

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Being a family man, Ant released an adult children’s book of the film. (Pictured: Tim League)

The next step was to coordinate 26 directors over 15 countries. Sounds simple right? I’ve noticed a running theme here. Ant loves a good challenge, scratch that, a near impossible challenge. It’s a good thing that Ant loved to hunt films because The ABCs of Death would be the hardest challenge yet.

I can’t even begin to understand the logistical nightmare he would have faced. Just think of the paperwork alone. He would have had to draw up legal contracts and have them translated into 15 different languages. Films are hard enough to produce when everyone speaks the same language, let alone when they don’t.

Also think about all the  production worries. The shoot would require 26 different crews. That’s 26 soundmen, 26 cinematographers, 26 make-up artists. Basically the production left itself open to 26 times the problems. So even if everything did go to plan, what would happen if the films sucked, or were too similar? If The ABCs of Death had failed to get out of production it still would have been successful. The film community still would have hailed Ant a hero for willing to dream a dream bigger than most people would dare. Thankfully for all involved it was pretty darn good – an instant horror classic.

The film managed to find an unexpected audience: teenagers. Due to its bite sized bit, it lent itself perfectly to be uploaded to Youtube. Teenagers dare each other to watch one segment at a time; T is for Toilet, then F is for Fart and so on, and so on. Before too long they had been exposed to a whole new world of eclectic cult cinema. Somehow, either consciously or unconsciously, The ABCs of Death had become an Ant’s greatest film festival of all.

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Will you be the 26th director?

Ant being Ant has decided to go through the same process and with ABCs of Death 2. This time around they’ve opened it up to more non-horror directors such as Julian Barratt of The Mighty Boosh, and Monster Pictures favourites Steven Kostanski (Manborg); and the Soska Sisters (American Mary, Dead Hooker in a Trunk). I’d love to tell you an amusing, or even interesting one, about Julian Barrett’s involvement. They asked him and he said yes. Who wouldn’t? Barratt has a few small directing credits to his name. No doubt infuse his segment with his absurd humour and quirky weirdness..Which is a good thing as Ant thinks the film will be more diverse, more so about death than horror, and more accessible to a wider audience. He’s looking to get the film finished by April next year and have it play the festival circuits before going into wider release.

So how can you sum up a wonderful man like Ant Timpson? I can’t, so I’m going to let him do it himself ‘I don’t have the genetic makeup to be a Mother Theresa but what I do do, I do well.’ I couldn’t agree more.

Just like with the first film Ant is giving you a chance to become part of the film. He’s on the hunt for the 26th director. Check  the video below and click on this link for full details. Submissions are due by October 31st.

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