Winging It at the Montreal HorrorFest

As the three of you who check this site regularly likely already know, I also run a horror fan site called The Final Girl. Based on my writing on that site I was contacted, three years ago, by the organizer of the Montreal HorrorFest, the horror wing of the Montreal ComicCon. He’d asked me if I’d be willing to help out with the fest, to introduce film screenings, speakers and panels, and I readily agreed.

It’s fairly straight-forward stuff and, as long as you don’t mind speaking in front of an audience, can engage with creators and fans alike, and know horror culture, it’s a fun, easy gig.

This year, though, was pretty special. Oddly, I gave fewer introductions than in previous years. This time ‘round, I spent most of my time at the HorrorFest booth, giving away freebies and hyping the screenings. I got to meet Kane Hodder, the legendary horror actor who’s played, among many others, Jason of The Friday the 13th series and Victor Crowley from Hatchet; I also got to chat with and introduce Doug Bradley at a screening of the classic Hellraiser, in which Bradley plays the iconic Pinhead; and on Sunday, I agreed to wait in line for someone who was otherwise busy so that I could get her book signed by Billie Piper. Piper played in Doctor Who, which is why this lady wanted her book signed, but I know the actress from a new favorite show of mine: Penny Dreadful.

So, hey, all that was cool as hell.

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I’m the one in the middle, with Martin on the left and Steve on the right.

But the real fun didn’t start until Sunday night, just minutes before 5pm, when the ComicCon was set to end. I was helping pack up the booth when Stephane, another member of the HorrorFest crew, appeared to tell me Steve needed me upstairs. As I followed him up the escalator I asked him what was up.

“He wants you to introduce the Turbo Kid panel.”

“Oh, okay, no problem,” I said. And it wasn’t. I’d never seen the film, didn’t know much about it, but, like I said before, introductions aren’t too tough. I just needed some basic background info.

“They’re a Montreal production, right?” I asked Stephane.

“Uh, I think so. Quebec, at least.”

Okay, well, that was something. I could ask Steve for more info.

Then I got to the room. The audience was already seated. The filmmakers—three of them—were seated at a table, facing the crowd.

Steve walked over.

“You want me to introduce them?” I asked.

“Yeah, and can you lead the panel?”

“The panel?”

“Yeah, just do a Q&A.”

“A Q&A?”

From the front of the room, one of the filmmakers called to Steve, “We’re all set, are we still waiting for Andre?”

I had a half-second to wonder how the guy knew my name (yes, I know, Steve obviously told him I was on my way, but I was running blind at this point), before Steve said, “Yeah, here he is!” And, to me: “Okay, thanks, okay? I gotta go.”

He left.

I later learned that an emergency concerning another guest (resolved; nothing major, in the end) forced him to leave, but for the moment, all I knew was that I was expected to lead a Q&A with these people.

And did I mention I’d never seen the film? Or its trailer? And that all I knew about the film was that it had been made by local filmmakers (now seated before me, smiling expectantly)? Did I mention all that? No. Okay. Well. Yeah.

Look, usually, I do my homework. I read up on Doug Bradley and Kane Hodder when I learned I might have to introduce them. I knew that, if the people in the audience didn’t ask questions during a possible Q&A, it’d be up to me to pick up the ball and run with it. But this film, Turbo Kid, hadn’t been on my radar. I hadn’t avoided it, I just didn’t know much about it. I knew we’d be holding a panel with the filmmakers, but I thought I’d be, y’know, helping pack up the booth while that was going on.

But here I was, standing before an audience, next to three local filmmakers and expected to not just pick up the ball and run with it but figure out what kinda ball we were playing with in the first place.

My first thought was, ‘Hell, no prob, just start by introducing them.’

‘Hm, there’s a problem with that,’ my second thought countered. ‘You don’t know their names.’

Luckily, they’d already been introduced and, besides, the fans present appeared to already be familiar with them. For the record, they were Yoann-Karl Whissell, Anouk Whissel and Francois Simard.

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Yoann-Karl, Anouk, Francois, and me.

So, I went with an old standby: “Awright, well, why don’t you tell us how the project got started?”

Yoann-Karl took the question and ran with it. He didn’t run with it so much in a straight direction, more of a winding, free-wheeling zig-zag pattern that tended to loop back upon itself, but he always managed to be both informative and entertaining.

The film, he explained, had begun as a short film destined for the first of the ABCs of Death anthologies. It had initially been titled ‘T is for Turbo’ and, though the short was not selected for inclusion in ABCs, but producers were impressed enough to suggest making the short into a feature. Turbo Kid was born.

With every new bit of information, I came up with new questions. I was doing fine, winging it, sure, but flying high. I engaged in a bit of dialogue with the trio and, thank god, they were both interesting and fantastically friendly.

In fact, they didn’t even seem annoyed, angry or disappointed when it became rather obvious that I had not seen the film…or the trailer…or the poster.

We’d been discussing casting and they were explaining the process and, particularly, how they’d discovered their Turbo Kid. Munro Chambers was the very first to audition for the role of ‘The Kid’, and they knew the moment he opened his mouth that he was their kid.

I asked them what they were looking for in The Kid and whether it was difficult, given that casting children can be a challenge.

“Well,” Yoann-Karl said, “he is twenty-two, so not really a kid.”

Oh. I’d thought the lead was an actual kid, in the way that Home Alone-era Macaulay Culkin was a kid, but turns out he was a kid in the way Billy the Kid had been a kid.

Again, I should emphasize that this was last minute stuff. I’m usually far better prepared. The trio of filmmakers were gracious enough to laugh off my blunder, however, and, if anything, it allowed them to go into more detail, knowing now that I was completely new to their work.

Whenever I was stuck for another question, I tossed it to the audience. They were always ready to help me out and often provided vital information. One, for instance, asked how it was working together, given that all three shared the role of director.

‘Seriously?’ I thought. ‘They’re all directors?’ Thank you, Fanboy!

Two directors on a single film is unusual enough, but three is unheard of.

They explained that they were like a machine, with ideas starting with one and being processed through the others.

“So you’re like a human centipede of creativity,” I said. They agreed that this was a disturbing but apt description.

Then came my second blunder. I mentioned that with most current director duos the two were siblings—like the Cohens and the Wachowskis—and that this existing relationship likely made their creative partnership and success possible. So to what did they attribute their own close ties and working relationship?

“Well,” Yoann-Karl said and pointed at Anouk, “we’re brother and sister.”

Oh.

“And,” he continued, looking from Anouk to Francois, “you’ve been together…?”

“Fifteen years,” Anouk said. Francois nodded.

Oh.

“So there ya go: there’s just more support for my theory, then,” I said. They laughed. The audience laughed.

In the end, it went extremely well. Sure, it went well because I’m comfortable speaking in front of others and have had experience interviewing creators, it also went well because these particular artists were a friendly, engaging bunch, but it was largely a success because the genre community is a strong and loyal one.

I might not have been familiar with the film or its creators, but the audience recognized me as one of their own. I showed genuine interest in the film and the filmmakers’ answers to my questions, I knew which jokes to make, which questions to ask, and I knew to throw it to the fans on a regular basis. Respect the work, respect the fans, and you’ll be forgiven.

But, when possible, always prepare, prepare, prepare. An ability to wing it is never an excuse for laziness, it simply makes things more interesting and fun when you’re caught off guard.

Turbo Kid had its official Canadian release at the 2015 Fantasia film festival in Montreal.