(This interview was originally published on October 15, 2012 at Reel Film News)
A few hours before “Ninjas Vs. Monsters” had its World Premiere at the AFI Silver on Sunday night for the 2012 Spooky Movie Horror Film Festival, I was able to make the acquaintance of writer/director Justin Timpane, a fellow native of Montgomery County, MD, who was also about to participate in a discussion panel with several other local filmmakers including supporter Eduardo Sánchez (“The Blair Witch Project”). Epic within the realm of low-budget horror-action-comedies, “Ninjas” would open to a packed house that evening (in the big theater, if you’re familiar with it) with most of the cast in attendance. Timpane gave me a little history on his insane endeavor.
Michael Parsons: I always appreciate an opportunity to pick the brain of an independent filmmaker. How did the whole “Ninjas vs.” thing get started?
Justin Timpane: That of our brains that are left (laughing). This is the third film. The first was “Ninjas vs. Zombies” then “Ninjas vs. Vampires”. My writing partner – (laughing) no, eff him, the guy I bounce my story ideas off of, who’s also my co-producer and partner in crime, Daniel Ross – he’s an actor, I was an actor. He stars as Kyle, who’s sort of at the forefront of the films. I was feeling unsatisfied with the sort of work I could get, and Daniel was feeling the same way. We went to go see “Clerks 2”. At the end of the movie there’s a scene where the two characters are dissatisfied with working for other people. One of them says, “What would you do if you could do anything?” He says, “I’d buy the Quick Stop and I would run it myself”. We walked out of the theater and I was like, we’re gonna buy the Quick Stop!! That’s how this whole thing got started. Then we went down to the Blockbuster, whatever that used to be, and looked for ‘the movie that wasn’t there’. We eventually decided that martial arts meets horror is what we hadn’t seen. We both loved horror, and me in particular, I’m a huge fan of Jackie Chan’s early stuff, like “Drunken Master 2” and the terrible American martial arts films…. the old Van Damme films like “Double Impact”….
JT: Oh God, “Lionheart”…. “Lionheart!!!” (laughing). Being a fan of those genres in particular, I thought, let’s go play in that playground and see what we can do for $10,000. After the first one got a following, we sort of evolved and did a better one the second time around. On this one, thanks to Kickstarter and other supporters we got, we did an infinitely better one. Have you seen the first two?
MP: I have not. Will it damage those to see this one first?
JT: There are spoilers that happen. But I would prefer people to see this one and then go back and see [the first two]. Because they’re more likely to want to see those after seeing this one than want to see this one after seeing those.
MP: So tell me more about the martial arts used in the film.
JT: I’m so proud of that now. In the first film we had one martial artist who choreographed everything. The second film we had two choreographers, and in this one we have a full-on stunt program. Even our main actors – which is weird to say for such a low-budget film – spent two months training.
MP: So you were an actor as well. Was it that there was no work out there that was worth it?
JT: Let’s be clear. It’s not there’s no work that was worth it. It’s that the competition was so fierce. You look at things like “The Guild” where people built their followings and then entered mainstream. That’s inspirational. It was right when Joss Whedon was working on “Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog”, and [I was] looking at what people could do just promoting themselves, making it themselves. Buying the Quick Stop. Felicia Day, at that time in her career, would not have been starring opposite Neil Patrick Harris in something a studio would do. Now, sure she would.
MP: I always wondered about people directing themselves in a film. It seems like that would detract from one role or the other.
JT: Until this film I didn’t have a cinematographer that I trusted. Well, that I trusted, but would also come work with me for free (laughing). The guy who shot this film with me had been my co-DP, he made it so that if I were to do another one, I’d feel comfortable letting him operate the camera. The scene I [acted in] in “Vampires”, Garry Ugarek who did “Deadlands” came in and directed me in that scene, so I had someone telling me what to do. That’s the other thing in this area that I especially love is that you know, Eric Thornett who’s doing “A Sweet and Vicious Beauty” tonight – right before we did “Zombies”, he came over to my house and we just chilled out and we talked about it. And Johnny Johnson who lives in this area also… I really feel like we’re coalescing as a community of friends. Not just as colleagues, but we go to each other personally as well, and I think that kind of synergy is really good for this area. I think it’s going to bring DC independent film to where other areas like New Jersey were at one point. Hopefully we’re on the way.
My sincere thanks to Justin Timpane. Click to learn more about Ninjas vs. Monsters.
Photo courtesy of Spooky Movie International Horror Film Festival