Move over Stallone, Willis, Schwarzenegger and Norris, there’s a new cult hero in town! Playing filthy, loving homage to the sights, sounds and smells of 80s action thrillers, CHUCK STEEL: NIGHT OF THE TRAMPIRES takes no prisoners in its feverishly fun stop-motion assault of cracking one-liners, intricately rendered ultraviolence and stylized retro panache. Screening at FrightFest this year its a blast and we have a very special interview with the man behind the legend Michael Mort creator and director of Chuck Steel.
It’s 1986 and lone wolf cop, Chuck Steel is ‘the best God damn cop on the force’ according to his long-suffering boss, Captain Jack Schitt. When an unholy mutation of vampire and tramp, called Trampires, descends on the city of Los Angeles, Chuck is forced to confront the tragic loss of his wife at the hands of a ruthless Ninja master, while investigating the various strange cases of missing party goers. When he is bitten by an infected Trampire, Chuck is reluctantly forced to work with bumbling Trampire hunter, Abraham Van Rental to discover and destroy the leader of the Trampires by midnight, before Chuck becomes one of the drunken undead himself and the city is lost to an eternal night of blood and booze!
Where did the character of Chuck Steel come from?
Michael Mort: I came up with the character of Chuck Steel in 1985 when still at school. I used to doodle this square jawed action hero in my English book when I should have been concentrating on the lesson. Over the years he developed a bit as I drew him in various adventure scenarios, usually involving monsters of some kind. I made a Super8 short film with the character when I was experimenting with animation and I also made a college film featuring Chuck a few years later. These were basically just Chuck fighting monsters for 10 minutes or so but I was learning about how to construct scenes and action as I went. Later in my animation career I revisited the idea a number of times and began writing a feature script which I completed in 2001, well the first draft version…
You obviously have an affection for outrageous 80s action flicks, do you have a favourite?
Michael Mort: I love so many it’s hard to pick a favourite. I think Rambo 2 and Evil Dead 2 would have to be at the top.
How long did it take to write the script for Night of the Trampers?
Michael Mort: If I remember, it was something I kept dipping in to as I worked as a commercials director in animation. The first draft took about a year on and off. It went through a ton of revisions over the years before I got to the point of actually making it. Even then I was tweaking until the end. So in answer to your question – I started it in 2001 and finished in 2017.
How did you get the voice talents of Paul Whitehouse and Jennifer Saunders involved?
Michael Mort: As a comparatively low budget independent stop motion film, at the start of the process we did not engage with name actors and opted to go with voice talent instead, in order to put the money on the screen. As things progressed with the film a number of high profile visitors came to the studio through various links with our producers. Simon West, director of Con Air and Expendables 2 was one. Also, Roger Taylor of Queen and his wife Sarina, and it was Sarina who hooked us up with Jennifer and Paul. By then we were well into the shoot but decided to take advantage of this opportunity and re-voiced a number of the characters. It’s definitely not the right way to do things as the actors had to hit the lip sync marks while giving a performance as well so it’s not a simple task, but there’s no right or wrong when trying to make an independent film, and they both definitely delivered.
Was it a hard project to get financed?
Michael Mort: If you consider how long it has taken me to finally get it made – around twenty years, then yes. I nearly gave up on the idea several times of ever getting it made, but in the end, sheer bloody mindedness won out and fate finally smiled on me at the point I met my financing partners. From then it became very easy, as they had total faith in it and gave me full creative control. It was a tough shoot to achieve everything I wanted but my backers were a pleasure to work with.
Do you think the character would have had the same impact if made in CGI?
Michael Mort: No. I think part of its charm is the hand made stop motion feel.
The animation is outstanding so without giving too much away, which scene was the hardest to film and how long did it take from first shot till the finished feature?
Michael Mort: I would say the dialogue scenes are the most laborious as they were all hand sculpted frame by frame – no replacement mouths. Also, the crowd scenes at the end of the film during the big battle. There’s no CG used in those shots and all the puppets are real, so we have around 200 puppets running around – it was madness. I think the biggest wide shot was a second long and took two months.
The detail in the film is amazing and it will take repeated views to try and catch everything, but was anything cut from the final version?
Michael Mort: There were a few shots we ditched, mainly due to restructuring of the script or a gag that didn’t really work but there’s not much on the cutting room floor. There are a couple of scenes from the middle act that we had to ditch because of time and money that I really wish we had been able to achieve but the film doesn’t suffer hugely from their absence.
This movie took a long time to be completed, how do you feel know it’s ready for the screen?
Michael Mort: Relieved. And nervous. It’s not a very PC film in some respects and we live in over sensitive times so it will be interesting to see if people will take it in the spirit it was intended – as a fun, ridiculous, thrill ride.
Will you be nervous when its shown at FrightFest?
Michael Mort: I’m looking forward to it as it’s gone down well in our previous screenings at Annecy and Fantasia, so I’m hopeful it’ll be the same vibe.
So, what are you working on at the moment?
Michael Mort: Mainly promotional stuff for the film, some small commissions through the studio and working on further feature ideas. Animortal Studio intends to continue making stop motion features if Chuck Steel hits the mark.
Check out the trailer below and look out for a review very soon on the site: