Australian filmmaker Dave Jackson, the man behind the audience dividing ‘killer kitty’ flick ‘Cat Sick Blues’, returns to the fold with his latest ambitious short film, ‘Gacha, Gacha’. Set in Japan and surrounding the culture’s obsession with collecting toys from the Gachapon machines, Jackson puts a twisted spin and a nightmarish vision on the concept in an offbeat creature feature, which will be unlike anything he has produced before.
In this candid interview, Jackson gives us a behind-the-scenes insight of what it’s like creating a film completely in a different culture, talks Deiter Barry’s intricate special effects, and also addresses the controversial reaction to the unforgettable, ‘Cat Sick Blues’.
Jackson is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for the short, which you can check out and support here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/davejackson/gacha-gacha-a-nightmarish-short-film-with-a-gooey
1. Congratulations on your latest project, ‘Gacha, Gacha’. What primarily inspired the idea for the film?
Dave Jackson: The idea has mostly came from living in Osaka. Fads and obsessive collecting is all over the world of course, but here it’s a national pastime. The Gachapon machines, where the film’s title comes from, to me are the ultimate collector’s nightmare. Machines that dispense random toys from a collection, so you end up constantly getting doubles. I also noticed that so many of the collections are just total shit. The most boring, awful or just ugly toys. One of the film’s themes centres on the idea that in collecting content or aesthetic often doesn’t matter, it’s purely about process, the art of collecting and the desperation to grasp onto something rare. And then, like any drug, the euphoria leaves once you have what you’re after and you move onto the next thing.
The creature itself is also inspired from living here. Tanuki statues are everywhere. It seems to be a requirement that every street in Japan has at least one terrifying, bung-eyed tanuki sitting outside. With their massive testicles and serial killer faces, they’ve imprinted themselves on me, just like Taylor Lautner only less hunky. Taena (producer and partner) and I visited an utterly terrifying tanuki temple in Kyoto filled with thousands of the things. I think the trauma of that event is what cemented the idea of what the capsule toy creature would be.
2. What are the potential challenges you might face in creating a film from a completely different language and culture?
Dave Jackson: I’m slowly discovering the answer to this question as we go along. Even at the moment, organising a cast and crew, every step of communication takes longer. For every email I have to send, it needs to be translated. Taena speaks Japanese, but when it comes to film, there’s specific terminology that makes a straightforward translation complex. Pretty much every night this week, we’ve been up till midnight typing emails.
On a really basic level, when we first came here, I had no clue how filmmaking worked in Japan. I didn’t know what to pay people (I still kind of don’t). Securing locations seemed a much more difficult process (I had to meet a town “father” in order to get shooting permission for one location we used on a previous shoot). Equipment hire is triple the cost. A lot of these issues we started to iron out after making a music video late last year, but it’s still a far more complicated affair than filming in Australia. I feel like I couldn’t get away with dodgy guerrilla filmmaking here. It’s be embarrassing to go to prison for shooting a low budget movie.
In terms of the actual production, I’m expecting everything to take twice as long as usual because of the communication process. It’s going to be very interesting translating more technical stuff to the camera crew, that’s for sure! But it’s also exciting to have a totally different approach and perspective. I’m particularly excited to see what the actors are going to bring to the production.
3. What lessons from making ‘Cat Sick Blues’ in terms of filmmaking have you transferred to this project
Dave Jackson: Good question, but perhaps a difficult one to answer. I’m sure subconsciously Cat Sick taught me a lot of lessons. It’s just hard to pinpoint what they are. It definitely taught me to stick to my gut feeling when I’m making a film. The parts of Cat Sick I don’t like watching now are the moments that felt wrong on set but we pushed through them because we didn’t have time. It also taught me the importance of having a crew you can trust, which we definitely had on Cat Sick. You have to cast aside your attachment to the project, that need to control everything and allow (a trustworthy) cast and crew the freedom to perform at their best. I think with Cat Sick, I also established what I like a film to look like. I can see the scenes that work visually and those that don’t, so I’m hoping this time around I’ll make less mistakes.
4. Your brand of filmmaking is obscure, challenging and thought provoking, how did you cope with the backlash with a film like ‘Cat Sick Blues’ which has proven to be an acquired taste where fans are concerned?
Dave Jackson: The aftermath of Cat Sick has been one of the most intense experiences of my life. It’s not so much bad reviews (we’ve had a steady 50/50 split between good and bad reviews), but more the meanings that audience members and reviewers have placed on the film. No matter how much you think your theme and opinions are clear, people will interpret them in different ways. And that’s totally fair enough. Once a film is out for the public to see, it’s no longer your film. People can hate and love Cat Sick Blues as much as they want. They can interpret it in whatever way they please. But I can’t lie… it’s deeply, deeply upsetting to be told my film was the opposite of its intent. Some comments really hit me in the guts and I felt like screaming back, “NO! THAT’S NOT WHAT I MEANT THIS TO BE!” But every reaction is legitimate, and if the film has something that I didn’t intend that is not the audience’s fault.
All I can really say is that throughout the process of making Cat Sick Blues, we didn’t go out to hurt people or upset our audience. We just tried to be true to its characters. If a character is a hypocritical, disgusting pervert, he will do things a hypocritical, disgusting pervert does. It doesn’t mean we’re promoting his actions. The antagonist of Cat Sick Blues is depraved, broken idiot conflicted between genuine sadness and his own sexual sickness, and that’s how we (being everyone involved in the film) saw him while making it. While the negative reactions always make more of an impact, I do take a lot of comfort in those who have loved it and connected with what we were going for.
I hope that when I make stuff post-Cat Sick that I can drown out that reaction. I think the worst thing any filmmaker or writer can do is write films based on the reviews of their previous work. It’s important to learn from your mistakes, but it’s also important to not suck your style and personality out of your work.
5. Tell us a bit about the puppetry and special effects implemented in ‘Gacha, Gacha’. What is involved in the process of bringing the grotesque creature to life?
Dave Jackson: The creature was made by Deiter Barry who worked on Cat Sick Blues. It has a bendable skeleton, so its arms, legs and mouth can be animated bit by bit, frame by frame. Deiter’s work is bloody amazing as you’d expect. The tanuki is absolutely disgusting. It got stopped by customs in Japan! I wonder what they thought of it.
The super gross tanuki is just barely alive, holding onto to a tiny flicker of life in total agony. As such, it doesn’t really move much! It’s constantly coated in a wet slick of slime and occasionally croaks out a gurgle. Towards the end of the film, it begins to wake up and will be animated in old school stop frame animation. Year and years ago, I made a short film with a similar set up and creature (this is almost a remake with more resources behind it and different themes), and I really loved the stop frame process. It takes a long time, despite only taking up a tiny fraction of screen time, but I think it’ll be worth it.
6. Much like, ‘Cat Sick Blues’, will ‘Gacha, Gacha’ be developed into a feature film in the future?
Dave Jackson: Gacha Gacha will definitely not become a feature. There’s no room for this to be expanded upon. The short of Cat Sick was written as the opening of a feature (we ended up going in a different direction and scrapping it). This has been written as a self contained short. I do however have a feature in the works (or at least sitting in my brain) that I’m really excited about and I really hope I get to make it. It’s really different from Gacha Gacha, like nothing I’ve ever made before. We’ll see how this short goes first.
7. In terms of the funding, you have opted for Kickstarter as your crowd-funding platform, what are the benefits of using them in developing your project?
Dave Jackson: The best thing about using Kickstarter is that you build an audience before the film has even come out. It gets people excited about a project when it’s in pre-production, which is totally crazy for a low budget short film with zero famous people involved. Kickstarter is intensely stressful. The promotion is constant, and self-promotion makes me feel sick. But that community that it builds is really fantastic.
8. Lastly, ‘Gacha, Gacha’ is not quite a horror film but is still based in genre, how would you describe its overall tone?
Dave Jackson: I think everything I do winds up having a certain brand of bleakness to it. I don’t know why. I think most people that know me would describe me as a pretty energetic (ie: annoying) person. But I definitely have an obsession with grimness and grossness. I love characters that live inside their own heads. I love characters with obsessions. I think it comes from a fear of obsession. Like, when will something I love completely swallow my life? In terms of genre, it’s really tough to pin down Gacha Gacha, though I think you could say the same about Cat Sick Blues.
In recent years, it seems that cinema has been moving away from the idea of strict genre guidelines, which I think is great. Gacha Gacha sits somewhere between a sad, quiet character study and a synth-laced gross-out horror. Rather than a focus on death and destruction, the horror is more based around slimy, ugly repulsiveness and a general underlying sense of dread. I’m struggling to pick something appropriate to compare it to tonally, but the work of Frank Henenlotter (one of my absolute favourite filmmakers) is not far off. Brain Damage in particular. However, that maybe gives the wrong impression and makes it seem more like a horror film than it actually is. Though not a horror film, I do think it will appeal to fans of the genre. Horror fans are generally pretty open-minded.
Many Thanks for partaking in this interview with Love Horror; we would like to wish you all the best with your weird and wonderful film, Gacha, Gacha.