Interview with talented, up-and-coming British writer/director Liam Regan about his debut film “My Bloody Banjo” and what inspires him most as a filmmaker.
With a new Director’s Cut of the dark and twisted My Bloody Banjo (read my review here) scheduled to screen during the Romford Film Festival on Saturday, May 26th, I was excited to talk to writer-director Liam Regan about his influences and inspiration for his highly entertaining debut film, as well as his experiences in the film industry.
How did you first get into filmmaking and what were your influences?
My mum purchased an ex-rental copy of The Toxic Avenger Part II (1989) from my local Blockbuster Video, and from the opening scene of Toxie decapitating bad guys, I knew that I wanted to create similar films that embodied that over the top, anarchic, tongue in cheek humor, along with a large dollop of slapstick gore.
Coinciding with my purchase of Toxie 2, Bravo (A now defunct UK Sky Channel) was screening a season of Troma movies in late 1996. Finally, I was watching movies that actually spoke to me. Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz (Presidents of Troma Entertainment) were a huge influence on my childhood, along with Frank Henenlotter (Basket Case) and Charles Band (Full Moon Entertainment), as well as British sitcoms such as Bottom (1991-1995) (Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmonson) that really shaped my taste in creating short stories and screenplays.
For anyone who hasn’t seen ‘My Bloody Banjo’, what can they expect from the film?
People seem to want to describe it as Drop Dead Fred (1991) meets Basket Case (1982). However it’s my love letter to the movies of Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz from Troma Entertainment who directed Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD (1990), Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986) and The Toxic Avenger (1984), amongst many more. Lots of blood, a snapped banjo string, and an imaginary friend character that won’t take no for an answer! Willard (2003) was also a huge influence on the movie, along with Brain Scan (1993).
Why did you decide to write ‘My Bloody Banjo’ as a horror-comedy?
People say write what you know, and I’ve always had a dark sense of humor, which was nurtured by many of the movies and TV shows I grew up with, along with being a product of growing up in the 90s with Sky TV.
My Bloody Banjo is actually a rape revenge movie, but people don’t really seem to pick up on that sub-genre, potentially because in a rare instance within that genre, the gender roles are actually reversed. Our protagonist Peltzer Arbuckle (James Hamer-Morton) plays it straight the entire time he’s bullied, teased and tormented. He’s stuck in this Looney Tunes-type world, where everything, including him, is an entire joke. I would say there’s many elements that are based on my life, which I guess explains my tongue in cheek approach to anything, and everything.
‘My Bloody Banjo’ has an unusual setting, as it is primarily based in a call center. Why did you choose this as the location for your film?
I used to work in a stationary call center office, and I’m also a huge fan of the US Sitcom The Office (2005-2013), which inspired me to set the location somewhere which I’ve worked and watch on TV on a regular occasion. I guess you could call me a call center connoisseur at this point. I also wanted to hype up this institutionalized nightmare for our main character — his dreams aren’t coming true, he’s with the wrong person romantically and works with the boss from hell, and he’s disrespected by all his peers. I wanted to push our protagonist so much that he has no option but to conjure up his imaginary friend from when he was a wee lad to exact revenge on his co-workers.
Peltzer’s imaginary friend, Ronnie, is a brilliantly original horror character. Where did the idea for him come from?
In the initial drafts of the screenplay, along with the short film version of Banjo that we filmed back in 2012, the character was going to be Ronald Reagan, which was inspired with my frequent viewings of Point Break (1991) when I was a kid. However, once horror movie websites were covering the short film and the proof of concept trailer we filmed for the movie, a lot of people were comparing the Ronnie character to David Arquette’s horror movie The Tripper (2008). So, to avoid confusion, I developed Ronnie to be his own character, which I guess was a mixture of Freddy Krueger, Funny Man (from the British Horror of the same name in 1994) and Christian Bale in American Psycho (2000).
I know a lot of fans would like to see Peltzer and Ronnie return for a sequel. Do you have any plans for a ‘My Bloody Banjo 2’?
Yeah, we are working on a treatment titled Another Bloody Customer, a sequel to My Bloody Banjo. Peltzer and Ronnie commit suicide in jail and spend their entire existence in purgatory, disguised as a British bed and breakfast and occupied by their innocent victims, who originally appeared in the previous movie.
However, the chances of that sequel actually happening is incredibly slim. My Bloody Banjo made zero money. I signed my life away to a distributor and sales agent based in Arizona who sold me a load of promises and lies. That is independent filmmaking, you roll with the punches, to the point where you punch yourself in the face so much that the blood protruding from your nose will scribe your next screenplay.
You’ll have nothing left in life but to actually try to make another movie. But guess what? This time you’re smarter, hungrier, and ready to prove everybody wrong. Success means different things to people, and the horrifying statistic that only 3% of British independent feature length filmmakers make a second movie. I don’t want to be that statistic, it’s either another movie or suicide.
‘My Bloody Banjo’ has several independent horror icons in the film including Lloyd Kaufman, Laurence R. Harvey and Dani Thompson. What were they like to work with?
We had a fantastic ensemble cast in Banjo, and everybody was a pleasure to work with. I knew Dani Thompson through friends, and she embodied everything I wasted for the Deetz Montgomery character. She really knocked the role out of the park.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the original Human Centipede (2009) movie, but I absolutely adored Human Centipede II (2011) with Laurence R Harvey in the lead role. I met Laurence initially at the UK Premiere of Centipede 2 in Leicester Square in 2011, and I knew I wanted him to play the role of Clyde Toulon (Toulon being a nod to Andre Toulon from Puppet Master (1989)). It took me a long time to track down his casting agent. I originally wrote to his convention agent in the states, and there was a lot of back and forth until he read the screenplay and agreed to play the role. Lovely dude to work with.
However, having Lloyd Kaufman to be a part of the movie was a dream come true. Without Lloyd, I wouldn’t be making movies. Tromeo & Juliet (1996) is my favorite movie of all time, so to have him on set was a blessing. I flew myself out to Buffalo, New York, back in 2012 and slept on the floor of an abandoned funeral home to work on the Return to Nuke ‘Em High movies (2013, 2017). Troma has always been a part of my life.
Were there any elements of the finished film which were different to the original script?
Ronnie was definitely more of a lead character while shooting the movie. In the initial script, he was a secondary character who came in at around page 50. Even in the final draft he wasn’t a main character. However, when the movie was edited, it started to feel more like a buddy movie while going through the footage, and that showcases in the festival cut of the movie.
The first draft of the screenplay was probably the darkest thing I’ve ever written. It’s scary to think what the movie could have been at one point. The screenplay went through around eight different drafts. I began writing the screenplay in early 2013 and finished in spring 2014.
What was your favorite scene in the film to shoot?
I really loved shooting the cooking montage. It was a lot of fun to see both Peltzer and Ronnie go mental inside a kitchen, full of eggs, milk, flour… I was thankfully not a part of the clean-up crew that day. Anything that was a part of the cooking montage, which led to the cinema and lap dancing club, was a lot of fun and relaxing to shoot. Everything else as a nightmare. I’ve recently been reviewing a lot of the behind the scenes footage that I haven’t seen at all, and it’s surprising that we were able to have a completed movie. I was very naive and brand new to this whole filmmaking scene. I never truly thought we would have a finished movie by the end of it.
You are re-releasing the Director’s Cut of ‘My Bloody Banjo’ at the Romford Film Festival. What is different about this cut of the film?
The original cut of Banjo was 107 minutes long, and the movie screened in that length at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2015. The screenings died on their arse, with people leaving and not reacting at the movie. It was unfinished, the sound design wasn’t complete, and neither was the score or grading. At that time FrightFest passed on the film, and we only had a few weeks to re-cut the movie and have the score and sound design complete. So we were rushing to have a cut short enough to play a film festival.
I was second guessing which scenes should stay and go. We lost around 25 minutes of footage. Once it premiered at FrightFest in August of 2015, the festivals kept coming. We didn’t have time to refine or re-cut the movie for distribution. And once my deal with the Arizona company turned sour, I turned my back on the movie for a long time.
However, upon reviewing a lot of the footage and scenes that weren’t even initially a part of the Cannes cut, I felt the need to assemble a brand-new cut of the movie. This one includes more death scenes, more vomit and a brand-new ending. This will be the definitive version of the movie.
Do you have any new projects which you are working on?
There’s two projects currently, I don’t know what’s happening with either of them. I guess we’ll see what happens, but there’s no rush in this game. I should have taken more time with Banjo instead of rushing the film to be released the following Summer. If anybody wants me to shoot a sequel to My Bloody Banjo, hit me up!
Finally, do you have any advice for new filmmakers looking to make their first film?
Ultimately, listen to your heart and make the film you want to make, without second guessing yourself. Everybody will have an opinion on your vision and your direction. But deep down, the reason it’s your movie is because it is your vision, and that should never be diluted by anybody. Also, do what’s best for your movie and not your bank account.
People will lie, cheat and steal, and all you have left is your film. Don’t disown your movie like I did. I’m still working on finding myself, but don’t forget about something that’s essentially a part of you. A part of me regrets making My Bloody Banjo. However, things happen for a reason. And if the movie entertains one person, then it has done its job. The movie is bigger than the filmmaker.