Interview with Daniel Armstrong of Strongman Pictures

Written by guest contributor Brian Roe

One of my favorite independent movies of 2014 was the Australian roller derby-horror-comedy Murderdrome. Directed by Daniel Armstrong, Murderdrome was one of those movies that makes it fun to be a fan of small budget films. It made its own rules, its own world, and avoided cliched Hollywood-isms like the plague.

Armstrong has a couple of new projects in the works and was super-cool enough to answer some questions from Comic Bastards.

You can get more info about Strongman Pictures here.

Comic Bastards: How did you get your start making movies?

Daniel Armstrong: Just by doing it. First "film" I ever made was Star Wars VS Greyskull. It was entirely cast by my Star Wars and my He-Man action figures. There was a sequel called The Return of Yoda, in which Yoda and Boba Fett teamed up to do something that involved killing Darth Vader... I don't remember it too clearly now but obviously it was amazing!

Later in life (after the advent of VHS Cam-corders) I replaced action figures with mates, and usually included ninjas in the plot because - why wouldn't you do that? I teamed up with a school mate (Dave Redman) and we embarked upon making big little films as often as we could. So that's what we did - made a bunch of big little films (usually with ninjas, did I mention the ninjas?). We had no training or guidance, we were just working it out as we did it, doing the best we could to make stuff cool and fun and work out stunts and special effects ourselves with resources we had available to us.

Cherry-Martini-POSTERAt some point we started casting actual actors and made short films to run out to film festivals. We had some recognition for a series of short films called Peace & Quiet, which were 70s TV Cop action-exploitation films. A few years ago I decided to stop doing short films and try to make a feature film. I felt that there was no way to get beyond the festival audience with a short film (note, I'm quite old so Youtube, and indeed the whole internet, wasn't a thing at that point in my life). So, I wanted to make a feature and get it distributed and available to an audience around the world - especially in America because I grew up wishing I had been born American for some reason (that's a whole other story).

How hard could it be? By this time I guess I'd been involved in making 20 or so short films. I figured making a feature with no money was kind of like making 3 or 4 short films with no money (note, it's not).

From Parts Unknown is in fact the first feature I shot, but it was shelved for quite a few years and in the meantime I made and released Murderdrome (released in America last September, objective unlocked!). So my second feature film is also my first feature film... because I'm cool like that.

Both Murderdrome and Parts were funded by people working unpaid, and by murdering my and the other producers' credit cards. So we're very much a Do-It-Yourself film making operation. It's like a passionate artistic endeavor we've just decided to share with (inflict on?) the rest of the world. How the rest of the world feels about that I can't say...

CB: Can you tell us a bit more about From Parts Unknown?

DA: The main character is Charlie, a young girl working for a video game publisher by day and pro wrestling by night, until shit happens and its wrestle-fight-zombie kill time. Played by UK-based singer and fashion designer Jenna Dwyer. The Ox (a local Aussie pro wrestling legend) plays Charlie's dad, Buffalo Daddy. Mr Big (another local wrestler of the midget variety) plays Juggernaught and Craig "Pitbull" Cole (yet another local wrestling legend) plays Orlando Commando - who are the friends of Buffalo Daddy who take care of Charlie after he dies.


CB: Was there a eureka moment that made you decide to make movies?

DA: I can remember seeing Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes and thinking "I think I can figure out how they did that - I wanna do that now". It was possibly the first film I watched while being conscious of the fact that there were people behind the scenes making it all, and actors pretending to be the characters they were portraying. Prior to that I just watched films and believed in the world they presented like, y'know, you're supposed to. So I think that was a kind of "eureka" moment. It did at least provide the inspiration and motivation for me to give making films a bash.

CB: What previous work has influenced you?

DA: Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes (obvs.), Star Wars, Flash Gordon (the 80s one), Rollerball, Krull, Aliens, Ghostbusters, Army Of Darkness, Tron, Mad Max 2 (you might know it as The Road Warrior), Terminator, Blade Runner, the Sword & The Sorcerer, Conan The Barbarian (the Arnie one), Legend - I think these films made me have the feels I think films should make you have.

I would consider TV a bigger influence. The Goodies, DangerMouse, Roger Ramjet, Red Dwarf, The Young Ones, Monty Python, The Professionals, Fawlty Towers, Tom Baker era Dr. Who, The Incredible Hulk, Wonder Woman, Buffy, The Amazing Spider Man (Sat morning cartoon) and the Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy TV Series/Radio Show/Books are major influences. Could also throw in The Uncanny X-Men and 2000AD from the comic world - I collected those two books religiously in my younger (and somehow wealthier? days).


CB: What are the parts of movie-making that you like least and like most?

DA: I like least how long, slow and frustrating the process of making a film is when you take the Do-It-Yourself, zero dollars approach. It really burns you out. There's a stage about three-quarters in where you just hate the living crap out of what you've made and want to chop it into little pieces, feed it to a pig, make bacon out of the pig, eat it and shit it down the toilet then never try this again because all you can see is how far short of your vision it's fallen. I hate that bit. Although there is a huge sense of satisfaction and achievement when (if) you get past it.

I like writing. I enjoy working with actors and skilled crew and seeing how they create something from the script. It's exciting to see your idea start to breathe and have a life of its own in someone else's hands as they add their vision to the idea you threw out there.

JENNA_BLOODYCB: What is your dream project? (Imagine you have a massive budget and little studio oversight.)

DA: Hmmm. This is not something I've really thought about. I'm actually really happy with the two films I've made. They're both a little strange and beautiful (in their own way) a little hand crafted, a little messy, a little ambitious and reckless, but very heart-felt big-little films.

Although... 175 million bucks to make a Warhammer 40K film starring Clive Owens, Gerard Butller, Eva Green and Chris Pratt with cameos from Johnny Depp and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Chaos Marines would be cool.

No... actually my dream project would be any film I actually got paid to work on, or somehow made money from. That would be a dream come true :)

CB: What is your most current project?

DA: I'd say From Parts Unknown: Fight Like A Girl. It was just premiered a couple of weeks ago, and now I'll be trying to find a distributor or sales agent interested in taking it on so that's definitely current and (touch wood) should be released sometime this year. We've also just started planning some pre-production for She-Borg Prison Massacre which we hope to start shooting some time this year.

CB: Do you have any future projects planned?

DA: Beyond She-Borg Prison Massacre there's nothing planned per se, but I have plenty of projects in my head I'd like to one day try to make happen, but one thing at a time (or one and a half at most).

CB: If you could see one type of movie grow in popularity what would it be?

DA: Super Hero films!

Only joshing. Speaking as a film fan I think variety is needed. I'd love to see all sorts of strange and interesting films made on all sorts of strange and interesting subjects and styles and for them all to grow in popularity!

Plus heaps of Super Hero films, if someone could organize that would be tops.

CB: Why do you make movies?

DA: Well it's a dirty job... but who else is going to make a roller derby slasher film, or a pro wrestling action film? If I wanna see those films I'm gonna have to make 'em cos, let's be honest, no-one else is going to!