I had the chance to interview Justin Timpane, the writer/director/exec producer of the Ninjas vs series, culminating in the recent release of “Ninjas vs Monsters”. Said interview was prologued by an awesomely nerdy discussion that ranged from “Freddy vs Jason vs Ash” to “Star Trek”, but we eventually got down to business. Here’s how it went!
John Lepper: So, Mr. Timpane, I want to thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview with me. Tell me a little bit about “Ninjas vs Monsters”.
Justin Timpane: “Ninjas vs Monsters” is about a group of ninjas fighting a bunch of classic movie monsters. Which is to say it’s a lot more than that. But at its heart, it’s sort of, you know, the question we would all ask each other “What would happen if Dracula, and you know, the werewolf, and the mummy, and let’s throw in some sexy witches to go with it, duked it out with a bunch of ninjas and instead of just ninjas let’s say some of them have guns and some of them have superpowers and slam them together in a sort of free-for-all of horror/action/martial arts/comedy/everything-but-the-kitchen?” I actually considered putting in a kitchen sink in the film. And just “What would happen and what craziness would ensue?” People have asked me, because it is the third part of a trilogy which started with “Ninjas vs Zombies” and its sequel “Ninjas vs Vampires”. But before the interview we were talking about the Evil Dead series, and like Army of Darkness, which was my introduction into the series, aI had not seen Evil Dead 1 or 2, and it can totally be watched on its own and be its own film. And yet if you’ve seen the first two there are absolutely payoffs in the third one. We tried really, really hard with “Ninjas vs Monsters” to make sure that it could be watched by people who had never seen the first two. We give you all the information you need in the first 5 minutes. But if you’ve seen the first two, there are little moments here and there that are just for you. So, it is a standalone film, but it also works really well as the final film in a trilogy.
JL: Ok, cool. And I was actually the same way with the “Army of Darkness” films. I mean, Army of Darkness is the only part of the trilogy that they ever show on cable TV.
JT: Which is a shame because Evil Dead 2 is as good in a totally different way. I love Evil Dead 2.
JL: I just think, with the content, they just figure it would take too much editing to actually broadcast it.
JT: That’s probably true.
JL: Yeah, so I caught that when I was probably like 13 or 14, I watched it with my father. I didn’t end up watching the first two until I was probably 16 or 17.
JT: I remember I was sick in high school and I did a double feature of Army of Darkness and Highlander 2 and I became a fan of both.
JL: Both are great series. Now, it sounds like this kinda follows along with the style of horror that I really enjoy. It just doesn’t take itself too seriously. It aims not to scare but to have fun. That’s really what it’s all about. It’s you know, the entertainment. Because you see tons and tons of horror movies and how many of them actually scare you? But yet you do enjoy them because it’s about the entertainment factor. Is that kinda like where you’re coming from?
JT: Well, there is a great film recently called “Cabin in the Woods”, which everyone should see after watching “Ninjas vs Monsters”, that I think strikes the right tone. We don’t skimp on the blood, we don’t skimp on the gore, we don’t skimp on the character deaths. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, which is not to say that it is a farce or a parody. “Cabin in the Woods” does a great job of all at once, and the “Scream” movies, of being tongue in cheek, not taking themselves too seriously, while at the same time the stakes are very real. When the characters die, it bothers you that they die. And we will have you laughing one minute, and then deliberately hit you in the gut and rip a beloved character away the next.
Most of the people who know me know that I am a giant fan of Joss Whedon. And anyone who is a fan of Joss Whedon, whether or not you liked Buffy or Firefly or the Avengers, in all of those they have these moments where you think you’re on a high and then inexplicably a character gets impaled. I love that, because I think that at that moment, you the audience are at your most vulnerable in that you’re not expecting something like that to happen. I certainly have moments that are horrible where you get to see the killer coming, you get to see the death about to happen, and in many ways we truly are a horror film. But I think it’s just as shocking to have it happen completely out of the blue in a moment that you’re not expecting. What is the challenge is to have that happen but bring the audience to the point where you’re willing to laugh 3 or 4 minutes later. So, we make a point with the pacing and with the tone of the film to make the emotional moment matter but not to get dragged down to try so hard to horrify you, to try so hard to be disturbing, that you’re not able to go for the ride. I think that a good horror movie should be a ride. I love the 80’s slashers, I love that when I sit down for a good horror movie that’s really going to ring my bell, it’s really like riding a roller coaster in that moment when you’re going up the hill and when you’re about to go over. That’s what the opening credits to a horror film are to me. When I get to the end of that film, if I feel like I’ve been on a ride, then it’s successful for me. So, that’s what I try to accomplish here. Twists, turns horror, lots of action, but also funny. So, yes, it’s a line I try to walk, and I think we do a pretty good job.
JL: Ok, so that sounds like it’s pretty cool! And I see that this actually just came out just yesterday. February 3rd, I am seeing is the release date here on IMDB I’m looking at?
JT: You are officially my first post release interview.
JL: Very cool, very cool. What formats is this released in?
JT: If you’re not sure what you’ll think and you just want to try it out, you can certainly rent it from iTunes, on Xbox, on Playstation, on Comcast ondemand. I’m told that we will very soon be available on Dishnetwork, Google Play, and Amazon ondemand. We might be on Verizon. But iTunes, Xbox, and Playstation are my favorite places just because that’s where I watch things. But they’re all really, really good services. However! If you rent it and go “That is great!” or you just love buying interesting, packed DVD’s, we have DVD’s on sale at ninjasvs.com. And the DVD, and this is all in the United States, that DVD is packed with 5 commentaries. So, if you like hearing me talk, or hearing our cast or our crew, or even hearing a commentary with the monsters themselves, not the actors, the actual monsters, along with auditions and deleted scenes and fun things all across the board. You can do that. It’s a packed DVD. We tried to give you the absolute best bang for your buck that you can get. If you’re reading this from the United Kingdom, we are available on Amazon and I think streaming there as well through Left Films.
JL: Awesome! Very cool. You’ve got quite a distribution going on there. Now, you’ve said this is the last part in a trilogy. So, this is a project that you’ve had going on for years.
JT: Yes. It’s funny, it’s funny because I said to my wife, after swearing up and down that we were done, I said, “Well, you know, I have this idea for a fourth one and it’s a really good idea. And what if…” and she stopped me and she looked me in my eyes and she said “Justin, stop. Make something else.” So, until I convince her to let me do a fourth one, I think this is going to be where it ends.
JL: Well, how did the whole project start? What was the process?
JT: That is a great question! There are a lot of people that helped me start this project that I could give credit to. Most of are or have been our executive producers at one point or another. But it started when I and my hetero life-mate, Daniel Ross, who’s also an executive producer and an actor in these three films, were both working for Timewarp Films. It was run by the legendary low budget filmmaker Don Dohler, who’s career started J.J. Abrams’ career. He’s very recognized for “Alien Factor” and “Nightbeast” and that sort of thing. Daniel and I had done a couple of films with them and we were very inspired by what they were able to do. But here in the Washington DC area where we were based as actors, there were not the kind of movies that we wanted to do being done. So, one day, after a screening of “Clerks 2”, of all things, we were inspired by a scene at the end of the film to go out and do it ourselves.
So, we went into this place that the young’uns might not know about called “Blockbuster” where they served up movies on stone tablets and we looked for the film that wasn’t there but should be. And that film ended up being “Ninjas vs Zombies”. After a long time looking through, we said “Well, what if these two things met? Because that has not yet happened and how much fun could that be?” Daniel gave me the reigns to write it, I gave him the reigns, along with some other very good actors to star in it, and we fumbled our way through making a film having never, ever done it before. It’s a fun piece of filmmaking. It’s very amateurish compared, not that that we are Steven Spielberg now, I don’t want to toot our horn too loudly, but is very much our “Clerks” to what would end up being our “Mall Rats” and “Dogma”. We put together this film that has just this fun energy and as much action as we could muster. But we felt that it wasn’t enough, we felt that there was so much we could do better.
So, when that film got distribution and we started getting a fanbase, w e really decided to amp it up, more effects, more action, more costumes, do a more professional job. And that became “Ninjas vs Vampires”. We knew before that movie was done that we wanted to turn it into a trilogy. And coming up with what the third one could be, we had a thousand “Ninjas vs” thoughts, but as we neared the end of that film, we sort of settled on the idea that “What if all the evil in the world that is in the first two movies is being orchestrated by Dracula and Frankenstein and his monsters?” And, for reasons that become clear in “Ninjas vs Monsters”. Pretty much because they’re pissed off aat Twilight.
JL: Well, I can’t blame them! That seems like a very rational reaction!
JT: Well, there is a line, and I think it’s reasonable to think, because we asked the question in “Ninjas vs Monsters”, “What would happen if Dracula was still around right now?” What would he think of what has happened to his legacy? And the first thing we thought is he would have loved the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s. Loved it! Because there were Dracula movies everywhere! There was Bela Lugosi, the Hammer Horror, there was tons, like Dracula was everywhere, Dracula was everything! But then he became kinda a joke. He became “Dracula Dead and Loving It”, “Buffy” is awesome, but Dracula is not given very good service in “Buffy”, he’s kinda a doofus. And then with Twilight being the ultimate insult. So, if Dracula was around, seeing what had happened, that kids used to be scared of Dracula, and now they’re in love with him and they think that he’s romantic and a teenager and sparkles, he would want to destroy the world. So, he decides to. And that’s kinda where his motivation comes from.
The trilogy, going back to that, is kinda a journey that started for us all the way back between 2006 and 2007 and going all the way into the completion of “Zombies” in 2008. So, we’re talking up to 9 years in the ninjasverse for us.
JL: Wow. And, yeah, you made it right on through! That’s quite a commitment.
JT: I should be committed.
JL: Alright, so, you said it’s possible there might be another one. But you never know. If there isn’t, what’s next? What else are you guys thinking of doing?
JT: Well, we’ve actually already shot a documentary. We looked at all the documentaries out there and decided to make the one that we wish was. Which is a foul mouthed, R-rated, comedy “Star Trek” documentary because that’s what the world needs. And it’s called “Trek Off: The Motion Picture”. It’s based off of our podcast, the Trek Off podcast at trekoffpodcast.com. We’ve done that show as a podcast for a couple of years, my co-host, Alexia, and I. And we’ve done a number of live shows at conventions. We got to meet some celebrities that way. And we were like “Why don’t we have a camera running?” So, we just started bringing cameras and interviewing everybody, from the actors at the tables signing autographs to the people walking around the convention. And along with our live shows and going along with our take on just being giant Star Trek fans and also really, really foul mouthed, potty mouthed 12 year olds, we have started to shape into something that we think is going to be really, really fun for fans and also just kinda for anyone who really likes the F-word in a thousand different ways.
JL: That’s great! That sounds like a great documentary!
JT: And then, I’m not even allowed to say, but there is, we’ve done the horror film you wished existed, we’re making the documentary you wished existed, let’s just say that there is another mashup that we are working on that will be something we have never seen before that is going to be pretty sweet. But I can’t tell you. Ha Ha Ha.
JL: Ok, I will keep my eyes out for sure! Alright, alright, so, I’m definitely going to be checking out this movie. I definitely suggest my readers do as well. The whole trilogy sounds like it’s a helluva time!
JT: Even if you can’t find “Ninjas vs Zombies” and “Ninjas vs Vampires”, I promise you you will not be lost in “Monsters”. Except lost in it in its awesomeness and how f’ing crazy it is. It is just a treat and if I didn’t make it, I would still love this film. And that is something I am proud to say.
JL: That is really important because I have films I have been involved in that I do not like. So, that’s definitely in the plus category!
JT: I do need to just throw one more shout out out there because we have had a shepherd through this whole process who came on as an executive producer for “Ninjas vs Monsters”. Eduardo Sanchez, who as one of the co-creators of “The Blair Witch Project” and did “Lovely Molly” and “Exists”. He has been involved with us since before we made “Zombies”. Basically took us out to Mexican food and one of my producers, Cory Okouchi, and Daniel Ross, and myself sat down with Ed and he told us kind of the ropes of doing this and has been there sort of in the background for the first two and this time came on board as an executive producer to really sort of shepherd us creatively through the process of getting us the biggest release we’ve ever had. But he’s been there every step of the way since the script all the way through the edits of the film and has been an amazing friend and a wonderful mentor for the films. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how awesome Ed is.
JL: And you just did me a huge favor because I was trying to figure out a way to bring him up!
JT: Well, now you can write that I brought him up as a shout out and he will text me and say “thank you”.
JL: Alright, I will be sure to do so! (told ya!) Ok, I want to say thank you once again for taking the time to do this. Before I let you go, do you have anything else you want to share with the readers?
JT: Yeah! I know, as a fan of B horror movies, that it’s easy to skip past it. It’s easy to go “Oh, I’m not sure”. But most venues, you can rent this puppy for $3.99. And I think you’re really going to get a kick out of it. I think that there is a certain group of people that will like this film so much that they will A) go buy the film, and B) they will get in touch with us on Facebook. Because we love being in touch with people! We have a great community with our fans. I think there is a group of people that is among your readers that is really, really going to dig this film.
JL: Well, our site actually focuses mostly on indie horror, so I would hope our readers like this!
JT: Well, this is not some corporate produced, we’re not an indie film that calls ourselves an indie film but has $6 million and the latest stars on the WB to be in our film. This was a labor of love. I think that comes across and I think people are really, really, really going to enjoy it. Hey, pop a couple of beers and I think you’re going to get a hell of a time out of it.
JL: Alright! I’m definitely going to give it a look myself. Once again, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview and I look forward to seeing what you have coming up next!
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