Director Michael Mort has been working in stop motion animation for most of his cinematic career, working with studios such as Aardman Animations and his own studio Animortal Productions, and is a clear fan of old school action films and their over-the-top styles.
First, tell us a bit about the inspiration for Chuck Steel and the short that preceded it Raging Balls of Steel Justice?
I came up with the character of Chuck Steel way back in 1986 when I was about 15 years old and it just stayed with me through my career in animation. I had made a few short films with the character in my youth (which hopefully will be on any Blu-Ray release of the feature). Back then he was less ironic I guess as those were the kinds of heroes we saw in many films. Over the years I developed various stories and ideas around the character and tried on numerous occasions to get a film made. It proved very difficult to get any funding partners involved in a crazy R rated stop motion film that wasn’t exactly cheap or easy to make so many doors were closed over the years.
I eventually got fed up with waiting to get funders on board so, in 2011, I started work on a short Chuck Steel film that I was going to make on my own in my basement – that film was Raging Balls of Steel Justice. I thought it was going to be my last go at making a Chuck film. After I built the sets and puppets, and made the animatic (with myself on voicing duties due to lack of funds), I was lucky enough to meet my now business partners who funded the short film over 18 months and then raised the finance to make the feature straight afterwards. Luckily I already had the feature script ready to go as I wrote it in 2001.
To 80s/90s action fans, this film will bring back a lot of memories, what is your favorite action film of the era? How has it and its brethren influenced your work?
I love so many of them, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be “Rambo 2” (with “Cobra,” “Invasion USA,” “Dark Angel,” and “Last Boy Scout” coming close). The influence on the Chuck Steel film of the icons of that era is obvious when you watch the film. From the way the characters interact to the way the film is shot and the visual effects etc. With animation it is easy to just go crazy and do anything your mind comes up with but I wanted the film to feel as though it was live action film shot in the 80s with all the limitations that went along with that.
As it is a sort of send up of action films, was there anything that was off limits or pushing it too far for you?
To me, the film is just ludicrous and I’m always surprised when anyone gets offended by any part of it but I guess we live in sensitive times unfortunately. There was going to be a sex scene in there but no one can top Team America for puppet sex so I thought it best not to try.
Why did you decided to make Chuck Steel as a stop-motion film and not an animated or live action one?
It’s always been stop motion in my head as that’s the medium I have made a career in. Plus, it has a charm that helps the somewhat ridiculous and absurd nature of the film get away with some of the jokes.
As the writer, director, and voice of the lead character, you are clearly close to the material, how did you handle finding the exact right cast for the voices including the fabulous Jennifer Saunders?
As an independent film we’ve always done things in a quirky way. Our original plan was to have no ‘name’ actors involved as we wanted all of our budget to be on the screen. I didn’t cost anything so I just did the same characters I did on the short film plus one new one, and the rest were voice actors. After we finished the film, an opportunity arose through a contact we had met to involve Jennifer Saunders and Paul Whitehouse, both well-known names in the UK, so we made the decision then to re-record some of the parts. It’s not the right way around to do things but like I say – we haven’t done anything traditional on this film! They both did a great job and there is a potential that Chuck might get re-voiced with a star name depending on how our discussions with distributors pan out. I’m ok with that if it gets us a wide release!
How has your experience been on the festival circuit? How has the audience reaction been?
It’s been fun as well as exhausting. Some of the festivals have proved more productive for us than others. They all have their good and bad points. It’s a bit of a minefield as there are just so many of them. We have been wary of over exposure of the film so have tried to be selective where we show it if possible. The crowds seem to love it in general and it’s been great hearing the feedback – especially from the US crowd. The only negative reactions come from “politically correct obsessives” but that was always to be expected.
Are there any plans for the release? What are the dream plans?
We are currently in talks with a number of distributors. We’d love a wide release ideally, but the distribution industry is changing on a weekly basis so we’ll have to see how that plays out. Hopefully it’ll be an early 2019 release.
Once Chuck Steel is out in the general public, what are you planning to do next in terms of both a potential sequel and non-related Chuck Steel work?
I’d love to do a sequel. I have a number of ideas for it but am holding off from writing anything until we see how this one goes down with the world. I’m also developing a bunch of other ideas, some stop motion, some live action, but they are all early stages as this Chuck Steel film has absorbed all my time over the last few years. I can’t wait until the public get to see it when it’s released.
Thank you Mike, we look forward to seeing how Chuck does in the general population and when we will get a sequel to it.