Director Billy O’Brien talks about his new film I Am Not A Serial Killer (In Cinemas Thursday)

Out on Thursday, the new film I Am Not A Serial Killer has been a hit of festivals around the world throughout the year, including at the Sydney Underground Film Festival. This Thursday the film will enjoy a limited cinematic release around the country. We caught up with the film’s director Billy O’Brien to talk about the film.

The tone and texture of the film is really curiously unbalanced. One moment it’s mired in the mundane, the next it’s surreal and fantastical. Did you strive for that going into the project? What was your goal as director?

It’s funny I’ve never seen it as unbalanced. Not something we have ever looked upon, from the book onwards.

You co-wrote this film, what was that process like?

Adapting is easier then creating from scratch because the novelist has done a lot of the work in creating such fantastic characters, setting and tone. With Chris my co writer our toughest job was what to leave out, what didn’t we have room for.

Were there any particular inspirations here? How do you feel John fits into the ranks of cinemas most famous psychopaths?

No idea. John just leapt fully formed from the book. He does develop further in the five sequels but we concentrated on the first book.

How did you go about casting Max? Was his performance a surprise?

I met Max when he was 13 and we shot a test for IANASK in a blizzard in Michigan. Even though he was too young he was incredible, as he had been in Where The Wild Things Are. The only difference with his performance in the final film was he was by then 17 and brought an incredible intensity to the performance. He really got John. Amazing performance.

Likewise, how did Christopher Lloyd become involved?

Through my cinematographer Robbie Ryan who is also a producer on ianask. They share the same US agents. Chris responded to the script and called me. He loved the character of Mr. Crowley, felt he hadn’t come across characters like this, nor I got the impression, does he get sent interesting Indie fare like this. He threw himself into the project and was great to work with. A real gentleman and so inventive.

Did the scope of the story change much as production came and went?

No. Not that I can recall. We always planned to shoot on location in the Mid West, and on 16mm and work with prac FX like puppets. I love keeping it real, doing it in camera and working with puppeteers. CGI didn’t feel right for this, would have felt cheap, plus a puppet felt right for the folktale aspect of the film, more old fashioned, clunky and analogue.

How’s the response to the film been?

Fantastic really, people really responding to the unusual tale, the fact we shot on film, to Max being all grown up and Chris playing against type and that we had a genuine creature designed by Toby Froud with all that Labyrinth and Dark Crystal Henson heritage. Its been fun watching the online reaction and sitting with festival crowds all over the world. I was in Korea in July and the Q&A afterwards was amazing.

Both John’s unique problems and the ancient folktale of it all hit a nerve, must be parallels in Korean tales I guess. I think right now odd films are catching people’s attention because there is kind of boring factory familiarity with Studio fare. Everything has to fit a neat box, but its a neat box we’ve seen so many times before. People are bored.

What’s next for you?

A folk musical, horror, love story, reworking of a 19th century classic novel set in the mists of Dartmoor where I live. That should be easy to finance then…

I Am Not A Serial Killer opens nationally on September 29th at the following venues:

New Farm Cinemas, Brisbane
Cameo Cinema, Melbourne
Cinema Nova, Melbourne
Lido Cinemas, Melbourne
Dendy Newtown, Sydney

Read my review of the film HERE.

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