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VIFF 2015 Interview: DEATHGASM director Jason Lei Howden

by Jason Whyte

"DEATHGASM is a blood-soaked tribute to Horror movies and Heavy Metal. A couple of teenage metal-heads inadvertently bring about the demonic apocalypse, then have to save the world...using THE POWER OF METAL. Which of course means heaps of brutal guitar shredding, corpse paint, and ramming crazy objects through skulls. If you took a baby, got it really stoned, made it listen to Cannibal Corpse on repeat while an endless stream of horror movies played on a shitty old VHS player, feeding it only pizza, coffee, and disapproval, then after a couple of decades it would end up making DEATHGASM...and please don't do that to an actual baby, you sick bastards." Director Jason Lei Howden on DEATHGASM which is part of the Altered States series at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Tell me a bit about your background and how you became a filmmaker. Also what have you worked on in the past?

I left school at 17 and started work as a cameraman-slash-editor at a small town local TV station. I would film basketball and rugby. Once I was filming stock-car speedway racing while still half-drunk from the night before. The cars were just going around and around and I ending up vomiting on the camera then off the camera tower. This young boy was just looking up at me in shock and I wanted to yell "Stay in school, kid".

I've worked in VFX for the last 6 years while making short films and music videos in my free time. THE AVENGERS, THE HOBBIT movies and THE WOLVERINE among them. These days, it's a big advantage for filmmakers to have VFX experience. It's everywhere, and it's good to be able to do the shots yourself if you can't afford to pay people.

What was your #1 challenge with this movie, and how did you over-come it?

Getting my vision across on an extremely low low low budget was the biggest challenge. There were lots of one-take wonders, compromise and cut scenes to make it work. It's heartbreaking, but it had to be done or we wouldn't have a film.

If you had to pick a single favourite moment out of the entire production, what would it be?

The first gore gag! Everyone on set was super nervous, you can never fully predict what will happen with those things and being so low-budget we couldn't do more than one or two takes at the most, because of time. Shooting gore is like shooting porno, I imagine. You never know where the fluids will end up.

I still remember sitting at the monitor, calling 'action' then watching the carnage, it was beautiful! A huge success and we knew that it was going to work.

The gore team would always ask me "How much blood do you want to spurt out?" And I would always respond "I want TOO much! Just keep pumping until I yell CUT!"

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

Apart from the smack, meth, valium, whiskey, LSD, and snorting crushed up tic-tacs, I would have to say my wife, Sarah. I wrote the first draft in 9 days during Xmas break, and was half drunk most of the time because I didn't want to self-censor. I wanted it to be from the heart.

She took the all the pages, wiped off the bodily fluids and assembled them to make some sort of readable document. I always trust her for honest feedback, because I know if she thinks something sucks, she will point blank tell me it sucks.

When we first met I lied and told her I was a filmmaker, so this whole journey has been a result trying to perpetuate that lie. It's going well.

For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.

It was shot on almost every format you could think of, although mostly RED epic. It was a matter of style as much as necessity. The movie flicks between animated graphics, Super 8 footage, then back to the RED, then VHS. I wanted it to be from the teen protagonists point of view, living in an over-saturated 90s inspired world. So there is everything; 7D, GOPRO, a few other pro cameras, cell phone footage. Don't let your limitations get in the way of the story.

What do you love about showing this movie to people at festivals?

I guess finding out if the movie works? Does the audience get it? Did it make them laugh, make them gag, make them boo? Can they understand our NZ accents?

Where is the move going to show next?

Not sure yet. One screening I would love to have, would be in my hometown in NZ with a bunch of my old metal/horror loving friends who helped inspire the film. Just watch it on an old CRT monitor, heaps of snacks, get really wasted and enjoy the mayhem!

If you could show this movie in any cinema in the world, which one would you choose and why?

My favorite cinema is the Astor in Melbourne, Australia. It's a glorious old building where they play old prints, double features, as well as new films. I saw a great dirty old print of THE HILLS HAVE EYES and Rob Zombie presented THE DEVIL'S REJECTS last year. I'm going there tomorrow to watch an ALIEN/ALIENS double feature.

Movies are a religious experience for film fanatics like us, and when you enter a place like the Astor it's like walking into a an old cathedral to worship the film gods.

What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being generally disruptive during a screening of your film?

For me it really depends if they are engaging with the film. I have been to screenings where people are laughing, yelling quips, throwing things, and it's been an amazing experience because they are fully engaged. Now, when someone gets out their cellphone or starts talking to their friend about the upcoming iPad app or some shit, they are somewhere else. So yeah, at DEATHGASM screenings, laugh, mosh, yell "PLAY SOME SLAYER", start a circle pit under the screen! As long as you are into the movie.

There are a lot of up and coming filmmakers both at SxSW and reading our site. What would you want to tell them if they are aspiring to become a filmmaker?

Never lose sight of who you are and why you want to be a filmmaker. Because it will be the most intense, fun and stressful time of your life, and every relationship you have will be tested.

And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have ever seen?

I'm going to have to pick EVIL DEAD II, because it changed me fundamentally as a horror fan. I was 13 when I first saw it, and I was taken aback by the creativity, the inventive camera angles, and the great comedy. They are filming the Evil Dead TV series in New Zealand soon and it's taking all my will to not just quit everything and get on that set, just do anything! Maybe seven years ago that could have been a reality, but I'm too flat out now and they probably screen for rabid horror fan boys.

Be sure to follow DEATHGASM online:

This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 24th to October 9th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the VIFF app for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 10/03/15 19:23:14
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