Austin Cinematic Limits

Kyle Day’s first feature, Cherry Bomb, plays as an homage to the gritty and sexy grindhouse and sexplotation flicks of the early 1980s. The film’s protagonist, Cherry (Julin Jean), is an exotic dancer who is attacked by a group of men in the strip club where she works. When the hospitalized Cherry learns that her assailants have avoided arrest, she vows to kill them all and let god sort them out.

Thanks to an impressive trailer that spread like wildfire throughout the blogosphere, Well Go USA Entertainment took notice and snagged the rights to release the Austin-filmed Cherry Bomb on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital. To celebrate the film’s official home video release on July 10, The Show! Austin is screening Cherry Bomb at the Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane. There will be a Q&A after the screening with director Kyle Day, writer-producer Garrett Hargrove and actors Julin Jean and Denise Williamson.

Of course, the screening sold out well in advance via Tugg; so if you do not already have a ticket, you will just have to read our interview with Kyle Day and then watch Cherry Bomb on Blu-ray, DVD or Digital (or vice versa).

What attracted you to directing a feature-length genre film as your debut?

I have always enjoyed those types of films ever since I was a kid. Cherry Bomb is more in exploitative in nature, so I don’t want to say that those are the kinds of movies that I liked as a kid. But I loved everything by John Carpenter — one of my favorite horror films was The Fog, I also loved The Thing. Some of the first movies I remember seeing as a kid were Die Hard and Terminator. I love action movies, basically. I love dark and gritty action movies. Cobra with [Sylvester] Stallone is one of my personal favorites.

That is what made this project so captivating: it is dark and gritty; it has a lot of the 80s overtones that I am nostalgic about; and it is sexy. It was just a fun project that meshed with my sensibilities. I think a lot of filmmakers want to do something artistic. They want to make something that is beautiful and amazing. I want to do that some day, but for my first feature I just want to do something fun, something that we would enjoy shooting and have a good time with.

What was your approach to the exploitation/grindhouse genre, in terms of which characteristics and tropes you wanted to retain, as well as what you wanted to update or change?

When you are looking at this particular genre, there are titles of classic films that come up a lot — like I Spit On Your Grave and The Last House on the Left — but I told our writer-producer Garrett Hargrove that I didn’t want to be associated with those films. Ultimately we will, just because of the nature of what we’ve shot. I did want to maintain the element of vengeance where a catalyst happens in the beginning of the film which provides the fuel for a very linear plot, going after each character in succession. I like that and I wanted to emulate that, but I have never liked how much attention was placed on the brutality of the sexual violence.

I don’t enjoy watching that, I didn’t want to do that. It became a very difficult balancing act. How do we make this kind of exploitation film and handle the subject matter in the beginning of the film correctly?

This is my first feature and I am still very much a novice. I understand that. I don’t have the experience to handle that subject matter correctly. So, when this awful act happens to Cherry in the beginning, we leave a lot of it up to the viewer’s imagination. We see her getting thrown to the ground and then we cut. We just don’t show it. We tried to do everything else similar to exploitation films with the exception of that. Also, to bring it more up to date, we worked in a lot more humor. A lot of those films are dark consistently throughout the course of the film, but we really tried to make Cherry Bomb more tongue-in-cheek. One reviewer said that our film is very self-aware. I think that is an accurate judgment. We know we are not making The Shawshank Redemption, this is a movie about a stripper killing people.

And that leads to the casting of Julin Jean as Cherry and the way her character is developed. Despite being a stripper, she is not objectified by the camera.

Although we wanted the film to be sexy and stay somewhat true to the roots of sexploitation, I didn’t want Cherry to be an object — and I know Garrett did not want that either. But then we went one step further. I am a big fan of Alien and Aliens, and I think Sigourney Weaver is a very strong female lead, but that has already been done before. Those films are just two examples, but there are numerous examples of very strong-willed and very capable women. We actually wanted to do the opposite. We wanted Cherry to not be strong in the beginning of the film. We wanted her to make mistakes just like any normal woman in her early 20s. Cherry still has a lot of maturing to go through. We wanted that kind of woman to be our lead. A woman who learns as she goes along.

Cherry Bomb Kyle Day

In the beginning she is not very strong, confident or capable; she handles situations with her emotions, not really thinking about the implications. By the end, she has gone through a metamorphosis; she has become stronger and more intelligent. She has morphed into — sort of — that Sigourney Weaver-type of character. Julin is a very lighthearted person. She is very easy to talk with, she is very friendly. She definitely added a third dimension to the character. I think most actors would have made Cherry into a tough as nails woman. Not Julin. She played it exactly how we needed her to — as a normal woman who didn’t know what the hell was going on. Julin is such a lovable, nice person — she exudes that when she is acting. She just seems like the girl next door. I don’t think Julin would ever want to be in a fight. She is not really a fighter. That is what makes her performance so interesting. We are definitely playing it against who she really is.

How did you approach making a gritty, seedy genre film in Austin?

That was very tough because Austin is a very clean, good-looking city. We wanted the film to be gritty, raw and dark — in a lot of parts we accomplished that, but some parts we didn’t. A lot of the responsibility fell on the set design and really going out of our way to find certain places. But when you are working with a limited budget, I can’t think of anyplace better to shoot than Austin. There are so many resources here, especially crew members, and they are willing to work for very reasonable rates.

They are good at what they do and they just want to part of as much as they can. Business owners are also very reasonable about letting you film — it was very easy to film at every single one of our locations. I couldn’t have made this film anywhere else. It would have cost at least double the amount of money.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of trying to sell a genre film?

Based upon my experience with this feature, I think genre filmmaking is the way to go for independent filmmakers. It sells — and I say that because we sold Cherry Bomb. We are proud of what we did and what we accomplished with our budget, but its not a great film. If you are evaluating it against other like films with similar budgets, I think it is very well done.

The fact that we were able to sell it says a lot about the commercial aspects of genre filmmaking. When you add in guns, violence, sexy women — you are adding in all of the aspects that are required to sell a movie of this budget. To be perfectly blunt, the very next feature I do will be similar to this because I know it works. For me, it is not enough to just have the film play at a few film festivals and win some awards. The accolades are great, but it is not enough. What is enough is that everyone gets paid after the movie is done, including myself, so that we can make another movie.

Austin Movie Events This Week:

7/9 – Alamo Ritz – Alfred Hitchcock’s I Confess screens as part of a miniseries of The Alamo Ritz’s favorite Hitchcock titles. (More Info)

7/10 – Alamo South Lamar – AFS’s Essential Cinema Series features Suite Habana. (More info)

7/10-7/12 – Stateside at the Paramount – This my friends is the double feature of my dreams: Night of  the Hunter and Bigger Than Life. (More info)

7/10-7/15 – Paramount Theatre – A diverse selection of comedy classics screen at the Paramount: Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, Bringing Up Baby, The Philadelphia Story, My Man Godfrey, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. (More info)

7/11 – Frank Restaurant & Bar – Designed to build awareness of the community-serving benefits of AGLIFF membership and special programs, this event will also generate excitement for AGLIFF’s 25th Anniversary Year Season and Film Festival Program (October 3–7, 2012). (More info)

7/11 – Texas Spirit Theater – Austin Film Festival’s “Made in Texas Film Series: Adaptations” features the film adaptation of Eric Bogosian’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated stageplay, Talk Radio directed by Oliver Stone. Dale Dudley (KLBJ’s The Dudley and Bob Show) will share his personal reflections about Oliver Stone’s film and his own talk radio experiences. (More info)

7/11 – Alamo Slaughter Lane – SOS Presents Laura Dunn’s documentary The Unforeseen. Director Laura Dunn will participate in a post-screening Q&A and discussion. (More info)

7/11 – Alamo South Lamar – One of my favorite films of all time, Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera screens with a live score by Austin musician Justin Sherburn and six-piece group Montopolis. (More info)

7/13 – Austin Studios – Blue Starlite Double Feature: Dazed & Confused and Night of the Living Dead. (More info)

7/13 – Austin Studios – The Show! presents a night of entertainment hosted by comedian Lashonda Lester. Short films Magpie, What It’s Like and The Gathering Squall will screen plus some videos from Transmedia Austin Group. (More info)

7/13-7/14 – Alamo Ritz – The Late Show presents Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element. (More info)

7/14 – Austin Studios – Blue Starlite Double Feature: School of Rock & Waking Life. (More info)

7/14 – Fiesta Gardens – Eastside Movies in the Park presents Muppet Treasure Island. (More info)


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