We chat with the trilogy of filmmakers that comprise one of the most unique points of view in contemporary genre cinema.
Consumption is the key. Gobble up the world around you. Osmosis will set in. The years spent devouring art-house, and trash cinema was not for nothing. The process develops your palate and demands a creative outpouring. Eventually, you hit a wall, and your desire to join your educators as peers overcomes the compulsion to simply ingest.
Most films made today are as much about their inspiration as their final product. As the audience’s hunger for sentiment increases, movies embrace the past and threaten an endless stream of replication. It’s so easy for the snake to find sustenance on its own tail.
As RKSS, François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and her brother Yoann-Karl Whissell have found a balance between rumination and contribution. They are products of their youth but refuse to play by the rules. In Turbo Kid, the trilogy mashed their love for Mad Max and Atari into a low-fi hero’s journey beating with a warm heart. Now, with Summer of 84, they take a gang of Goonies and drop them in the suburbs with a wannabe Ted Bundy. You think you know how this game works, but RKSS is here to twist the knife in your nostalgia.
I met with the filmmakers in the early morning of the last day of the San Diego International Comic-Con. They were beaten. I was beaten. That event has the power to bleed even the geekiest of souls dry. Nevertheless, each one of them was eager to share their enthusiasm for Summer of 84.
The marketing is eager to embrace your fondness for our current favorite decade. The trailer wants those Stranger Things dollars, but be warned, Summer of 84 is not Stranger Things. We discuss the challenges of selling this particular flavor to a post-Duffer Brothers universe, and the difference between referential style and an honest-to-goodness period film. Why shouldn’t Reagan’s America get the Merchant Ivory treatment?
Here is our conversation in full:
On Friday, in Hall H, during their Trailer Park programming, the trailer for Summer of 84 played to 6,000 people. Back to back with the Stranger Things season 3 trailer.
Yoann-Karl Whissell: Oh, well ouch.
That was my thought too. I’m sure you guys have been hearing lots of Stranger Things comparisons, right?
Anouk Whissell: Yeah, yeah.
François Simard: It’s gonna be Kung Fury all over again.
Sure, sure, sure.
François: But, hey it’s good publicity if people talk.
Yoann-Karl: And it’s funny. You don’t have to choose.
No, of course not.
François: You can watch both. It’s okay. And they’re very different.
Very different. Especially where Summer of 84 goes, but my big surprise was how different this film is to Turbo Kid. Maybe some similar influences, but Summer of 84 is not at all in the same vein as Turbo Kid.
Yoann-Karl: Not at all.
Can you talk about coming to Summer of 84 after Turbo Kid?
Yoann-Karl: Well, the idea was we could have went directly into Turbo Kid 2, then you do Turbo Kid 3 and then 4. And then try to convince producers “no, we want to do something different.” But now, you’re a Turbo Kid guys. You should do Turbo Kid or something similar. We want all of our films to be different. So, Summer was, to us, a smart step because it’s very different than Turbo Kid. That way we show that we want to do sci-fi, we want to do action, we want to do straight horror. We want to have fun with genre. I don’t think we’ll do a romcom unless there’s a cool twist to the romcom.
But so far, the connective tissue being that 80’s retro vibe. Is that where you’re living as filmmakers?
Yoann-Karl: That’s where we grew up.
François: We don’t want to do just 80’s, like Yoann said, we want to explore. We didn’t plan this to be our second feature because any movie that gets financed is a miracle. So we had several projects in development and it just happened to be the one that got the green light. This movie was pitched to us in 2015 and there was nothing like it at that time on the market. We met with the writer, he told us the story, yeah we love The Burbs, we love Stand By Me, we love Goonies and then he told us the ending and, wow, like, you want to go there?
Yoann-Karl: We’ll go there.
François: Alright, alright send us the script and we said yes.
I was talking to my friends after the trailer played in Hall H and I was trying to describe what the movie is tonally. The trailer doesn’t quite convey the darker depths of the narrative. You always want to go, “It’s The Monster Squad with a little bit of Hitchcock.” Influence wise where are you drawing from for Summer of 84.
Yoann-Karl: Of course, Hitchcock because with the suspense it becomes a chiller that eventually becomes almost horror. The Burbs was an influence.
François: Yes, somebody told us that he loved the connection with The Burbs because in The Burbs it’s adults that are paranoid and becoming super-childish.
The Burbs, yeah I can see that. It didn’t initially jump into my mind. I saw a lot of Rear Window during Summer of 84.
That obsession angle, and how the kids aren’t all great kids. They get a little cracked like Jimmy Stewart. You know what I mean? They all have very adult, human flaws.
Yoann-Karl: Yeah but they’re at that weird age when you’re 15 and you still kind of play hide and seek with your friends. But at the same time you try to act like an adult at that weird moment. I think now for this generation it starts earlier, it’s almost 12 years old, but in the 80’s it was around that 15 year old. That gap in between childhood and adulthood, it’s so weird to cross.
François: When you swear too much. When you’re super horny.
But you’re terrible at swearing.
Anouk: Yes. Exactly, you just do it too much.
Yoann-Karl: You over do it.
François: You start drinking and steal alcohol from your parents.
Yoann-Karl: We would fill the bottle with water so they don’t catch you.
How did you go about figuring our who your group was? Your heroes?
Yoann-Karl: It was a long casting process. It took more than two months. We needed really good kids to capture who we were ourselves in the 80’s. The three of us were a mixture of those four kids.
But that friendship dynamic, we’ve seen it attempted in a lot of films. If one child performer can’t pull their weight then the whole film fails. Your gang is amazing.
François: When we found our Davey, it was very important for us that he is very insistent with his friends, but we need the public to like him. We need to care for the characters if we want the public to follow them through their journey. But Graham has the whole movie on his shoulders.
Yoann-Karl: A 15 year old, it’s something.
François: We build the cast around him. They were all great.
Did they all have immediate chemistry or did that take a lot of work?
Anouk: Yeah, the chemistry really worked well from the beginning. We didn’t have time to rehearse so we had a table-read, I think the Friday before the Monday we started shooting. That’s when they all met for the first time. We forced them to hang out during the weekend so that they could…
Yoann-Karl: Become friends.
Anouk: Yes, become friends in the real world and they decided to do an escape room together.
Anouk: Yeah, it could have gone wrong.
Yoann-Karl: Could have gone the other way. They could have all fought. “This is not how you do it, you idiot.” You come on Monday and they all hate each other and you’re like “aw, what have you done? Fuck.”
Anouk: We start with all of the scenes inside the tree house so that it’s a very close spot and then they could really establish their dynamic as a group of friends and everything. I think that helped as well for the chemistry.
Yoann-Karl: And they really had a good time, the four of them together. They became friends, it was great. We had a good time with them. I think we definitely are in arrested development, we will be forever teenagers. They tell you, don’t work with kids or animals, and it worked fine. We had a great time. It was never hard.
Often, I find that when you’re watching movies set in the 80’s, the kids still feel like modern kids. How did you get them into that time period?
Yoann-Karl: I think it helped the fact that we grew up in the 80’s and we could frame it for them. How it was to grow up in the 80’s, how it was for us hanging out. And how we would play hide and seek and how we would do certain things. I have that one friend that had Playboy, his dad had Playboy and he would steal them. I think it’s just true conversation and good for them because some of those feelings were complex and they were able to understand them. Internalize them and it shows on screen.
François: We gave them homework. Movies to watch.
Yoann-Karl: Monster Squad was definitely one.
François: Goonies, Stand By Me, a lot of John Hughes.
Yoann-Karl: Oh yeah, John Hughes. So interesting, I remember I told Graham we were the last generation to go to school without social media and he was like, what? It’s crazy, how social media is a part of our lives now. It’s everywhere.
I can’t even imagine growing up now.
Anouk: I wouldn’t want to.
Yoann-Karl: The anxiety of it. The problem now is everybody has a camera on them so you cannot fail at any time because you might be filmed and then laughed at by your school.
François: But it’s already hard. Now you have your life in real life and your life online.
Right. It’s all documented.
Yoann-Karl: High school was always a ton of pressure and now we have that added anxiety in high school. I played Dungeons and Dragons and colored comic books during high school. I was not the most popular kid.
You would be super popular now though. Look around.
Yoann-Karl: We won. [Claps hands together] We won.
François: Really different experience.
Anouk: I had a website but nobody knew I had a website because it was just like –
Yoann-Karl: On GeoCities.
I’d like to talk about your process a little bit. It must be a very unique dynamic. I imagine it’s like Voltron? One person mans the legs, another one the arms.
François: Yes, just like that. One switch and we merge into a giant robot and then that’s how we make movies.
Yoann-Karl: We come super prepared, but off set we split jobs. We still work on everything, we’ll talk about everything amongst ourselves, but I’ll talk with the actors, Whissell will talk with the camera crew and Anouk will talk with the head of department, so the voice is always the same for those people.
Anouk: We establish from the start, on set, if you have a question you come see me.
Yoann-Karl: So we don’t lose time.
Anouk: We come so much prepared that we have the same answer. If somebody ask a question, if he asks any one of us he should get the same answer but we cannot risk that. it does not happen.
So no one’s testing you?
Anouk: Rich Sommer did.
Anouk: Yeah. We were okay. We on.
François: We won. We played the game and we won.
Yoann-Karl: The same question. A tough question.
Anouk: Yes it was a tricky question.
Do you remember what the question was?
Anouk: No. He didn’t tell us. “I had a very tricky question and I tested you and you guys had the same answer.” So we’re like phew.
I’m guessing you brought a lot of your crew back from Turbo Kid, right?
François: We had our DP and he brought his gaffer but we shot in Vancouver.
Yoann-Karl: Instead of Montreal so that’s all of the crew we could bring to Vancouver.
François: It was a bit hard, a bit challenging in Montreal because we had the smaller crew but it was like a small tribe, fighting to make the best movie aver. In Vancouver, there were so much to shoot that every day we had someone leaving and somebody new.
Yoann-Karl: So we would try to recreate the dynamic every day. We shot at the same time as Deadpool 2 and somebody recently told us Skyscraper as well and a huge Disney TV show. We are a small Indie film, so as far as some of those crew, they want to go make more money on those shoots. It’s understandable.
François: That being said, the head of department, their crew stayed the whole shoot and we had fun with them.
Anouk: So that was pretty cool.
François: Turbo Kid is a very ambitious movie. We didn’t have the time, it was a crazy schedule.
What was the schedule?
Yoann-Karl: 22 days.
Not much time.
Anouk: Lots of location moves as well.
François: And a lot of night-shoots with kids.
Anouk: Underage kids.
Yoann-Karl: There’s a rule. They can’t work later than midnight. Well, for the American kids. For the Canadian kids its two in the morning. So apparently in Canada its like, we don’t care. In Vancouver, it doesn’t get dark until 10:30. Some of the scenes we have to shoot lighted and everything in two hours and a half.
Scheduling becomes incredibly important.
Yoann-Karl: Yeah. Our first AD was great. We worked closely with her and in between takes she’ll bring our schedules like, okay we need to find a solution, we need to find this. If I move this here will you move this here? She was a champion. She was great and the four of us had a great time finding a solution.
François: It’s a small budget but we did tons of shorts with no money. We can be creative when we solve problems and we storyboard everything. The storyboard is the plan, we have a background in animation and when something comes up and we have to do something different. We can draw a new storyboard in five minutes. Here’s the new plan.
But you’re regimented on what your day should look like.
Yoann-Karl: Oh yes. You know it never goes 100% to plan and that’s the power of three brains. Okay this is not going to work because this is broke or we’re losing the location of whatever. So we dialogue ten minutes just to find a plan, we come up, we have a plan for the rest of the day. It’s great, we’re best friends. There’s not a day that we don’t hang out or at least call each other. We’re always together, we know how we think, we know how creative we are and it’s easy for us to find solution. We’ve been there before, we’ve been in this situation before, we know how to get out.
Was there a night or day that came close to breaking you?
Yoann-Karl: It was always time.
François: I know there was a day we lost a location and we had to move to another one that we didn’t even see.
Anouk: Yeah this was a nightmare day.
Yoann-Karl: We had three hours to shoot the whole scene and it was a complex scene. Unfortunately, the grid truck got lost to the new location and got in 45 minutes late. When it got in you have to open it, take off the equipment and start shooting. So the three hours become a little bit less than two hours to shoot it. But you find solutions, we’ll frame it this way, we will do it this way. We’ll move here, we’ll do this. We’ll use this alleyway and you find –
François: Do two takes max and just move on and hopefully have a good scene.
Yoann-Karl: You find solutions. You’ve been there before. You don’t panic, you know what you have to do and you just do it. Once this day is over you go, oh my god. As long as the days going, it’s no time to panic. You’re finding solution as soon as it’s a wrap and then all of the emotion pours out.
Anouk: Then you sleep two hours and you’re back on set.
Yoann-Karl: Yeah, you sleep two hours and you’re back on set.
It’s like Comic-Con.
I don’t want to ruin the film for anybody, I don’t want to talk about the ending necessarily…. I think when you go into a film like this you’re expecting something like the movies that influenced it. You’re expecting Monster Squad or Goonies or whatever but the path of Summer of 84 veers dramatically from those kiddie adventures. Audiences may not be prepared for where you take them.
Yoann-Karl: We wanted to go for it. We had a conversation with the producer and at first they wanted us to make a safer ending.
Of course, yeah.
Yoann-Karl: But, talking with them, we talked about it and said, this is why you jump in. This is why we jumped in. I mean, I think we have to go for it and they trusted us. You’re right, we have to go for it. This is what makes this movie special.
François: Allowing us to shoot an alternate ending anyway.
Anouk: That we wouldn’t use.
So, you know people were screaming for Turbo Kid 2, and they’re certainly going to want Summer of ’85, and while I think you could find a story there, it would do a disservice to what you guys have accomplished with this climax.
Yoann-Karl: Yeah, I think even though it would be easy to do a sequel, I don’t think personally it wouldn’t be the same. You can’t recapture what we’ve done with the first one and I think it would rob people of what we went for. It would be cheating.
I watched the ending three times. When I watched it I had to rewind, scroll back and watch it a couple times. Just to make sure that I understood exactly where you had left us and it was… I thought it was difficult but in the best possible way.
Yoann-Karl: It is crushing.
And again it’s just so different from Turbo Kid.
Yoann-Karl: It was important, it needed to be different from Turbo Kid. There’s still going to be a Turbo Kid 2 but we’ll still do one other project that’s going to be completely different than Turbo Kid.
François: It’s not a statement. We want to go make super, crazy film with tons of gore and we love that. We don’t want to do just that.
Yoann-Karl: We want to do a Kung Fu film. I’m obsessed about giant robots. I want to do a movie with giant robots. I love giant robots, they are the best.
Yoann-Karl: Yes, they are fantastic. There is nothing with a giant robot that’s just not amazing. Because there is a giant robot.
I’ll watch Robot Jox over and over again just because it exists.
Yoann-Karl: Yes. Thank you life for giving us Robot Jox!
Summer of 84 will be released in theaters on August 10, 2018, and available on VOD and Digital HD on August 24, 2018.