INTERVIEW: Director Tim van Dammen on Kiwi Sci-Fi Comedy ‘Mega Time Squad’

Mega Time Squad will be playing at Frightfest London 2018.

The screening will take place on Thursday 23rd August at 11:00pm on the Arrow Video Screen and at 11.30pm on the Horror Channel Screen. Both screens can be found at Leicester Square Cineworld.

Tickets are available here!

One of the more unusual films to make its UK debut at this year’s London FrightFest Film Festival is Mega Time Squad, the second feature length film to come from New Zealander Tim van Dammen.

Dammen’s last cinematic outing was an ambitious 21st century retelling of Romeo and Juliet, setting Shakespeare’s classic in a contemporary trailer park rock opera. Such originality has been inherited by Mega Time Squad, which tells the story of a two-bit Kiwi criminal who stumbles upon an ancient time-travel device that causes all sorts of problems in the small New Zealand town of Thames. Combining elements of comedy, sci-fi and crime-thriller, Mega Time Squad offers a refreshingly original premise.

We caught up with Tim last month to find out how this remarkably unique picture came about.

Hi Tim, thanks for giving us your time! We’re a few days away from Mega Time Squad making its world premier at Auckland’s Hollywood Cinema. After years of working on it, how does it feel to have got this far?

Tim: It’s been a long process and we’ve had to overcome some pretty big obstacles, but we got there in the end and it seems to have found its way out into the world! To have Mega Time Squad selected for all these great festivals including the NZIFF is super exciting, a bit vindicating and a touch nerve-wracking.

Comedy and sci-fi can be such a winning combination and I just love the premise of Mega Time Squad. Where did the idea come from and what was your inspiration?

Tim: Originally it was a dark drama about a guy who went back in time to help himself get through a break up but starts having an affair with himself, so he goes back in time again to stop himself from having the affair!

It was dirty and dark but the premise was silly, so I thought it would be better as a comedy. Then, upon reviewing what I had, I thought that wasn’t as fun as a crime caper, so I rewrote it. There were many inspirations that led me to where the script ended up but the heaviest influence was living in Thames and writing for that particular location.

Let’s talk about Thames. Was Mega Time Squad always going to be set there or did you once envision it taking place somewhere else?

Tim: After I changed the initial storyline there was no other place it could be set! Thames gives the film a sense of place, a sense of reality and a sense of character. It informed the plot points, the way the characters reacted to the various events and the general tone of the film.

I think it’s really important in films to try to create a sense of place that the audience wants to go back to and visit time after time. I hope I captured a bit of Thames in there because it’s a great place.

The trailer gives the impression that the cast had a lot of fun working together; do any scenes stand out in your mind as having been particularly fun to shoot?

Tim: The cast had an absolute blast working together. Typically we would shoot the script as written, but then we’d do a bunch of takes where the actors would go off script; I’d give them vague subjects to discuss and they would run with it to some really funny places.

One of my favourite scenes was Jonny Brugh and Mick Innes discussing the optimal mix of channels for the ideal Sky subscription. It was the hardest part of the film to cut but the scene stands alone, so I know it’ll work great as an ‘extra feature’ on the DVD!

After I watched the trailer, I was very impressed by the quality of the special effects. How did you go about creating these and was it a learning curve for you?

Tim: I started out as a video artist so I was always pushing software to places that it wasn’t supposed to go. When developing the look for the VFX in Mega Time Squad, I wanted the time travel to be innately silly while also being something that I hadn’t seen before.

After a few dozen iterations, James Corden and I settled on what I call the plug-hole look, whereby Anton looks like he’s being sucked down a plug-hole. The sound effects are me sucking on a McDonalds take-away straw because I wanted the sound and look and everything to feel like it was all part of the same world!

The multiplication of the main character was all in the planning. I would read lines off screen while Anton played out the scene with actors who weren’t really there; it was really quite a great feat on his behalf.  With my background in video art and music videos, the rotoscoping and VFX side of things was pretty straight forward.

Time travel has been done a lot in film and TV over the years; do you think the comical elements of Mega Time Squad make it easier to use such plot devices?

Tim: I felt like time travel had been done so much that I could get away with moving away from all the old tropes that explain how it works and instead focus on the results. As a result the film is less about time travel than is about a guy who thinks it’s cool that he gets to team up and hang out with copies of himself.

This approach also opens the door for a lot of comedic opportunities, particularly around the main character not understanding how the time travel works. There are some great time-travel related surprises and laughs that the comedy approach allows.

Finally, you’re best known for working on music videos – in fact I read one source that claimed you’ve worked on over 160 of them! How would you say that’s prepared you for a life as a film director?

Tim: I’ve lost count of how many music videos I’ve done but it would be over 180! That’s not just directing them but pitching, producing, directing, editing, VFX and post. I burned myself out a few years ago going crazy when I was doing at least one video a week. It was a lot of fun and I learned a huge amount about what I could pull off with a small amount of money.

Without that ground work I wouldn’t have been able to do a film like Mega Time Squad because it’s such a VFX heavy film that a lot of planning and budget management was needed to pull it off in a way that does the premise justice.

Making music videos allowed me to experiment a lot with style too so I knew what approach to take with Mega Time Squad and other upcoming projects that allows for the treatment to work well but doesn’t get me into trouble when it comes to compromising the look, the story or the world.

We’d like to say a big thank you to Tim Van Dammen for taking the time to talk to us! We’d also like to congratulate him on the success of Mega Time Squad and wish him all the best with his future projects. You can keep up with Tim and his work on Twitter.

Check out the trailer for Mega Time Squad  below:


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