What happens when you combine a small-time criminal with a Chinese time-travel device? You get MEGA TIME SQUAD, a highly entertaining sci-fi comedy that combines elements of time travel, humor, carnage, and a sprinkle of demonic manifestations, from writer/director Tim van Dammen.
For the theatrical and VOD release of the film, I had the chance to speak with Tim van Dammen about all things MEGA TIME SQUAD. During our chat, we discussed everything from breathing new life into the themes of time traveling as well as picking out gorilla and duck masks.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Tim, thank you so much for speaking with me today! For those who may not be familiar with your film MEGA TIME SQUAD, can you tell us a little bit about it and how the idea came to be?
Tim van Dammen: MEGA TIME SQUAD is a time travel heist comedy about a small town criminal who accidentally acquires a time travel bracelet and uses it to steal a bunch of cash from the local crime boss. But he’s not the smartest guy, and he messes up the time travel thereby multiplying himself. Once he gets the money, he doesn’t want to share it with his doubles, so they all turn against each other.
I wanted to make a film that would fit into the kind of festivals that I loved going to as a teen – festivals with edgy, experimental, exciting stuff where there was a bit of a party atmosphere. I didn’t have any money to make a film, but I did have a lot of experience with VFX so I thought about how I could take advantage of that. I decided to make a movie with only one actor and to multiply them so I just needed to find a context/genre/story that would play into this limitation. So I chose to develop a time travel idea. It started as a story about a guy going back in time to help himself get over a breakup but once I fleshed that idea out I thought it was a bit earnest and pretentious so I decided to take a genre approach. Turning the story into a crime film felt a lot better. It felt like the kind of movie I would love to watch and offered just the right opportunities for suspense, action and a bunch of dopey jokes. That’s how the idea evolved.
Nightmarish Conjurings: The theme of time-traveling is obviously not new, but in your film, I felt it was given a fresh execution. Did you do any specific research and/or were there films that inspired you in terms of how you wanted to approach time traveling?
TvD: When working with a subject that has been thoroughly explored, one must make a decision whether or not to do a deep dive and watch every time travel film ever made or to ignore them completely. I feared boxing myself in, so I decided to avoid watching and instead I chose to write a list of the tropes familiar to time travel films that I found exciting and try to use the world of my story to approach them from a different angle. There are many influences in MEGA TIME SQUAD, but they are mixed up and piled on top of each other it’s hard to pick them apart.
Nightmarish Conjurings: I loved how you used multiple versions of Anton Tennet’s character, John; however, that could not have been easy to film. What was the process like filming multiple versions of that character?
TvD: Anton and I talked through the scenes and found a decent rhythm to the dialogue. Then he would play each part, and I would do the off lines. Later, I would stitch the footage together and do the roto and retiming etc. I wasn’t as difficult as it first appears because Anton was so well prepared and because I’d done this sort of thing many times before so we knew what we could get away with. Some days we had a friend stand in for one of Anton’s doubles to give him somebody to play off. It helped with the energy of the performance.
Nightmarish Conjurings: I also couldn’t stop laughing every time Jonny Brugh (who played Shelton) was on screen. What was the casting process like and did you have some of these people in mind prior to filming?
TvD: I wrote the film with Anton and Hetty in mind. We spent a long time rehearsing, and I rewrote a lot of stuff around them and the way they saw their characters. Once that was in place, I approached a few friends who I thought would be suitable for specific roles and after that did a general casting call. There are so many great people out there, both actors and non-actors, that it was exciting and easy to find a diverse and appealing cast. Shelton was the hardest character to cast because it required tremendous performance. I sent Jonny the script, and he liked the character. He was working on a TV show and would rush from one set to the other. His energy and commitment are amazing, and I agree – he is hilarious.
Nightmarish Conjurings: I know this was only in the film briefly, but the image I always see associated with the film is that of Anton Tennet (John) and Arlo Gibson (Gaz) in both the duck and monkey masks. How did you go about picking those masks?
TvD: Originally John and Gaz were supposed to be wearing balaclavas, but when I saw how much they cost I realized that I needed to take a more affordable approach, so I went to a toy store and looked for a chicken mask. I thought it would be fun to have John and Gaz argue over who had to ‘be the chicken’ because I felt like it played well into John’s internal journey. They didn’t have chicken masks, but they had these silly duck and gorilla masks. The way the masks jiggled about was pretty funny, so we went with them. I also added in the scene that emulated my experience looking for a balaclava to explain why John buys the animal masks.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Last, but not least, are you working on any additional projects that we should be keeping our eyes out for in the future?
TvD: During the post-production of MEGA TIME SQUAD I wrote a film that I could describe as Edward Scissorhands gone apocalyptic. It’s completely mental, and I’m looking forward to getting that one out there. I also have a couple of films going in Hollywood which is an exciting experience. You can expect to see some of these films released over the next year or so.
MEGA TIME SQUAD arrives in theaters and on VOD February 15, 2019.