Screenwriter Anthony O’Connor on Angst, Inhuman Resources and the Art of Creation…

Screenwriter Anthony O’Connor (21 December 1976-) has been writing forever. He wrote his first screenplays while still a young teenager. He had his first screenplay Angst (2000) produced while still in his early 20s. He would also polish dialogue on the Kylie Minogue movie Sample People (2000). In fact he would earn a living as a bit of a script doctor uncredited over the years while writing for movie magazines and reviewing video games for the internet. He also spent his tentative years working in video stores. His horror screenplay Redd Inc. aka Inhuman Resources which he wrote with Jonathon Green was produced in 2012. He continues to write and has recently finished another screenplay –  a ghost story – with Green entitled Emma After.

Screenwriter Anthony O’Connor

Talking about the inspiration for your screenplay for Angst (2000)… Are you a Westie and/or did you work in a video store? Or live in Kings Cross?

All of the above! I lived in a place called Maitland for many years, which is a kind of semi-rural area in New South Wales that let me experience a lot of those “westie” touchstones. I eventually moved back to Sydney, where I worked in a half dozen video shops all over the place, including one store deep in the heart of Kings Cross, where I also lived for over a decade.

They say there’s kids in the Western suburbs of Sydney who haven’t seen the Harbour Bridge

There is always the Quentin Tarantino connection with wannabe film writers working in video stores in the 1990s… You seem to be the Aussie Tarantino but more down to Earth – such is the ingenuity of the Angst script. What do you think?

Well, that’s a very flattering comparison so thank you, but I’m not entirely sure how accurate it is. I remember at the time – this would be in the mid to late 90s – a lot of customers would either make the Tarantino comparison or reference Kevin Smith.

Writer and director Kevin Smith directs inside a video store. He also worked in one.

But I was never particularly interested in directing, which is a big part of both of those cat’s creative output. There’s even a reference to it within Angst, when May (Abi Tucker) is mocking Dean (Sam Lewis) for being yet another video store clerk with a screenplay. But hey, if you want to compare me to an artist I greatly admire, I’m defo not going to stop you.

Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste (1987) trailer

Was Angst your first screenplay or were there others you had tried before this one?

I think Angst was my second or third screenplay, but the first few I wrote were just awful. I was obsessed with horror movies like Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead (1981) and Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste (1987) and Braindead (1992), so my work was basically bad Australian rehashes of them. There was one called, um, Tooth and Claw about gun-toting werewolves and another one called Worm about a parasitic worm that crawls inside people and turns them into serial killers or some such bullshit. In my defence, I was about fifteen-years-old when I wrote them, but yeah, they were real bad.

Peter Jackson on the Dead Alive aka Braindead (1992) set

Angst came about sort of by accident, as I just for fun started writing pages of banter between three flatmates, loosely based on some real life adventures I’d had with friends. Before I knew it, I had about fifty pages and I figured, bugger it, let’s see where this thing goes.

You obviously have a love for horror and yet you have kept it on a leash for Angst. I love the point of view of the movie… there’s not too many movies about fans of horror… Did it take a break-up for you to come up with this point of view? Was there any particular inspiration?

Jessica Napier

The point of view of Angst came from a place of rigorous honesty, because during the 90s being an obsessive horror movie fan in Australia was not considered cool and I wanted to explore what that felt like. This is pre internet being so ubiquitous, so finding other freaks into the same weird shit was hard. It’s one of the reasons Dean and Jade (Jessica Napier) are so close, because they’re both horror dorks and finding one of the opposite sex was almost unheard of. It seems strange in 2020, when geek culture reigns supreme, but back then the pop cultural landscape was very different.

The central break up of Dean and Heather (Lara Cox) was absolutely based on a real life experience, although it was exaggerated for comedic effect.

I read one well-known reviewer which criticised the Westie character for being too intelligent… Some critics!

Hah! I don’t remember that one, that’s hilarious. I do remember Margaret Pomeranz hated the verbose dialogue, whereas David Stratton adored it and gave Angst a four out of five, which felt wonderful because I’m a big fan of his.

Iconoclastic Aussie film reviewers Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton

Thing is, I’ve been a film, TV and video game reviewer for various places (Filmink, Official Playstation Magazine etc.) for over two decades now, so I know that a bad review is rarely personal. It’s the price you pay for putting your work out there, some people just aren’t going to dig your stuff and that’s fine.

There’s an Argento poster near the beginning of the film… does he loom large in your horror universe, or was that a mere directorial touch? There’s the Suspiria tape…

I adore Dario Argento! Huge fan. Yeah, Dean includes it as one of the movies to watch with Jade, which was a tip of the hat to the Italian master. I also referenced, erm, Lucio Fulci, George Romero, Tobe Hooper and Sam Raimi, I think? And there’s a shout out to John Carpenter in another scene too.

Legendary Italian horror director Dario Argento at home

Basically, if you see it in the movie, it’s something I loved or was influenced by. Daniel Nettheim, the director, was insistent we make sure the horror references and footage sections were accurate and appropriate, and I think he delivered them beautifully. That sequence were Dean and Jade smoke cones while watching horror flicks is just gorgeous.

Director Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse (1981) trailer

In fact the filmmakers were lucky to get the Evil Dead footage along with The Beyond…. Do you know if this cost the production much? Did much hinge on these clips?

This poster also appears in Angst

I have no idea how much it cost, but I do remember it being quite a challenge to get the footage. Originally I wanted Dawn of the Dead (1978) scenes, but we couldn’t get that for some reason, so we went with Night of the Living Dead (1968), which was totally fine. But The Beyond was a bit of a challenge, as was The Evil Dead. Although, happy ending, not only did we get The Evil Dead footage but Bruce Campbell sent us an email! I was absolutely thrilled. Motherflippin’ Ash knows we exist!

Years later, in 2016, I did a two part interview with him for Filmink and he was as delightful as I’d always hoped.

Do you know the budget for Angst? Did it receive a multi-state theatrical release in Australia? I’m doubting it had an overseas release… it’s such a small “Aussie” film.

Soundtrack cover

Not sure about the budget, but it got a moderate-sized release all over Australia, which was unusual for such a niche film. It actually did get a release overseas as well, I can still remember getting fan mail from Russia and Korea of all places.

For me Angst is an end of an era film. The end of an era for the character… and an end of an era for VHS and the emergence of DVD… True? There was once a sense of romance attached to the local small video shop…

Anyone remember these?

It’s absolutely an end of an era film, although we didn’t know it at the time! DVD swiftly replaced VHS and the internet went from a niche concern for geeks to total communications domination. In 2020 it actually feels quite wistful to watch Angst, because so much of what’s important in the character’s lives no longer exists. Landlines, video shops, VCRs – it all seems so quaint!

Personally, I will always miss the video shop era. Going to a store, chatting with a well-informed person about the films you love, getting recommendations for films you’d otherwise never see and finding a new classic was always so exciting and fulfilling. Or, on the other side of the counter, recommending a film for a favoured customer who ended up adoring it felt wonderful.

Once upon a time… there were video shops!

The film seems to have fallen between the cracks of the two mediums. It just ain’t that easy to see being made around 2000 just as DVD was ramping up… I guess someone has the VHS!

Wanna hear something funny? Angst was the “most stolen movie” in video shops from that era. VHS copies would fly off the shelves and into people’s private collections like crazy. It was basically the analogue version of online movie piracy.

In terms of being able to see the movie in 2020, well, look… I can’t go into detail but hopefully you’ll be hearing something before the year is out. It is the twentieth anniversary, after all…

Heroine Kelly Paterniti takes matters into her own hands in Redd Inc. aka Head Hunt

Now Redd Inc. (2012) aka Inhuman Resources… It was a long time between drinks in terms of screenplays… you obviously continued to write during the interim…

Yeah, so after Angst I knew I wanted my next screenplay to be a horror movie. I’d done the sort of black comedy/romcom thing – now I wanted to make something from my favourite genre. The problem? NO ONE in Australia wanted to know. Like, I sat in meetings where people would say stuff like, “Australia doesn’t do horror” or “there will never be a successful, big budget zombie movie.” It was mad.

Sample People DVD cover

So, in the meantime, I did a lot of work on other people’s projects, getting brought on as a script doctor or providing dialogue edits and whatnot. I got to work with people I admire a lot like Alex Proyas and Michael Rymer, which was a fantastic experience, but at the back of my mind I was always thinking about my horror movie.

Redd Inc. is another kind of horror semi-masterpiece in that it is also quite different to the usual horror… and it’s another kind of an end of an era movie, or a celebration of an era… prosthetic special horror effects! Did you have that in mind?

Rick Baker (left) on set of An American Werewolf in London (1981) with Griffin Dunne

“Semi-masterpiece”, I like that! Yeah, prosthetic special make-up effects have always been very close to my heart. There’s Rob Bottin’s work on The Thing, Rick Baker’s award-winning gear in An American Werewolf in London (1981) and, of course, Tom Savini’s stunning creations in Day of the Dead (1985). With Redd Inc. I definitely wanted like two or three KILLER moments of practical gore that would blow the audience out of their seats.

And you had Tom Savini apparently come out of retirement to do the film! Any horror fan’s dream!! How did this happen? He seems a larger than life character behind the scenes…

O’Connor was lucky enough to get close to Savini on set of Inhuman Resources aka Redd Inc.

The story of how we got Tom Savini is told much more eloquently on the Australian Redd Inc. DVD/Bluray in the feature length documentary, Chained to the Desk: The Making of Redd Inc. Which you should absolutely check out if you want to see Tom on set doing his thing and watch me banging on endlessly about horror movies.

However, the short version is: we contacted him through a dear friend of mine, Jodii (who is now his wife, btw!) and made an offer. He was keen, and liked the script, but wanted a killer team to work with. So we contacted MEG (Make-up Effects Group) run by deadset geniuses Nick Nicolaou and Paul Katte. These cats are incredible, they did practical stuff for The Matrix (1999), Man-Thing (2005), The Wolverine (2013), and oodles more. Tom adores their work and wanted to work with them – and, of course, Nick and Paul wanted to work with Tom Savini! – so it all came together, the planets aligned and we got some stunningly realised gore in Redd Inc. And now I’m close friends with Tom Savini, we literally spent New Year’s Eve 2019 hanging out at my joint. Crazy world, man.

The Aussie-shot Man-Thing (2005) trailer

He has all but retired again in that field but is rumoured to be returning for a remake of one of my favourite spaghetti horrors Nightmare City (1979)…

Not sure about Nightmare City, but he directed a fantastic episode of the recent Creepshow reboot “By the Silver Water of Lake Champlain”, which was awesome to see. Not to mention a biographical documentary called Smoke and Mirrors: The Story of Tom Savini (2015). Well worth hunting down.

Doco poster about Savini

Your screenplay, which you apparently co-authored with Jonathon Green, is prophetic in that today we’d love nothing more than to see an overpaid CEO get the chop… especially without a payout! You’ve tapped into something there although it is only the tip of the iceberg within the movie…

So, I’ve known Jonathon Green since the Angst days, because he was the producer on that, and over the years we’ve become great mates and regular writing partners. We knew we wanted to make a horror movie with subtext, with something to say, as well as being enormously entertaining in its own right.

Redd Inc. is really two stories colliding. There’s the ‘serial killer who beheads corrupt CEOs’ narrative that gets all tied up with the ‘man framed for a crime he didn’t commit’ storyline. And our main characters all end up being chained to a big desk in a bizarre office where they have to untangle the mystery before they’re killed. A lot of the former storyline comes from the helpless horror I and many other people felt during the 2008 financial crisis. That sense society at large was being negatively impacted by the shortsighted actions of a few greedy arseholes. Which, you know, is something worth getting angry about, I reckon. And, sadly, appears to be an ongoing concern.

Quad like poster for Redd Inc. aka Inhuman Resources

Was the whole chained to a desk in the office from hell inspired by personal experience. Almost everyone’s endured something like that…

I have definitely had some pretty horrific office experiences over the years. I actually had a boss who timed my toilet breaks. Like, for real. I don’t mean to rain on anyone’s parade, but if you’re timing another man’s bowel movements you need to drastically reevaluate the path your life has taken. That said, Thomas Reddmann (Nicholas Hope) isn’t based on any boss I had or hated, he’s more like the manifestation of corporate dogma made flesh. When the rules are horribly literal and warnings are written into flesh.

The “before” scene from Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eater’s was often censored at this moment

And whose fetish are the eye horror scenes… yours or Jonathon’s? Both are great effects!

Hah! Well, I’ve always enjoyed Lucio Fulci’s obsession with ocular trauma, that splinter scene from Zombie (1979) still holds up to this day. And Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005) has a disturbing eyeball scene, as I recall. I think Jonathon and I were both very aware we had a limited budget, so the few big gore moments we were able to show would have to have a major impact and anything involving eyes is always very disturbing.

Here’s the after scene. Get the picture? See Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) for it all!

I’ve gotta say, watching the film some years later, I reckon both eyeball sequences are fantastic, but Sheena O’Leary (Hayley McElhinney) absolutely owns her death scene, bringing a really disturbing energy to her performance. That was a super intense couple of days on set, Hayley actually burst into tears once we were done, and having a real actor’s director like Daniel Krige at the helm helped a lot. So because of Hayley, Daniel and the superb effects, we end up with this striking, haunting, horrifying moment that hits you right in the guts.

Again do you know the film’s budget and whether it opened overseas at all… I own the DVD and it was in my large “good and must watch again pile”… Did it make its money back?

The Fangoria release

Budgets and earnings aren’t really in my wheelhouse, but I do know Redd Inc. is pretty well liked around the world. It’s Redd Inc. in Australia and New Zealand, Inhuman Resources in the US and the UK, and Head Hunt in Japan, Germany and other bits of Europe.

We got a release through FANGORIA (!) in the US and then it went to HBO where I believe it’s still streaming. The Horror Channel in the UK still plays us and we had a short but passionate cinema release in Japan. I guess there’s something universal about the anxiety you experience in the office, so that’s why it crossed over like that.

I thought the title Inhuman Resources was a bit lacklustre compared to Redd Inc.? What are your thoughts?

A Japanese Head Hunt titled poster

Hah! Well, Inhuman Resources was actually my original title and Jonathon came up with Redd Inc. which we both agreed was better. I guess it went back to Inhuman in the US/UK because it sounds like something that’s more obviously a horror movie. Honestly, I thought Head Hunt was a pretty decent title as well.

Redd Inc. has the major asset also of Nicholas Hope in the cast and a great ensemble of lesser-known actors. Were you happy with Hope’s casting and were the results what you were after?

Bad Boy Bubby DVD cover

I was unbelievably stoked to get Nicholas Hope as Redd, because he was always my and Jonathon’s number one choice. I mean, we’re talking about Bubby/Pop from Bad Boy Bubby (1993)! He actually brought a really interesting energy to the character, playing it less overtly evil and being more pragmatic and unexpectedly gentle. He’s a fascinating actor – and a genuinely sweet and intelligent man – and I was so delighted with the nuance he brought to the piece. I was also beyond delighted when he ended up in Ash vs. Evil Dead in a very Redd-like role, it was like a character I created also occupied the Evil Dead universe!

Tom Savini, Nicholas Hope and Anthony O’Connor on set

I love the ending, the twists are great, and there’s a kind of Silence of the Lambs moment when Nicholas Hope says he’s going to visit a certain doctor…

Absolutely a little nod to Silence of the Lambs there, plus we wanted to keep the door open just a crack for a potential sequel. That’s probably unlikely to happen at this stage, but I remember Jonathon and I wanted the tagline to be “this time it’s personnel…”

A totally random Hannibal (2001) trailer

How do you write? Is it a cigarette and coffee affair? How do you get the work done?

No cigarettes, but plenty of coffee. Although it’s varied a bit over the years.

When I wrote Angst, I was nineteen years old and just finding my feet in a social context. So, the writing of Angst usually took place at around 2-3am, when I was returning from clubs and bars, and went through until dawn when I would fall asleep as the sun rose. All very romantic and exciting.

Writer Jonathon Green

For Redd Inc. it was, ironically, turning up to Jonathon’s office in Bondi Junction and just putting in the time. Turning up is a big part of it and if you can nail that, you can nail the rest.

What are the main horror influences for you? Growing up before the global home entertainment revolution kind of limited many Aussies and it still remains a backwater for many releases… Did you discover some great horror later in life?

I was, and continue to be, a big Stephen King fan so he remains one of the strongest influences on my writing. Who else? John Carpenter, George Romero, Dario Argento, John Landis, Lucio Fulci, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper, Michele Soavi, Mario Bava, Lamberto Bava, Ruggero Deodato – all of those cats had a big impact on what I watched, how I wrote and what I would seek out. It was, as you say, limiting to grow up in Australia but if you trawled the racks of rural video barns you could often find unclaimed treasures.

Stephen King directs the poorly received but still fun Maximum Overdrive (1986)

I didn’t discover gold later, so much as see the proper versions of many films, particularly the Italian stuff. Watching Deep Red (1975) uncut, in a restored print in the proper aspect ratio makes you realise how amazing that film truly is. And you can apply that to most of them, watching City of the Living Dead aka: Gates of Hell (1980) fully uncut and beautifully restored is basically an entirely different film to the crappy censored VHS copy that was available in this country.

Anthony recommends Asian horror Audition (1999) trailer

I think I probably discovered more Asian horror thanks to the entertainment revolution, with Takashi Miike being a favourite. Audition (1999), man, what a film!

Do you remember as a kid the first horror films that scared you?

The ill-fated Kraken

I remember crying during Clash of the Titans (1981) because the Kraken died and I thought it got a bum deal, man. Kraken was just a monster controlled by arsehole Gods, wasn’t his damn fault his creator was a dick! In terms of actual fear, I think both An American Werewolf in London (1981) and Creepshow (1982) both scared me in a fun, shivery way. But I never found those flicks particularly disturbing.

Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (1981) actually fucked me up for real. The ending where the main kid’s parents touch the “evil” and explode. And then, like, no one seems to notice or care. The fire engine pulls away, and the kid’s suburban neighbours just sort of watch as this poor bloody child wanders around his home, trying to find his recently combusted folks. It’s just this perfect storm of banality and surreality and it still bothers me in ways I can’t quite articulate. “Mum, Dad, it’s evil, don’t touch it!” [shudders forever]

Time Bandits (1981) trailer

Something scary is the Goodreads profile picture of the Anthony O’Connor who has apparently written some interesting books. The picture is obviously not you… any explanation? I mean c’mon…

There’s a lot of Anthony O’Connors out there, man. Damn copycats. Actually, hopefully you’ll see a new entry from the real me on Goodreads this year, but I’m not allowed to talk about that yet. So, yeah, watch this space.

With everyone’s friend to the end!

And a final question for those out there who want to write a horror screenplay or just a book… Any do’s or don’ts for those starting out writing or screenwriting?

Turn up. Write every day, even if you’re hungover or sick. Do a couple of hours every day, seven days a week. Most of it will be shit, no doubt, but five-ten pages of shit can be edited down to one or two pages of decent writing. Zero pages will never become anything.

And don’t do that “yeah, I just don’t have time” dance. Bullshit. You’ve got time, you’re just making excuses. It’s a job, and can be a tough one, but if you really want to be a writer, turn up, write the pages, edit it down, get better, repeat.

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