We recently had the exclusive opportunity to talk to director Timo Tjahjanto (Macabre) for his segment “L is for Libido” in the horror anthology The ABCs of Death. The film’s 26 different directors spoke to 26 different sites about their respective segments; you can read up on the other 25 here. Tjahjanto’s segment dealt with the themes of sexual arousal and perversion in perhaps the most fucked up short of the entire collection and one that “will never be seen by [his] parents.” You can check out the green-band and red-band trailers for the film to familiarize yourself.
During the interview, Tjahjanto talked about the creative process behind “L is for Libido,” his preference of practical over digital effects, plus working with director Gareth Evans (The Raid: Redemption) and his upcoming films S-VHS, Killers and The Night Comes for Us. Hit the jump to see what Tjahjanto had to say along with an exclusive still from his segment “L is for Libido” in The ABCs of Death. The ABCs of Death is now available on Cable VOD, iTunes, Amazon, Xbox Zune, Playstation Market, VUDU and Google Play; in theaters starting March 8th from Magnet Releasing.
Collider: First of all, thank you for taking time out of your schedule to answer a few questions about The ABCs of Death and more specifically, your segment, “L is for Libido.” Second of all, let me just say, and I mean this as a compliment, your short might be one of the most fucked up things I’ve ever seen. As a long-time fan of twisted horror, that’s saying something, so congratulations on that front. What’s the general reaction to your segment been like?
Tjahjanto: Thank you, coming from a representative of Collider that’s really encouraging. Thankfully the reactions been great, definitely people who are familiar with the genre will appreciate it more than those who don’t. Let’s just say this film will never be seen my parents.
So how did this work? Were directors assigned letters for their particular segments, did you draw them out of a hat or did you request specific letters?
Tjahjanto: What they (Ant Timpson and Tim League) did was let us pick 3 to 4 letters we were most comfortable with. I, myself, randomly picked them without any bias to a specific letter.
I’m curious about how the theme for “L is for Libido” came about. Did you know you wanted to do a story around sexual pressure, performance issues and perversion before your letter was chosen or did the letter selection get the creative juices flowing, so to speak?
Tjahjanto: I thought about the idea after the letter was given; there was sufficient time given by Ant to come up with the story all through the final edit (6 months, 6 weeks and 6 days ha!)
I always wanted to do something that revolves around the darker side of sex, the pressure of it. I will say this is a take of that subject that while may shock is not necessary being serious about it.
“L is for Libido” stands out for a number of reasons, among those being the practical effects used for all manner of body fluids. Could you talk about your effects experience and whether you would prefer practical or digital effects in future projects, disregarding any budgetary or time constraints?
Tjahjanto: I love what both have to offer. Unfortunately here in Indonesia the industry has much to learn, especially when it comes to practical effects. The best way is always to go with Practical FX; digital FX will always be the sheen that enhance or cover the rough patches of the practical stuff. But no matter what, I will always choose practical FX over digital ones. Blood spray pumps and squibs go a long way in convincing the audience that the carnage on screen happens right there, in a manner that digital have not achieved yet.
I am fortunate enough to work with this guy who did all the digital FX in Libido for such a short time (2 weeks) he’s the same guy who works for Gareth’s The Raid, and the upcoming Raid 2 and my next feature Killers, let’s just say we have been slaving him away lately.
Your segment also has very little dialogue, if I remember correctly, but the images on screen are certainly more powerful than words. Can you walk us through the creative process of leveling up the difficulty/depravity in each stage for your protagonist?
Tjahjanto: I don’t want the fact that we being (1 of the few) non-English speaking segment distract the audience by having to read subtitles in such a compressed duration.
Again I was lucky enough to find Paul (the main protagonist) a model from Singapore who hasn’t done much in terms of acting, but he’s such a positive guy and all smiles with a trooper attitude that we finished the shoot with a blast.
As for the depravity stage, I actually wrote more fucked up ones in between the first stage to the last stage of the “competition.” Something along the lines of injecting heroin and watching snails fucking other snails brain out while being poured with salt. But time constraint and budget (5000 dollars) of course becomes the reality that we have to face. The idea is to have something on stage that gets more sexually explicit but not never being capable to turning you on.
There’s a blurry area between sexual arousal and sexual perversion that’s completely personal to an individual. Your protagonist finds a line he’s physically unable to cross while his opponent appears to have no problem doing so. Could you comment on the themes of sexual taboos versus moral depravity and what you were trying to convey in “L is for Libido”?
Tjahjanto: I think the protagonist represents what most males could do in terms of being turned on (under pressure). It was never an enjoyable experience for him and he himself has to let go of his sanity to survive, but then it gets way too depraved for him to bear, while completely satisfying for the other. It’s hard to explain but such is the strange, dark and fascinating world we live in. Explore the internet long enough and you’ll see completely balls out madness there …(on the topic of sex). Basically I didn’t want to portray sex as something enjoyable here. It’s less about sex and more about power play by the mostly invisible antagonist, the sense of voyeurism, the whole thing with being jaded with the conventional means of what is erotic and mostly being subjected to the pressure of having to perform, kinda like the male version of what happened to Jennifer Connelly at the end of Requiem for a Dream I guess.
Did you originally have any ideas that were simply too far-reaching or too shocking for even a stage such as this?
Tjahjanto: When the letter L was assigned to me I did thought of ideas that revolves around Lycanthrope and Lesbians, that would’ve been great! (Lesbian Werewolves in 5 minutes or less, that’s something!)
Shocking…for sure, but there’s a limit to what your audience can take. Any filmmaker would want to make something that can still be seen without someone saying, “Ugh that was repulsing, offensive, don’t bother visiting it 2nd time”, personally making a film solely for the shock value serves no purpose to me.
I’m assuming you got to see the entire film. What were some of the other segments that you particularly enjoyed? Were there any other letters you wish you would have gotten?
Tjahjanto: Unfortunately, when ABCs of Death has gotten its festival run, I was in production for my feature film. Jason (Eisener) who I am a big fan of, was kind enough to show me his segment, its fucking hilarious and just shows how crazy the guy is, it centers on a subject that is briefly touched in my segment, but he made it feel good, colorful and fun while still being twisted.
Before we let you go for today, you have another horror anthology, S-VHS coming up. How are things going with your segment on that?
Tjahjanto: It’s premiering at Sundance today! Missing its Sundance premiere will be something that I regret for the rest of my life (In Tokyo now for ADR session). I honestly think this is one of the craziest filmmaking experience ever. Everyone involved has been super-nice and these guys (Roxanne, Brad Miska, Barret & Wingard duo , Eisener et al) are talented and super passionate to the genre. Also Gareth (Evans) who is shooting the Raid 2 , also my co-director in this, he is officially my guru now, the man just doesn’t have room for compromise of creativity, which is majorly why our segment manage to get made.
You also have the feature-length film Killers releasing sometime this year. Could you tease fans with a little information about that project?
Tjahjanto: It’s a psychological thriller revolving a seasoned serial killer in Tokyo that crosses path with an everyday man in Jakarta. The Japanese guy’s psychopathic tendencies start to influence the guy from Jakarta; we see the two lead their lives as things surrounding them starting to turn into slow burn chaos.
Any other upcoming projects?
Tjahjanto: Currently I am developing an action thriller titled “The Night Comes for Us.” Gareth Evans will produce and Joe Taslim starring. It’s sort of a Neo Noir take on the Hitman genre sprinkled with lots of savage hand to hand combat brutality. I’m also developing a Vampire movie with Nikkatsu studios Japan, again a brutal take of it.
*The ABCs of Death is now available on Cable VOD, iTunes, Amazon, Xbox Zune, Playstation Market, VUDU and Google Play; in theaters starting March 8th from Magnet Releasing.