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Interview: Director Rob Jabbaz talks “The Sadness” Ahead of Fantasia Film Festival Premiere
Having been selected for numerous festivals including Fantasia, Locarno and Fantastic Festival, The Sadness is the latest extremely violent Taiwanese horror film. The film sees a virus spontaneously mutate giving rise to a mind-altering plague causing the streets to erupt into violence as those infected are driven to enact the most cruel and ghastly things they can think of. The age of civility is no more. There is only “The Sadness”. We were lucky enough to talk to the film’s writer/director/editor Rob Jabbaz about his process making the film during the pandemic.
How does it feel to have your first feature film being selected for big festivals like Fantasia, Locarno and FrightFest?
At the risk of sounding pompous, it seemed pretty obvious to me. I’m very critical of my own work and I think the film is really good. When I made The Sadness, I was really uncompromising and just running on pure willpower. Anytime I ran into an obstacle of people trying to tone something down or make something less hard, I just had to bulldoze over them. And I really stressed myself out. I didn’t realise that I was getting so stressed until after it was all over. I was sleeping 16 hours a day for a couple weeks; I was just so tired. I was like, why am I so tired? And then it obviously dawned on me, like, oh, it’s because you’ve just been stressing yourself out for six weeks. Not necessarily physically, but just mentally and emotionally too.
When I was editing it, I thought, this is awesome, this is working exactly the way that I wanted. When I finished the first cut of the film, I felt really strongly about it like this is gonna make people shit their fucking pants. And then once I found Raven Banner as our distributor and seeing real horror people appreciate the film as opposed to just the casual horror audience like the Taiwanese horror audience and them realising what I had done, it was awesome. And then at that point, when they said that they wanted to do a festival run with it, what other movies got made during the pandemic? So I knew even just by default I would have at least one of the top 5 horror movies of 2021. So that’s part of what informs me to say it didn’t surprise me that we got into Fantasia and Fantastic Fest. Locarno did surprise me; it was really nice to see it get picked up by arthouse festival like that. That was the one that was really flattering.
How did the idea for the film come about?
I was working as a staff writer for this entertainment company, writing scripts that may or may not get made. This was before the pandemic when being able to work from home was cool and attractive at the time. But then when the pandemic happened, my boss was like, okay, Hollywood’s closed, we can make a movie right now and we won’t have any competition but we need to release it soon. And then he says it has to be a virus or zombie movie. I thought I don’t want to write a zombie movie, that’s boring, it’s all been done to death, what’s left to say with that? So I started thinking about ways to push the envelope without pushing the small budget. And I thought, what if we make them really cruel and really sadistic. They’re sadists, they take pleasure in harming other people. This made me think of a comic from years ago called Crossed. I took a look at those comics and I was like, this is cool, but this isn’t quite right because these characters are still being treated like zombies. They’re not talking enough, they’re not expressing themselves enough. So I tried to give myself memorable villains to work with and some ideas, but what you need is that one auxiliary idea connects it all together.
It really was just based around creating a lot of good gore gags and very painful effects and set pieces and stringing them all together. I’ve watched a lot of horror movies and I know where I can cut the fat. And I know where I could give a second helping. I really just thought let’s give the audience all the good stuff and keep the story enough there so that we know what needs to happen next. But I don’t want the story to trip over itself. Because there’s nothing worse than in a horror movie when you just you halt everything and then all of a sudden there’s an explanation and it’s about this and that. Show me someone getting their fucking lungs ripped out, show me something cool. Or show me something I’ve never seen before. Don’t just show me these stupid obvious emotional beats. If you want to show me an emotional beat, do it in a way that I’ve never seen before. And that’s what I tried to do with the very end of the film.
Given your background in VFX and animation was there ever a tendency to rely on VFX or did you try and do things practically?
You use the right tool for the right task and The Sadness was all gore. I’ve yet to really see CG create realistic effects. It just doesn’t feel painful enough to me. What that boils down to is it needs to be messy, and you need to see the mess go all over the place and get stuck in hair. I knew right from the beginning that it needed to be practical effects. There are a couple of things where we use some VFX and there’s a bit of an amalgam of VFX and practical effects. You’re just trying to be practical and figuring out what works best and what is the cheapest, but at the same time not at the expense of it looking awesome.
I was pushed against trying to do like a lot of this stuff practically. One of the people who was working for me had a lot of experience and he was said you shouldn’t do practical effects, because maybe the blood isn’t going to work the way that you want it to and if one of those things doesn’t work properly, it’s going to take a long time to reset. Every day when we make a film like this you’re just shovelling money into a furnace essentially so you have to be efficient with time. I was just like, what the fuck are you talking about? Have you ever heard of editing? We just shoot everything. We do every gore gag as an insert so the audience can see it. It’s not like I want these things happening in the background. I want the camera in there so you can see it. I’m not trying to do some bullshit like The Revenant where the cameras are doing everything in one take. It’s distracting, I don’t like that shit. Ironically, I think that a long take for an action scene is less cinematic then if it’s edited because editing is part of cinema. I don’t want to do any of this all in one take. I want to do this like a movie. I told them one thing you need to remember, I don’t want to run out of blood. I want to always have at least 15 gallons of blood on hand every day so that we never run out.
How did you end up directing The Sadness? Was it something you always wanted to do?
I wrote the script, and I gave it to the guy. He said he liked it and then he went to go look for a director and no one wanted to do it for the price that we had. And then he came to me and said, ‘Hey, Rob, do you want to try doing it?’ And I said, ‘Oh, God, I don’t know.’ We hear all the horror stories of directing a film and then getting fucked with the whole time, people telling you not to do this, or people telling you that you’ve got to do it this way. You end up stressing yourself out every single day and then in the 11th hour, they give it to some fucking shithead to do the edit and you don’t get final cut. I said I can do this film but there’s only two ways I can do it. The first way is I can phone the whole thing in, and I’ll show up to the job, I’ll facilitate the production and I won’t give a fuck about it but I’ll get it done. Or I can make it my life and I can take it to heart as much as one can take something to heart. But in order to do this, you need to let me do it exactly the way that I want and you need to give me final cut. He said I don’t want you to phone it in, I want to give you number two.
Once I had that, I felt happy about it. I’ve done shorts and I like telling stories and I can create worlds so I I’ve always wanted to do a feature. I liked this script and I like the energy of the film and how it works as it is, but if you were to read the screenplay of The Sadness, it’s not the best screenplay to be honest. It’s decent, but it’s not showcasing my ability as a writer as much. I knew that if anyone was going to do it properly, it was going to be me. And I’m looking forward to The Sadness heralding the beginning of my feature filmmaking career. I look at some of my favourite filmmakers like Paul Thomas Anderson and I just think ‘how does he do that?’. That’s what I aspire to be like. I don’t know if that’s really possible for me but it’s about having an aspiration and working towards that.
When you were making The Sadness did you ever have any second thoughts about how extreme and violent you were making it?
For me that kind of just seemed like fair play. There’s a particular tone to it, maybe my film feels more violent because it’s happening to innocent people, and it’s presented in a more realistic way. Whenever you’re making a horror movie you’re trying to tap into people’s fears at the time. And at the time, the spread of the virus actually wasn’t really a big concern in Taiwan. People weren’t wearing masks, people were out at bars dancing with no masks and the rest of the world was fucked. You guys were all inside, depressed, and meanwhile Taiwan is having outdoor music festivals and stuff. The virus aspect of the film was not really that much of a big deal.
For me, what was kind of a big deal was tapping into a fear that is very specifically Taiwanese and East Asian, this fear of unprovoked violence. There’s this idea that you just mind your own business and you do your job, work hard, and don’t get involved in someone else’s affairs if you don’t have to. It’s like a fundamental foundation for morality in East Asian culture from my perspective at least. The idea of just a random act of violence, like somebody on the train, just pulling out a knife and starting to stab people. And then you’re like, holy shit, and next thing you know, a guy is stabbing a pregnant woman with a set of keys and then another guy is biting off a guy’s Achilles tendon and some guy’s stabbing a girl in the face with an umbrella. It’s just completely senseless. There’s no political motivation, there’s no reason or logic to any of it. It’s just mindless, senseless violence. I was trying to tap into that fear of unprovoked violence. And I think that a lot of people here in Taiwan might have thought that crossed the line. But you know, that’s the price we pay for the freedom of artistic expression.
I’ve been spoiled. I wrote it, directed it, edited and had final cut, I’m spoiled. I’m like when the Coen brothers did Blood Simple and they didn’t have to listen to anybody. It’s kind of like a precedent was set, I don’t go backwards, I go forwards. I’m going to try to maintain that kind of control over the work that I do. And my argument for that would be in order for you to get me to create something like The Sadness, you’re going to have to try to recreate the similar circumstances. I can’t work feeling like the shit’s gonna get pulled out from under me. I have to feel in control of the work. I have to be in love with the work.
The Sadness had its European premiere at the Locarno Film Festival and will have its North American premiere at Fantasia later this month.
Read our review of The Sadness HERE
NFT: The New Next-Gen
We live in a world dominated by virtual consumption. Whether you are into gaming, movies, or knitting, it is hard to avoid contact with some form of a digital community. Planet Earth is consumed by this form of technology which has no end in sight. When it comes to gaming specifically, there are a number of factors that drive gamers: adventure, relaxation, stress-relief, and an avenue that has real estate of its own – collecting.
The standard “gamer” actually does not exist – shooters, role players, platformers, nostalgia seekers, or Fortnite celebrities – gamers often transcend the boundaries of genres. We see undying allegiances to gaming companies such as Nintendo or Sony and inexplicable emotional ties to games from decades past. Whatever the case, there lies an audience of consumers who may not even fit the true bill of what a “gamer” is.
Collectors are seen in the world over in every light and hobby known to man – and video games are no exception to this rule. We’ve seen entire YouTube channels dedicated to nostalgia, where a well-known “gamer” shows off not only a Dragon’s Quest 11 gameplay on the PS4 but his collection of Dragon’s Quest 1-10 and replicas of the Hero Sword to millions of viewers. Sometimes, collecting can even turn into its own form of gaming – and this is where the market for coveted gems gets driven up even more.
So, without further ado, welcome to the world of NFTs, or non-fungible-tokens. NFTs are digital goods that exist on a digital ledger called blockchain. Each NFT represents a distinctive digital item, deeming it non-interchangeable. NFTs can represent a wide array of materials such as art, video, audio, and video game items. Each NFT is unique and its ownership can be precisely tracked.
For years people have had such an emotional attachment to physical entities, be it a Mickey Mantle baseball card or a one-of-a-kind piece of art. The market for rare items has survived in a world of physical seclusion, and this is now being turned upside down as the world faces a conversion to virtual materiality. Physical isolation in the age of COVID has only accelerated the transition to virtual existence. Digital media has never had much assignable value because it was always so easily duplicated. In allowing people to enumerate an official copy of a piece of art, NFTs finally give value to digital goods that used to have none.
Digital technology has had its fair share of criticism over the years, and NFTs have been closely associated with Bitcoin, the system used for cryptocurrency. But the $1.5 billion NFT transaction volume in the first quarter of 2021 alone speaks volumes about its transition to the mainstream.
Games that are using NFTs are not very large in abundance currently, but with the craze ascending on a near-daily basis, it seems unlikely that the market will stay small for long. The video game industry in the US alone accounted for over $60 billion USD in 2020. This signifies that not only is it beyond profitable but also that it begets growth beyond the norms of major consoles.
It’s not hard to conceptualize the full potential for a gaming-NFT intersection. One such instance of this is an NFT-based game, titled The Sandbox. Gamers can purchase plots of a virtual sandbox as an NFT in the game, allowing everyone to be the landowners they never were. The game sold $2.8 million worth of product just in the month of February alone and is said to be worth over $35 million by its creators. The growth of this market is rapidly expanding.
Collectors are driven by the rarity of an item and this is what truly gives such value to NFT items. Imagine having one-of-a-kind Legend of Zelda images or the original sketch of a video game character such as Cloud Strife. These things would hold immense value, and with a world that is diving headfirst into digital reality, it seems the reality is NFTs are the new way to level up.
2020 Year in Review
2020 has certainly been an interesting year and whilst there were a lot of exciting new movies that we were all looking forward to seeing in 2020, that we’re going to have to wait a bit longer to see, there have still been plenty of really good films that we were able to watch in 2020 and I’m going to take a look at some of the best films of the year below.
I’ve done my best to try and watch as many films from 2020 but obviously I haven’t been able to watch every single film that was released this year so there will inevitably be some films that I’ll have missed off this list so I apologise if some of your favourite films of the year don’t make it.
Top 5 Action films of 2020
The action-thriller film starring Chris Hemsworth that was released back in April was an exciting action-packed film that included a 12 minute long action scene that was done to look like one long shot that was truly spectacular which is why Extraction makes my top 5 action films of the year.
4. Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula
Peninsula is the sequel to 2016’s smash hit Korean zombie film Train to Busan and whilst the sequel was much more of an action film than a horror like the first, it had plenty of engaging and different action scenes. I had so much fun watching Peninsula although I do prefer Train to Busan. Full review here.
3. Wonder Woman 1984
After being delayed a few times, we’ve finally been able to watch the latest Wonder Woman film and it doesn’t disappoint. WW84 is full of vibrant, colourful action scenes that manages to top the first film and clocking in at 2 and a half hours, there’s plenty of time for action in Wonder Woman 1984. Full review here.
2. The Gentlemen
It feels like so long ago that Guy Ritchie’s gangster action-comedy film The Gentlemen came out but it was indeed 2020, albeit back in January. Whilst it feels like decades ago that we saw the film it was so much fun. It was full of laughs, swearing, action and it had a great cast too including Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell and Hugh Grant. Guy Ritchie’s best film to date.
Tenet was the first big blockbuster back in cinemas after they re-opened this summer and whilst many have complained calling it a bit confusing and quite difficult to hear what the characters were saying a lot of the time, I thought Tenet was phenomenal with some amazing action sequences. Whether it be the booming opening opera house siege, the plane crashing into the building or the grand finale with people going backwards and forwards through time, Tenet was absolutely incredible to see on a big IMAX screen.
Top 5 Comedy films of 2020
5. Happiest Season
Happiest Season came as a really pleasant surprise to me. I didn’t expect to like it that much as I’m not a big fan of Christmas movies or rom-coms but this film was just so funny and full of so much heart that I couldn’t help but enjoy it. Full review here.
4. The Half of It
The Half of It is a really charming coming of age comedy-drama film that was released on Netflix in May about a teenage girl writing a love letter for a jock who starts to fall in love with his crush. It probably leans a bit more to drama than it does comedy, I just had to include it in my list because it was a really good film.
3. Palm Springs
Palm Springs revolves around an infinite time-loop situation a bit like Groundhog Day or Edge of Tomorrow or Happy Death Day or so many other films but Palm Springs feels so original and fresh and funny. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti are both great as the two leads giving the film so much heart.
2. Borat Subsequent Moveifilm
It was only in September that we first started hearing rumours that a second Borat film had already been shot and then when the film was released on Amazon Prime in October it brought so many great laughs. The first film came out in 2006 and even though it’s been a while since we last saw him, Borat worked so well in 2020 and brought some much needed humour in the run up to the US presidential election.
1. The King of Staten Island
The King of Staten Island is the semi-autobiographical comedy-drama starring Pete Davidson and directed by Judd Apatow about a Davidson’s Scott Carlin who has to get his life together after his mother starts dating someone who, like his late father, is also a fireman. The King of Staten Island is a really touching and emotional drama film but it also has a lot of funny moments which is why it’s my number 1 comedy of the year and one of the best films of 2020.
Top 5 films you might not have seen
5. She Dies Tomorrow
She Dies Tomorrow was a really interesting film released in the summer by Neon and it followed Amy who thinks she’s going to die tomorrow and this thought becomes contagious and more and more people start thinking that they’re going to die the next day. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I thought it was really good
Wolfwalkers was only released this December on Apple TV+ but it’s a really great film with some really incredible animation. It’s about a young girl who finds a mysterious tribe that turn into wolves each night. It’s a really entertaining, adventure film that’s just absolutely gorgeous to look at.
3. The Platform
The Platform/ El Hoyo is a Spanish sci-fi horror that was released on Netflix towards the start of the year. It’s entirely set in a vertical prison with many floors, each containing two people with one platform that moves down to each floor. The platform is initially filled with food at the top but as it moves down there’s less and less food on it for the people trapped below.
2. Another Round
Another Round/ Druk is a Danish film starring Mads Mikkelson (Casino Royale, Doctor Strange) and it’s about a group of school teachers that decide to test a hypothesis that human beings function better when they maintain a constant level of alcohol in their blood. Full review here.
1. Promising Young Woman
Promising Young Woman is one of those rare films that comes along and completely blows you away by how good it is. It’s also one of those films that it’s better to know as little as you can before you see it so I don’t want to say too much about it but if you do want to know more, you can find my full review here.
Top 5 films of 2020
Here are my top 5 films that were released in 2020:
5. The Trial of the Chicago 7
4. The King of Staten Island
3. Promising Young Woman
2. The Gentlemen
Hopefully some of your favourites made my lists but if not, drop a comment below to let us know what some of your favourite films of 2020 were.
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YOU'LL LIKE HER WHEN SHE'S ANGRY