There’s some big-time talent in Matt Inns’ new short film, The Ballad of Maddog Quinn.
Class acts, well cast.
John Bach, for one — the veteran Kiwi screen presence delivers a crucial cameo. Jed Brophy too, another J.R.R. Tolkien film adaption alumni, brings key attributes.
But it could be that the best get for the film was one that happened after it was finished.
"Just couple of weeks back we had a screening of Maddog with Richard Taylor, up in Wellington," Inns says.
"That was really awesome, sitting there with him and hearing what he had to say about it. Just because, those guys, because of Lord of the Rings, they were a huge influence on me wanting to get into film-making.
"That was really cool to be able to sit down with him and show it to him."
In the small world of New Zealand film-making it was, as usual, who you know that facilitated the meeting.
Inns himself had met Tayor before. Some years ago when Maddog was in pre-production, he’d talked briefly to Taylor to get some advice.
But the film’s composer, Tane Upjohn-Beatson, was well connected to the Wētā Workshop set-up, having done some work on its interactive exhibitions, and knew Taylor well.
"He had really encouraging things to say about the world that we had created," Inns said.
It was clearly welcome encouragement for the director, but also for the film’s production designer Steve Woller and costume designer Terzann Elliott, who both attended the screening.
The Ballad of Maddog Quinn is now getting big-screen outings as part of the Show Me Shorts Film Festival, including a Dunedin date tomorrow.
The film tells the story of its eponymous hero, a stage-coach robbing loner who thunders across the dusty backcountry, tin-plated against the law like a latter-day Ned Kelly.
It’s western, and sci-fi and a just little bit steampunk.
"A lot of the influence in it is probably from a lot of the films I was into as a kid growing up," Inns says. "My old man had a lot of those old classics, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, that kind of thing on the old VHS, so that was what I grew up watching. So, it was a bit of a love letter to those sorts of films while still being its own thing.
"We wanted to make something that was a bit of action, but a fun film. So in terms of developing that kind of aesthetic, I have always loved westerns and adventure films, so drew on a lot of that inspiration, and that was the aesthetic that we got to, creating its own little world."
It gives the film a different vibe to Inns’ last short film outing, Riven, a Celtic-inflected, heart-string plucking fantasy tail of love lost. But there are carry-overs. A generous approach to splatter, twinned with the ability to hit some emotional notes.
The Invercargill-based Inns has always made films.
"As a kid, because we had an old camcorder, home video camera."
Then through high school making films with his friends.
"Over time it became what I wanted to do.
"To be fair, it was probably seeing Lord of the Rings, that was probably quite a big influence on me. Being something that you can actually do. I was probably 10 or 11 when that came out, just because that was made by New Zealanders."
The crew headed up into Lord of the Rings country to make their film too. Scouting the Mackenzie Country backblocks, they ventured into the Tekapo Military Training Area and found some land that looked perfect, but didn’t want to stumble into a live-fire exercise.
"So, we just went around to the base and said ‘any chance?’. We just explained what we were doing, and said ‘any areas around that would fit that?’. The guy says ‘jump in I’ll take you around’. So we just hopped in with the Defence Force guy there, in the four-wheel drive, and he took us all around. They were great.
"It was pretty perfect for what we were looking for."
Maddog Quinn rides the range on a trusty steed, pursued by Jed Brophy’s battle-scarred commander and his uniformed posse — and an airship.
Inns’ longtime lead Maggie Pirie slips into the stirrups again for this one, getting some help both underneath the Ned Kelly suit and on the horse from various stunt actors.
"She did a wee bit of riding stuff but not a lot because it is quite dangerous, especially with the helmet and that on," Inns says of Pirie.
For the trickier stuff, Australian stunt rider Hollie McCredden took the reins.
"She’s a really good horse rider but we did make some adjustments to the helmet to make sure that was safe and she could tell what was going on when she was up on the horse."
Among the film’s scene-stealing turns is an airship, which is also, it turns out, a nod to some of those films Inns grew up with.
"That is actually just a miniature, built in Steve’s garage. Originally, we were looking at doing it digitally, CGI.
"But going back to the influences I was talking about before, Star Wars and Indiana Jones, a lot of those films were made back in the day pre-CG. They used models and miniatures and that sort of thing. We were trying to keep it more in line with that. Plus, I really like that look you get with models. Sometimes CG can look a bit too clean, a bit too perfect. What you get with miniatures is something organic, it can feel real. We kept it pretty simple, but, yeah, that was just a model built in Steve’s garage."
Maddog Quinn took some years to pull together, but remains a waypoint on the road to Inns’ ultimate, feature-length ambitions.
"When I can find someone with $50 million sitting around," he says with a laugh.
"That is certainly a long-term ambition with that project. That was originally why we made it. It was a proof of concept to try to do something larger. So that’s certainly something we would like to do. But trying to get from here to there is the next challenge."
Maddog Quinn has certainly been well received so far, getting festival outings, including at the Sitges Film Festival in Spain, one of the top genre festivals.
"You just have to put one foot in front of the other and keep on going," Inns says. "If those connections or opportunities happen, they happen. But if not, you have to keep marching onwards anyway."
For now it is the Show Me Shorts Film Festival screenings in Aotearoa, about which Inns is very please, among other reasons because it will allow all those people up and down the country involved in the film to see it at scale.
"To be able to have the opportunity at home to see it on the big screen is really cool."
The Ballad of Maddog Quinn screens as part of Show Me Shorts 2023: The Sampler, at Rialto Dunedin, tomorrow (Sunday 29 October) at 7pm.