As regular readers will be aware I have been publishing interviews with people connected to Judge Minty, a fan film based on characters created by John Wagner and Mike McMahon published in Prog 147 of 2000AD. The film has been doing a circuit of Comic Conventions and Film Festivals throughout the UK, Europe and USA. It was released on You Tube on 5th May 2013 to the delight of fans. I’m pleased to bring you an interview with Mr Minty himself, Writer and Director Steve Sterlacchini. I’ve marked this interview as having ‘medium’ spoilers as much of what is discussed is already ‘out there’. If however you aren’t keen on spoilers stop reading and watch the full Judge Minty film on You Tube first.
Semple: I have asked everyone so far how they got involved in the project, in your case – out of all the characters in Dredd’s history; why Minty? Did you consider other characters?
Steve: Not really. As well as being a personal favourite, the original Judge Minty story predicts some of the important events in Dredd’s life, for instance his doubts about the justice system and ‘the long walk’. Minty gave us an opportunity to explore these. We tried to avoid using Dredd. Everyone has their own views on what the character means to them, and they differ greatly. It would have been a tall order to create a widely acceptable Dredd with our budget. It’s one of the things which so impressed me about Karl Urban’s excellent performance. We were extremely lucky when Greg Staples agreed to play a young Dredd in Minty, even if it was for a short amount of screen time. It was nice to see the costume test image, Steve Green took of Greg, getting such a positive reaction. I think the shot of Greg kneeling over Minty, with the H-Wagon descending behind him is definitely one of the ‘money shots’ of the film.
Semple: Your version of Minty’s story up to the Long Walk ceremony are very similar to the comic, yet different. Was this a pacing decision to get to the Cursed Earth quicker? Or were there other reasons?
Steve: Originally the transition was even quicker, with the story predominately set in the Cursed Earth. The idea was that the film would be set in the Cursed Earth with the city scenes only being used as an introduction. However Steve Green suggested that he could do more with the city by using a combination of live action, tracking digital effects and green screen. This allowed us to use some of Michael Carroll’s additional ideas from the script, which in turn allowed Barry Renshaw to expand the sequence with his story boards. In the original story Dredd handles most of the action, but we wanted Minty’s struggle to be more emotional than physical, so we tried to show him as more capable of handling himself. That way his problems are more to do with his decisions and his desire to be more compassionate. This was also the reason we wanted Minty’s hospital bed speech to be as close as possible to the original comic. It sets the tone for the character and the film.
Semple: I get the feeling your projects scope grew with the addition of Daniel and Steve to the team. What, if any, aspects did they bring that you hadn’t thought possible?
Steve: The project wouldn’t have begun without Steve and Daniel. Dan’s original Dredd props inspired the start and when Steve Green joined us, making the film became a real possibility. It was only when the three of us were in place that we began looking for the next key ingredient – Minty.
Semple: Everyone seems to agree that Edmund Dehn was perfect as Minty, how easy was it to cast the part?
Steve: We spent a while looking on casting websites and Edmund was the only actor we approached. We wanted to emphasise the differences between Minty and Dredd. If Dredd is Clint Eastwood, then Minty is Henry Fonda, reluctant to draw his weapon unless he thinks there is no other way. Edmund’s show-reel contained everything we needed – authority, grizzled toughness and tired compassion. I spent some time creating a small pitch document to help persuade Edmund that the project might be worth doing. I think it was the idea of showing Minty’s struggle with compassion which Edmund found the most interesting. That and he liked the idea of riding a Lawmaster and stabbing a bad guy in the leg. Even with all the work we put into costumes, effects and locations, the entire film depends on Edmund’s ability to engage with an audience and hold them through the film. We were very lucky to get him, if he’d said no, I’m not sure we would have been able to continue.
Semple: I know that many fans are dying to see out takes and gag reels. I also understand that out takes are actually quite low, but there were reshoots such as the Long Walk ceremony due to the amount of Planet Replicas uniforms available. Will fans get to see some of these earlier shoots?
Steve: I hadn’t really thought about it. Apart from the gate house reshoot, most of it is the same stuff, but from different angles. I’m not sure it’s worth showing as Steve Green had to do quite a lot on the selected footage to make it work. Though I believe Steve and Jared Butler are planning on putting together some of the spare voice over work and CCTV footage. (that snook out before this interview was complete! See it here.) We might put up Guy Robbins original clown footage. After two days of knackering filming in a North Wales slate mine, in the cold, wind and rain, we were exhausted, but when we went through the footage and we saw what he did with his character I nearly cried with laughter. It’s funny and yet quite creepy. It got shortened in the final cut, to keep the pace moving, also we couldn’t use the original sound, which was a bit of a shame. There are probably some humourous bits from the fight between Dale Jackson and John Burdis (standing in for Edmund).
Semple: Can you tell me a little more about your inclusion of the Gila Munja, one of my many favourite parts of the film?
Steve: We didn’t think that Minty simply blasting the gang to bits was correct for his character, or the situation he was in. The gang needed to feel like a real threat, who he couldn’t simply ‘out gun’. We preferred the idea of Minty out smarting the gang. We took the idea directly from ‘The Last of The Bad Guys’ a story by John Wagner and John Higgins (Judge Dredd Annual 1988, published 1987). In the story Dredd lures a gang mutant bandits into a cave filled with ‘Ripperjacks’ and then leaves them to their fate. We just swapped the Ripperjacks for Gila Munja, mainly because they would work better in the story and Steve Green had some cool ideas how it could be done.
Semple: And the gang that are intent on killing Judge Minty?
Steve: When it came the Cursed Earth gang, we wanted to give each member their own personality and perhaps a bit of a visual back story to help the actors. I thought we’d sort of based them on classic Cursed Earth characters, with crazy head-gear and costumes. We were limited when it came to using make up and prosthetics on location. This was more to do with the almost non-existent set up time we had for each shot. When the actors were given their costumes they ran with it, giving their characters little touches to help define them. Another advantage of everyone being Dredd fans was they all knew what kind of character they wanted to be straight away. One of the ideas behind Aquila was that he thought of himself as an Eagle, with his white feathers, hockey mask as a beak, twitchy movements and claw hands. That’s also where his name came from. The rest of the gang subtly follow suit by using eagle symbolism in their appearance, with patches and t-shirts. Because Judges are bedecked in eagle symbols, it makes them the ultimate trophy, or even a right of passage for gang members. I’m probably over explaining, as it’s not really essential to the story, but we liked to have a reason behind some of the decisions we made.
Semple: How have you found the reaction of fans of Judge Dredd?
Steve: We were hoping it would be okay, as all the cast and crew are Dredd fans, so we’d assumed someone would have mentioned it if we were going totally wrong. Overall the reaction has been very positive. Even some of the criticism are based on the fact that a number of elements are produced to such a level, that they perhaps emphasise moments where our budget shows a little. We’ve also had some nice feedback from 2000AD creators and people involved with the Dredd film.
Semple: Are there any other comic characters, 2000AD or otherwise, that you’d particularly like to be involved with?
Steve: Whilst making Minty, Steve Green, Dan and myself discussed the possibilities of what we could do with other characters like Rogue Trooper and Strontium Dog. I think we’d be interesting in having a go at something, but it would be on a much smaller scale, which could be turned around in a month or so. When producing Minty, the fact that we tried to create a film with a narrative made it a lot more ambitious and difficult. We had to sacrifice concentrating on cool looking imagery, in favour of more simplistic shots which helped progress the story.
Semple: Is there a question that you haven’t been asked yet that you think needs answering?
Steve: Not that I can think of. Though as well as the actors involved I would like to point out the contributions of some of the post production crew. You’ve already included and interview with Jared, who organised the U.S. voice over team, including Fryda Wolff. Their radio chatter and background advertising was an essential part of the tone for the film. I’d also like to mention the work of Ben Woods, whose editing was responsible the pacing in the film. Travis Hefferen who designed the sound for the film – we often used his work to tell more of the story than the visuals. And Phil Oates, who produced the original score for the film. I think his description of the Cursed Earth music as being “Spaghetti Western meets Planet of the Apes” sums it up perfectly. Thanks for listening to my ramblings.
Semple: Hardly ramblings, thanks for some great insight on your work. ***
Other interviews in this ‘series’:
Steve Green – Director of Photography
Daniel Carey-Gearge – Costume & Prop Creator
Edmund Dehn – Judge Minty
Jared Butler – Voice of Dredd & others
Integera Fairbrook – Aquila’s Daughter & Judge Anderson