We caught up with director Tim Van Dammen to chat his hilarious new film Mega Time Squad

Later this month, Sydney Underground Film Festival will be hosting the Australian premiere of Mega Time Squad… and we’re getting pretty darn excited.

The film is about a low level criminal who steals an ancient Chinese time travel device, with the aim of starting a better life for himself. However, the film wasn’t always about this… so we caught up with director Tim Van Dammen for a chat about the evolution of this crazy film.

Ahead of the Australian premiere of Mega Time Squad at Sydney Underground Film Festival, we caught up with the film’s director Tim Van Dammen for a chat.

HAPPY: Hey how are you? What are you up to at the moment?

TIM: I’m in a plane on the way to London for the opening of the film in Leicester Square. I’m 6 wines deep and my menu selections are likely to knock a decade or so off my life.

Other than that I’m working out the legals and insurances to do with releasing Mega Time Squad world-wide, negotiating my next film and prepping to produce a film for a great director back in NZ.

HAPPY: After spending so long piecing together a feature film, what’s it like seeing it be selected for international film festivals?

TIM: It’s surreal. To see the film get into my favourite festivals in the world was (just between you and me) rather emotional. This film was more of a ‘get back in the saddle’ film after taking a few years off to learn to write scripts. I wasn’t expecting it to get so far.

I hoped it would get this far but to see it find its own way out into the world and sprout little legs and wander off all by itself has been great. I’m really proud of everyone that put in the time and energy to breathe life into the little thing.

HAPPY: I understand the film started off as a dark drama, but now leans more into comedy. What was the process of transitioning a script between these two genres?

TIM: I like to write my first drafts without any dialogue because it’s a good way to make sure that you’re telling a story through character action.

Mega Time Squad (or ‘My Own Shadow’ as it was known then) was a story about someone using a time travel device to replicate himself and commit a robbery, but rather than going through a long time loop to clean up after himself, he took the easy way out by just killing off all the copies of himself.

But when I started adding dialogue, I realised that the idea at the heart of the script was a deeply silly one, and I wasn’t going to be able to carry it off as a serious drama.

So when the characters started talking, the stuff that came out of their mouths was essentially comical. I was living in Thames at the time, and I drew heavily on the way people around me talked. So basically adding dialogue is what changed it.

HAPPY: You’ve directed over 160 music videos, yeah? How different is it directing a feature film to music videos?

TIM: Music videos are the perfect way to get your formal skills down. You learn what you’re good at, what you can get away with, how to manage a budget etc. But when you move into doing films it’s a completely different focus.

You have to know how to write, how to tell a story, what a story is, and you need to draw on all the things that you learned in music videos to do the best you can with what you have. They are related for sure but very different disciplines.

HAPPY: How did directing music videos influence your current style of filmmaking? If at all…

TIM: It helped me learn to work within particular limitations. Mega Time Squad could never have been made for the no-budget that we had if I hadn’t learned what I could do VFX wise.

More specifically – I was always told that if you have no money then you should have minimal locations, minimal cast, minimal blah blah… but after doing music videos I had the skills to work around these limitations. So I ignored the advice and instead decided to embark on a script with dozens of locations, a huge cast and a mammoth number of VFX shots.

I knew that I had to establish a set of rules to be able to achieve this without it sucking. Nothing is worse than bad VFX or distracting VFX so I made a rule – we can’t afford a techno crane so we have to shoot the entire film locked off.

This means that we have to decide on a specific series of shot choices, lenses and angles that will tell the story in a cinematic and dynamic way without moving the camera. This was the compromise.

If we had shot the film according to my taste the camera would have been very dynamic—but then whenever there was a VFX shot the camera would have had to freeze, and as a result all the VFX shots would stand out.

But this brought an additional challenge that I didn’t anticipate; when you can’t move the camera it means that the actors have to do a lot more work.

Where you’re normally able to do a simple push in to indicate that a certain moment has a powerful emotional impact on a character – now you can’t… the actors have to try to perform it or step towards the camera etc. These kinds of challenges force you to come up with a million work arounds that teach you more about the craft than you anticipated.

HAPPY: Your last feature film was a take on Romeo & Juliet… which seems pretty far removed from the concept behind Mega Time Squad. What made you want to go in such a different direction?

TIM: I was a hired gun for RJ because it was a rock opera and I was a well-known music video director. Mega Time Squad is my own project. It’s in my own voice. It’s my first step into the world as a film maker rather than a music video director.

HAPPY: Were there any time travel films that influenced the new film?

TIM: I watched them all over and over – Time Crimes, Back to the Future, Primer, Deja Vu etc. Then I stopped and never looked at them again.

I wanted to examine the form rather than particular sequences / moments etc. If these films ended up influencing Mega Time Squad it will be on an unconscious level. Some people have mentioned that the film references movies that I’ve never seen or even heard of. I guess that’s the fun of filmmaking and working in genre.

HAPPY: The special effects in this film look insane… how did you pull this off with, we assume, a pretty low budget?

TIM: I did almost all of it by myself but I had to call in the big guns to do a few shots where the execution was above my skill level – like fix-it jobs where something I didn’t plan for popped up. Otherwise this film would have never been made. VFX are expensive.

HAPPYL If you could describe Mega Time Squad in one sentence, how would you do it?

TIM: It’s about a loveable dumbass who has the modest dream to move to the neighbouring small town with his crush to start his own ninja-turtle style gang. To do so, he double crosses his boss and tries to steal some triad money from the antique store where he learns that he can use an ancient Chinese time travel device to get the loot he needs… but he fucks up the time travelling.

Mega Time Squad will premiering at Sydney Underground Film Festival on Thursday September 13th.

All our brilliant and good-looking Happy Mag readers get a very special discount. All you’ve got to do is head to this site, and chuck the promo code MEGATIMEHAPPY in the yellow box. Easy as that.