Q&A: 'Computer Hearts' Filmmakers Dionne Copland & Turner Stewart
Computer Hearts is a body horror film like you’ve never seen. Dubbed “The Computer Fucking Movie,” it’s a downright dirty short film that is quickly making a name for itself in the underground. Helming this grisly flick are filmmaking couple Turner Stewart & Dionne Copland of Hentai Cop Films. I recently had a chat with the pair, who told me a bit about what life is like, both on and off the set.
TheFilmSplice: First of all guys, thanks for taking the time. I just had a chance to sit down with your newly-released Blu-ray of Computer Hearts, and it was a very impressive production – both the movie and the disc – done on a very low budget. Could you tell me a little bit about where the idea for the movie came from, and a little about the process leading up to shooting?
Turner Stewart: The making of Computer Hearts was an arduous journey that took up two years of our lives. I originally started writing the script in February of 2013 after I thought up the image of a guy fucking his computer while on my way home from classes. From there I decided that I wanted to write a story about how relationships are affected by internet pornography, and I took a lot of inspiration from the “waifu” idolatry that happens on some underground anime websites. The film was always planned to be executed with a very low budget, and we initially crowdfunded the initial production cost through marketing on 4chan and tumblr, as well as the film review website letterboxd. We successfully met our small fundraising goal and began shooting in September 2013, and from that point on it was a very difficult and strange journey to get the film finished. Of course, we cover every little detail in the 100 minute making of documentary that is on the Blu-ray.
TFS: The Blu-ray itself is very well done. To be quite honest, I didn’t know what to expect, as lots of times, indie releases and DIY projects like that are, of course, lower in quality. Not so with Computer Hearts, which has tons of special features, multiple versions of the movie, and some awesome grind house trailers that you created, Dionne. Any plans to turn those into full features a la Robert Rodriguez, or do you have other projects you’re working on?
Dionne Copland:Those trailers were always meant to be trailers, I’ve always loved the thought of fake trailers, allowing someone to imagine the rest of the film. HTKPwas a project that I wrote in an evening for my film production application that Turner was more than willing to help with. Mike & Jessica from Computer Heartsagreed to help me out as well as some other friends from school. I actually had a dream about HIDE and it took me a long time to finally get to it. It was filmed in 8 hours during a visit to my hometown with Turner. The entire cast/crew were my friends, so it was a really rewarding experience. We had a “hometown short film madness redux” in April when I visited for 4 days, and filmed my script A Thousand Words over 2 evenings, which has been accepted to CinemaFantastique for July…we are currently waiting on the final sound design – done by the talented Graham Trudeau – and then we will be submitting it to more festivals…I’m [also] currently working on a feature script, writing is my first passion so I would like to submit that to competitions once it is done.
TFS: Sounds like we’ll have plenty of things to look forward to, then! I’d like to back up a tiny bit here. You guys have made a couple shorts together now, including Computer Hearts and SIDS. How did you guys get together in the first place – which came first, the movies, or the romance? Is it hard, when working together on a film, to keep outside emotions in check, or are you all business, all the time on set?
Dionne:The romance came first, I didn’t know that Computer Hearts was meant to be a smaller production than it was, it wasn’t until after we wrapped that Turner told me he made it bigger to impress me – which is so sweet. Turner and I generally work really well together, only minor grumps at each other once in a while, because it’s hard to be all business when you are attached at the hip to another person. We do everything together so work is just another one of those things. We are also each other’s support system on set though, which is great. And when we do have a minor disagreement it’s usually from a place of a director and a cinematographer butting heads as opposed to a couple butting heads, just a little more fire behind it. We’ve also learned to work with each other better each and every time we do a project. We really do adore working together, we are a team and wouldn’t want it any other way.
Turner: When I first met Dionne the first thing I did was ask her if she wanted to work on this little short film I was just about to start working on the next day called Computer Hearts. She was interested but wasn’t available for the initial shoot days, and I remember telling her “Don’t worry about it then, we’ll be finished production in a week!” The production fizzled by the end of that month and it looked like it would never get done the way I wanted it to so I shelved the project. Of course Dionne and I were destined to start dating and I really wanted to impress her, so I decided to actually finish my movie and make it really good to show her how cool I was. We fell in love independent of the film, but it was something that I really wanted to finish for Dionne, and I wanted to make it really good since she was going to be starring in it and was going to direct the ending for me. That’s actually where Michelle Grady [Life To Death FX; Dead Rising Watchtower, Hanger] came in.
TFS: That might be the sweetest love story of all time, if I do say so myself. You guys are like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie on Mr. & Mrs. Smith – except, you know, way more dirty and with far less adopted children.
Short of your own projects, you’ve both also gotten to work on some other productions, including with underground horror legend Ryan Nicholson on his latest film, Gutterballs 2: Balls Deep. What kind of experience was it working on his film?
Turner:Working with Ryan is a lot of fun. Ryan is actually one of the reasons I ended up in Vancouver initially, because when I was 16 I met him at a film festival and he promised me that he would let me work on one of his films if I ever moved out here. In 2013 I bumped into him at a Goblin concert and ended up as the camera assistant on Collar. Then he contacted us to shoot the last act of GB2, which was one of the most fun shoots Dionne and I have ever worked on. Ryan’s films are just so sleazy and he’s very creative with the fucked up shit on screen. He let us be very creative with our camera and he treats everyone on set with so much respect, so it was a really great production to be a part of. And of course I just love shooting fucked up shit so it was a dream to work with one of my favourite underground horror directors.
Dionne:There was a day on set where we shot this scene that was REALLY funny to the cast & crew, between takes we were just cracking up. Turner showed a short clip of it to a buddy of ours after we told him about it and we gathered around to watch it, but in the actual context of the film it’s just plain fucking dark and he looked at us like we were psychopaths. We were like “Oh god, dude, no I guess you would have had to have been there!” There was one scene I was filming in the back of the car and we went over a bump going fairly fast and a 30 pound camera came slamming into my face which was fun. But seriously, I had a great time on set, Ryan is really open to creative input and the set was super relaxed. I love sets that are soaked with blood so it was a great experience! Can’t wait to see the finished film! Plus Megan [Nicholson, Ryan’s wife and FX artist] is dope as hell to hang out with, too!
TFS: Well, you both are quickly making a name for yourselves as well – I know that Ryan has nothing but great things to say about working with you both. Now that you’re underground famous, are there any other filmmakers or actors you’ve been an eyeing that you’d love to work with, whether it be on their project or them on yours?
Dionne: We are shooting our good friend Vince D’Amato’s upcoming film in Italy next summer, who is currently focusing on experimental Giallo films. I have a short film I’ve been really passionate about, and there is an actress that was in Astron 6’s latest film The Editornamed Jasmine Lorimer that would be perfect for it. I think the Astron 6 crew is just great, and would probably be a lot of fun to work with. I am a huge fan of women in horror and I have a lot of respect and admiration of the Soska Sisters and would love to work with them in some capacity. We are just big fans of the horror scene in general. We work with Vince for Shivers Film Society and our CinemaFantastique Festival is a great way for genre filmmakers to get some exposure. We enjoy working in all facets of genre filmmaking, from production to exhibition and distribution.
Turner: Honestly, we have the gear and the passion, so it would be great to work with anyone. I love the underground horror scene and indie horror in general, so it’s just fun to go out and shoot (and hopefully make enough for rent doing it!) Next summer [when we] fly to Italy with our buddy Vince D’Amato [Carmilla: The Lesbian Vampire], we are shooting something really fucked up that we can’t talk about just yet. I think in the underground horror scene, one director I would love to shoot for would be Lucifer Valentine; his movies are just on a whole other level and I love the way those films are shot.
Also, Dionne, Vince, and I run the CinemaFantastique Film Festival here in Vancouver. We were disappointed with the difficulty associated with getting exposure for Canadian genre cinema, especially in the fact that most Canadian film festivals don’t accept a lot of Canadian horror films, so we decided to open up a venue for indie filmmakers that are doing things in their films that don’t necessarily fit in with the bigger festivals. It’s an international film festival too, so we show indie horror from all over the world, pairing the smaller new indie stuff with classic horror films. For example, we’ve paired up this awesome short film from Italy called Killer Tape with Dellamorte Dellamore; it’s all fun programming and the response we’ve received from the filmmakers has been very rewarding. Our first one is going to take place in July along with a one day Troma Film Festival that we’re flying Lloyd [Kaufman] into town for. Our theme for next year’s festival is Horror, Erotic, Giallo, & Surrealism.
TFS: Well I for one, am a big fan of your existing projects, and I’m really glad to hear that you’ve got a lot of things in the works. The film festival is no doubt a big undertaking, but it’s awesome that you are helping to expose people to films that they probably never would see otherwise, which is definitely the biggest part of independent underground films.
So, I really want to thank you both for taking the time to talk about your films and future. I don’t want to take up much more of your night, so just one last question: What is the worst movie you’ve seen in your entire life?
Dionne: Thank you so much for all of your support, Bob – we truly appreciate it! As for the worst film I have ever seen in my life, it is a two-way tie between a couple of remakes. Black Christmas (1974) is my absolute favourite film, so imagine my horror when I first saw Black Christmas (2006). I hate that movie, I couldn’t hate it more if I tried. The first time I watched it I had anger tears and had to punch a pillow. It made me that mad…Followed by Rob Zombie’s Halloween II. It is the only film I’ve ever texted in a movie theatre through and it was to tell everyone I knew not to see it. I did not like the direction he took with those films, but I do like Brad Dourif so he was one small bright spot in that film.