Last month we learned more about Ian Russell’s debut independent film The Killing Death, a micro budget horror comedy. This month we chatted with him about his b sci-fi flick Cybernetic Showdown!
When “mutants invade the last city left on earth. Only one man stands in their way, but he’s running out of bullets.”
Cybernetic Showdown was shot in 2007 over nine days at a cost of about $1000 (Canadian). The movie was in post-production hell for 12 years before finally being finished and released in October of 2019. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic future Winnipeg under attack from flesh-eating mutants.
The movie was made the summer following my previous feature, The Killing Death, using much of the same cast but with a bigger scope and ambition. This ambition, combined with a whole bunch of factors kept the movie on various hard drives for so long that I sometimes wondered if it would ever come out. It took Zellco’s interest in The Killing Death to provide the final kick in the pants to complete the movie and get it out there. But before you think that it was just laziness or distraction that delayed Cybernetic Showdown, I’ll present to you the photo of my flame damaged iMac as backup.
Cybernetic Showdown was supposed to have Sega CD FMV game quality visual effects, so much of what was filmed was deliberately done with a “add it in post” mentality. We didn’t bother with a lot of fake blood, we put green screen everywhere, and used some shoddy props, all in the thought that it would look great when finished later. The only problem was that we had no understanding of how long those kind of effects would take. An actor volunteered to do some of the work, but quickly came up against the reality of the monumental task before him. He had a life and a job and could only do so much. So I found help. Things were plugging along fine until the great computer fire that (I thought) wiped out everything done up to that point.
Needless to say I was pretty dejected. I didn’t want to have to re-edit the movie, let alone re-do the few effects that I’d done, but luckily the hard drive was able to be salvaged and work could continue. But time marches on and these things take time. A bit of work would get done but then a major life change would get in the way. Moving out, having a kid, buying a house, changing jobs (multiple times), having another kid, getting married, etc. I couldn’t very well come down on volunteers when this was mostly my fault. So, as YouTube tutorials grew and visual effects work became more intuitive, I learned what I needed to do and started filling in the blanks myself. But the reality is that I never would have been able to get this thing done without local whizkid Ryan Hill, who was paid in expensive vodka and deserved way more.
The movie played in a local theatre to a big audience that shockingly seemed to enjoy it! So, now you can watch it on Amazon Prime and hopefully soon on DVD!
Cybernetic Showdown was a mishmash of inspirations, from the obvious (The Omega Man, Rocket Robin Hood, kung fu movies) to the less so (Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter). This was really my attempt at making a goofy 80’s action movie spoof a few years before 80’s nostalgia really kicked in. Some of what we did, like using the Nintendo Power Glove as a substitute for a robotic hand, having a video game themed animation sequence, would be used in other movies while this one was lost in the ether. I’d like to think that we were ahead of the curve, but the reality is that this movie is so tiny that most people would have never seen it had it actually come out when it was supposed to.
Taking what I’d learned from making The Killing Death, I figured I’d expand my vision for a follow up and threw everything I could into this one, all while keeping the cheapness factor foremost in my mind. That meant places I could use for free but looked like they might exist in a post-apocalyptic world.
The story is really meant to be a comedic version of the tough guy action hero trope, so much so that Jimmy is supposed to be knowingly portraying himself as that trope for what he believes is the benefit of the survivors and rookie cops. He’s a bit of a buffoon, but still competent. Every now and again, the armor comes down to show the person behind the eye patch, but not so much that the character isn’t still silly. I don’t know if that meta aspect of the story comes across or if people just look at this as a goofy parody, but as long as they’re laughing, I can’t complain.
The movie is supposed to take place in a post-apocalyptic Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. It’s meant to be funny that the only city left on earth is Winnipeg, but we’re so isolated sometimes that it can feel like we already are. The film was shot in Winnipeg and the surrounding area, including an abandoned quarry, the ruins of a monastery, a dilapidated barn south of town, a local bar, an office, an artists studio, and a shockingly unsafe roof in the downtown.
This time I wanted to be more professional, so I secured a few permits, but that created new complications as it meant that we had much more pressure to get everything we needed on that specific day. It also meant that if something didn’t turn out, I had to roll with it. I’d like to think that considering the budget and what I had access to, I made the best of it, but a movie like this really needs a stronger setting established, and we just couldn’t do large scale crowd scenes or set dressing. You make do with what you have and hope the concept gets across anyway.
I [Ian Russell] wrote, directed, edited, produced, stunt choreographed, acted in, location scouted, etc., Cybernetic Showdown. Pick a job and I probably did it. This time around I wanted more of a “real” crew, and tried to keep people on specific jobs where possible, but things pop up that toss monkey wrenches into the best laid plans. I usually set up the camera and (when we used them) the lights, but a few others helped out as well. One interesting challenge came the day that nobody from the crew showed up! Whatever actor wasn’t on screen had to either hold the camera or the boom (or both!) That was a bit of a disaster, but we made it through. The scene was supposed to be much grander and more action filled but I didn’t have the manpower and had to drastically scale it down. What made it worse was that it was the opening of the movie! So much for the first impression.
Despite my intentions, when you’re relying on volunteers working for food, you have to accept that you’re going to get amateurs and people just looking to learn. Heck, we were learning too, so the whole project was much more laid back and lax than a “real” movie. Of course nothing turned out like I’d imagined. Some of it was actually better (the video game fight scene) but the whole thing was an incredible crash course and I learned so much from my mistakes that I hope I can correct on the next movie.
The visual effects were a hodgepodge of work from many different people. Tyhr Trubiak (the movie’s lead) did some, Ryan Hill did a lot, and I did a few as well. The ease of doing this stuff now versus in 2007 is night and day. There are so many more places to go for help today and the visual effects website Productioncrate was a life saver. I honestly don’t think the movie would have turned out half as well as it did had we been able to finish it in 2007, so maybe the delay was a boon in disguise.
The cast of this one once again rose above the material. The lead was played by Tyhr Trubiak who was just incredible. He was game for anything, from super detailed fight choreography that left him drenched in sweat (and maybe a few pounds lighter) to climbing sheer quarry walls, kissing scenes, getting splashed with water, endless Yop drinks, to even pounding back a Pepsi (which he hates). He was the face of the movie and without him, it falls apart. The rest of the cast were brought back from The Killing Death with Jeremy Dangerfield playing The Frank Computer, Darren Felbel playing the Keeper of the Lore, and Veronica Ternopolski playing the love interest. I loved working with so many great actors and great people and it made the whole thing more of a lark than a serious enterprise.
If you look closely, you’ll see me more than a few times in the movie. That’s because I was needed as a stunt performer. I’m a black belt in Hapkido (although I wasn’t then) and I used some fellow students to take break falls and try to give the fight scenes a bit more of a kick. Some turned out better than others and that was because I was still figuring out how to shoot and stage them as I went. In the years since, I’ve also taken up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, so I’m pretty sure the next time I do something like this, I could really bring a few cool new tricks to the table!
Cybernetic Showdown was made because we wanted to make another movie after making The Killing Death! I learned so much on that project and made so many mistakes that I (naively) thought I could do much better the second time. I tried to avoid all that went wrong in the first movie with the second. In theory, that was sound, but in practice, it just meant that we made all new mistakes.
I had the camera and equipment already, I knew actors, and could get locations cheap, so why not make a movie? At the time, I saw no reason why I couldn’t be constantly pumping out features with that same group. I had more scripts written and ready to go and was all set to be my own little production unit of no-budget schlock. But then the delays happened and I told myself that I wasn’t going to start something new without finishing the previous project. If I’m being honest, that was just a way to avoid doing more. I thought that I wasn’t going to be like my hero Orson Welles and just leave an endless string of unfinished projects, I was going to be the guy who finishes what he starts, but instead I let that idea take over and didn’t make another feature in all the years that Cybernetic Showdown sat on the shelf. All those scripts are still sitting in my drawer and now that I have completed the long unfinished albatross, I hope to get back on track making more movies.
Unfortunately COVID hit and everything is on hold for now.
Cybernetic Showdown was supposed to be another step in my filmmaking journey. A bigger scope, a grander vision. It was supposed to be another learning opportunity for everyone involved. If things had gone the right way, it would have been a stepping stone to bigger and better things much faster. As it is, it’s a fun, if flawed bit of goofiness that I hope people enjoy without taking too seriously. There will be a novelization coming out in the future that is going to fix a lot of what went wrong, so stay tuned for that! Frank and Jimmy have lots more adventures in my books, so if you like the style of humor you see on screen, you may like those as well.
I was about to film another feature before the COVID-pocalype, but that’s been put on hold until the restrictions lighten up a little here. In the twelve years that Cybernetic Showdown sat on the shelf, I was keeping busy publishing books, making YouTube videos, and writing new screenplays. Everything I’ve been doing all connects, so The Killing Death and Cybernetic Showdown are a part of the same universe, using the same characters. Frank and Jimmy have loads more adventures on the page and will soon (if everything goes well) have even more on the screen.
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