Portland Film Festival's Time-Traveling Mad Scientist
Gate-crashing a Nazi birthday party and trespassing into a goblin’s realm? If that sounds like fun to you, then wait till we add the mad, time-traveling scientist and the Lord of the Under Realm. All of that comes together in Neil Stryker and the Tyrant of Time, an ’80s-inspired sci-fi comedy shot in Oregon (okay, and parts of Washington) by two madcap Portlanders. Nine years in the making, the movie won Best Comedy in the 2016 Oregon Independent Film Festival earlier in August, and hits the Laurelhurst Theater next week as part of the Portland Film Festival. We caught up with its two brilliantly scrappy filmmakers, Rob Taylor and Nic Costa, to find out about goblin-filled basements, the Boyhood problem, and how they recruited Star Trek’s Walter Koenig to star.
Let’s start waaaay back. How did you two meet?
Nic Costa: We went to high school together. We’re about as local as it gets. We went to Oregon City High School. I found Rob making all these fun and quirky movies and we became friends. I left for L.A. after high school to do the “acting thing” and left Rob to his own devices, where he began to go all in on this feature [Evil Cult, also featuring Neil Stryker as protagonist], which is where all these characters came from. He made a film that made its way into Netflix before it was even a thing. I came back and did one shoot with him in 2002 and decided, “Well, shoot! I enjoy myself more working with you, Rob. Why don’t we make the next installment of Neil Stryker?” We wrote the script in 2003, started shooting it in 2006, and completed principal shooting in 2015.
What pushed you to keep at it for such a long time?
Rob Taylor: That’s a very good question! There were dark times when not much was done , and we had to live our lives, get jobs, go to school, so that also slowed production down.
Costa: I don’t know what we were thinking making a sci-fi action-adventure comedy thriller with zero budget in Portland, Oregon. We learned very quickly what a huge mistake that was.
Taylor: But that didn’t stop us!
Costa: It was off and on since 2006 when I was off teaching English in Taiwan, coming back, and shooting scenes. Things didn’t get serious until 2010, when we ran a Kickstarter campaign and raised $10,000 to finish the film. However, there was still so much to go and we burned through within a month. I was just finishing my bachelor’s degree, so I went to law school, became an attorney, and just bankrolled this thing. I know it’s ridiculous. I put all my eggs in Rob’s basket.
What’s the story behind the puppets?
NC: During our Kickstarter campaign, we talked about how we wanted to have goblins. Kameron Gates’s [an animator who worked on Star Wars: Episode II] wife reached out to us in 2011, asking if we needed a puppet fabricator.
RT: I wanted little old men, so what you see in the movie is what he drew up and we loved it immediately.
NC: We all went into filmmaking thinking we would be able to play with Yoda, but that didn’t happen. What came was CGI, so we were all fired up. We were gonna make the ghost of Jim Henson! It wasn’t until 2014 that we had a prototype that worked and we literally turned our basements into a goblin workshop that popped out 17 of these things. My basement right now is a goblin lair. Dinner parties are especially interesting when someone has to go downstairs to go to the bathroom and is like, “What the hell was that?”
What were your sources of inspiration?
Taylor: A lot of the inspiration for the sci-fi elements came from watching classic Star Trek and Dr. Who. The comedy just comes from us putting our heads together doing whatever we think is hilarious.
Budget and time aside, what were the challenges of making this film?
Costa: We had to solve the Boyhood problem. We’ve made this film for almost a decade so we encounter problems like someone walking through the door looking 10 years older or someone having gained 40 pounds. We solved this problem with a time paradox in the Goblin Forest (slight spoiler there). This is when we brought in Walter Koenig and had a lot of fun with him!
How did you get Walter Koenig (of Star Trek fame) on board?
Costa: We just reached out and put together a big portfolio, and explained how this was an homage to his Chekov character. We have this tribute to the most famous Russian accent in the galaxy, and wouldn’t it be fun? He immediately came back to us, and he was fired up about it. He was super lovely.
What was it like working with him?
Taylor: He’s really funny on set.
Costa: He would constantly fake his own death in the middle of a scene. When we were walking on Hollywood Boulevard this weekend, he just started clutching his heart and collapsed.
Taylor: We looked down and saw he was smiling, so we all started laughing.
How instrumental was Portland and Oregon as a whole in the making of the film?
Taylor: Portland has a small film community. It’s a strong one, but it’s small compared to big cities like Seattle and L.A. Everybody knows everybody. The cool thing about this town is everyone in the scene was on our set at one point or another. It’s a pretty cool family.
Do you think it could have been made elsewhere?
Taylor: I don’t think it could’ve been made as functionally in Southern California, or Seattle for that matter. I think the coziness of the Portland film scene mattered a lot.
Costa: It’s just weird enough. I hate to use the cliché, but Portland is weird and this is a weird movie! People are getting fired up because, let’s be honest, the subject usually coming out of Portland is usually darker, drearier, there’s more drama, teenage angst, probably because it’s cloudy here and it can be a little dark, so this one is more like Portland’s own blockbuster.
Neil Stryker and the Tyrant of Time plays at 9:45 pm Thursday, Sept 1 at the Laurelhurst Theater as part of the Portland Film Festival.