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Ant Timpson

Film Fanatic

Ant Timpson has made his reputation promoting and producing the type of movies that will cross any line to entertain: horror flicks, genrebenders, films that push buttons, films that fall foul of the censors. His parents are partly to blame — it was they who took him “at a tender age” to experience 70s movie classics Taxi Driver and Apocalypse Now.

By the time he got to university, Timpson’s brain was becoming permanently twisted by exploitation fare like Shogun Assassin and New Zealand's own Death Warmed Up. The movie persuaded him and the rest of “Aotearoa’s collective horror heads that we too could make gleefully gory genre films”. Timpson began creating fanzines which explored his enthusiasm for celluloid's outer limits. By now movies had taken over his life — he worked on the effects for classic short Kitchen Sink among other screen gigs, and completed his own short, the supposedly unwatchable Crab Boy.

Before abandoning law studies at Otago University in the mid 80s, Timpson had begun organising marathon filmwatching sessions for fellow students. After approaching legendary Auckland cinema showman Charley Gray, he was given the go-ahead to organise a festival of bad taste films. Despite consisting of “pretty cruddy titles” like Blood Diner and Troma’s Surf Nazis Must Die, the no-budget fest was a hit, spurring further cult film slots at Charley Gray’s.

By 1992 Timpson had taken over management of the single-screen venue. After losing the battle with multiplexes, he set up specialist film distribution company 2Brothers. The Incredibly Strange Film Festival began touring Godzone in 1994. Following various changes of title and venue (including a year at Auckland's 2300 seat Civic Theatre) the festival won an ongoing home as part of New Zealand’s yearly round of film festivals.

In 2008 Timpson presented a season of Incredibly Strange double features for Sky TV’s MGM Channel. By now he had amassed an impressive collection of 35 millimetre film prints. Some screened in his yearly 24-hour movie marathons, and some overseas. He had also begun renting out portable movie screens for outdoor screenings.

A keen follower of the idea that good films can be made cheaply and fast, Timpson has encouraged thousands of Kiwis to stop procrastinating and pick up the camera. His 48 Hours filmmaking contest attracts amateurs and professionals across New Zealand. Timpson's contest was inspired by the international 48 Hour Film Project, which by its third year (2003) had spread to Auckland from Washington. Timpson began his Aotearoa-only event the following year.

Contestants in the "cinematic bootcamp" are assigned their own genre, plus a small number of script elements to include in their film; they have just two days to write, complete, and deliver the result. Among the many emerging talents to hon their skills and win awards in the contest are Taika Waititi (Boy), the downlowconcept (7 Days) and Gerard Johnstone (Housebound).

Since 2005 Peter Jackson has often picked three 'wildcard' films to make it to the final. In 2012 Elijah Wood joined the judging panel, saying he was "looking forward to seeing what mad talented Kiwis can get up to in just one weekend".

When Auckland's Arts Regional Trust honoured Timpson with a Creative Entrepreneur award in 2012, co-judge Jennifer Ward-Lealand argued that the 48 Hour filmmaking contest had made filmmaking achievable "for anyone and everyone".

In 2005 the Film Commission funded company Headstrong to provide funding for digital filmmakers. Run by Timpson, Leanne Saunders and Paul Swadel, Headstrong set out to develop features that Timpson argued "actually wouldn’t benefit from four to five years of development, there’s a chance they’d be tinkered to mediocrity".

The two films that emerged were anarchic stuntman comedy The Devil Dared Me To, from Back of the Y perpetrators Chris Stapp and Matt Heath, and Gregory King drama A Song of Good. This tale of a man trying to redeem himself from his criminal past won headlines for breaking traditional distribution models, after it was briefly made freely available to watch online for 24 hours.

In 2011 Timpson and NZ Herald entertainment editor Hugh Sundae won funding to create the Make My Movie project. Contestants marketed their feature film ideas through a special website; the public joined judges in helping whittle down 750 entries to 12, before a final winner was chosen. The winning team of 48 Hour contest veterans were given $100,000 and two and a half months to complete romantic comedy How to Meet Girls from a Distance. The result was selected for the 2012 round of NZ Film Festivals. A horror variation of the contest later resulted in heavy metal horror romp Deathgasm, which won enthused reviews.

Inspired by his son’s ABC books, Timpson instigated anthology movie The ABCS of Death, which saw 26 directors from around the globe each assigned a letter, as a springboard for their own short horror tale. It was produced by Timpson and another film exhibition veteran: Tim League, co-founder of legendary Texas cinema The Alamo Drafthouse.

The two reconvened for an ABC sequel, and, in 2016, Los Angeles-shot comedy horror The Greasy Strangler. Website Ain't It Cool News described the latter as "a mind-f##k, face-melt, primal scream of a film". In 2018, Timpson and League produced horror movie The Field Guide To Evil. Unveiled at the South by Southwest Festival in the United States, it brought together stories or folk tales by eight directors from around the globe.

Canadian-Kiwi B-movie homage Turbo Kid was released in 2015. Directed by a trio of ABC of Death applicants in their native Canada, the post-apocalyptic tale was completed in New Zealand. Timpson was one of the four producers, as was Kiwi lawyer Tim Riley. 

Timpson tried on directing in 2019 with Come to Daddy. Featuring Elijah Wood and Madeleine Sami, the film had its world premiere at New York's Tribeca Film Festival. Timpson described the Irish-Canadian-Kiwi co-production as a "dark thriller with comedic moments." In the same year, he was appointed to the board of the NZ Film Commission.

Profile written by Ian Pryor; updated on 14 August 2020

Sources include

Filmhead website. Accessed 14 March 2019
Ant Timpson, ‘An Extremely Brief History ... of the Festival that could not be killed’. Incredibly Strange website. Accessed 18 November 2015
Ant Timpson, ‘**The strange history of DEATH WARMED UP’ Filmhead website. Accessed 18 November 2015
Ant Timpson, 'Pigging Out At The Digital Trough' Birth.Movies.Death. website. Loaded 21 March 2012. Accessed 12 June 2020
'Filmhead wins inaugural Creative Entrepreneur' (Press Release) The Big Idea website. Loaded 29 February 2012. Accessed 14 March 2019
Ant Timpson, 'Hobo with a Shotgun'. New Zealand International 2011 Film Festival programme
Steve Propoky, 'SUNDANCE 2016: Capone looks at the midnighters Kevin Smith's YOGA HOSERS, Rob Zombie's 31, and THE GREASY STRANGLER!!!' (Review) Ain't It Cool News website. Loaded 28 January 2016. Accessed 14 March 2019
Hugh Sundae, 'Hobbit star's 48 hour quest' - The NZ Herald, 18 November 2015
‘Movie stalks its way to the top’ The Big Idea website. Loaded 26 January 2012. Accessed 14 March 2019
'Digital filmmaking: so long Headstrong' (Interview with Timpson, Leanne Saunders and Paul Swadel) - Onfilm, December 2007
Unknown writer, 'Ant Timpson's dark thriller going to Tribeca Film Festival' (Interview) - The NZ Herald, 14 March 2019