Fantasia 2020 Interview: “Peter the Penguin” Writer/Director Andrew Rutter

The title “Peter the Penguin” might not scream horror, but audiences are in store for a horrific surprise. After seeing the film, it was easy to see why it got included in the Fantasia 2020 lineup. We definitely had to know more about this film, and got an opportunity to talk with its writer/director Andrew Rutter. Please take a few minutes to check out how this film came to be, why a penguin, and much more… 

-PH: Please start by introducing yourself, and your film. What’s it about?

-Andrew: Hello! My name is Andrew Rutter and I’m a UK based Writer/Director with a passion for all things funny & scary! My film is currently playing at Fantasia, which is called ‘Peter the Penguin’. It’s about a guy who’s on his way to meet his girlfriend’s daughter for the first time, hoping to make a good impression, but things start to unravel when her daughter’s favourite penguin appears to be injured.

-PH: I have to get right to it, where did this idea come from?

-Andrew: Sometimes I have that eureka moment with ideas but this one had been sitting in my mind for so long that I actually don’t remember where it initially came from. I just knew I had to make it. For me though it’s really about the personal anxieties that come with new relationships, wanting something to work so badly but knowing it’s not right for you. Also the idea of someone not being able to live up to your expectations and tick the right boxes. Obviously it’s taken to extreme lengths in this film which is where the fun and absurdity is. I’d like to mention that this is also part of a collection of dark comedy shorts that I’ve been making over the last couple of years. The goal was to make five films with similar social anxieties taken to extreme lengths. That was the catalyst in getting this film made as it was the first one and it very much set the tone.

-PH: Why a penguin? With the surprise that happens it seems like it might have been easier to pull off with some other animals.

-Andrew: I really like penguins, they make me laugh! They’re kind of universally loved, which also made it interesting for me to warp later on. Also, the title of the film came to me early on and it was very much geared towards children’s tv shows of the past, so it just kind of clicked. I was fortunate enough to work with my friend and collaborator Tom Ellis who brought the ending reveal to life with his practical effects. It was definitely a challenge to pull off that particular design.

-PH: What did your cast have to say about the wild reveal?

-Andrew: The cast were very much on board with the reveal! I think the fact it’s somewhat jarring and takes you a little by surprise tonally is what interested them to begin with. We practically had no budget so the team was very small which made the shoot intimate, which I think helps with ideas like these as you don’t need to convince a bunch of investors as to why you’re throwing dead fish at people.

-PH: Speaking of the cast, please tell us a little about how they came aboard this film.

-Andrew: Chris Butler who plays Nigel is a very close friend and long time collaborator. He’s just as guilty as I am! We very much share the same sense of humour which is why we’ve worked together for so long. He was very much in it from the beginning and the rest were cast gradually as the production hurtled forwards. They were all troopers as it wasn’t the easiest of shoots. Little Mia who plays Emily was great to have on set and walked away with her very own fluffy penguin as a souvenir. The ‘other’ penguin now resides in my garden shed, banished from the world for its crimes against cinema!

-PH: Part of the surprise ending includes a song. Was that originally planned or something that was added while filming?

-Andrew: The ending was always supposed to be a montage with music, but not necessarily a song. It then hit me just before going in to production that we HAD to make a children’s theme song for it even though we knew it was going to be a major pain in the ass to do. One of the producers of the film Joanna Caldwell also runs a drama academy for kids so it was a perfect opportunity to get our singers from there. The rest of the song was done by our sound designer Simon Peecock who did a wonderful job bringing it all together.

-PH: How does this film compare to some of your other films?

-Andrew: As it’s part of a collection of short films playing with dark comedy and horror, it sits quite nicely with my other work. They’re all quite different though too as I don’t want to keep repeating myself in the work. I’m looking forward to leaning more in to horror with my next few short films.

-PH: How does it feel to have your film shown at Fantasia Fest? Tell us about your reaction when you found out your film was selected?

-Andrew: I was SO HAPPY to get in to Fantasia! Honestly, I’ve admired it from a far for so long. Getting that email was a great boost of inspiration in what has been a really difficult year, it’s just a shame I can’t be there to meet everyone in person!

-PH: Why horror? When did you become a horror fan?

-Andrew: As silly as it sounds, I think horror is in my DNA as a filmmaker. My brother and I would watch things like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Blob when we were kids and it didn’t phase us, instead it provoked us creatively, making us wonder how effects were achieved and if we could do the same movie magic with our friends. Horror is just so much fun! It also has a great community, especially at horror focused festivals where the crowd are always there to have a good time. Also you really get to see if your film is working when you play horror or comedy as you can physically see and hear the audience reactions. It becomes like a drug.

-PH: Here’s your chance to promote anything we haven’t talked about. Let us know something more about “Peter the Penguin,” your other films, what’s next, or anything else you would like to mention.

-Andrew: I’d just like to say you can catch PETER THE PENGUIN at FANTASIA with 12 HOUR SHIFT by Brea Grant as they’re playing together on the 27th August. I’m also on twitter @ajrutter if you’d like to keep an eye out for the other films I have coming out. Also I’d like to say thank you for chatting with me!

We would also like to thank Andrew for taking the time to answer our questions, and congratulations to him again for having his film shown at Fantasia. It was a pleasure watching his short, and the twisted ending. There’s no doubt we will be seeing more of his films at Fantasia, and other festivals in the future.

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