Friday 4 October 2013

An interview with JASON TROST

With his latest film ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE finally being released here in the UK on 7th October, I caught up with writer / director / star Jason Trost to get the lowdown on this low-budget gem. (I also just had to ask him about his experience acting in HATCHET III). But before that I asked him to cast his mind back several years to when ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE (ASMD) was but a glimmer on the horizon...

Going back to that time, you were offered $20,000 to make the film and given a ridiculously tight timescale in which to get the film made. Did you even think for one second - this is madness, it's impossible?

Yeah of course I did. But just for a second. I didn't have any more time to think about it if this was going to work. I was in a tough spot. I'd just made The FP and another small test movie. It seemed like neither were going to be released and I was desperate. Film financing is really hard to come by so you really can't turn it down when it falls in your lap.

Did you already have the basic elements of the script in mind - or was it literally a case of starting with a blank sheet of paper?

I had an idea for THE RUNNING MAN with superheroes but that was it. The next week was a mad dash to see how to make that work and flesh it out so we could get into pre production.

One of the aspects I really admired about ASMD was the way you 'cut your cloth accordingly' in terms of your budget. Rather than try to pull off impossibly elaborate CG and special effects sequences you 'tailored' the script to your means, i.e. stripping your heroes of their powers right from the beginning. That must've taken some discipline?

Yeah it was definitely a challenge. And that seems to be the thing most people hate about the movie. Which I don't understand. People always complain about wanting something different and then you give that to them and they hate that too. I don't think low budget movies are conceptualized right from the get go a lot. You can have the best camera in the world but if you have a crappy set with a crappy actor it's still going to look like crap. And I always think you should write for what you know you have, not what you hope you'll have. I can't tell you how many low budget movies I've seen fail because they wrote a 5 million dollar script and tried to make it for 20 bucks. Production value doesn't just show up on the day. Know what you're up against. Know what you have and exploit it smartly.

For ASMD you listed as the writer, director, co-producer, star and editor. Obviously this saves you money but doesn't this place an enormous burden on you personally - or do you actually prefer it that way?

It can be a real pain in the ass but in order to make something like this work you need to have everyone be on the same page. And with a movie like this I couldn't afford to hire people who were on the same page. So long story short, I knew I was free. And in the end I did prefer it. It saved time and money. And if anything failed I could blame myself instead of someone else. Which I'd much rather do.

From the credits of ASMD it's clear that the wider 'Trost' family also helped out considerably with the production. Can you describe how that works out?

Well, my sister is a costume designer and my dad is a special effects man. Knowing I could use some of their expertise definitely helped me shape the script and idea because it's something I knew I had. Also it's easier to push family and get favors from them. They'll take a lot more punishment than random people will.

The filming schedule was incredibly quick. Inevitably you must have encountered a number of obstacles along the way, what were the most challenging problems you faced and how did you overcome them - was it just a case of ripping pages from the script?

Ripping pages out of the script is a real bummer. So great moments that would help clear up some confusion were definitely left in the dirt somewhere. But when you have no time you just have to think "what's the least amount we can shoot that will still progress us to the next scene." And that's what we did. We didn't have time to get the costumes or sets finished either so Lucas and I would be sewing and patching up costumes while also painting and building sets on the day. It was intense. I'm glad I was only 23 when it happened. Don't know if I'd have the energy if I was older.

Once the film was locked and loaded and ready to go, did you have doubts about how the film would play?

Yeah. I never thought this movie would see the light of day. They it accidentally did in a big way. Which was great but also frustrating because it was released in a way where it was being compared to movies with a 100 million dollar budget, which really wasn't fair. I remember thinking if people saw it they'd probably think it was neat. I never thought it'd spawn so much hate and make countless "worst movie ever made" lists.

The film premiered at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival in 2011. Can you describe how you felt both before and after the screening?

I felt great before. There was a lot of excitement. It was like, "wow our little movie is being played at this cool festival in Canada against all these bigger movies." And everyone who ran the festival seemed to really enjoy it. So I expected people to like it. Then after the screening was a very dark time for me. My little movie that I was so proud of, got pounded. Everyone and there brother hated it. Hated me. Hated me for even trying to make something different. I might as well have just made an Adam Sandler movie. I was public enemy #1. It was a weird adjustment period. But finally some people crawled out of the wood work who actually liked it and got what it was, so that felt nice.

The film is clearly a response to the production-line Hollywood superhero films that are being churned out. But which one (past or present) is your favourite?

That's tough. Because no matter how much I love SPIDERMAN 2 and BATMAN BEGINS, I would have to say UNBREAKABLE is my favourite. It's just so subtle and awesome. It beat all the "real world" superhero movies to the punch and it's still better. And in the end of the day it's about what most superhero movies seem not to be about these days, saving people. It's just a guy who wants to save people. Simple, amazing and relate able. 

Your seem to have a 'core' group of actors that you regularly work with. Is that because they work cheaply? (joke).

That's no joke. The answer to that is yes.

How did you get James Remar to join the Trost troupe?

I've been friends with him since I was 10. My parents were in the middle of a divorce and I was living with my dad in England while he was working on Mortal Kombat Annihilation. I was bored on set playing Tetris on my Gameboy. James was also bored and liked Tetris. We bonded over that and 13 years later he was in my movie.

Amongst that group you have the wonderful Sean Whalen whom all horror fans fondly remember as 'Roach' from Wes Craven's THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS. But you've also recently worked with him on HATCHET III.  Was that just a pure coincidence?

Yes and No. We got hired separately but we both know and are friends with the director BJ McDonnell. So it was a great almost coincidence. I love Sean. He's one of my favourite people to work with so it was an awesome surprise.

You meet a suitably gruesome demise at the hand (or rather the hatchet) of Kane Hodder's Victor Crowley in HATCHET III. It must have been quite an experience seeing Kane Hodder loaded down with make-up appliances bearing down on you?

Yeah it was pretty great. I remember we had to do 10 takes of the shot where he comes at me with the hatchet. He's bling in the suit because of all the makeup and I'm wearing an eyepatch backing up in the dirt. Both of us blind guys trying to hit our mark over and over again must have looked pretty funny. Then I realized oh wait, didn't you sign a "Jason" poster on my wall from when I was a kid, awesome!

Having recently interviewed the director (BJ McDonnell) he mentioned that the filming conditions were hardly ideal. Do you have any horror stories about bugs or other unpleasant encounters on the set?

Nothing crazier than what anyone else got. I had three layers of clothing on with bug spray applied and I was still getting bit. But, whatever. The movie looks way cooler than the other ones and I think that's in large part to actually shooting in the swamp.

Is it hard to adjust to working on a big-budget film compared to the micro-budget given to you to make ASMD?

Well, when I work on a big budget film I'll let you know!

If you were offered a huge budget by a major studio would you see it as a gift or a curse?

A curse mostly. Sure it's a gift because I'd make a lot of money. But I'd also be selling my soul. Directors don't actually get to make the movie on big budget films. There's so many politics involved. When you're making a 200 million dollar movie you have to make it for everyone somehow, which just isn't possible. So you have 10-20 guys in suits on set that have never been on a film set in their life but their parents are rich and they just sit there behind the monitor saying things like, "if there's a little more dirt on his chin this would sell better in India". I've heard the horror stories from friends who worked on the first AMAZING SPIDERMAN that though the director was just a PA. Because the producers and visual effects guys were calling all the shots. Last thing I want to do is be responsible for making a shitty movie that I didn't get to call any shots on. If I'm going to make a shitty movie, my hands better be all over it.

You're currently in the process of looking to raise $50,000 (double the budget for ASMD but still an incredibly modest sum) via a crowd funding indiegogo campaign to make A WORLD WITHOUT SUPERHEROES. Is it accurate to describe it as a sequel to ASMD?

Yeah it's definitely a sequel. But it will be a sequel like TERMINATOR 2 where you don't really need to see the first one to understand it or enjoy it. I'm sure if you've seen the first one you'll get some good nods and call backs, but it really isn't necessary. And last thing I want to do with an obscure indie movie is make an equally obscure indie movie sequel with a "2" on it that alienates everyone from watching it.

Jason, I wish you the all the best with ASMD and I look forward to hopefully seeing it's sequel in the very near future.

Well thanks a lot. This was fun!

ALL SUPERHEROES MUST DIE was released by Monster Pictures in the UK on DVD, Blu-ray &iTunes on 14th October 2013.

Interviewed by Paul Worts

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