Kenton Smith Interviews Astron 6 For Uptown Magazine
Fake blood and dildos aren’t free…
The auteurs of local “evil umbrella” organization Astron-6 talk bad-taste filmmaking – and their new deal with Troma Entertainment
Are they exploitation film geniuses, or just immature dicks?
Uptown snagged four of the five members of Winnipeg’s low-rent, extreme-content filmmaking outfit Astron-6, to discuss their cinematic DYI philosophy — and how one of cinema’s leaders in same is poised to (unwisely?) grant them wider exposure.
Uptown: How did Astron-6 start?
Jeremy Gillespie: My girlfriend and I ran the Winnipeg Short Film Massacre, and noticed the best entries always came from the same people. I befriended Adam and discussed combining into one Voltron-like, movie-making super-robot.
Adam Brooks: Er, we decided to each work on each other’s projects.
U: Who does what?
Brooks: We’re auteurs. We write, direct, find locations, buy costumes, wake actors up, and drive them to shoots.
We do specialize, though: I’ve been handling the business side, and Conor (Sweeney) avoids crew work.
Gillespie: Matt (Kennedy) and Conor are deadbeats riding our coattails.
Brooks: The most difficult part is listening everyone’s criticism, and pushing that anger deep down to form a perfect black diamond. We haven’t gotten violent, just passive aggressive.
And dangerous. We’ve done a lot of stunts we shouldn’t have. I’ve lit Matt and myself on fire.
Conor Sweeney: One time Steve stabbed a smoke detector with a bowie knife.
U: How did Father’s Day develop?
Brooks: When Matt and Conor saw our lead actor put on some glasses, they exclaimed “Dad rapist!” in unison.
Sweeney: Yeah, we riffed on that idea. Then with Adam we knocked out a general, trailer-length storyline.
Brooks: People sometimes think our movies aren’t scripted but they almost always are.
U: How did Troma become involved?
Sweeney: For our second DVD, Adam hired a few people (i.e., porn stars) to provide endorsements.
One of the (non-porn?) people he asked was Lloyd Kaufman, president of Troma Entertainment, who’s behind exploitation classics like The Toxic Avenger. Adam also sent some of our stuff, and Kaufman asked if we had additional hardcore material, breathing heavily into the phone.
Brooks: I sent a rough edit of the Father’s Day trailer and Troma was immediately interested in that and another film, Fireman. They made a distribution offer, and then a feature deal. Father’s Day will be released Father’s Day 2011.
U: Why with the gore, nudity, and being incredibly offensive?
Steve Kostanski: Thanks to the Internet, everybody thinks they’ve seen it all. It’s fun to prove people wrong.
Gillespie: Our stuff is inspired by going to the video store as kids and stumbling on some trashy gem that we shouldn’t have seen. To think we’re getting to work with pioneers in that vein!
U: How have you gotten funding? Wouldn’t your stuff would make the Manitoba Arts Council explode?
Gillespie: If they ever watched our stuff I’m sure they would continue to ignore us.
Kostanski: All our projects have been self-funded, using creativity. I save by digging through dumpsters like a hobo.
Brooks: And video and software has democratized the game a bit.
U: Are you flattered Uwe Boll, director of BloodRayne, thinks you’re worse filmmakers?
Sweeney: Whoa, he said Adam was a worse filmmaker. Hire an editor.
From Winnipeg Free Press August 23, 2010
Local Filmmakers score a movie deal with Troma Films from their ‘fake trailer’
A collective of Winnipeg-based artists has been drafted by the notorious exploitation movie company Troma Entertainment to make a feature-length movie.
Astron-6 is a group of five multifaceted hyphenates with skills in filmmaking, visual arts, special effects and acting. In the spring of this year, they made a gross-out fake trailer for a movie titled Father’s Day, in which a man sets out to avenge himself on a serial rapist-murderer who targets middle-aged dads. In the last two weeks, the trailer has popped up on various horror websites and YouTube with warnings about its extreme content, including nudity, fake genital mutilation and eye gouging.
The trailer attracted the attention of Troma chief Lloyd Kaufman, whose 36-year-old company has made a specialty of films with extreme content. Kaufman himself directed infamous cult movies such as The Toxic Avenger, Tromeo and Juliet, and most recently Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead.
Kenora-born, Astron-6 member Conor Sweeney, 23, helped create the trailer with fellow Astron members Matthew Kennedy, Adam Brooks (WFG Member), Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski (WFG Member). He says the deal was struck almost by accident, after Astron-6 essentially hired Kaufman to tape a bogus testimonial for inclusion in a collection of short Astron-6 films on DVD.
We asked Lloyd to do one and he didn’t know anything about us at this point,” Sweeney says. “We paid him and through the whole promo, he was mispronouncing Astron-6. He was calling us ‘Astral’ and ‘Astro’ and this was a real mistake.
“But I’m guessing that after he shot it, he actually watched the stuff that we sent along with it, and then he started to get interested.”
Certainly, Kaufman, 64, would have had reason to pay attention to Father’s Day. Kaufman produced and distributed his brother Charles Kaufman’s notorious 1980 shocker Mother’s Day. Last year, the brothers flew to Winnipeg to shoot cameo appearances in Darren Bousman’s violent but as-yet-unreleased remake of the film.
“All we ever thought was that Father’s Day was going to be was this little three-minute story within itself,” Sweeney says. “Then Lloyd became interested in it because it’s got lots of gore and nudity and all the stuff that Troma has made its name off of, and also Mother’s Day was being remade, so he thought these movies could promote each other.”
Kaufman, speaking on the phone from the headquarters of Troma in Queens, N.Y., asserts Troma is not producing the film to cash in on Mother’s Day, which is likely to be released in May of 2011. That, he says, would require strategy.
“We’re pretty stupid at Troma,” the Yale-educated Kaufman jokes. “My guess is whatever we’ve done, it’s the non-money-making strategy.
“But Astron-6, these guys are very talented, and that’s why I’m not directing Father’s Day. These guys might actually make a movie where people show up.”
Kaufman says the film will likely fit in with Troma’s outlaw esthetic.
“The reason Troma has been around for 36 years is that our movies are one of a kind and they appeal to nobody… I mean, they are movies that are truly unique,” he says.
In fact, Troma has in many respects crossed over into mainstream acceptance, especially the company’s flagship property, The Toxic Avenger, which has spawned multiple sequels, a cartoon series, a theatrical musical and now a $100-million studio remake to be produced by Oscar-winning scriptwriter Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind). But that success was a long time coming, Kaufman says.
“The Toxic Avenger came out in 1982 and was kind of a Cuisinart of genres: slapstick and satire with elements of Grand Guignol gore, political statement and sociological observation.
“Initially, no movie theatres would play it because it was one of a kind,” he says. “Suddenly, one theatre owner actually watched the film and realized she liked it and understood it as satire and the next thing you know, it’s a worldwide phenomenon.”
It’s too soon to tell if Father’s Day will yield anywhere near that kind of success.
“Since we found out they wanted to make the movie, we have until Father’s Day of next year — June 11 of 2011 — to complete it,” says Sweeney, adding that Astron-6 will mostly shoot the films on available weekends.
Sweeney explains the rationale of the film as a commentary on what it takes to shock a shockproof culture.
“It’s so hard to shock people nowadays,” he says. “The most mainstream movies like The Last House on the Left remake or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, those movies didn’t get X ratings. They’re very mainstream, and yet those movies were shockingly gruesome.
“It takes a lot to shock people, and we thought the way to do that was turn the exploitation genre on its head,” Sweeney says. “Instead of nubile young women getting attacked in the woods, we’re showing 45-year-old fathers getting attacked.”
– Randall King