Astron-6 Interview – These guys make movies

Rotten Cotton recently sat down (over the internet sadly, although I’m sure Canada is nice this time of year) with the boys behind Troma’s latest epic film, Father’s Day. Everyone over here at Rotten Cotton is in love with the film, and also the team behind it. As in we want to have sex with them. The team is known as Astron-6. Astron-6 is the brainchild of these five briliant and extremely fuckable canadians. They’re all gifted multi-media artists who share a love for awesome films of the 1980s. Not the big budget polished shit from the 80s, I’m talking about shitty VHS copies of fucked up 80s movies with the kind of cover art that we turn into shirts. Be sure to read our review of the film here. Now, on to the questions. Also, there’s some naked women in this interview, just saying.

 

 

How did you come up with Father’s Day?

Conor Sweeney: Matt and I used to have this cool old apartment when we lived in Winnipeg, so people would shoot student films there all the time. One night the film class from the University of Winnipeg were shooting there, and Mackenzie (Fuchman) was on the crew. We had our 80’s dad glasses from H.I.Z. lying around, and I got Mac to put them on and he ended up going instantly from a 19 year old kid to Mark David Chapman. Matt and I started talking about the different sexual deviances this character would be capable of, and dad raping was soon reasoned to be his raison d’etre. From there we thought of a one eyed, wild haired vigilante played by Adam. Adam came on board and we started shooting the trailer and the three of us made it up as we went. Adam’s responsible for turning the violence up to 11 when the original cut of the trailer underwhelmed us.

What came first the name of the movie or the story?

Conor Sweeney: The basic story came first. Matt and I wanted to make a movie about a dad rapist being pursued by a one eyed vigilante, but the original title was Dad Rape. I don’t remember how it got changed to Father’s Day, but it was the right choice.

 

How long did it take to shoot “Father’s Day” what was the most difficult part of production?

Adam Brooks: It took a year because we all lived in different provinces.  Matt, Steve and Jer had to fly in when they could find the time/money, which was not often.

Setting myself on fire and jumping off a moving vehicle were both difficult.

Everything is difficult when you’re working with such a low budget, nothing is easy.

 

What did you guys set out to do with “Father’s Day”?

Adam Brooks: I wanted FATHER’S DAY to be bigger and better than any any film with a similar budget while at the same time showing the world what Astron-6 can do.

Conor Sweeney: Father’s Day was always expected to be a one off. I never thought it would be anything more than another of our fake trailers that nobody watches, but I’m very happy people are embracing it. Once we found out Troma was interested, we just wanted to throw every genre convention we could think of into the blender and let it go. Nothing was off limits or too crazy, but it had to be funny or it wasn’t going in the script.

Matthew Kennedy:  Make a name for ourselves so that when we kill ourselves someone will remember us as those guys that made that stupid movie.

 

What was the motivation for doing this movie? Inconspicuous dildo laundering or getting chicks naked and bloody?

Conor Sweeney: Seriously, it’s crazy how much attention you can get if you put naked girls in your movie. We were swept under the carpet for years, and the FIRST movie that we made with nudity got picked up and turned into a feature. Take from that what you will.

Matthew Kennedy:  The motivation for me was to make a movie that was a love letter to my father and the way that he raised me. I also wanted to see what it was like to really kill yourself for that first low budget movie, I’m still alive but it feels like I came very close. I’m sure I will live a shorter amount of time because of this movie and any movies I’ve made to date.

The title sequence really sucks you in from the beginning, can you tell us more about it?

Adam Brooks: The amazing and talented Jim Rugg (www.jimrugg.com) did the artwork.  He draws a comic called Afrodisiac which I highly recommend and he has an uncanny ability to mimic any comic or cartoon style.

I gave him a list of images that I’d like to see and he delivered.  Basically I wanted to tell the audience the backstory of each character, realizing of course that the audience wouldn’t understand what they’d seen until probably the end of the movie.  The comic book look also emphasized the pulp archetypes we were dealing with but if I’m being totally honest – I just wanted to see myself, and our characters in comic book form because I’m a nerd like that.  Jim Rugg also did the cover of the double DVD collection of our short films available now from Troma!

The amazing and talented Jeremy Gillespie put that whole opening sequence together, and the amazing and talented Brian Wiacek did the music.

Conor Sweeney: The comic book style drawings were done by the awesome Jim Rugg, who did Afrodesiac, among other things. Jer put it all together in After Effects and Brian Wiacek did the fucking awesome theme song “Surf, Rape & Rock”. We wanted the opening sequence to kick your ass, and with the sequence those three put together I think it’ll be hard for anyone to walk away from the movie.

 

The soundtrack for “Father’s Day” feels like a homage to 80’s horror soundtracks while still taking it a bit further. Can you tell us more about the development of the soundtrack and the role it played in the film?

Adam Brooks: Astron-6er Jeremy Gillespie is a master musician and can make the most authentic 80s-sounding horror movie music around.

But besides him we had some AMAZING, and generous musicians help out.  Paul Joyce wrote/recorded a lot of the music in the movie.  His stuff goes from 80s-synth horror to sweeping orchestral score.

Brian Wiacek created the opening song and played every instrument on it!! Can you believe that?  Blows my mind.  He also did the amazing, and totally different Star Raiders theme.

My personal favorite musician (in the world/of all time) Dan Bern (www.danbern.com) wrote/recorded a couple songs for us, including the amazing ‘Never bin Born at All.’  This was a dream-come-true for me because i’ve been listening to his music for almost fifteen years.  I never would have thought I’d have the chance to work with him.  He even came to the world premiere screening in Toronto (as his tour happened to be passing through at the same time.)  He is the coolest.

Bob Wiseman (www.bobwiseman.ca) was kind enough to let us use his song ‘White Dress’ in the middle of the movie.  It’s a heartbreaking song.  It’s also a famous song, which is why I was shocked he’d let us use it – but that’s been the up-side of this experience – discovering the generosity of others that you already admire.

Nabi (www.myspace.com/nabi) wrote/performed the beautiful and tragic ‘lonely lovely’ which plays over the film’s main montage.

Count Smokula, musician/music producer and friend of Troma provided a couple great, actual 80s rock anthems.

Mike Procyshyn (www.mikepromusic.com,) long-time friend of Astron-6 provided a great surf song that underlines the fight in the change room between the stripper and Fuchman.  Mike has given us all kinds of great music in the past.  Check out our old shorts, and you’ll see his name all over the place.  I really love the music he did for Nobodies, especially.

I can’t say enough nice things about these artists.  You should do yourself a favor and look up/buy their work.  Our film would be nothing without all the great music.

What’s your favorite horror soundtrack?

Adam Brooks: The Thing or Dawn of the Dead

Conor Sweeney: I love Goblin’s Dawn of the Dead music (the incidental public domain mall music is pretty great too), the Night of the Demons soundtrack by Dennis Michael Tenney, Morricone’s The Thing, Suspiria by Goblin, Return of the Living Dead.

Steven Kostanski: The Keep has a pretty wicked Tangerine Dream score that I listen to every day on my way to work. Having said that, I also listen to the Father’s Day theme at least twice a day.

Matthew Kennedy:  I am heavily into the Cannibal Holocaust score right now. Other than that I am a Friday the 13th fan to the death.

 

What are the top 5 things that inspired Father’s Day?

Adam Brooks: Our childhood memories of VHS-era horror movies, the colorful lighting of Suspira, ego, ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ and Eastwood’s ‘Unforgiven.’

Conor Sweeney: 1) Each of our dad’s got raped when we were kids, but I don’t know if that had any bearing on the project. I think we all just like watching middle aged men get fucked.  2) VHS box art and mom and pop video stores.  3) Taped off TV late night movies.  4) The desire to top every other movie of the type that has come out.  5) Astron-6 suicide pact.

Steven Kostanski: As far as the effects and the hell finale, I was mostly inspired by Fulci movies. Italian horror effects have a certain slapped together look that i knew was about as good as we were going to get on Father’s Day. The Beyond and City of the Living Dead were what I watched while building the miniatures and  doing the stop-motion stuff.

Matthew Kennedy:  The Glasses on Mackenzie’s mug, Scary blind people in Fulci movies, Unforgiven (notice the similar plot structure),  They Call Her One Eye, Raiders of the Lost Ark

 

Who are your horror heroes? (Directors/Actors/SFX Artists)

Adam Brooks: Sam Raimi, Rob Botin, John Carpenter, George Romero, Bruce Campbell, Tom Savini and Greg Nicotero.

My favorite director is Michael Haneke, and some might consider him a horror director.

Conor Sweeney: Dan O’Bannon, Stephen King, Sam Raimi, Dario Argento, Greg Nicotero, John Carpenter, David Lynch

Steven Kostanski: Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Dick Smith, Todd Masters.

Matthew Kennedy:  Fulci, John Carpenter, Tom Savini, Jerry Seinfeld, Corky Burger

 

The penises and over all gore were great not only in numbers but in quality what was the production process like?

Adam Brooks: I did all the penis work, so thank you…wait that’s not true…I did all the Fuchman penis work, Kostanski did the Walnut penis work.  Kostanski also did the monster stuff, and he’s a Dick Smith trained FX artist.

Matt and I got a bunch of boxes of pig insides from a slaughterhouse and cleaned them in my bathtub.  The guts were full of shit, the stomach full of acid/vomit, the liver’s had sacks of awful yellow shit, there was rotting blood and bile… the stuff was rank!  It was an incredibly existential experience cleaning these organs because they’re all the same size as their human counterparts, and you realize exactly how delicate you are, how thin the walls of your guts are, how your stomach is like a leather bag.  It has made me less a fan of pork.

Conor Sweeney: Many dildo’s were bought, a few penises were made by Steve, Matt and my penises were real.

Steven Kostanski:  The whole thing was a mess. Trying to build gags while in another province is not a smart idea, when you have none of your actors present to work off of. It was a lot of guess work. Next time I’m hiring a young and eager assistant who can do all the work for me.

Matthew Kennedy:   Steve spent months on the Fuchman suit or a month at least. We had to shoot around his availability a lot because he was working on Wrong Turn 4 and some other bullshit, so that was also hell. Adam did all the penis effects actually and most of the penises that you see are actually real. There is only one shot of a fake penis in the whole movie, if I remember correctly.

What was the mix of digital vs practical when it came to SFX?

Adam Brooks: As far as I can recall, the sound effects are all practical.  We used a Zoom H4N most of the time, and other times recorded them right in my friend John Stebbe’s studio.  There are pumpkin guts being squished, a cat lapping water, and celery being twisted among others.  The sounds were mixed and affected digitally though.

Conor Sweeney: Almost entirely practical. We used digital effects to blend some moments where a real person or dummy transitioned into an effect shot, like a human turning into a dummy for a car hit. Steve and Adam will be able to answer this one more specifically. CGI fucking sucks.

Steven Kostanski: Since it’s all so bodged together, it’s hard to give an accurate ratio, though we did use as many practical elements as possible in the film. It usually was a combination of the two, like Ahab vomiting. That was a practical element (barf being poured out of a bucket) which was composited over footage of Adam getting sprayed in the face to simulate the backsplash. Getting to spray Adam over and over was fun. It was a good Sam Raimi/Bruce Campbell moment.

 
Any good stories during production?

Adam Brooks: We were almost arrested for the car stunt stuff.  We crashed a car on some guy’s property and he showed up pissed.  Luckily Conor’s father is so nice and charismatic,  he won the guy over, befriending him before the cops arrived.  No charges were pressed.

In the dreams-come-true department, we got posters from both Akiko Stehrenberger (www.akikomatic.com) and The Dude (www.thedudedesigns.com.)  Not much to that story but pretty fucking cool if you ask me.  These two are at the top of their game and both as nice as can be.  Look at what passes for a poster these days… seriously… it’s pathetic!  There are only a handful of artists doing exciting, innovative stuff, and we got TWO of them!  It’s pretty unbelievable considering the size of our movie (budget-wise.)  I know for a fact that these two artists could have made money doing work for a bigger film, but they chose to help us instead.  It’s crazy.  Look at their resumes, they’ve done work for all the greats.

Same thing with Dan Bern – he’s made music for Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, Get Him to The Greek, Zero Effect, etc…  he was really slumming it with us, and we love him for it!

There are a lot of good stories.  I guess you’ll have to wait for the behind the scenes documentary on the DVD.

Conor Sweeney: There’s a few. During the car chase we were running out of daylight, and we only had those two trucks until the end of the day and we still needed to shoot the jeep smashing into a rock. In desperation we found an empty gravel yard with a boulder in it, so we put a rock on the accelerator and smashed the jeep into it, wrecking the engine. Immediately a truck pulls up, blocking us in so that even if we were to unwedge the jeep from the rock, we still wouldn’t be able to get out. He tells us that the police have been called, there is no way he is letting us leave and that having charges laid against us will teach us our lesson. Luckily my dad, Gord Sweeney was there and he is a teacher in the small town where we shot some of the film. He knew the man’s nephew, and he was able to talk the man down over the two hours we were there waiting for the police. Once they arrived, the man was very kind, didn’t press charges and told us that we could shoot on his property next time if we got his permission first (!).

Steven Kostanski: I had a really bad allergic reaction to a sandwich while on set. I was doing Mackenzie’s makeup and had to stop because my eyes were swelling shut. Spent the rest of the night in the hospital.

 

What was the script writing process like, formal or loose and how did that affect the final flim?

Adam Brooks: We all just kept emailing it around and adding and subtracting.

Conor Sweeney: Pretty loose, but we rewrote constantly. There were many drafts of the script, and some scenes were reshot three or four times if the comedy just wasn’t working. As photography wound down, Matt, Adam and I spent about a week just the three of us reshooting and rewriting and improvising scenes that we had shot and hated once we saw them in the final movie.

Matthew Kennedy:   A gong show. Everybody had their hands in the pot and it made it a really mixed bag. It works out well in the final product but there were scenes that needed to be cut because of time and money and because as the film was being assembled, we realized that there were scenes that were yet to be shot that we’re really too far off the beaten trail of the movie. It still is a mixes bag and I like that about it but I think the next script we write together will be a very different process. We were rewriting some scenes the night before and reshooting them multiple times to make them work and make sense.

 

The film really did a great job with pacing I was never bored and I loved the Star Raiders segment. I nice break point. Was that in the script from the beginning or was it an idea that happened after the main story was hashed out?

Adam Brooks: I remember we came up with the idea to put a commercial in while we were in Toronto for Festival of Fear in the summer of 2010.  We had just had a hell of a time at the Fest, as Troma had invited Astron-6 and then could only provide ONE pass.  We had all spent our own money flying out there, and we were sleeping on the floor in Jeremy’s livingroom.  The script was about half written at that point.  Originally the commercial was for an Astron-6 decoder ring and then a couple of months later Jeremy changed it to Star Raiders, his own invention.  We shot all the Star Raiders shit in one day in the fall and made it up as we went along.  I played Bric-a-Brac!

Conor Sweeney: That was an idea from the beginning, yeah. Our experience of these films is not the Grindhouse theatres of the 70’s, it’s third generation taped copies of trashy movies and rented copies from mom and pop stores. When we watched these movies it wasn’t unusual for a commercial to interrupt the flow of the film at a crucial point, and we thought it would be hilarious to be in a theatre and have your movie interrupted by a commercial for another shitty movie with VHS tracking. It’s also something that, for all I know, is totally unique to our movie. When you’re doing an independent movie it’s super important to take whatever opportunity you can to do shit that hasn’t been done, so we did stupid, silly stuff like that wherever we could.


Ahab deserves a sequel/prequel all for himself any chance on that and what actually inspired that character?

Adam Brooks: I doubt that will ever happen.

Originally, he was inspired by ‘They call her One Eye.’  That was back when we were making a trailer and nothing more.  Matt & Conor figured I’d be a male version of her, since the raping roles had already been reversed with the premise.  I put Ahab’s signature costume together myself, and Conor did the hair.

Once we started fleshing out the character for the feature, all kinds of other inspirations came in, namely Clint Eastwood, and Kurt Russel’s Eastwood-impression Snake Plissken but also a bit of Ash from Evil Dead (obviously.)  All of our characters are buffoons.

Conor Sweeney: It would be great to see Ahab in a First Blood type movie. I would absolutely do it if we were given the chance.


After doing “Father’s Day” do you have any advice for someone looking to make their own indie horror film?

Adam Brooks: Dont.  And if you do, get money first.

And if you do, please put all the effort into it you can.  Go the extra mile EVERY day.  The movie will be a record forever of what a fuckup you are, so do everything you can to be less of a fuckup.

Conor Sweeney: Try to think of shit that other people haven’t done. Shitty slashers and 80’s throwbacks are made all the time, but they have terrible scripts, terrible actors and they bring nothing new to the table. Try to light your movie differently, try to cast people that don’t look like film students, but most of all write something DIFFERENT. The horror market is saturated with independent filmmakers trying to make Platinum Dunes movies (I don’t know why the fuck you would want to), and taking themselves seriously. Taking yourself seriously as an independent or student filmmaker is seriously the kiss of death.

Steven Kostanski: Try not to rely on too may people, especially if you can’t pay them. Try to make as many contingency plans as possible for your shooting days, since things will inevitably get fucked up along the way. If you’re doing effects, always be ready for a big cleanup.

If you’re doing blood gags, have towels, plastic drop cloth, buckets with water and a spray bottle ready to go. Especially if you’re shooting  where you’re not supposed to.

Matthew Kennedy:   Make it for more than 10k. If you only have 10k, then shoot in as many interesting locations as possible and risk your lives for the betterment of your movie.

 
Can you offer any pointers on getting chicks naked when making your own movie?

Adam Brooks: Pay them good money, feed them and be nice to them. Feeding people is a really good thing to do.  Feed your cast and crew.  Everything will go easier.  We didn’t feed anybody.

Conor Sweeney: Put up ads on Craigslist and Kijiji and pay them. They are the only performers in Father’s Day to have made a penny, including us.


If you could get any rotten cotton shirt tattoed on your face which one would it be?

 Adam Brooks: Yes, Talya Kornachuk has a beautiful tattoo of my name & face on her body.  I hope it starts trending.

Conor Sweeney: The Deer Hunter Russian Roulette shirt.

Steven Kostanski: Probably the Deadly Prey one…or the Endgame one…or the Story of Ricky one…There’s too many!!!!

 

 What movie should be the next to be immortalized on a rotten cotton shirt?

Adam Brooks: Father’s Day!!!! Rotten Cotton makes the coolest shirts out there!

Conor Sweeney: Father’s Day! The public wants it! I want it! Then Annie Hall.

Steven Kostanski: Besides Father’s Day? Abraxas maybe? That has a great poster. Oh wait, The Keep!!!

What was it like working with Troma? Did you approach them or was it the other way around?

Adam Brooks: They approached us.

Conor Sweeney: We were going to release a followup compilation DVD of our shorts, and Adam was getting different C list celebs and pornstars to film endorse our shit. One of the people he got was Lloyd Kaufman. They had seen our movie Lazer Ghosts 2 at Tromadance, and Adam also included a dvd of our best stuff when he contacted Lloyd. They first contacted us about a distribution deal for our shorts, and a week later asked if we wanted to make a feature for them. Bada-bing.

Matthew Kennedy:   They approached us. They gave us artistic freedom and have given us nothing else. Literally nothing else. We aren’t even given plane tickets to any of the screenings. I’m serious. They also haven’t paid us the full budget of the movie yet and I did mention this is a 10k budget, right?

 

What new projects do you guys have on the horizon?

Adam Brooks: A fun short film called Breaking Santa coming VERY soon. We would love to do another feature, and we have lots of ideas, it’s just a question of financing.

Conor Sweeney: We have a script for a 1980’s summer camp sex comedy mixed with a sci-fi shape shifting horror movie, a crazy western, and a few other ideas. We need funding and don’t know how to get it, but one day you’ll see another Astron-6 movie!

Steven Kostanski: I’m building a spaceship. Take from that what you will.

Matthew Kennedy:   A talking dog movie. I’m being serious again.

Father’s Day is opening in limited released next month and I encourage any of you motherfuckers who actually read this whole damn thing to get your lazy ass out to the theater and have your fucking minds blown out of your assholes. Go here for show times of the premiere.

 

Chuck Bird

About Chuck Bird

Chuck Bird is a computer enthusiast and horror movie nerd. He's the lead designer for Rotten Cotton and maintains the Rotten Cotton website. He's also an IT Manager for the interactive design firm Six Foot. He can usually be found in front of a computer in Houston, TX.