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Jeff Renfroe & Marteinn Thorsson

Jeff: "We made all kinds of crazy video films".

Conducted by Phil Davies Brown
December 13th, 2005

Back in early Spring, I had the pleasure of seeing a twisted little movie called Paranoia 1.0. Not long after seeing the film, I was lucky enough to interview the talented writer/director duo that made it.

A shocking nine months later (yes, I really am THAT busy) you can read what they had to say about working in Romania with Lance Henriksen and Udo Keir amongst other things.

My sincerest apologies to Marteinn and Jeff for taking so long to get this interview online.

When did you first become interested in filmmaking?
JR: I was really fortunate to go to this very cool high school in Victoria BC which had a full TV studio. Everyone was taking the course because apparently it was easy to pass and the teacher was laid back about attendance. I got in there and was like...look at all this equipment collecting dust?! I had a blast playing with the switcher. Then we got VHS camcorders and an editing suite...the teacher was in the dark about all this new tech and left it up to a couple of us kids to figure out how it worked. We made all kinds of crazy video films...we were the only kids who didn't leave the school until 12am when the janitor kicked us out.

MT: When I got my first super 8mm camera at the age of 10. I also collected all kinds of still cameras and my first job relating to film was on a commercial where I was the director's personal assistant and stills photographer.

Did you do any further formal training?
JR: I did the Ryerson film program 89-93 in Toronto where I met Marteinn, our DP and our editor.

MT: Unfortunately, yes. I went to Ryerson Polytechnic University in Toronto, Canada, that's where I met Jeff, as well as Chris Soos (our DP), Dan Sadler (our editor), Ken Hann (our story editor) and Antun Bosanac (our storyboard artist), as well as a host of cool kids. Film school is kind of bollocks but if you meet cool people then you're doing OK.

When did you first get the initial idea to write 1.0 and did any particular incident inspire you to write the screenplay?
JR: Marteinn and I had just finished co-directing 2 music videos and felt that we should try to make a movie in the same way - run&gun no $ - just honest fast & furious filmmaking from the gut. We are both huge fans of noir and sci-fi and felt that we could do something simple but effective around characters in an apartment building. It was actually just the experience of winter in Toronto where the only reason you go outside is to go buy milk. Marteinn had the idea about the package and I was obsessed with nanotechnology and wanted to explore what happens when this new tech runs amok. We blended it with a good dose of our experiences making commercials, where you try to create a branding message that sticks in the minds of the consumers....and having to be on the side of the marketing machine makes you hate it even more...so the idea to expose this rotten core of the future of capitalism made us very giddy.

MT: I think Jeff had the first idea but it was nothing like the script we wound up writing. We were inspired by the nature of advertising and nanotechnology and also the city of Toronto and how it can be extremely alienating to individuals especially in winter, people don't talk to each other, maybe a sign of our modern times, families disappear, and people lose their ability to connect to each other.

Once you had the finished screenplay, how did you go about securing funding and getting the film made?
JR: We tried a few different Canadian producers but no-one with the right Stuff. We shot a trailer on DV that represented the mood and tone. Lots of out of focus stuff and abstract images, we used our friends as actors and just obscured their faces etc. Marteinn had schmoozed up this Danish producer Thomas Mai at the TIFF he had remembered our pitch & trailer so when I moved down to LA Thomas had just started up Zentamerica Entertainment, he gave us a call and wanted to give us a shot. They took the script and the trailer around to all the markets and festivals for half a year and nailed some foreign presales and investment $ from Japan. After another half a year of false starts and location scouting, they ran into trouble and sold the whole thing to Armada Pictures who raised the remaining funds and took us on a hellish ride but eventually made it happen.

MT: The first money came from Iceland (that's where I'm from, Reykjavik to be exact) then we tried to make it an Icelandic/Canadian co-production but Canada wanted no part of it, we took it down to Hollywood and eventually this company Armada Pictures secured the funding through a German tax shelter.

Jeff: "The idea to expose this rotten core of the future of capitalism made us very giddy".

At what point did Jeremy Sisto become involved with the project?
JR: He came in once we had nailed a few presales.

MT: We had gone through a few actors, Gabriel Macht was the first one attached but that fell through. Gael Garcia Bernal showed interest as did Adrien Brody but financing fell through twice then we met Jeremy in an audition through our casting director and another mutual friend and that was it.

Was he always going to be a producer or did he initially just want to play Simon J?
JR: Initially just to play Simon J. The producing thing came up after we lost a chunk of our financing and he felt he could help find other sources.

MT: He became a producer on the film after the second round of financing fell through.

The film has a most impressive cast of genre veterans. Did you approach any of the cast members or did they audition?
JR: Thomas knew Udo from POSSESSED so he got us a meeting quite early on. We wrote the part for Udo so we were gunning for him from the beginning. Deborah came through the regular channels of casting. She was our first choice...had a great meeting...that was that. Lance was shooting in Romania at the same time and it was just luck that we hadn't cast that part. Sisto had worked with him before and was very jazzed about the idea. Initially we weren't sold that he could give us the soft, gentle, caring character that Howard needed, but after meeting with him, seeing his bright smile and natural warmth, we couldn't have it any other way. We fought like crazy with the Armada producers over the casting of the neighbor and they insisted we cast a UK actor for sales reasons (akkkkk!) so Bruce Payne was cast off a head shot 2 days before he was on camera.

MT: Udo Kier was the first one to sign. We had written the part for him. We got through him through a friend of ours, Thomas Mai (one of the producers), who had produced a Danish film called BESAT or POSSESSED which starred Udo. Udo rocks. We also had written the part of Trish with Deborah in mind and our casting director contacted her and fortunately she was interested. Deborah rocks as well. Lance we met in a hotel lobby in Bucharest and he rocked too.

Was it your intention to have a cast of recognisable faces so that horror and sci-fi fans might want to see the film?
JR: It kind of just ended up that way.

MT: We wanted as many sinister people as we get our hands on.

So were you actually both fans of these actors?
JR: Yes.
MT: Love them all. They are all great actors.

What kind of films do you both enjoy watching?
JR: I Just saw Door in the Floor last night - loved it! Loving all the Kaufman scripts/movies lately. Still love to feast on older stuff like Godard & Polanski, love Terry Gilliam, David lynch, David Cronenberg etc etc.

MT: We pretty much like the same stuff. Be it Antonioni or Kubrick or Godard. Of course Cronenberg and Lynch and "Harold and Kumar go to White Castle". The last great film I saw was BIRTH, Glazier's totally underrated brilliant masterpiece. Oh and Shaolin Soccer, can't wait to see Kung Fu Hustle.

Lance Henriksen has been doing lots of genre pictures lately, but this is the best performance I have seen from him in a long time, how did you enjoy working with Lance?
JR: Lance was a treat to work with, very fast and pro...no BS...we also felt that this role would be a great departure from his standard fare.

MT: It was a joy, like all our actors, completely professional and he makes excellent pottery. I think he secretly enjoyed the singing part.

Marteinn: "We wanted as many sinister people as we could get our hands on".

Jeremy is also a fine young actor, what did you like about his performance the most?
JR: Probably his ability to skate the edge of a violent outburst whilst maintaining extreme vulnerability.

MT: His absolute dedication to the character and his ability to internalise all those feelings. I think he managed to become Simon although a lot of critics wouldn't agree but that's the beauty of it, it's not showy or flashy which is what Hollywood loves.

Of course you also got to work with Udo Keir. Udo seemed like a lot of fun, did he keep things light on set?
JR: Very light. Udo was great fun and things got a little too serious at times after he left.

MT: Udo is a joker, he is really professional and his sense of humour delights everyone. He was also the only actor to buy the crew cases of wine and beer and bottles of vodka after his first day of shooting. He has respect for everyone in the crew and that's why everyone loves him.

Do you think it is easier to co-direct or does it make it harder when there are two of you with creative ideas?
JR: It's both...hard because we have to keep checking with each other to make sure you're not making a decision that the other wouldn't approve of and easy because when you are truly in sync creatively, you can move quite fast, answering questions at twice the speed, sometimes we broke off into 2 separate units.

MT: I don't think its any easier and it certainly can't be done unless you have done A LOT of planning. We planned everything beforehand and it also helped that we both wrote the script so it was like our little baby.

The film was amazingly well shot with rich texture and great use of dark colour, is this something you both had in mind when writing the story?
JR: Yes. We knew we wanted to make a very dark film with a rich colour palette. We wanted the building to feel like a character.

MT: Yeah, it was pretty much in the script. We, of course, then fleshed it out with our DP our Production Designer and Costume Designer.

The locations also enhanced the look of the production, who suggested shooting in Romania?
JR: Armada pictures suggested it. It worked in a bizarre way. We knew we wanted a broken down urban core, which we certainly got in Bucharest, but we had to be careful because we wanted the film to take place in America. The store for instance was the only one in all of Bucharest that had that feel of a North American 7-11.

MT: Well, that came about because of budget constraints, but we were really happy with the locations. Bucharest has such interesting texture and it fit the film.

Did the shoot go smoothly?
JR: At times it went smoothly, and at other times it was a nightmare. Some of the producers were difficult to work with and every attempt to cut corners boxed us in creatively.

MT: It did, actually, we finished a few hours ahead of schedule but I think we went a bit over on our footage.

How have audiences reacted to the film? It has been well received by genre fans online.
JR: Mixed.

MT: Ah, it's been mixed. People seem to love it or hate it. At Sundance we had a great reaction form most people but it's not everyone's cup of tea. The Hollywood press (Variety and Hollywood Reporter), hated it.

I felt that after watching the film I would have to go back and watch it again, as I felt as though there would always be something new to notice on repeat viewings. Did you always intend the film to have a complex nature?
JR: Yes. It’s the mind-fuck genre, like Fight Club or Memento; we wanted to create a web of realities so that you/the audience can feel what Simon feels.

MT: Absolutely. Just as in life, there are no simple answers.

You are currently working on your next feature Stray Toasters; can you tell me anything about the project? For example is it true that it is based on a series of comics and/or a graphic novel?
JR: It's based on Bill Sienkiewicz's 4 part graphic novel; it's a sci-fi noir about an unstable criminal psychologist who's tracking a killer robot called Big Daddy. It's a murder mystery monster movie with some honest themes about the future of the family unit.

MT: Stray Toasters is on hold for now. But it's based on a series of comics that was turned into a graphic novel. The author is Bill Sienkiewicz. Jeff can elaborate more on this.

"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Jeff & Marteinn.
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."

Don't fall behind, make sure you get help
writing college papers fast.


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