Jeff Renfroe & Marteinn Thorsson
Jeff: "We made all kinds of crazy video films".
Conducted by Phil
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
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
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
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
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.
"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
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
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
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
So were you actually both fans
of these actors?
MT: Love them all. They are all great actors.
What kind of films do you both
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
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
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.
"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
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
Do you think it is easier to
co-direct or does it make it harder when there are two of you with
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
The locations also enhanced
the look of the production, who suggested shooting in
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
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.
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
MT: Absolutely. Just as in life, there are no simple
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