Trent Haaga was kind enough to take a little break from shooting his latest movie 'Black Dahlia' to talk to me about the highs and lows of the low budget horror industry, as well as what to expect from his latest projects. Trent's hard work has secured his place on the horror map, and he has been noted by his fellow horror peers as one to watch. After reading this I'm sure you will all agree.....well except the ever modest Trent that is.
How did you get your start in the biz?
I've been a movie - and in particular horror movie - junkie for my entire life. I went to film school with the intention of getting a degree and then working some terrible job not having anything to do with the industry. Flash forward a couple years and I'm working for an internet company and happen to go to Troma's website where they were looking for extras for their film TERROR FIRMER. I called and got an appointment to "audition." About a billion callbacks later, I got the role of "Jerry." After that, my old job just didn't have the allure (even though the paycheck was excellent). So I quit and went to work for Troma and eventually wrote and Produced and Assistant Directed CITIZEN TOXIE. The rest, as they say, is history...
Do you feel that you benefited from your time at Columbia college?
I think about this sometimes. I got a chance to meet some great people and got to learn the nuts and bolts of filmmaking and theory and generally fucked about for four years. I often wonder where I'd be if I had just gone straight to Los Angeles after high school. Maybe I'd be all kinds of rich and successful. BUT life has led me on this path and I can't say that I regret going to school and taking a break for a few years before becoming...whatever it is I am today. Short answer: yes. After all, I met my wife in college!
You have worked in a range of capacities, which aspect of the business do you enjoy the most?
Production itself is the most tiring, but also the most rewarding. I come from a rural area of the States, where the amount of work you've done can be directly measured by the amount you've sweated. Plus, shooting it is when you really are bringing a script to life for the first time. The worst aspect is when you've finished a film and are trying to sell it. That's why - in most cases anyways - filmmakers don't have to also be salespeople!
Out of all of the characters you have played, which role has been the most fun?
I'd have to say Jerry from TERROR FIRMER was the most fun because it was my first time on any film and it was a great Troma film. My newest release in the States, SUBURBAN NIGHTMARE, was also a great experience for different reasons - it was my first "serious" role and it was nice to get to play against type as the "wacky, funny" guy.
What are your thoughts on the low budget horror movies being made in the digital age?
AMEN! Let's make as many as we can right now! History will determine which ones live on, but I can't get enough low budget horror films no matter what.
Trent with Black Dahlia director
Ramzi Abed and co-star Kristen Kerr
I particularly liked 'Hell Asylum' how did you enjoy working with Danny Draven?
Thank you. Working with Danny was great. We were, naturally, under massive time and budgetary constraints, but I think it turned out pretty good all things considered. Danny and I were together on set trying to make the best picture possible every day and it's nice to hear that people like it.
How did the project come about did you work on it together or had you just written it and then it was picked up and given to Danny to direct?
Actually, the title was originally PRISON OF THE DEAD 2 and that was the title we shot it under. It had already been sold by Full Moon before we even had a script! On the last day of shooting KILLJOY 2, J.R. Bookwalter, the Producer, asked me if I'd be interested in writing PRISON 2. I was going to fly to New York to act in a film for a week the next day, but said "sure, why not?" I acted for eight days and wrote HELL ASYLUM at night in my hotel. A week and a half after returning we were shooting it! Danny came on as a director at about the same time I came on as a writer - just a few weeks before shooting.
How long does a shoot like that normally take to do? A few days?
We shot KILLJOY 2, HELL ASYLUM, and DEAD AND ROTTING in 8 days (each, not all three in 8 days!). THE GHOULS shot in 12 days. SUBURBAN NIGHTMARE in 9. The Troma films each took about a month to shoot.
DVD releases of films like 'Hell Asylum' have no extras on them when they are released here in the UK. Is this something that you are aware of?
I wasn't really aware of that, but you might be shocked to know that it doesn't really bother me that much! I can't tell you how many special edition DVDs I've rented or bought that I've never delved into. I just like to watch the movies. Sure, on the films I've worked on it's nice to have a record of other things that went on with the shoot, but for your average rental I usually just watch the movie itself and ignore the extras!
Can you tell me about 'Zombiegeddon'? Is it just a collection of short clips edited together?
I just shot a tiny scene for ZOMBIEGEDDON. It's an actual feature film, not a compilation at all, but I haven't seen it so I can't tell you much about it!
Can you tell me about your work at Troma, I hear you practically ran the place and that you and Lloyd didn't always exactly see eye to eye. Care to elaborate?
I haven't worked at Troma for the last 4 years or so. I did work there in the offices as Head of Production for a while and of course did 2 features, the Channel 4 TV show, and co-wrote Lloyd's new book, but I certainly haven't "run the place" in a few years. I think that any time you get creative people to work together there will be times that they don't see eye to eye. But I have nothing but the utmost respect and love for Lloyd - he's been one of my heroes since I was a teenager!
You went to High School with Jennifer Garner, is everyone in your class famous or is it just you two?
I actually went to 3 different high schools since my parents moved around a bit. I attended 11th grade and graduated high school with Jennifer. The high school before that, I was classmates with Michael Rosenbaum, who plays Lex Luthor in the TV show SMALLVILLE and is also in URBAN LEGEND and MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL among other films. Both of them are what I would consider "famous" - they both made it to the cover of MAD magazine! I'm not famous by anybody's standard - just an average working Joe.
Do you aspire to be as big as her or do you just want to be happy and making movies?
I don't want to be so famous that I can't even go out and buy groceries without the fear of harassment - who WOULD want that? I love making low-budget horror flicks and am generally pretty happy. BUT I wouldn't mind making a little bit more money - I have a family and a son! If I could sell a script or something and get just 1/30th of what Jennifer got paid to do 13 GOING ON 30, I'd be a really happy fellow! As it is, I've got to bust my ass just to barely make the rent. It can get frustrating, but at this juncture it's really all I know how to do!
Trent gets his skinned alive
makeup applied on 'The Ghouls'.
What are your thoughts on the downside to fame?
Money and fame are seriously as addicting and can have as much of an effect on you as crack addiction, I think. Although I don't know for sure, because I don't have any money - not even enough for a crack habit!
Do you like the fact that the horror community is so close knit?
I do. It fosters a sense of brotherhood. And we're all hoping that somebody in our brotherhood does well so that we, by proxy, will feel the happiness that he or she feels.
Is it true that there are no egos and everyone just pitches in to help their friends out? I find that is the best way to learn and to make movies, how about you?
At this level, I think so. We all have nothing to lose and potentially everything to gain. The greatest thing is that every time we get together and try to make a movie, we don't know if we're creating the next TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Of course, most of the time we're just creating the next HOUSE OF THE DEAD, but it doesn't hurt to keep trying!
You're currently shooting and producing 'Black Dahlia' what can you tell us about the project?
It's based on the real-life case of the BLACK DAHLIA murder in the 40s, but is told in a semi-modern setting. The director, Ramzi Abed, definitely has a unique vision, and it promises to be unlike anything I've been involved in to date. Think David Lynch as opposed to Lucio Fulci.
I spoke with a certain celebrity last week (Trent knows who it is, but you guys will have to wait for their exclusive interview coming soon) and said person noted that you are a really great guy, and that you do amazing work and they think you're going to be a huge star possibly even the next Brad Pitt. How does it feel to have stars compliment you like this?
Always nice to get comments like that from people you respect. The Brad Pitt thing is taking it a bit far, but I am tickled at the comment nonetheless!
What lies ahead for you in terms of new projects?
A script that I wrote, FEEDING THE MASSES, just shot last month. I've just written a vampire film and its sequel to be shot later this year. Then I do a re-write on a romantic comedy (!) and then will hopefully be co-directing a script I wrote called DEAD GIRL before the end of the year. And of course there's the DAHLIA film and a couple of other acting gigs on the horizon. Just trying to keep busy...
"Thank you for taking part in this interview Trent.
We all wish you the very best of luck in the future."
You can visit Trent's official web site here: www.trenthaaga.com
'Suburban Nightmare' is out in the U.S this Tuesday (29th June 2004).