Sweetback (SB): Let’s jump into your latest project, the extremely exciting sounding MIDNIGHT SHOW. It sounds like an absolute riot, coming from the long tradition of skit compilations like THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE, THE GROOVE TUBE and AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON. What role do you have in the film, and when are genre fans likely to be able to check it out?
Steven A. Grainger (SG): Newt Wallen is the main guy behind MIDNIGHT SHOW. He and I started talking online a number of years ago. My part in MIDNIGHT SHOW is called ATTACK OF THE ROBOT NAZI. It was originally a film within a film. Newt was trying to get a film called DIE LAUGHING going and he had asked me to direct the fake film scenes that characters in his film would be watching. The financing fell through on DIE LAUGHING, but I never forgot about the fake film as it seemed like a funny idea to me. I contacted Newt and asked him if he minded me taking the idea and doing a fake trailer that I would use to promote my website More Brains Media. He gave me the go ahead and while I was making the plans for it Newt contact me again to tell me he was planning a feature of fake trailers and so forth like the stuff featured in GRINDHOUSE and we decided to make ROBOT NAZI part of that feature, which is MIDNIGHT SHOW. I’m a fan of the 1950’s sci fi stuff that is the basis of ROBOT NAZI so it was fun making it with some talented friends of mine.
SB: Moving back to your formative years, what sort of media most influenced your particular worldview? Obviously the Troma films of the 80s must have had a large influence on a young Steven Grainger.
SG: I am and have always been a film junkie. As a small child I loved watching Creature Features that came after Saturday morning cartoons and late at night after I was supposed to be asleep. I loved the old Universal Monsters and the giant monster movies from Japan that made up most of those playlists. As I got older I found I really enjoyed all kinds of film from high art to low brow. I actually ended up working for Troma at a convention before I was truely aware of their films. I had done costume work before and I called about working DragonCon in Atlanta – where I was living at the time – to portray the Toxic Avenger in 2000. I realized I had seen a number of their films but had not remembered the Production company’s name. I met Lloyd Kaufman then and he and I have staying in contact and worked together on and off ever since.
SB: Your first major credit involves your work as writer, producer and actor on the two COME GET SOME no-budget b&w zombie films. Was it always your ambition to transition into directing, or did it just come naturally with the more experience you had actually on these sets?
SG: I met Jason Griscom, the director of COME GET SOME, at DragonCon in 2000 while he was also working at the Troma booth. He told me he had a script he wanted to film and he was interested in me playing the lead role. He and I re-wrote some of the script and we managed to get the film to happen over the course of 2 years, mainly on weekends. I had directed some theatre before and I knew I was interested in trying my hand at film and I got a taste of what it took making COME GET SOME. I had worked on some Hollywood stuff and the process of making film always fascinated me, so I guess it was natural I would want to move into directing. At this point I’d rather direct than anything else, I enjoy the job so much.
SB: SUPER TROMETTE ACTION MOVIE GO! is entirely insane. It gleefully embraces the bad-taste aesthetic of those early Troma films. How did the original concept develop, and how the heck did you even describe the plot to your actors and crew? Was much of the nuttiness that ended up on the screen in the original script?
SG: Jen Tonon wrote, produced and starred in STAMGo. I knew her from talking to her on the Troma website. She sent me her script and I made some suggestions and she gave me a screen credit for those, which was going to be my only involvement in the project originally. A week before she was set to film she lost her original director and she called me to offer me the job. I thought I was only going to direct, but as is often the case on low budget sets, I ended up acting in the film, doing effects and various other jobs. Most of the original script is in there but we let the cast add stuff as we went along, as well is trying out ideas that occurred to us on the set. I often referred to film stereotypes to the cast to tell them where the concept of the scene was going and then we experimented in how to make it as interesting as possible. There was a good core group involved in that film that made the project become more that it originally was. Film is very organic process. If you’re smart, you don’t fight changes that naturally happen, but embrace them.
SB: One of the things I most love about the film is how enthusiastically it embraces its limitations. Even the establishing shots look like they were whipped up on MS-Paint. Did you go into production with a conscious idea of celebrating the ultra low-budget nature of what you were making?
SG: I say if you going to do something, do it with love. I am a film geek, I love low budget films and think that enthusiasm shows onscreen. The film developed as it went and many people added things here and there that made STAMGo what it is. Film is the most collaborative process there is, no one person makes a film, it’s always a group effort. Luckily STAMGo had a group of creative people who inspired each other and instead of quitting when things went wrong, we embraced all the turmoils and used them to help make the film whole.
SB: Talk about getting some of the more recognizable faces – Lloyd Kaufman, Dave Brockie (from GWAR), Mark Torgl (the original Melvin from THE TOXIC AVENGER) – to make appearances in the film. The whole aesthetic seems so chaotic and punk rock, I can only imagine it was a wild shoot.
SG: Kaufman, Brockie and Torgl were all kind enough to lend us some of their time, but none of them were actually on the set when 90% of the film was made. Jen got Lloyd’s bit at a convention, Brokie’s bit was shot at the Slave Pit and Torgl was kind enough to shoot his stuff himself and mail it to us. We knew where the bits were going in the film so it was just a matter of editing it together. It’s amazing what you can get some people to do by just asking nicely. Jen is a musician whose music is very punk influenced and I’m a long time fan of punk, so it’s natural anything we do creatively would show that.
SB: The film involves would be could be considered some rather touchy and taboo subject matter – Rape, Pedophilia and plenty in-between. Was there ever a concern you might be crossing the line of good taste, or have you had to deal with much negative feedback due to the occasionally touchy content?
SG: That kind of goes back to the punk attitude. You want to be offensive to a degree. As long as you have a point, there really should not be any sacred cows about material. Not to say we take these concept lightly in real life, but in this film there is no reality except the one we make and as Jen’s original script took place in Tromaville, there was already a degree of absurdity and offensiveness set up. Sure, some people are going to hate you, but some people will hate you no matter what you do. Some people need to get offended, if you never get offended you are living in a bubble and never dealing with real life.
SB: SUPER TROMETTE ACTION MOVIE GO! has plenty of bizarre touches, but none more bizarre than the choice to entirely dub your lead actress’ voice. Was that a decision made while filming, and what was Merrie Swain’s (who plays Dyslexia) response to finding her voice removed?
SG: That choice was made after the fact. Merrie spoke extremely softly the entire time and we knew we would have to re-record her. But after filming, she could not return for the re-recording. Finally we decided to just have someone else do the voice and we figured if we were going to do that we should make it like all those awfully dubbed European and Kung Fu films we enjoyed and have the voice completely not fit the character at all.
SB: You also recently completed a documentary on the Steampunk subculture. Can you speak a little about what led to the documentary, and what about Steampunk fascinated you enough to want to cover it to this level?
SG: I have a number of friends who were into steam-punk and I asked them to explain it to me. I discovered that I had actually been a fan of it but had no idea what it was called or that there was an entire movement. It fascinated me that this entire subculture had built up without any one book or film being the basis – there are many examples of it in both, but no one blueprint. I love fan generated content, because it comes from love and general creativity. I thought many people were like me and did not know about this sub culture and, always being a fan of documentaries decided to take a shot at explaining the movement to those who are uninformed of the many aspects of it. I had no idea it was a far reaching as I learned while talking to folks involved.
SB: Is there any other work coming from yourself or your production company MORE BRAINS MEDIA that interested genre fans should be looking out for in the near future?
SG: I have a number of possible projects in the future. We have a slasher parody with puppets we are in pre-production on. If MIDNIGHT SHOW does well, we may attempt to do a feature of ROBOT NAZI based off the fake trailer – in the tradition of HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN and MACHETE. I also have a few other projects with other folks that may happen. Currently working on the second live performance DVD for the band Jen is in, Cassandra Syndrome. Always looking for something new on the horizon.
SB: For fans of your work, or those curious about what you’ll be working on in the future, what’s the best way to stay in touch?
SG: People can find us easily on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/More-Brains-Media/107595927642?ref=ts&fref=ts. They can purchase one of our quality films at http://www.morebrainsmedia.com/Store.php
It’s really hard to avoid me on the interwebs when I am whoring out a project.
SB: Anything else to plug?
SG: For the music lovers out there you can check out Jen’s band at https://www.facebook.com/cassandrasyndrome?ref=ts&fref=ts or her solo stuff at http://jentonon.bandcamp.com/
SB: Finally, what’s advice might you have for young or inexperienced film-makers who are looking to tackle their first feature?
SG: Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t make a film. Take advice, but always consider the source. Don’t give up when things go wrong. Always be open to new ideas and never be afraid to ask for help. You will learn form your mistakes. Do it out of love, not the desire to get famous or rich, cause neither one is likely.
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