Happy Father’s Day

Local filmmaking collective turns fake trailer into feature length movie

Adam Brooks plays one-eyed vigilante Ahab and Amy Groening plays his sister, Chelsea, in the locally-shot feature Father’s Day. Courtesy Astron-6
Broken, beat and scarred: Local filmmaking collective Astron-6 is (from left) Matthew Kennedy, Conor Sweeney, Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski. Courtesy Astron-6

In 2010, local indie film production team Astron-6 inked a deal with B-movie crusaders Troma Entertainment to fund and distribute Father’s Day, a violent revengesploitation comedy about paternal love gone awry.

Produced by Matt Kennedy, Conor Sweeney, Adam Brooks, Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski, the fake trailer on which the film is based caught the attention of Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman, and the rest is movie history.

Well, not yet.

Before the ink could dry, Astron-6 began splitting up across Canada. Kennedy took a teaching gig in Vancouver, Gillespie split for Toronto to work on Len Wiseman’s Total Recall remake, while Kostanski was consumed by work on Wrong Turn 4.

“It’s been very off and on all year,” says Kennedy, 26. “We would shoot most of the time when I was back or Steve was back, so it’d be months where we would do nothing and Adam would work on rough-cutting the movie.”

With a micro budget, Father’s Day was shot sporadically in Winnipeg and Kenora, Ont., beginning in August 2010 and wrapping up in May 2011.

After successful screenings at numerous film festivals across North America, Winnipeg audiences can see the film when it opens at Cinematheque on Friday, March 16 at 10 p.m.

“We’d shoot for 21 hours a day,” remembers Sweeney, also 26. “This movie’s been our life now for over a year.”

Shot mostly on a Canon 7D, the flick follows Ahab (Brooks), a cycloptic vigilante on a vengeful killing spree. Other characters include male prostitute Twink (Sweeney), Father John Sullivan (Kennedy), more than a few strippers (A6 regular Amy Groening and actual strippers), God and the Devil (Kaufman in dual roles) and Mackenzie Murdock as Chris Fuchman, the evil dad rapist.

The flick is filled to the brim with nudity, four-letter words and more grotesque violence than you can shake a severed limb at – which begs the question, is there anything Astron-6 won’t do?

“There’s no limit to anything we’ll do, as long as it’s fun with some humour behind it,” Kennedy explains. “Troma did suggest a lot of comedy that we drew the line at.”

“Fart jokes make me cringe,” Sweeney adds. “I liked Hobo with a Shotgun (another film based on a fake trailer), but it did have a mean-spiritedness to it that was hard to stomach.”

Astron-6 usually enlists a loyal group of onscreen regulars – Sweeney’s sister Meredith appeared in numerous shorts, as well as Father’s Day – but to fill out the many roles a feature film demands, the group had to venture outside its usual repertoire.

My dad eventually showed up and basically brainwashed this guy into apologizing to us for calling the police.

Conor Sweeney, Astron-6

“We put up ads on Kijiji and said we’re making a Troma movie, but we can’t pay you,” Sweeney says. “Guy Maddin basically got us most of our other (principal actors) in the movie.”

“We’ve found that there are a lot of talented artists out there in Winnipeg,” Kennedy adds. “They’re having fun exploring their characters instead of just asking, ‘Where do I stand?’”

While the collective had no problem asking new collaborators to join the Astron-6 fold, asking permission to film at a few locations was another story.

“We almost got arrested for shooting without a permit in Kenora,” Sweeney says. “It was at the end of a full day, we were losing light and we knew we had to crash this jeep. As we were finishing the scene this guy pulled up and blocked us into the area and revealed that he had called the police.

“My dad eventually showed up and basically brainwashed this guy into apologizing to us for calling the police.”

Based on the local cult success of Astron-6’s pop-culture-pillaging short films, the collective has earned its fair share of copycat fanboys/girls in the University of Winnipeg film department.

“What a nightmare,” Sweeney groans.

“I’m flattered,” Kennedy counters. “But if they get famous, or at least make money – which we’re not doing – before us, then I’ll be really upset.”

Father’s Day plays at Cinematheque Friday, March 16 (10 p.m.); Saturday, March 17 (9 p.m.); Wednesday, March 21 and Thursday, March 22 (9 p.m.); Friday, March 23 (9:30 p.m.); and Saturday, March 24 at 9 p.m. On March 16, there will be an opening night Q&A with Adam Brooks and Jeremy Gillespie. Visit www.thefathersdaymovie.com.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the June 2, 2011 issue of The Uniter, when it was looking as though the film Father’s Day would be released before the end of 2011.

What - or who - is Astron-6?

Astron-6 is a local filmmaking collective formed in 2007 by five men who met at the Winnipeg Short Film Massacre. (The sixth member of the collective is you, the viewer.)

The collective includes:
- Matthew Kennedy, a comedian and actor
- Conor Sweeney, a comedian, actor and film student
- Adam Brooks, a painter and filmmaker
- Jeremy Gillespie, a graphic designer and musician
- Steven Kostanski, a filmmaker, animator and special effects artist

For trailers, short films and more info, visit www.astron-6.com.

Published in Volume 66, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 14, 2012)

Related Reads