Long distance relationships

Local film collective overcomes geographical barriers to turn a fake trailer into a feature length movie

A poster for Father’s Day, created by Tom Hodge. 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. Astron-6

Last year, 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, 25. “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 of last year and wrapping just days before our mid-May interview.

The film is currently in the rough-cut stages, with a heavy dose of sound editing and title work to be completed.

“We’d shoot for 21 hours a day,” says Sweeney, also 25. “This movie’s been our life now for over a year, so until it’s absolutely finished, it never feels like we’re completely out of the trap.”

A tentative release date of June 19 (Father’s Day weekend) is planned for select theatres in New York and Los Angeles, and the film will likely tour the country in a road show fashion, though nothing is scheduled yet.

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?

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

“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.

“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 U of W 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.”

Published in Volume 65, Number 26 of The Uniter (June 2, 2011)

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