History ultimately decides which movies become cult classics, but Brandon and Jason Trost’s co-writing and co-directing debut already seems destined for an odd sort of immortality: cobbled together from glossy ‘80s Simpson-Bruckheimer clichés, sports-movie conventions and a Mad Max-meets-Demolition Man sci-fi framework, The FP feels so out of date that it’s oddly almost timeless. And after mounting a successful run at a series of festivals in 2011, the Trosts’ ambitious, retro-futuristic melodrama is winning audiences over in increasing numbers via a combination of traditional platform releases by Drafthouse Releasing, and consumer-driven distribution via Tugg.com, an on-demand program that allows cinephiles to coordinate screenings themselves for the films that they want to see.
As The FP arrives in cities like Chicago, Dallas and Minneapolis, with screenings yet to come in Charlotte, New Orleans, and Columbus, Badass caught up with Jason Trost this week via telephone to talk about the process of putting together the film. In addition to talking about his initial inspirations for the story, he offered some insights into its satirical take on small town life, hip-hop, and youth culture, and hinted at what’s to come for both him and his brother as they attempt to work on a larger scale, actually making some of the kinds of movies that they’re making fun of in their debut.
Where did the idea for The FP originally come from?
The original genesis for the idea was I was 16 years old. I was in high school playing Dance Dance Revolution at the time, because up in the FP [Frazier Park, California] there were some neighbors like a mile away or something like that, and we clearly weren't hanging out with girls. So we were playing Dance Dance Revolution, and we were playing Def Jam, the fighting game where you're a bunch of black rappers beating the shit out of each other in bars. That [game’s] vernacular just kind of worked its way in Dance Dance, and I was like, what if we mix these two worlds? It evolved beyond that when we started taking ‘80s references and things, but that was the original spark for the idea. That, and a hatred for The OC, because when you're a 16-year-old boy in high school there's no way in hell that you're going to watch The OC. So the original story from high school to start out was episodic, and that's why it was called The FP, because it was making fun of The OC. And then it over the past eight years morphed into what you're seeing now.
When you were building this world, or the look of the movie, was there any sort of cinematic point of reference that you guys really wanted to draw upon? The New York Times suggested it was parodying ‘80s sports dramas, but it felt to me more like a mash- up of Top Gun and Demolition Man.
All those things are accurate answers. We just had such a hodgepodge of ideas for it. Basically, every scene in the movie is referencing or stealing from some ‘80s or ‘90s movie that we love. I mean, on the whole we just wanted to have that Rocky-slash-Karate Kid vibe mixed with “How would Jerry Bruckheimer make this movie?” That was always sort of in our minds -- what would Jerry Bruckheimer do in this scene? And that's not always the right answer, but it was always the right answer for us.
How difficult was it to come up with a lexicon of slang that was sort of half-legitimate and half comprised of stuff that you invented or modified from existing slang?
We did make up some of it, but about 80 percent of the dialogue is all stuff that was stolen from things that kids say up in the FP and were modified. There's things that have been said to my sister or my brother or me when I lived out there, because it's really weird when you're in a small town and everybody thinks that they're like these thug kids, but since they don't even know what “thug” is, and they’re kind of like ten years behind up there, they kind of just make it up. They just kind of say it to say it, as if they're spitting out something they think sounds like thug talk, and it comes out like that because they're all these like geeky white mountain kids. It's just the weirdest thing ever to see.
That’s also what really jumped out at me on second viewing – that it does capture the trickle-down of hip-hop or pop culture to cities years after certain phrases or concepts are created.
The movie was always thought of as a satire, especially on my generation in particular because it's just really weird -- it's this generation where everybody wants to be tough and they want to have a problem. At least at the time [we came up with the idea], there wasn't a big war, we're not getting drafted, and the economy wasn’t so bad, [but] kids just kind of have to make something tough in their life, because for some reason people who don't have problems want them. They just kind of make up this weird problematic world that doesn't really exist, and it's definitely a satire on that.
How much did that satirical edge give you license to push how far you could go with certain aspects, such as the way the guys treat the girls, or even the girls calling themselves “bitches.” Is it excusable if it's in a satirical context?
Well, it's definitely a satire on my generation as a whole. Everything in this, I’ve seen, and the way that [the characters] act, I've seen tenfold from some people, especially in my age group. So it's just kind of ridiculous. It wasn't too hard to make anything up in that respect.
In terms of its sci-fi foundation, what was important to you in creating that world visually or conceptually?
We had a couple of rules, one of which being we always wanted to feel like it was in some sort of like nebulous time frame -- is it in the future, is it in the past, is it the future of the 80s? We had no idea. We never wanted you to be able to put a thumb on, "oh, that is 1999," and it sort of helped us out having that rule. But it definitely turned out looking like Mad Max, because our dad was a special effects coordinator he’s got a ranch in the FP and there's a bunch of weird, mechanical equipment up there. It kind of looks like Mad Max already, so it’s kind of just grabbing piles of machinery and garbage from across the property and putting them in one big pile. And we had a deal with the local thrift store which had the same Mad Max problem going for it -- a bunch of weird machinery -- so we incorporated that into our look because we knew we had it.
Did you build or develop your own Beat-Beat machine or just rejigger an existing one with your own screens?
The only thing that was kind of close is we took some original pads and modified them. But beyond that, there's a whole setup of a system that we built from scratch to make it look more like the designs that we had -- because an actual Dance-Dance machine probably wouldn't look right in the world we created. We had to make it more mechanical and more sort of steampunk and dirty. The effects that are on the screen were actually happening when we filmed it and we just danced to them like you would be in the game, so we actually are dancing to all the beats and all the steps, although it was planned that way ahead of time.
How difficult was it to be handling multiple responsibilities as co-writer and co-director and also be starring in the film?
It seems super natural to me, just because I'd been in that world for a long, it would be much easier for me to tell myself what to do as opposed to trying to explain it [to someone else]. It was already hard enough explaining to the other actors who weren't from the FP what the hell was going on there. So having me be the main character made it easier, but I find it easier when you're acting as well as directing something. It's like you're the quarterback and you're out there on the field -- you're giving plays right out there, and you know what's going on as opposed to being stuck here at a monitor and trying to figure out what the hell is going on. When you're right there, you can feel it.
Where did you guys draw the line between doing something that was so tongue-in-cheek that people would sort of embrace it ironically, and something where audiences really might care about these characters? Because it’s so over-the-top, it seems more designed as a deliberate cult movie than a straightforward sci-fi film.
I don't think anybody says "hey, I want to make a cult movie." Or maybe they do, but there definitely was never an intention to go "we're going to make the greatest cult movie of all time." We were just like, "well, we have this really funny, sarcastic joke, it's a long 90-minute sarcastic joke, and it's a really funny satire, so let's just do it and see what happens." We just wanted everything to take itself so seriously that the world is the joke. As you know if you've seen the movie, nobody's really telling jokes per se in the movie -- there's no winking at the camera. It's always a joke of how ridiculous [what they’re saying] is, and how much they actually believe what's coming out of their mouth. I feel like it's harder to do because you don't see that kind of joke a lot, where if you do the Will Ferrell style, there would be jokes everywhere and I think that would have been a lot harder to endure for 90 minutes.
What did you focus on in terms of directing other actors and then giving your own performance? Were you worried about the dialogue sounding naturalistic, or was it more important to have a consistent sort of elevated seriousness?
The elevated seriousness was always the priority. A lot of it, truth be told, was that you have to keep a straight face in the scene -- I know what's coming out of your mouth, but you have to keep it straight. So when I'm directing, I had to direct it completely like it was a dramatic scene, like I might as well have been directing a Stephen Spielberg Schindler's List scene or something. Like “this is going to be real” -- I want to see tears; you're not trying to be funny, but there was always a heightened sense of drama. We were never doing something to try and make it funny, or we always wanted it to be funnier because of how serious it was. It was like, "on this one can you cry a little bit harder” Or, “on this one, say it even softer because then it hurts that much more."
How did you and Brandon divide directing responsibilities? As a cinematographer did he deal with cameras while you worked with the actors?
On a whole I would say yes to that. I mean, sometimes I would come up with some idea for a shot or some visual element and sometimes he would have a better idea for someone's performance or something here and there. But generally I deal with the story and the actors and he deals with the shooting of the movie. But it all bleeds together, for sure.
How reflective is this film of the kind of material you want to work on going forward?
I'm not exactly sure, because I know what we're going to do next but it's interesting because this movie kind of makes fun of all the movies that we actually do want to make. I think people will see this movie and go, "oh God they must hate those big budget movies, those Jerry Bruckheimer movies," but the secret is we love them so much. That's why we made the joke and that's all we want to do -- big, fun summer movies. We'll see if we can ever get to that point, but it's really funny that we made fun of what we actually want our career to be.
What is next for you guys?
We have something in the works that I can't really say too much about because it hasn't been released yet. But it's definitely going to be more of a serious action-horror [movie]. It's definitely coming, and it will be serious -- it's not going to be a comedy like The FP. It'll be one of the movies we're making fun of [in this] for sure.
How soon are you announcing what that is, and will you be multi-tasking in that movie like you did here?
I certainly wouldn't be starring in it myself, because I think that would be foolish. But I'd like to pop my head in there at some point and get shot in the face or something -- I think that would be fun. I'm not exactly sure when things are going to be released because it all just kind of happened pretty fast, but there should be something in the next month or so about what's going on. And beyond that, I'll be probably continue to keep doing some of my weirdo little stunts or movies that I do on my own here in the near future as well.
You mention these little movies you make. Do you have your own individual pursuits that are separate from your work with Brandon?
Yeah, I do. I made a superhero movie that I think is coming out this summer on DVD, a superhero movie. And now I'm about to jump into a production while [Brandon] goes off and shoots his big Seth Rogen movie. But yeah, I like to keep busy with things in between, to keep freshened up for when big ones come around.