"A young punk and a houseful of drunks square off against the group of militant straight edgers that he has abandoned." That's the synopsis to Straight Edge Kegger, a new film by director Jason Zink and Weird on Top Pictures, which obviously got my attention. A fine example of the DIY spirit that hardcore is so celebrated for, the movie was shot on a limited budget and its crew is largely comprised of people from the scene. If you're into '80s grindhouse, you'll enjoy Jason's blood-splattered vision.
In the following interview, I got to the bottom of Jason's story, the making of Straight Edge Kegger, and the struggles of being a truly independent filmmaker.
Tell me a bit about your background and your connection to the hardcore scene.
I grew up in the punk scene more than hardcore. My dad has been taking me to shows since I was a little kid and slowly but surely, I fell down the punk rabbit hole. And I fell hard. I’ve always had a rebellious mind I guess and when I found music that meshed with that, there was no turning back. But my tastes turning to hardcore was a slow burn. Sure, I dug Dead Kennedys and Minor Threat as much as the next guy, but it wasn’t until my early to mid 20s when I started going to Ceremony shows and listening to Victim in Pain on repeat. I’ve also had the bad luck with hardcore that I usually fall in love with bands after they’ve split up. Do you know how heartbroken I was when I found PUunch and then realized they were gone?
When and how did you begin working in the film community? Did you go to school for it, or have you done it via the DIY route?
All DIY. While I did minor in Film Studies, I didn’t go to a film school and the film program where I went was a joke. Their focus was videotaping live events. That was not what I wanted to do. So we said “fuck it” and started making our own films. In fact, if you could watch all three of our movies, you get to basically watch me go through film school and learn as I go. But I also have to give credit where credit is due. Both my cinematographers and my sound guy went to film schools. So there’s likely something to be said in their favor too.
You made a movie called Night Terrors in 2014. What did you learn on that film that you feel will be priceless for the rest of your career?
I could write an entire book about the lessons I learned with that movie. Maybe one day, I’ll make a podcast or something as a cautionary tale. The first lesson is that you can’t trust distributors. Or at least, you can’t trust them to look out for your best interests. I was so naive last time around and thought “If we get worldwide distribution, we’ll be all set.” Wrong. We would have made more money self-distributing... easily. So while talking to sales agents and distributors this time around, I’ve made the decision that I won’t sign with anybody unless I’ve really vetted them, trust their film slate and retain enough of my rights to feel comfortable.
The other lesson I learned is that someone else will have your idea eventually. If you wait too long, it’s gonna be too late. We’ve always had these ideas and struggle to get them off the ground and by the time we’re ready, somebody else already did it and with more resources. That’s actually why we shot the proof-of-concept before SEK was a feature. I basically decided we needed to stake our claim on the idea.
When did you start dreaming up the idea to do Straight Edge Kegger?
It all started with Kevin Smith. I read his book Tough Sh*t: Life Advice from a Fat, Lazy Slob Who Did Good where he explains the process by which he wrote and directed Red State and I was inspired by his DIY approach and the idea of using your own frustrations and internal conflict over a subject as the foundation. So when I thought about what I know better than most (write what you know), this idea came to me and the ball started rolling.
Was the film’s storyline inspired by a true-life event?
I have some close friends that grew up straight edge and most eventually broke edge. Even my own story is similar. While I never considered myself “edge” (didn’t even know what that was at the time), everybody else would’ve described me as such. So watching people deal with that transition and the nervousness and anxiety that can come with it was the seed. In fact, our main character Brad (Cory Kays) is named after one of the only friends I’ve got that is still straight edge. Mix that all in with my love for Horror flicks and the foundation started to form.
Since the film was done on a shoestring budget, how did the DIY aspect of hardcore come into play? Did you call on friends from the scene there?
So many friends came together to make this happen. There’s so much that I could talk about here but I’m gonna choose to spread some light on some unsung heroes. Normally, I talk about my cast and crew working for cheap or sometimes even free... and I owe them my life. Truly. But our opening scene is really something to marvel at.
We filmed at the Subterranean in Chicago and we chose that place because of its low-to-ground stage. But choosing that place was a tall order. It was my dream location and I really didn’t think we could pull it off. So we just started chipping away at it. First, we contacted them directly to negotiate a “fair” rate. I put that in quotes because they were so nice to us and it really wasn’t fair for them. We got that place at a steal and I know it’s mostly due to the low budget of our project but they were also just supportive of the scene and our DIY ethos.
Next, we called on our pals UGLYBoNES and these guys are really the heroes of the story. Of course, they were more than willing to help on the movie. But they went above and beyond and set up the entire show. They contacted the bands and they’re the ones who promoted the shit out of it and packed the place... on a Monday. And that made it possible for us to do what should have been impossible. We had to pack up 20 people and a van full of gear and drive 2 hours and some change up to the city and shoot a massive scene at a wild punk show with a skeleton crew. We barely got what we needed and it was one of the most hectic nights of my entire life. But it was also one of the best nights of my life and easily my favorite part of our shoot.
Once you finished making the film, how did you go about shopping it to film festivals, etc.?
With film festivals, it’s really just about research and money. They’re an easy way to blow thousands of dollars but it’s also sort of a necessary evil to spread the word about your movie if you don’t have a marketing budget that comes with a big studio. That’s definitely not us. So we looked at other films and their selections. And built our list that way. But even all that is a learning process and trust me, we’re still learning. Luckily, the submission process has been streamlined by a site called Film Freeway. You build an electronic press kit and upload your screener and then start submitting right there. There are only a few festivals that still don’t utilize that site so most of it is really easy to manage.
I know firsthand how tough it is to get something from page to screen. What would you say is the most frustrating aspect of the whole thing?
What frustrates me at times is that folks don't realize how much a whole lot of people have to sacrifice to make independent films. They complain that a movie that cost under $40,000 to make doesn't hold up to a movie that costs over $1M to make but then they steal the independent flick or stream it for free and wonder why no good independent flicks come out anymore. Luckily, the reception for Straight Edge Kegger has been super positive so far. But we had one bad review where a guy compared us to a movie that took 5.5 million dollars to make and he couldn't even see the irony in his poor review.
“Remember: It costs nothing to encourage an artist, and the potential benefits are staggering. A pat on the back to an artist now could one day result in your favorite film, or the cartoon you love to get stoned watching, or the song that saves your life. Discourage an artist, you get absolutely nothing in return, ever.” —Kevin Smith
Now that Straight Edge Kegger is being released, what is next for you? Are you already working on the next project?
Well, I can say that I’m always working. But as for what’s next, I’m not really sure. I know the movie that I want to make next but so much is riding on the success of this film that it keeps everything sorta up in the air. I’ve got 9 or so scripts on the shelf for a rainy day, so if you know anybody who wants to be an executive producer, send them my way.
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