Jason McHugh, a name some might not be familiar with but one that you should be. Teaming up with Trey Parker and Matt Stone while in college, Jason went on to produce and act in both Cannibal! The Musical and Orgazmo and has since become one of the biggest driving forces behind two of the best independent comedies to be made. It was both an honor and a pleasure to be able to interview this producer at large as he gets down into the nitty gritty about making your own damn movie.
What made you decided to take filmmaking at the University of Colorado?
For me, I chose film because both of my parents were artists and I wanted to do something that was creative but wasn't specifically fine arts. When I took my first film class it became just one of those things where the more filmclasses I took the more I kind of liked it. Felt it was the right class for me, so the more serious I got and so I decided to declare it as my major. Took some acting classes as well but the actual film making classes were what appealed to me. The acting was fun but ultimately it was the film making that was the most rewarding.
How did you come to meet the people that would become the Avenging
Trey I actually met in acting class along with Dian Bachar. Trey also worked behind the cage where we would rent all of our equipment for shooting so we all got to know him there since that was the central spot where we would all have to go. Then I met Matt in the intermediate film class and it was actually kind of funny because everybody was making their own movies in the University of Colorado. That was kind of an advantage of going to a place like Boulder everybody gets to make their own movie and then everyone else helps out on it. U of C is more structured where you're the director, the writer, the gaffer, or whatever specific job is. Anyway, Matt and I bizarrely had the very exact same idea for a movie and he had already shot his a semester before and hadn't finished it. But it was one of those things that since we all were making our own movies and doing different jobs on everyone elses films. After you've done a bunch of movies you sort of gyrated towards people who had similar sensibilities that you did and that's sort of how the Avenging Conscience kind of found each other. Also Ian Hardin was in that same class with Matt and I. So yeah, after make a few movies we were the ones who liked to do the weirder stuff so that's how we gyrated together. But really we ultimately became the Avenging Conscience once Trey pulled us together to make the movie but that's how we all met.
Do you think the short films that you and the other guys made in school will ever be released or maybe find their way to DVD?
You know, I know there have been some underground releases out there for brief spurts of time and actually I just had a film teacher send me back a DVD that I have yet to watch with a bunch of shorts. Those films at U of C; we directed our own stuff and then worked on everyone elses projects so there are a bunch of shorts out there with Trey as an actor that was directed by some random guy. One of them, a guy named Robert Brown did this one that had a big Elvis theme and Trey played Elvis and he was an awesome Elvis - totally funny. There are movies like that that are floating around that I know hardcore fans are dying to see and to be honest I have no idea if those will come to light. So I'll say definitely maybe.
How did you guys decide that your first full length movie was going to be a horror-comedy-musical?
Trey had talked about wanting to do this musical-comedy about this cannibal, Alfred Packer, and that made sense to all of us based on the fact that Alfred Packer was the famous cannibal from Colorado. A grill was named after him, there's an Alfred Packer Day where radio stations would come in and bands would play and I think Primus played at Alfred Packer Day when they were just starting out. That's what Les had told us. So Alfred Packer is this big deal on the U of C campus and in Colorado in general, but I had never heard of him until I got there. So Trey put it in our minds that he wanted to do this movie for $10,000 and we all got excited about it.We were going to shoot it over Christmas break but that never happened because it didn't snow that year, and we were going to shoot it all in Trey's backyard. Anyway, Trey was engaged and was suppose to be getting married around this time and literally a month before his wedding day he walked in on his fiancé sleeping with another man. He was a shattered romantic at that point, very upset and very depressed. When he came out of his depression he was very very motivated to make the trailer for Cannibal! The Musical or rather Alfred Packer the Musical at that time. His drive was based on that he had written this short script for a preview where there was this slutty horse named Leann, which happened to be the same name as his fiancé. So he wanted to shoot this trailer as a way to sort of work through his emotional pain but in a funny way. He brought us all together at the beginning of summer to shoot this trailer and that was it, it was all about how slutty this horse Leann was. That was the premise, and he already had some music written and he cut the trailer together and it was hilarious and people started reacting to it as soon as they saw it. That's sort of the evolution of how we started the show.
During production, what do you think was the best moment and worst moment of making Cannibal! The Musical?
The best moment was probably having Trey directing a cast of over a hundred people with his ex-fiancé Leann choreographing, and watching him directing the cast. While MTV cameras were on the spot rolling, at this amazing old west town where we shot a lot of the scenes called Buckskin Joes. That was just a day where it was a big set and we had MTV covering us, which was a really big deal at the time. So the shooting of "Hang the Bastard" was probably the gloriest day as far as shooting is concerned. And I think probably the worst thing about filming it was having to endure some of the intense cold that we did. One of the reasons we cast ourselves - we all had done a lot of acting but one reason we ultimately decided we didn't want to have outside actors, or at least as few as possible. Was that we knew we would be putting ourselves or those actors through a lot of harsh situations. And we didn't want to deal with bitchy actors so we decided that we would be the bitchy actors. So we were literally chasing snow days; we were up at this pass in Colorado waiting for snow. Then we would get in these areas where there were these massive dangers for avalanches. Meanwhile we were shooting on 16mm and our crew was in good equipment; state of the art boots, jackets, and what not but our old-school cameras were freezing up. Then one day, and it was actually appropriate, because it was after they all had gone crazy and started eating Swan. For the Abe Lincoln scene, where Trey does the Abe Lincoln joke and everyone is going crazy - Bell, Miller, and Humphrey. The actors we were all wearing this thrift store clothes that were not very thermal to say the least, and so we were miserable and bitching and the camera was freezing up. It was definitely hardships like those that we endured throughout. Fortunately when we had to do the river crossing it was a sunny day because that was ice cold river water and we were wearing wet suits underneath our cloths, but even so, that was rough. Even with all those hard days most of the places we were staying at had hot tubes so at night we’d go back and have hot tub parties.
Going back to those hardships; was there ever a point in production, let's say like when you were dealing with the cheap effects, you'd stop and go, "What the hell are we doing here?"
Oh yeah, that kind of happened all the time. On our very first day of shooting we didn't do a lot make up tests or beard tests and Trey was beside himself - pissed off about how crappy our beards were. Though that's one of those things where that's part of the charm of the movie now, you know, the crappyness of it. At the time a lot of things that we were hoping would turn out professional turned out crappy, that was, for Trey especially really trying and he was quite unhappy. But then that's where we were in the beginning of the movie, but say 6 months later, we're at the end of it and I like to think we had a better grasp of what we were doing. Because we understood that this movie was going to be campy and have some silly holes in it, and because it was a comedy we kind of hoped that it didn't matter. Ultimately I think it makes the movie funnier now even though that wasn't necessarily what we intended when we were doing it. But then when we were shooting the Indian village 6 months later, and we were out of money for the art department. We had these teepees that we made; we had one good teepee but then we had all these bad teepees, and it was funny. When we got to the set and saw these crappy teepees, we laughed and then said alright well we just got to go with this. And again, I think all that crappy low production value adds to the comedy. The one thing that we did spend more money on and had a real professional work on was the blood special effects. Were Swan gets shot and the opening scene were my character Miller is getting his tongue ripped out, and all that kind of stuff. I'm glad that stuff had more of a real impact.
Put your money where you'll get the most value out of it.
Yeah, exactly and that’s just sort of how it rolled we went for the blood effects first.
In the commentary for Cannibal! The Musical, Trey and few others make a brief mention of you being a good singer even though you don't sing in the movie. Any truth to this?
Oh no, I'm a horrible singer that's all totally false.
Once again one of Trey's greatest strengths is using the resources he has to the best of his abilities. He did one short called The Screaming Beavers of Shri Lanka and he was laughed out of class and that was an intermediate film class. He made these screaming beavers and shot these battles scenes in a bath tub with toy boats. It was totally campy and stupid but it was also totally awesome and funny. Cut to having a bunch of different guys on this team making a musical and he had me as one of his core members, and I had a bad singing experience in 3rd grade and have not been able to sing on key ever since. So he cast me as the guy who can't sing and made that into a joke and I think that's definitely one of the funnier parts of the film. So yeah, I didn't help at all on the music other than say, "That’s great" when I heard it. As far as making it, nope. As me, played by the guy who can't sing.
What did your teachers think of Cannibal when you had it finished?
Actually we cast all of our film teachers in the movie; in the minor scene when you first meet all the minors and they're deciding whether or not to go to Breckenridge. Matt's father is played by Don Yannacito who was my favorite film teacher, he taught Beginning Film - I compare him to Yoda. Noon's father is played by Stan Brakhage and Stan is regarded as the father of avant garde cinema and was a great teacher, a brilliant man, and a brilliant filmmaker. Then Jerry Aronson, he was our primary teacher and our mentor in film school. Basically, he was the guy who would crawl up our ass and just work us over with the basics of filmmaking. He was the one who instilled the importance of having a beginning, middle, and end. Editing stuff for a narrative or documentary purposes. He's in it barely but the other guys are in it in a much bigger way. So they were all thrilled. They were thrilled to see students to pull off a feature film on any level, and then for it to actually be pulled off and to be good is quite amazing. They were all psyched and really supportive. I will say this, they were all on the film production side, the film studies side of things - there's a rift between the film production and the film studies departments. Even though it was all film there was this weird competition. Our Cannibal productions would take a Friday or a Monday for a long weekend of shooting so people would naturally be behind on their homework, because they were on these ridiculously long hour film shoots. One teacher, and he actually got hazed by a Rolling Stones article on South Park, Bruce Kawin, for when he failed Andy Kemlar and maybe even Trey as well. When they asked about him he got ripped on really hard because they were dicks at the time. They were making something that we were going for that was extraordinary and were making it even harder. So their challenge to us was not forgotten years later but from most people we got great support.
So were they merely being spiteful or was it coming from a lack of participation, or both?
Well basically it was just as simple as that the film studies professors thought what they were teaching was the most important. For the production majors, it was the production that was the most important, and production is a bitch. It can be really really hard. The thing about film is that it’s fun and creative but, its really hard work, really long hours; it involves a lot of details and a lot of different skills. It all takes a lot of time. Like let’s say when I went to Boulder I was excited because I was going to be in the mountains and skiing. Then when I became a film major all my weekends and all my extra money went to film and I actually quite skiing in Colorado. So it's just really challenging to do; it's great, really rewarding, and fun but it’s equally challenging and hard.
I've got to ask the question that I'm sure everyone is dying to know. Can we expect to see Alfred Packer: Trouble in Jamaica in 2010?
(laughs) Yeah, there's all the interest to do Trouble In Jamaica. There has been talk about doing Orgazmo: Trouble Down Under or Trouble in Tokyo but I haven't seen anything truly move in a certain direction were we can hope for that. Unless there is a talented comic book artist out there who's ready to bust out a comic. I hope for that everyday I wake up, every morning thinking about Trouble in Jamaica but I don't see that coming together in 2010 so fingers crossed for 2011.
Since you were getting a bigger budget for Orgazmo, what was running through your mind when you found out you were going to be getting part of your budget from a porn company in Japan?
That was just a dream come true to be honest. We have had the idea for Orgazmo once we had gotten to Los Angeles and Trey, Matt, and I all really liked the idea of coming into town with Cannibal! The Musical. A total insane idea for a movie that probably should have never been made. But the very least we wanted was to come up with something even crazier and that's where Orgazmo came in. We were toying with the idea of Orgazmo being a musical but we didn't think people would go for it since we had a hard time getting distribution for Cannibal. That kind of sold us on that we shouldn't make it a musical. The Spirit of Christmas, the precursor to South Park, had gotten us all a lot of heat and Matt and Trey were getting all kinds of calls for writing gigs. I was focused on trying to get Orgazmo off the ground any way possible. We had taken some great meetings at New Line Cinema and several other production companies and we got a great response but nobody was biting. Fran Kuzui, who produced Buffy the Vampire Slayer and also directed; she really got this movie and she had the Japanese connections with the porn company Kuki Entertainment. They came in with half and Mark Damon brought in the second half of the money, and we were very blessed to get it at the time we did. Because if we hadn't gone into production with Orgazmo when we did, we were doing it in between producing the pilot for South Park and getting South Park the series green lit. So if we hadn't gotten it done in that window it may have never been made. But Kuki was awesome and here's the thing with Kuki that made them the ideal investor and executive producers. Their demand for us was that we include their Japanese porn stars in the movie. which was great, that's where we wrote in the characters for The Ass Fuck Twins and then they sent us all these crazy sex toys that they had from Japan. They understood the comedy and the general vibe of what we were doing so they sent us these bizarre toys and it helped us to expand on the comedy, creativity, and the funniness around sex and sex super heroes that much more. Then they ended up sending us four Japanese porn stars instead of just two and all of them were between 22-24 years old, but the two 22 year olds looked closer to being 14 years old and even Trey and Matt were saying, "No they can't be the Ass Fuck Twins."So we wrote in the characters for G-Fresh's daughters which was a teeny bit part that mostly got cut out. But that's how G-Fresh now has daughters because Kuki Entertainment sent us too many pornstars.
So did it make you guys nervous because of how young these girls looked?
Well two of them were fine but you know I wouldn't say nervous. Let’s just say stoked to have these four Japanese sex pots to babysit for a few weeks. It was fun and Trey ended up taking one of them to Disneyland. But in general, everyone was happy and it was a big happy family.
Going back to those sex toys that they sent you; is this where the character Sancho was born?
The answer is yes and this is really a bizarre story as it were. There was a big group of us living in this little beach town, Playa del Ray, we kind of had a big group of 10 guys that were friends from Colorado all move into this part of LA. We were having a New Years party and drinking a bunch, Andy Kemler who plays Rodgers in Orgazmo and Nutter in Cannibal, was incredibly hammered and we were fucking with him. Trey was especially fucking with him. Kuki had sent us this sex toy for men that was shaped like a uterus and had handles on it so that you could have sex with. It looked like someone took an actual woman's uterus, made it out of plastic and had it to where you could carry it around. So it was a weirdly anatomical piece but what was even more bizarre was that it was packaged with this small Japanese baby fetus. I don't know how but one thing lead to another but Trey had named this Japanese fetus Sancho, and Sancho took on a mind of its own. It was a badass that took to ripping on Andy Kemler all night. So this little fetus had all this confidence and Andy was getting ripped on, then Trey had this character Sancho getting written into the script like a week later. I'm not sure how A lead to B...
Sometimes it's better not to ask questions.
Exactly. But Trey comes up with some great shit just running on this stream of consciousness where one joke morphs into another and turns into a bigger thing, and that's one of his true talents is just riffing.
On the note of being around friends, even though Orgazmo clearly had a larger cast and crew than Cannibal. Does working with friends on these movies make things easier and more enjoyable?
Making movies with your friends is both. It's always more fun and ultimately more rewarding I think. That should be everybody's goal is to make movies with their friends, I think. It can also be hard because movies are really demanding, there's always a lot of work and every feature film I've been on. Has had a surprise or something that pushes you outside your comfort zone and makes you work harder than you thought. So it's one of those things that can put a lot of stress on a relationship but there's really nothing better than making movies with your friends.
What did you think of the scene in Orgazmo where you ask for the stunt-cock and Matt overdubs your voice?
That was just par for the course, if you're working in close proximity of Trey and Matt they're going to fuck with you. In one way or another.
What was the best thing and worst thing about making Orgazmo for you?
Let's see...The best thing, well again, just getting to make the movie Orgazmo was probably the best thing about making Orgazmo because we were lucky to even get that movie made. It's an outlandish premise to say the least; there were times when we pitched the movie where people just laughed at us. Matt, Trey, and I all really believed in the movie so my A answer is getting to make the movie. Then B, of course, we had a ball making it and doing all the research for it was probably the best part of it. We got to show up on all these wacky porn shoots and do all kinds of pranks around porn. We were able to meet these crazy people and having fun getting to know them. So much of the comedy actually came from doing research from going on a porn casting call to shooting, directing, and producing videos with this guy named Farrell Timlake. He had this company, Home Grown Video, and he was an amateur porn guy. He was kind of this crazy Dead Head so he and I bonded over being Dead Heads and became a good friend and somebody to explore the wacky world of porn with. He wasn't weird in the porn kind of way. He was just weird in a wacky way in the way that we were weird. He was definitely a fun person to check out this strange bizarre world of porn with. So that was a lot of fun for sure. The worst part was, or at least the hardest part was just convincing Dian Bachar that he needed to play the part of Choda Boy. I think I must have spent at least 100 hours on the phone with Dian and basically convincing him that this was the right decision for him at that point in time in his life. That and putting a dildo on his head wouldn't fuck up his life forever. That was not easy for a bunch of reasons: the first one being the part of Ben Chapleski, that's Choda Boy's real name in the movie, was written as Dian Chapleski. Of course Dian was paranoid and pissed off from the very outset that Trey would write a character named Dian that had to wear a dick on his head. So that was challenging and there was a lot of paranoia from Dian about why Trey would write a part where he has to put a dick on his head for him. Once we got through that then there was the whole subset of, "What are my parents going to think?" That was a tough one to convince him since I didn't know his parents very well and I'm sure that could be a red flag for a lot parents. If a father saw his son in a staring role wearing a huge dildo on his head, that could be a problem. None the less I had to convince Dian that Matt and Trey were breaking big with South Park and it was coming around the corner. As well as the fact that we got financing for the movie and that this role was written for him. It was amazing because it played to all his strengths as an actor and eventually he came around. The fact is that I don't think we could have done the movie with anybody but Dian or at least the movie would not have been what it is. I think it's a great movie and I'm really proud of it. If we would have used anybody other than Dian we would have been screwed because that role was written for him and the same goes for Maki San as the Chief in Cannibal the Musical. We actually shot a scene with somebody else playing that role and it just didn't work and we originally approached Maki and he said no to us. Jerry Aronson was key in allowing us to get Maki since he knew Maki and he begged him on our behalf to do the role. Then we had to fire this other guy but once Maki was doing the role we were like, this is perfect this is what it should be. Same thing, once we saw Dian with that dick on his head all was right in the world.
After all these years are you at all amazed that both Cannibal and Orgazmo have these amazing cult followings and that there are still stage plays being done for Cannibal all over the place?
It's awesome, I couldn't be happier about it. There are tons of different cult movies that we followed and worshipped when we were making these movies so to have these live on is just great, really. There isn't much to that other than yeah, we love the fact that they're cult movies. For me personally, yeah it's a major reward because I put a lot of effort into trying to make those movies have the authenticity and depth that once you discover them, there's something to it below the surface. Whether its selling merchandise or the stage plays of Cannibal, for example. Now I've got this entity, New Cannibal Society, which helps give Cannibal an extra push for the film theatrical and now license of the stage and music and that started in 1998. Here in 2010, Cannibal on stage is played all over America and it's played in Ireland, Germany, England, and Italy. Australia has threatened to do it many times so maybe there have been some underground productions that happened. It has even played in South Korea and Mexico. So just the fact that these properties have ended up all over the world, that's amazing. Then the fact that there are people who are still discovering Cannibal and Orgazmo, and that's one of the great things about South Park, is that it's still going and still winning new fans. There are people out there who are discovering these movies as if there new but they're in fact pretty old, so that second life that they've had is great. Actually, on the Cannibal stage thing, we've got a new thing in the works where the guys who produced Evil Dead: The Musical. They're doing a special adaptation of Cannibal the Musical that we're hoping to unveil in Toronto in the fall and if not the fall then in the spring. I'm not sure yet, but it's going to have all of the original songs as well as some new added songs and a tighter 2 act version that's been adapted so that an 8 person acting team can put it on. We're also flirting with the idea of putting a college tour on to go with it so who knows. But I'm hoping that will give Cannibal another boost in the theater and the stage.
Did you guys have a hand in writing the new songs?
Actually no. Trey was going to take a pass at doing a new version of Cannibal but backed off it because he felt he wasn't bringing a fresh take to it. So I've been working with different stage producers, actors, and musicians for everyone who's adapted it and we've said no to anybody who's asked if they could add new music to it. But these guys were really qualified and they've submitted a couples songs to me on spec and they worked and I was able to get Trey's approval. They're really fun and they're in the spirit of the original Trey Parker writing style, so I think they're going to work really well so we're going to take that out and see how it flies.
You guys were rejected by Sundance for Cannibal! The Musical, but suddenly when Trey and Matt became names it seems like places like Sundance were willing to give you the time of day, finally. Is this an elitist attitude on their part or is just the nature of the beast?
Both really. Sundance Film Festival rejecting Cannibal the Musical for the first time -- the funny thing about it is that we didn't even get a rejection letter for Cannibal the first time and that is what partially led us to crash the festival when we did that. You know about that right?
A little bit.
Ok, it's kind of a fun story. During the "Hang The Bastard" scene we had MTV come out and cover our production and we made friends with the producers of MTV and they were going out to Sundance to do stories about people and they offered us their condos to crash in. Like their floors to crash in. So we were excited about that and then November came, December came and we hadn't gotten anything from Sundance then mid-December is when they announce the line up for Sundance and of course we were not announced and we never heard back from Sundance at all. We were just sort of left to wonder, then Christmas came and went and then I think it was right around New Year's I got a call from Trey who was wondering what our status was. He also informed me that he had this vision that we would be at Sundance with our movie Cannibal, at the time it was Alfred Packer the Musical. And I shrugged my shoulders and paced around my room and it was one of those, "what the fuck" moments. I figured I would call the Yarrow Hotel, a hotel that was in the middle of Park City where Sundance takes place, and see if they had a conference room available. Amazingly they did have a conference room available during the week of Sundance so I booked this conference room for 5 days in a row. Asked if they had an audio/visual company that they worked with and they did have this company that did all of their corporate events. So really with one phone call we booked screenings during Sundance so I called Trey back and told him what I had come up with, and that we would crash the festival and he was totally psyched for that. So were Matt, Ian, and Alex the other producers and just like that we got our team going and created these silly posters for our screening times. Then we got in touch with our MTV friends informed them of our plans and they were psyched to have us on their couches. When we got there they realized, or maybe right before we got there like a week before or something, they decided covering a story about guerrilla filmmakers crashing the film festival was cooler than the festival itself. So we ended up getting this new MTV coverage and they watched us steal press passes and paste our names in at Kinko’s and our photos into these passes that allowed us to get into all these parties and places that we would not have had access to. We covered the town in posters which you could still get away with at the time, now you get arrested for that. And we had people show up to our screenings, we didn't get distribution from our screenings but we had great screenings. We got this big story on MTV and then that is also where we met our future lawyers and also made even more friends. This was a huge thing since we would eventually go to LA and couch surfed with all the people we bonded with at Sundance. Because it's amazing, you can really bond with people from LA much better at Sundance more than you could ever hope to in Los Angeles. Its something that I think is part of the mystique of Sundance; people are much more open to meeting new people, new talent, and whatnot. Anyway, that was a huge feather in our cap and as it turns out, and even I joked about doing the Undance film festival with one of the MTV producers. Because there was 2 other films that also crashed the festival the same year that we did then the following year, six filmmakers crashed the festival and decided to ban together and called themselves Slamdance then Slamdance went on to get as many submissions each year as Sundance does so it is its own thing. Then years later when Orgazmo was playing in a Toronto film festival and South Park was about to premiere a few weeks later, the movie played a midnight screening and on that screening we were offered a distribution deal and we were also offered a slot in Sundance. Because one of Orgazmo's co-producers was friends with the guy who was the head of Sundance at the time, she invited him to the screening and he accepted us. Once we had gotten the news we were actually kind of baffled, frustrated, and angry all at the same time because for the first time in our careers we didn't need Sundance. Because our movie had distribution, theatrical distribution, which is a dream come true for a movie as silly as Orgazmo. So yeah, we were pissed off and we were like. We don't want to go to Sundance because we don't need to be there and the spot should go to a filmmaker who's trying to get their movie out. But of course our investors would have none of that so our movie played in Sundance and that was the year we had started New Cannibal Society to promote the stage rights for Cannibal and struck a new print for the movie. That was played opening night of Slamdance, which was awesome, so we had movies in both Sundance and Slamdance. That was also when I was starting a new company called CrapTV and we put my buddy Glosgow's directorial debut, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, in something that was called the Undance film festival. It was a one film competitive festival featuring his film, and because we called ourselves Undance we got press that we would have never gotten for that silly little movie. Anyway, that was also really fun for us because that allowed us to make our statement about Sundance and express or at least begin to express our frustration with how we had been treated and how it worked or once we found out. Once South Park was on the map we realized that it was partially about talent breaking, hype, and that kind of stuff. That frustrated us.
Looking back are you glad that is the way it unfolded?
Yeah, definitely. The funny thing is that if it wouldn't have been for Time Warped taking my time in the fall I would be running a film festival right now. Because if we would have come back the next year calling ourselves Undance we would have become Slamdance so I could have had a whole other career trajectory, almost, but I didn't go after that. What I did end up doing was that, during an after party for Undance, our lawyers suggested that we do Lapdance because we just produced Orgazmo and had these connections to the adult world. So then the next three years I came back doing the Lapdance film festival which was a complete and fun way of saying, "Fuck you Sundance!" It was also filling; it filled a major need in Park City at least at the time there was a whole gang of underground film festivals which was even cooler to me because that was the biggest win. There was Slamdance, and then we came out with Lapdance which was a sexy raver rock-and-roll version of a film festival. Then there was Slamdunk which was making fun of Slamdance, there was also Son of Samdance, then eventually Tromadance of course after we had brought Lloyd up for Lapdance and Undance. He got the bug and eventually came out with Tromadance the next year and that went on for years. It just became this anarchy of festivals and that got me really excited. I think a lot of the side ones have died off but Slamdance is strong and mighty and is against Sundance every year. So that's the cool thing that came out of those stories and there was an indie need that needed to be filled and we were sort of apart of the forefront of paving the way for that to happen at Sundance. Now there's Slamdance; if you don't like Slamdance which we didn't necessarily, well I wouldn't say we didn't like Slamdance we were partners with them. But we still had our message to get out and our expression to express with Lapdance, which was a lot of fun for 3 years. We've joked about bringing that back in 2012 so we'll see if we follow through with that joke.
Hopefully that happens, no doubt you guys have a large following for Lapdance.
Yeah it was fun, you know for Lapdance we had Vinyl as the house band and then one year we had DVDA, Les Claypool's Holy Mackerel, another we had Galactic with Les Claypool sitting in. Banyan, Stephen Perkins band from Jane's Addiction. We had lots of talent; we also had go-go dancers, and lots of crazy side things happening at the party. And of course we had lots of indie films; that's were we did the one time only screening of Trey Parker's French film the La Petite Package starring Matt Stone and five other men. It's a dancing penis film - French film and some how nobody filmed that while we screened it and didn't leak because it was only to be played that night. That was awesome. We did some cool stuff so it was a lot fun and I'm glad we were able to pull that off. If we can do it one more time in 2012 then I recommend showing up so we'll see if we do that.
Considering you guys help revolutionize film festivals, do you guys think you also helped revolutionize the way people do DVD commentary these days?
Hopefully. You know with the Cannibal one; that one was just a lot of fun and spontaneous way of pulling that off and not make it boring for Trey. I don't know if other people have done that but hopefully. The commentary for Cannibal is the one thing that I hope my mom never hears cause by the end we were besides ourselves and out of control. Then for Orgazmo we had fun doing the drunken commentary but we had this kid Matt Potter, up and coming director, come in and he was really gung-ho for doing the All Star commentary on Orgazmo. Which I don't think has been done before ever that was cutting edge. To get different people, kind of friends of South Park to come in and do little chunks. Unfortunately Universal screwed up the sound mix on it, somehow, so when you play it doesn't play as well as it should because the levels on the commentators go up and down. That was a little disappointing technically, but still, I'm glad we pulled that off. I recommend the Weird Al section; a lot people did improv stuff and it was pretty funny and random but Weird Al timed out every second of his piece. That gave me a new respect for Weird Al. So with the audio commentaries I'm glad we did them that way, it was fun because you can't be too serious with your commentating when you've got movie titles like Cannibal! the Musical and Orgazmo.
It seems like a lot of people are a little more loose with their commentary and that there are a lot more of the drunken ones popping up, especially for indie films.
Yeah, I mean it just makes sense because by the time you get to the audio commentary you've seen your movie about 200 times. You've just sat with it, watched it inside and out, gone through the editing process, through the finishing post process - like the audio sweetening. Then you take it out to film festivals and watch it there so you watch the same movie for a long time. By the time the movie finally comes out, or goes into that production, you're usually a little burned out on it. So why not get hammered or play a drinking game or do something to mix it up. With the Orgazmo one we did that one years later so Trey had forgotten half the things so that was kind of cool since it was reminiscing in a weird way but usually you're going right into it.
In regards to how hard film production is, how hard was the production for the TV show Time Warped?(laughs) Well you know it was the best of years and the worst of years. When we came back to Colorado with the first Time Warped and we did the story of Aaron and Moses. Being about how Aaron was the better looking and more outspoken brother of Moses but was not the chosen, and focused on their sibling rivalry. That production was the easiest, most fun, and smoothest productions I've ever been on. Everything was just great about it. Then we followed that up a year later; we had 3 times the money and we did Rom and Jul which was taking the story of Romeo and Juliet and setting it in 1000 B.C. Africa. Having Rom being an Australopithecus and having Jul being a Homo-erectus. The second one was geared towards kids which made it more challenging as well. Backing up a little bit, when we did Aaron we had gotten a budget but it was hardly any money and we went through a whole crazy adventure of getting the first deal in place. Having a Hollywood agent and a Hollywood lawyer in place made it a lot harder and take more time, so that was a challenge in itself. So we were triumphant to get to Colorado with money for a pilot but then it turned out we were going back to our same old cast and crew and we really couldn't pay anybody. We had just enough to do a project, and it was a nice budget and it was for Fox but we still couldn't pay anybody. People were bummed a little bit about that but really people were inspired that we came back with another job that was for Fox, and we were coming back to our same old cast and crew. They worked their asses off for us and we had a really fun shoot and it was just smooth, I only remember good times. We shot it in my Dad's wherehouse in north Boulder, it was great. Then we got back to Los Angeles with the pilot and they thought it was great and they passed it around. Then we found out that we were going to have 6 episodes, a couple months went by and we found it was only going to be 4 episodes. Then some more time went by and we found it was going to be 2 shows and after little more time passed, about 6 to 8 months, we found out we were going to be getting another pilot. Except this time instead of being for Fox Labs it was going to be for Fox Kids, so we did that pilot for triple the money from the first one and we were able to pay our crew real rates or at least decent rates. But we picked a new production that was probably the harshest and most challenging production I've ever dealt with, and didn't have nearly enough money to do what we were doing. Even though we had more money, the subject matter and the nature of the shoot was much more difficult and it was probably one of the worst-hardest shoots I've ever been apart of. Our crew didn't have nearly as much fun even though they were getting paid. It just wasn't as cool in general but the end piece still came together pretty nicely despite having to cut the funniest jokes because it was for kids. Then of course it never went any where so that was even more frustrating. It was bitter sweet with Time Warped.
Out of the finished products which episode was your favorite, the first or the second?
The first one mainly because it was much more purely Trey, we didn't have to jump through all these hoops to dumb it down for kids. I think Rom and Jul came out great and Matt does an amazing job as Rom the Australopithecus. He had to go through hardships of having to wear full body make-up for it in fact he was worked because of it. We all were worked after that shoot but he definitely took the brunt of it. He gave out some abuse but he took a lot. So I think Aaron is better but they're both worth while. I've been trying to get both of them released in some official way for a while but I've been cock blocked all the way, but I'm still trying on that. I've been continually cocked blocked by one thing or another with that but hopefully we'll see an official release. The joke about Time Warped is that when we made those shows the premise was that they were these lost musicals that were made in the 50's. They were lost and then were discovered for the first time for your viewing pleasure. Then in reality what happened is that they became the lost musicals of Trey Parker. Since they've never been released and most fans have never heard of it but they're charming and funny short little musicals.
Well hopefully you'll be able to release the second with what was cut out of it.
Yeah there would be cut footage but the other thing is that there was a lot of stuff that we didn't shoot because we cut it in the script format. But its still great its still worth while; there's 3 great songs, a dance finale with the Denver Bronco Cheerleaders, there's still tons of jokes, and still Matt Stone dressed as an Australopithecus which is worth it right there. Trey who plays as one of his ape buddies and Stan Sawicki, the Mormon from Orgazmo and who also had a role in BASEketball too. Dian also has a small part in it. Its fun to see for some of the ensemble cast in it for sure.
Do you have a cameo in it or were you strictly behind the scenes?
I was strictly behind the scenes because the thing was that because one of the things that made it so hard doing that shoot was that Matt and I were the two producers on it. But when Matt put on the ape make-up he was done, he became the monster behind the mask. Because we were shooting in the middle of summer in 95 degree heat and he's in an ape suit all day long that you can't take off, he was basically miserable. He was in that suit from morning till night so he wasn't able to do any kind of producing. Then Trey had to do two days in that makeup which made it incredibly hard as well anytime you have to do that kind of prosthetic make-up it makes anything you're doing so much harder. When you hear the stories from big budget movies when there's guys like Eddie Murphy who is in make-up for like 6 hours to put that shit on, it's taxing. You're only able to get a little bit of work done a day because it takes so much time to put on and take off. So I was the one person who did not get turned into a monster.
Was that a decision you made because you saw what they were going through?
Oh no, it was a decision that was made way in advance. With Aaron I could throw on a toga and be done with it but that wasn't the case with Rom and Jul.
Do you have any advice for would-be independent filmmakers out there?
Do I have any advice? I've got so much advice it's not even funny. I've got so much advice for young filmmakers that I've actually written a book and I'm slowly in the process of editing. It's basically a how to and how not to for producing, and it came in around 350 pages and I've decided that's too long. What I'm in the process of doing, and I don't have a time frame because I'm really busy with a lot of new projects. But hopefully within the next year or sooner I'm going to break out The Making of Cannibal! The Musical and offer that as a book, and it's mostly targeted towards young filmmakers. Because when we were coming out of Boulder we were reading all kinds of stories of people's first features. I read Steven Soderbergh's Sex, Lies and Videotapes and read the Evil Dead making-of stuff as well as several others. Those were inspirational and gave us a lot of insight into how and different ways of getting your first feature film and getting that done. It definitely involves the"'fake it 'till you make it" mentality because nobody really says, here's the money go and have a good time and get back to me. If that does happen then you’re pretty lucky. It's a detailed process with many phases to it so it's hard for me to give any blanket advice. If I had any main-general advice that would be: think outside the box, fake it until you make it, and definitely pull together as many people on your team as you can. Because you really need a team of people to get a film made. Trey Parker wrote, directed, and stars in Cannibal! the Musical. It’s his movie for sure, but if he didn't have a strong team of characters behind him it would have never happened. That's crucial.
How about any advice in regards to dealing with the MPAA?
The MPAA is a bunch of rich wives from Beverly Hills so if you've got any connections there, work them. If you don't, then maybe try to make them. It's really tough dealing with the MPAA when you're an indie because they are really influenced by the studio system. And the studio system is all of the husbands of the wives in Beverly Hills. So it is kind of one of those "who you know" deals. If you've got a controversial movie and you're coming on to Universal, you've probably have got 2 degrees of separation so you can work those 2 degrees. Most people have more and it's kind of like the film festival thing - like the Sundance film festival that curate out of Los Angeles in West Hollywood and like the MPAA it's run by Beverly Hills wives and they all live in the same neighborhood and are friends. So you've got that couple of degrees of separation so they can call each other up and ask for favors. For an indie filmmaker just breaking in, it’s harder to do that and those are the movies that they have to have their quotas for movies that get red flagged. So the most controversial indie ones will always be the ones to take it on the chin and that was the case for us with Orgazmo for sure. I mean, if you really look hard at the content of Orgazmo and compare it to R rated movies it comes up completely innocent. There are definitely some raunchy sex jokes but what you actually see are guy's asses then when you compare it to movies that are extremely violent and have nudity, I'm just shocked by what gets through and what doesn't get through.
You were a production coordinator on the South Park pilot, did you have an opportunity to go to South Park or was that more Matt and Trey's thing?
You know it was more of Matt and Trey's thing, exactly. It just didn't work out for me to end up on the crew there, which is too bad. That was also the time that the whole '.com 1.0' thing was sort of erupting and I had some big opportunities to rise that way, which crashed and burned which is what I wrote a lot of the book about. So yeah, that's just sort of the way it went down. And kind of at that same point in time I realized that South Park was rolling without me, I put my attention to Cannibal and the stage play and that has been really awesome. That has kept kind of some creative energy flowing between us still which is kind of like and that Cannibal has been an awesome ride and is kind of going into a new phase. Then Trey and Matt helped us get Electric Apricot off the ground and just remained close friends creatively and then on a friendship level so that's all been good for us. But I just was never on board with the old South Park pilot.
Being able to keep that friendship and creativity still going after all this time is amazing.
Oh yeah, well it was just great getting to have Matt do that cameo in Electric Apricot and it's been a good backbone of creativity. For the Lollapalooza thing, I kind of got that as a recommendation from South Park because they thought I was right for this gig, it was something that was sort of brought to their attention, then I was able to get Kyle from the South Park writing staff to be on my writing staff. That was great and Kyle was a huge force for Electric Apricot. So I've sort of been able to keep a kind our little underground of an ensemble of stuff going with projects that I've been spear heading. So there sort of is this big creative group, we're a little more separate now than we were a few years ago but it's still totally there. The different people I can call up anytime I need to from this sort of family of South Park people is pretty cool. There are a lot of fun talented folks in our mix.
What's this I hear about Electric Apricot?
That was the last movie I did, it was a mockumentary about a jam band called Electric Apricot the Quest for Festeroo, its Les Claypool's directorial debut. My job on the South Park pilot was just a production coordinator so it was kind of a lesser role than, lets say on Cannibal or Orgazmo where I was a producer. But on the South Park, I guess the most interesting part of my job was to get Les Claypool to do the soundtrack for us. So I tracked his manager down, Les down, and made that connection and we've been buddies ever since. He's really talented of course, but what most people don't know is that besides being one of the world's best bass players he's also a very talented writer and director. He had this movie concept that he eventually turned into a book called South of the Pump House, but we very much wanted to get some kind of movie off the ground. So he came up with the concept of Electric Apricot and I just jumped right onto it because it was a movie that we could produce in our own backyard on a real low budget, using our friends much like Cannibal! the Musical. I kind of consider Electric Apricot to be Les Claypool's Cannibal! The Musical because we strapped this production together with friends and put together a fun campy-culty kind of movie. That's been kind of lurking around the periphery since its theatrical release in 2007 and its DVD release in 2008. Then Electric Apricot has cameos by Dian Bachar and Matt Stone from Cannibal fame. It also has Bob Weir, Warren Haynes, Mike Gordon who all are from jam band fame from Phish, Gov't Mule, Grateful Dead; they played themselves in these great parts. Anyway, Les Claypool plays the drummer in the band Lapdog Miclovik. Then I have a cameo as the manager as well and it was a fun movie for me. It was a chance to make fun of everything that I've held sacred and that's not something you often get a chance to do and we had a lot of fun making it. You can get it on Netflix now and you could also get it on Blockbuster but I see they're finally finally officially going down in flames.
Was it fun being able to work with Matt and Dian again on a movie?
Definitely. Matt came down to play one of our tapers and he cameo'ed in the scene with Seth Green which was really fun, and Matt was a major supporter of the film. He could have earned an executive producer credit if he had wanted it but it was great just to have his support. And Dian was awesome; you should see the film just for his performance. Dian is also paired up with Kyle McCulloch who plays the record label owner and he is also one of the most major South Park writers, he's been on South Park for 10 or 11 seasons and he is awesome but you don't get to see him on screen too much. The scenes that Dian and Kyle have together are probably some of my favorite in the whole movie.
You've done so much from a producer's stand point do you think you'll ever hop in the director’s chair?
Maybe. Definitely maybe. I've done a little bit of directing for the things that I did at Lollapalooza that was like writing, producing, and directing but it wasn't necessarily for the screen so much. There were a couple web videos that played but it was more for live theatrics, actually. I got like the dream job to produce this prankster text messaging game for Perry Ferrall at Lollapalooza. He had this really big idea that you could send out text messages to people playing this game and send them to find guerrilla theater happening on the grounds of Lollapalooza. So we created this game where you could win backstage passes, t-shirts, VIP passes, all kinds of cool stuff. But basically it was interactive theater happening throughout the festival, then we had a small stage happening, and we also had hidden camera prankster videos. So that was like directing a three ring circus, really. You had these text messages going out timed through out the day so you had to make sure you had the theater pieces ready. We had people come to win prizes based on how they interacted with these characters. So I guess that's as close as I've come to directing so right now I'm setting up a lot of games like that and working as kind of a creative director. So that could turnover into something on the screen for sure too, but at this moment my next feature will be the next Les Claypool feature. Which we're far away from but we're both still working on it and both he and I are also working on an animation version of our feature film Electric Apricot. We're just pitching that around I have no idea if that's going to go anywhere but that's fun to pitch for sure. So yeah, definitely maybe.
Any information you want to give on the 2nd feature you're working on with Les Claypool?
Not really, I can't really say anything about it because it could be one of two projects so I can't and rather not go into it. I would like to but it would totally be jumping the gun because he and I aren't on the same page of which one of the two projects it will be. So I'm kind of in the finessing stages of getting him to agree with me, and once he does and once we're going for it I'll tell you all about. This is the cool thing about Les; I've said it before, everybody knows he's probably the best bass player in the world but they don't know is that he's a really talented writer. He's got a lot fun stories to tell so he and I are debating on which one will be the best to tell next.
Lastly, have you ever been to Wyoming?
(laughs) Yeah, I've been to Wyoming a bunch. I'm from north of San Francisco and then went to school Trey and Matt so I've road tripped through Wyoming many times. Even going to Sundance, I think we road tripped through Wyoming coming from Colorado. So yeah I've blazed through Wyoming several times, I don't think I've ever spent the night, just driven through.
Well that's it for us, thank you again for taking the time to do this Jason. Do you have anything else you would like to add?
Thanks for listening and keep it shpadoinkle.