An eco thriller based on a true story AND it has a Minnesota connection? Well, even in a throng of fantastic indie feature films playing at the TCFF, this one is definitely a must-see!
The film is an eco-thriller, the first to cover the deformed frog phenomenon that began in the mid-90’s in Minnesota. The story examines how a small Midwestern town copes with the deadly malformations when they move beyond the ponds.
Writer/Director: Jim Ojala Starring: Lisa Sheridan, John Hennigan, Stephen Tobolowsky, Carlos Alazraqui, Tiffany Shepis, Bruce Bohne, David Mattey, Justen Overlander and Jonah Beres.
Lisa Sheridan & Stephen Tobolowsky
Bruce Bohne & Lisa Sheridan
JIM OJALA’s BIO Strange Nature‘s FX Supervisor/Writer/Co-Producer/Director
Based on the success of My Three Scums, his Duluth, MN horror/comedy cable access TV series, Jim Ojala landed his first film job with Troma Studios in New York on their film, Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger 4. Upon completing the feature, Jim was offered a position in the special makeup effects dept. of Tim Considine’s Direct Effects where he went on to assist Tim on features, commercials, photo shoots and theatre. While in New York, Jim also attended the Millennium Film Program working with experimental filmmaking pioneer, Michael Kuchar.
Making the pilgrimage to Los Angeles, Jim has worked on the makeup/creature effects for commercials, TV series such as The Shield and Buffy the Vampire Slayer as well as numerous features including Where the Wild Things Are and Pacific Rim. In 2005, Jim opened the doors to Ojala Productions, which produced the internationally distributed short film, The Incredible Torture Trio as well as co-directing the viral video hit, Marvel Zombies The Movie.
The short was also featured as #1 online video to see on cable TV’s G4 channel “Attack of the Show”. Ojala Productions’ makeup/creature effects continues to be a strong force in the independent film world providing makeup fx for the critically hailed indie hits, DEADGIRL and PROXY, as well as television series such as Tim & Eric Awesome Show and Comedy Bang! Bang!
Currently, Ojala Productions wrapped up FX creations and co-producing, co-hosting the Shudder Channel hit show, The Core, their second season of Verizon Go90 sci-fi series, Miss 2059, and is now releasing Jim’s debut feature film as a writer/director, eco-thriller – Strange Nature.
It was on the front pages of our local Duluth newspaper when I was still in high school. The images of these hideously deformed frogs, what might have caused these malformations and how it could spread instantly captured my imagination. When it showed up on Nightline with Ted Koppel you really got the feel that there was no end in sight.
Q2: Why did you go the route of a thriller?
I’m a huge life long fan of thrillers and horror films. I felt like we really needed the horrific and terrifying potentials of this story along with the dramatic aspects to really drive it home and get people to pay attention to it.
Q3: What was the most challenging part of filming this movie?
The most challenging part of the shoot was by far contending with Nature. As the entire film is shot outdoors, we dealt with bugs, rain, heat, wild rivers, storms and dense forests. In many moments it felt as if we as a team were on an expedition into a dense wild forest as well. Thankfully a little less toxic than in the film.
Q4: What was your favorite part?
I really liked filming the “Sweeter Than Kandy” music video. There’s a lot of heavy, serious stuff in the film but after all that we just got to have pure fun making a wacky late 80’s music video starring Simone Beres, sister of STRANGE NATURE star, Jonah Beres. What better person to play a really young version of his mom? Also, the big day of the home invasion on Joseph’s house really stands out. It was a total ballbuster of a day but it was such a unique challenge to have all of these characters in this cramped, beat up trailer and then throw in kids, stunts, breakaway props/sets, makeup effects, blood gags and a lot of intense acting. I had never directed something before with so many moving parts. I’m really happy with that scene and it took everyone being super focused to bring that all together.
Q5: Was it shot in Minnesota?
It was shot about 90% in Minnesota (Grand Rapids, Bovey, Coleraine and Duluth) and 10% in Los Angeles. A lot of insert shots of the puppet creature effects were shot in LA due to time limitations during principal photography. We also added a scene once we got back to LA and looked everything over.
Q6: It looks like there were plenty of practical effects used. How long did those take to plan and create?
Special makeup/creature effects are what I do for a living so we would just work on those aspects of pre-production while we were trying to find investors. We first started trying to get the film going in 2003, so the practical effects were worked on from around then right up to when we began shooting in 2014. Normally these type of effects would be very expensive but doing them on our own dime over time made it affordable and allowed us to show investors we had our own skin in the game.
Q7: Was there a scene that stood out to you the most while shooting it?
The night we filmed Judy’s baby being taken really got under everyone’s skin on set. There was just this creepy heaviness in the air that made you feel uneasy and kind of disturbed. I knew if that feeling translated to the screen, we really did something right.
Q8: What do you want people to take away from this film?
That one person can make a difference. That person doesn’t need to be a politician or in the military or a doctor. There’s no reason why someone wouldn’t and shouldn’t care this much about their environment. These large outbreaks of frog malformations are still happening in different areas of the country. Atrazine, one of the world’s most widely used pesticides can turn male frogs into females yet is considered totally safe for humans even though it has been associated with cardiovascular disease and diabetes in infants. Frogs are one of the first bio-indicators of a healthy environment and these deformity outbreaks are resulting in massive population die-offs. Are these deformed frogs trying to tell us something? Time will tell.
Thanks Jim for talking to FlixChatter about your film!
(Special thanks to producer Jessica Bergren for facilitating the interview!)
Directed By: Wayne Harry Johnson Jr. Written By: Wayne Harry Johnson Jr., Craig Patrick (story by) Runtime: 1 hour 19 minutes
Comedy isn’t an easy film genre to get right, and horror comedy is even more difficult. Striking a balance can be challenging, and there’s a fine line between poking fun at horror tropes and being mean-spirited about them. Fortunately, Ahockalypse manages to knock it out of the park…er, hit it out of the rink.
The film follows hockey teammates Jonesy (Jesse Rennicke), BJ (Squall Charlson), Wave (Alex Galick), their host mom, Mrs. Johnson (Gabrielle Arrowsmith), and a mysterious girl (Lindsey Kuehl) as they try to make their way to the safety of the hockey rink after the town is overrun by zombies. In addition to fighting the undead, the group must contend with a pair of idiotic bullies from the opposing team (Matthew Ford and Paulo Martins), a menacing strip club owner (Kelly Wendlandt), and Jonesy’s frighteningly controlling girlfriend, Jenny (Kaylee Williams).
I do have to start out by saying the production quality is pretty low. It’s not quite as obvious in the exterior shots, but most of the film quality is rough. The special effects aren’t awful-the zombie makeup is great-but there’s a bit of computer-animated blood splatter that looks a little cheesy. The sound mixing is an issue too; there are several moments where the score, as fun and wonderfully campy as it is, drowns out the dialogue. That said, this is an independent film with an independent film budget, and Ahockalypse proves that if a movie has strong enough acting and and entertaining enough writing, certain technical shortcomings can be overlooked.
Acting-wise, the entire cast is strong. The camraderie between the teammates and Mrs. Johnson feels genuine, and they all work off of each other really well. That said, there are a few stand-out performances. Lindsay Kuehl as Girl #3, the mysterious young woman who tags along with the group for most of the movie, barely has any lines, but she still manages to get a lot of laughs without being over-the-top. She revealed in a Q&A following the movie that she originally went to the casting call to be a background zombie and ended up landing a bigger role, and the movie is definitely better for it.
Kaylee Williams as Jenny is fantastic, striking a perfect balance between irritating and menacing; she especially shines in the “engagement party” scene with Jonesy and her zombie father (Chris Charais). The scene stealer, though, is Alex Galick as Wave. His comedic timing is incredible, his line delivery is hilarious, and his facial expressions are priceless. While the whole cast is excellent, he easily made me laugh the hardest.
Writing-wise, the plot is as straightforward as the synopsis makes it sound-hockey players fight zombies-but you can tell the script is a labor of love for both horror fans and hockey fans. It both pokes fun at zombie movie tropes and embraces them, which can be hard to do in a horror comedy without coming across as lazy or hypocritical.
There are a ton of hockey references in the movie as well; I couldn’t tell you a single one, because I am the least sports-y person you will ever meet, but the filmmakers mentioned in the Q&A that there were a lot of hockey references throughout the film, and the fact that they managed to include so many without alienating the non-hockey fans in the audience is a credit to the writers.
Ahockalypse is definitely worth checking out. It’s a genuinely funny, enjoyable zombie flick.
The film is now available for purchase now on DVD or on VOD through iTunes and Amazon.
Have you seen ‘AHOCKALYPSE’? Well, what did you think?
It’s time for another Twin Cities Film Fest INSIDER SERIES event! One of the perks of being a member of TCFF is you get to see various indie films on the big screen AND also get to partake in the Q&A with the filmmakers afterwards.
This February, TCFF is showcasing a dramatic short filmed in Ely, a beautiful town in the Boundary Waters area in Northern Minnesota. Thanks to TCFF’s managing director Bill Cooper and filmmaker Molly Katagiri, who worked as script supervisor on the film, for arranging the interview with writer/director Brian Austin.
Dillon (Jared Ivers) has been moved again. A familiar life of being passed from one household to the next, but this time it’s much worse. Dillon struggles with speaking up, in order to expose his abuser. He reaches out to any adult that may hear ; but will anyone really listen?
This event will take place on Monday, Feb. 19 7:30PM* SHOWPLACE ICON THEATRES 1625 West End Blvd St. Louis Park, MN 55416
RUSH LINE tickets are still available, be sure to arrive early!
What’s the inspiration for this film? Is there something personal in the story in any way?
I went through a terrible upbringing and I wanted to relive it and put it on screen.
Tell me a bit about your creative process. Did you write the script? If so, how long did it take you to write it and how did Nobody’s Son project come together?
I am a somewhat good writer and with my other writers Charles Dutka and Gerald Dahling, I composed a very good script that I needed to make as a film. I wrote the script myself with Gerald Dahling for LA Film School for my Associates in Film in LA, California Hollywood.2 I had to take two script writing classes and my first script my teacher didn’t like and I only had a few days to finish the second one so I came up with my childhood experiences growing up because it was easy to remember those trying days and I wanted to have a interesting and compelling story to tell.
Would you tell me a bit about filming in Ely? I believe you went to school in that town?
I decided to make the film where the events happened initially… I knew it would be more expensive but money was no big deal. I went to Ely Elementary school till 2nd grade then moved to a nearby town .. my experiences in ely were mostly bad.. especially since I was raised by my cousin and her husband.. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.. and it was a very difficult childhood.. the only thing that helped me escape mentally was baseball. I turned out to be a great baseball player (pitcher) at a young age and that was my love.
How long was principal photography? What’s the biggest challenges for you as an indie filmmaker?
It took 9 days to shoot .. we were up by 5 and stopped around 1 or 2 in the morning.. the biggest challenge was to feel confident in my abilities as a director.. I was relying on a Assistant Director for too much of the shoot because I didn’t believe I could do some of the things necessary to make a quality movie. As I progressed through the days, I decided to fire the AD and work by myself and my DP and script writer to help come up with he shot lists for the next day. I felt very comfortable directing after I fired that AD… ha ha 🙂
Lastly, what’s next for you? Specifically in regards to Nobody’s Son, or in general about your filmmaking career?
I am making a feature finally.. It will most likely be filmed in LA and should take a few months to shoot.. it will be a very expensive film to make but sometimes you can’t skimp on quality and need to pay for what you get in the movie industry. I am still trying to pitch Nobody’s Son as a series on TV or Netflix.. We have been with my script writers.. writing several episodes of the tv series already and plan on pitching it soon as a pilot first for tv.
Last week had been quite a whirlwind… but in the most wonderful way. Last Wednesday 2/15, my hubby and I attended the premiere of Project Eden Vol. I, part of Twin Cities Film Fest’ Insider Series event, with the cast and crew. It was a fun, festive night. It was lovely to chat a bit with the lovely lead actress Emily Fradenburgh, who arrived early to the event in a gorgeous dress, as I didn’t get to interview her in person. Everyone looked red-carpet ready, including the Twin Cities-based male lead actor Peter Christian Hansen, who was his usual charming self.
I had met the duo filmmakers Terrance Young and Ashlee Jensen just hours before for our interview at Nina’s Coffee House. The screening ended with a fun Q&A with the cast and crew.
Quick Thoughts on the film:
Well, the first part of Project Eden got off to a strong start. The sci-fi thriller deservedly won Best Vision at the Boston Sci-Fi Film Festival just a week prior. It’s an intriguing sci-fi that played more like a conspiracy theory, set in a familiar world like ours, but with a few twists. I have to say the visuals looked amazing, shot by Twin Cities based DP Christopher Lange. It looked more expensive than it was, which is always a feat for indie films. The film’s is quite enigmatic and made you ponder about what’s really going on, but that’s to be expected as we haven’t seen the whole story yet.
The two leads Evelyn and Ethan (played by Emily Fradenburgh and Peter Hansen) are definitely the strongest performers of the film. We’re not sure just how their worlds are connected, but we’re given just enough to care about their journey. It’s always interesting when we’re not sure if the protagonist is a good guy or not, and Ethan definitely keeps you guessing. Evelyn and the mystery surrounding her catatonic son is the focal point of the story, and her exchange with Erick Avari’s mysterious character in the third act leads to a massive cliffhanger!
I do have a few quibbles, such as the stock characters and their hackneyed dialogue. There are also odd situations that don’t quite add up, which you could refer to as plot holes or continuity problems. But overall, it’s a pretty thrilling set-up that made me eager to see Volume II!
I met the duo filmmakers Terrance and Ashlee at another charming St. Paul coffee house called Nina’s. There’s a bit of logistical challenge trying to set up a time to meet, as they were only in town for a few days so no doubt their schedule is jam packed. But it was well worth the effort as they’re one of the nicest people you ever had the privilege to meet! They’re both from Sunshine Coast, Australia, and they certainly had such a sunny outlook on life. By the time I got there, Terrance had stepped out for a bit so I got to chat with Ashlee first.
How did the concept/story idea of Project Eden first come about for you?
Ashlee: Terrance actually had the concept of the ending, this amazing grand ending, about ten years ago. And we’ve known each other for 11 years, so we talked about it back and forth throughout that time, but of course we ended up doing other things, including 500 Miles (Ashlee’s directorial debut that Terrance produced). Then we went on our separate ways, we did a bit of study and other projects in between. It wasn’t until we stopped here in Minneapolis on our way to Palm Beach for 500 Miles and we walked through the Stone Arch Bridge. And from one side of the bridge to the other we talked out the whole story of Project Eden.
Terrance:So the beginning and the end were always there. For some reason, I don’t know if it was a dream or something. So the idea was there but it’s a concept that was going to cost a lot of money so we put it off. I just weren’t at a point in my career yet [to make this]. So Ashlee and I did 500 Miles together in 2014, then a few years later we were here in Minneapolis and we came up with the whole story and started writing it. As we had the beginning and the end, we sort of weaved everything together. Then we decided to do it in two volumes as we know that if we’re trying to do it as one feature we wouldn’t have gotten the budget. It’d be too ambitious. But by doing part I, it opened up a franchise opportunity and we’re able to make Part I with a decent amount of money.
So are you saying the birth of the project is right here in Minneapolis?
Ashlee:Yes. It’s really interesting because when we had our final filming blocked, so this was a year and a half blocked in three different countries (Australia, New Zealand and the US), the very final scene that we shot was the one that happened at the Stone Arch Bridge.
You said you talked through the whole project as you both were walking in Stone Arch Bridge. Did you envision it to be multiple films instead of just one feature?
Ashlee:No, at the time, obviously we fell in love with the city, it has the right vibe and we’re like, ‘oh we have to film it here, it’s amazing.’ At the time we were hoping to get it into one story, but by the time it came down to to writing it all out and then of course being indie filmmakers, all the other things came into place. We didn’t have unlimited budget and all these political, behind-the-scenes stuff came up. But we knew in our hearts if we wanted to do justice to the story then we needed to separate it into two volumes. So the first one you’re really setting up the world of Project Eden and getting to know the characters in such a deep level, seeing all their flaws and the journey they’re about to embark on. But we ended it right at the point where things are about to kick off. It’s a massive cliffhanger.
You said Terrance had this grand ending idea initially, but did you have the characters in mind at the time? Or is it more about the concept?
Ashlee:We didn’t have the name but we knew the central core of the story is a young woman and her son who’s in a catatonic state.
In the concept video, both of you said that the world seems to think that spirituality and science are two separate things while you think it’s one and the same. Would you expand a bit on that thought?
Ashlee:Sure. Of course these are our personal perspectives how we view reality.. But we see time and time again where there’s always this opposing views that you’re either spiritual or you have this scientific belief. While we’re like, well why can’t it be combined? Because anything that is scientific has a spiritual element and vice versa. The nature of the universe and everything that we’re even sitting in today is so overwhelmingly vast and amazing, I don’t think you can pinpoint it down to just science. There is always this grander allusion of spirituality so we feel that the two are so complexly and deeply intertwined that it’s one and the same.
Terrance:I feel like our world today is governed by religion to the point of our detriment. We’re killing each other because of religion. At the end of the day everyone has a spiritual side, but we can still have science without discounting spirituality. That’s what we’re trying to do, with our science fiction [story], we do deal with science but there’s a spiritual element to it ‘cause I think that’s how the world is, physics and spirituality goes together. That’s our belief and people put in what they believe in into their own projects.
So did this film start out as a short film?
Ashlee:No, it’s a short film that Terrance and I did maybe about four years ago that has the same name. There are a few little themes that are similar to this feature film but it’s really more of a stand-alone story. If we’re ever going to expand on that little short, it’ll be more of a series. So no, this film didn’t originate as a short.
How about the financing aspect of this film? Did you go through crowdfunding route or did you talk to a bunch of financiers for this?
Terrance:Yeah, for the last film we did the crowdfunding route. It worked all right. But we knew we’d never raise the amount of money needed to make Project Eden. But we knew a guy who wanted to invest in our last film but the timing wasn’t right, so we went to him and he put in a bit of money. We also found a couple other investors so we’re able to put together some money to go and shoot the first half of the movie.
Ashlee:Yeah it’s a bit of an unorthodox approach. So we got a small pool of money and we knew it’s a catch 22. We need more money but we wouldn’t get more money until they see what we could do. So we took a massive risk. We came here [to the US] then came home with the first 20 minutes of the film.
Terrance:We had some money from investors but it was only like 50 grand here, 50 grand there, so we had about $150K all together to do the initial shoot. It’s totally unusual and a huge risk, because normally you don’t shoot the first 20 minutes in order. Then we presented that to the investors and showed them what it would look like. So we got more financing and went back to shoot the rest of movie in New Zealand and then back to Minnesota.
So in which country did you shoot the first 20 minutes?
Terrance & Ashlee: Here in Minnesota.
Wow, there’s a lot of Minnesota connection.
Terrance:Yes, we basically shot half the movie here in MN and half in New Zealand and a little bit in Australia.
What made you decide to collaborate and co-direct this film?
Ashlee:This one is a huge… the premise of this concept is big, and there’s all these intricacies that work up to the grand ending. So for us, to make sure that we always have one another’s back that no one would fall behind, we’re always on the same page. Since we wrote this together, we decided to direct this together as well. We’ll do the same for volume 2, but this project is the only one we’ll do it like this.
Terrance:It was so ambitious that we knew that one of us could not just go and direct this. Ashlee is so great about working with actors and getting the performance out of them. My background is in post production so I’m more on the technical side. So we’ve got two different viewpoints but because we were on the same page when we wrote it, there was never any sort of clashes of creative ideas.
Yes, Peter mentioned that it was seamless collaboration that if it wasn’t the case, then you guys did a good job in shielding it from him and the other actors.
Terrance:Yes we sort of had this agreement that if they had questions about characters then they’d go to Ashlee. If they had other questions such as the logistical stuff then I can handle those. Of course there were times that we chimed in together, but for the most part I’d handle the business if you will, how we’d get everybody to New Zealand and all that. But yeah we both learned from each other.
So how was the experience of collaborating? Do you want to keep doing this, directing together again?
Terrance: Look, we’ll definitely would do this together for volume 2 but after that I think we’d go back to directing and producing as we have two different skill set. But I am looking forward to working together again for the next film.
Ashlee:It strengthened our relationship as well. I think the reason why we seemed like this united pair because at the end of the day, we’re always like ‘y’know what, we have respect one another, we listen to one another’s perspectives and we have trust in one another. Because we were the leaders, whatever energy between us would filter down, so we have to make sure everything’s good.
What has been the most challenging aspect about making this film, apart from the financing?
Terrance:Having not gone the film school route and being told about how to do things. There were certain things that I personally learned the hard way. Even though sometimes it’s the best way to learn, it was very stressful and there were times we thought the movie just wouldn’t get done. Because we had invested so much, so much of our personal lives and also financially and professionally. But of course there’s always the belief that we’d never not finish what we’d started, so definitely there has been a ton of great life lessons and next time we’ll know what to do. I mean there will be a new set of problems but hopefully then we’d know more what to do.
Any snafus/mishaps during filming that stood out to you?
Ashlee:Well, we came over to America and learned about the politics of how films are run here. Then we went over to New Zealand. It’s like it’s same same, but also totally different. So we learned a little thing the hard way. We did have one incident in NZ. I mean it happens but for us, it was the first big things that happened and we’re like, whoa! We were filming in this little place called Waipu, it’s in the middle of nowhere, about 2.5 hours drive [from Auckland] and in order to get there is this long mountain tracks, all gravel road. Then this generator truck pulled to the side of the road to let a car pass and after all the rain and everything the road gave way and the whole truck rolled four times down the side of the mountain. Fortunately the makeup artist who was in the truck only had this cut on his nose and that was it!
Terrance:I know, he could’ve died!
Ashlee:Yep, 50 meters off the road and he would’ve fallen into a massive canyon and it would’ve been completely different situation.
Terrance: Because of that we only had limited power so our unit base like catering and so on could only have limited power just to have the lights on to keep the schedule going. The thing is, we didn’t really have money for contingency days, so if the lights didn’t work for the shoot, we would be a day behind and we wouldn’t have the money to facilitate that. So it was bad, but we were lucky as nobody got killed. But yeah, the generator was gone, we had to have another one brought in from Auckland.
So about casting. How did you cast those sci-fi actors like Mike Dohpud, Cliff Simmons, etc as well as the Twin Cities actors like Peter and Emily?
Terrance: So Ashlee dealt with the casting of the Minnesota people, and I dealt with the agents of Mike Dohpud, Cliff Simmons, etc.
Ashlee: With the hierarchy of films, as we get further in our careers, casting directors would cast a lot of the actors. But I personally love the audition process, love it. Not obviously for the smaller, background extras but the key people, we want to be a part of that. So when it came to the leads, we’ve got this little tradition that we’re always going to continue doing because we believe in supporting emerging creatives. So we always wanted our leads to be up and comers rather than established actors. So when it comes to casting here, we did a round of auditions and then everyone we liked we’ve got call backs and we did a few little read throughs. I think the crux of it, and there were a lot of talents, but there were a set of people that we really liked so we just sat down and had a conversation with them. Because when you worked with in such a small level, the people you work with became your family. So you want to know that they’re good people, that you like them, and they’re true collaborators. Emily and Peter just hands down just stand out, they’re both just all around good people.
Terrance:And we saw a lot of people so it’s not like we just picked them because they were presented to us. Like for Emily we must’ve seen about fifteen people and I think Peter too, there were probably similar amount.
Ashlee: And people were sending tapes to us too, so there were quite a lot.
Terrance:One of our producers, Sallyanne Ryan, she connected us with a photographer named Dennis Alick [spelling?] who’s very connected with the sci-fi channel world. He’s friends with Mike Dohpud. And we actually initially talked with an actor by the name of Robert Knepper, he played the character T-Bag in Prison Break. He’s very well known for that. But then he ended up not being a good fit for us, so we said we wanted to speak to Mike. So I spoke to his agent and did the deal. He said the reason he wanted to do it was because he loved the script. And then, because of that, see I grew up watching Stargate-SG1 and I love Cliff Simon who’d be great for the Russian.
Then we looked at Erick Avari who’s just perfect for the role of the Shepherd. So for the most part we dealt with their agents but I contacted Erick Avari on Facebook. I asked him, ‘I’d love to send you a script so who’s your agent?’ He said, ‘I don’t have an agent at the moment as I’m trying to retire from Hollywood but you never know what’s going to happen, so send me the script.’ So we did and he wrote back saying, ‘well I got to say you’ve got an ambitious script here and I’m sick of mediocrity.’
Ashlee: Yeah he said ‘I’d rather put my time and energy into something like this than mediocrity chasing mediocrity.’
Terrance:So we had a chat together, we had Skype sessions, we did hours and hours working on the script. We worked on the dialog, he got really heavily involved. He came to New Zealand and he shot his scenes. So I’d say those three guys (Mike, Cliff and Erick), who I called the Stargate alumni, really brought a whole extra layer, dimension to the cast. So we’ve got these emerging actors from Minnesota surrounded by veteran International cast. Mike is Canadian, Cliff was born in South Africa but now lives in L.A. and Erick is of Indian descent but lives in the US.
So this is Volume I. So have you set up a time for Volume II?
Terrance:Yes it’s in development. We’re already working on the treatment, we’re already working on the script and we want to head to it straight away.
Ashlee: Exactly. Ideally we’d like to shoot this in 12 – 18 months.
Is it going to be set in the same location or are you thinking of finding another spot?
Ashlee:A little bit the same but we’re thinking of diversifying the locations, so maybe Peru…
Terrance: It’s definitely still in North or South America, we’re not going outside of that.
And the same cast, too?
Terrance:Well, the thing is we don’t want to say yes, because then you spoil the movie as then you know who dies in the first film. We don’t want to give anything away.
Yeah I know, but I really want the MN cast to be in this again, they’re such good talents.
Ashlee: But let’s just say we would be very happy to work with them again.
Terrance:One thing we want to reiterate is that we purposely marketed this as Volume I. Because we felt that if we just call this Project Eden and they saw the movie and only saw half of the story, they might feel cheated. But if they go in knowing that this is Part I and it ends at cliffhanger, they hopefully won’t get mad about it.
Ashlee:Hopefully they’d leave feeling excited to see where it’s going.
Terrance:I know it is a risky move for an indie film [to do it as two movies] as you just don’t know. But we followed our instincts and ironically it’s sort of having an opposite effect where they want people to buy it to see part II.
How long was the shoot?
Terrance:If you add it all together, it’s only about 4-5 weeks of filming. But when we split it up, it took about 10 months if you spread it out. But from concept to the finished product [for Vol.I] it took about 2 years. As far as the number of days, about 24 days. With pick up it’s 24 days.
Ashlee:That’s the thing with indie films, we were fitting in 6-8 pages a day, where normally on a bigger set, you have the luxury of only doing 1 page a day.
One last question for you Ashlee. I’ve been a champion of female filmmakers for a long time, which I tried to do on my blog. So would you comment a bit about the lack of gender diversity in the industry?
Ashlee: It’s an interesting topic for me to talk about because I feel like, perhaps I’m just lucky but I also think it’s about the people you surround yourself with. Terrance and I, we hire people based on their skill set and nothing else. And so honestly, on most film sets that we’ve done we’ve actually got more women than men. And it just happens to turn out that way. I would love to see more women in higher up roles and I think it is slowly happening, there’s a bit more awareness there.
In fact there is a film festival recently that just had a gender blind [system] so that when people put in their submissions, there are no names nor gender attached. And within the first year, they went from 3% to 50% of female directors and producers as they base everything purely on merit, on the work themselves. Look I think it’s changing. I mean, Terrance and I, we naturally who we are, we’re pioneering for that [diversity] but we’re not seeking to stand up and put a fuss about it. We are who we are, and I think we stay true to who we are in hiring people based on their abilities then hopefully the perception will start to shift.
Terrance:Y’know I actually get angry when people go on and fuss about equality in films because I don’t even think about that. I just think, who’s good for the job, y’know. I mean somehow naturally, a lot of our crew are women. And again, that’s the way it should be. It should be based on the skill set.
Ashlee:So yeah, like Terrance said, we don’t want to make a fuss about it but we are going to be role models. Just by being who we are and doing what we do.
Terrance:So yeah, we’re not going to force it, we’re going to like count how many women we have in our crew. I think people can’t accuse us about gender discrimination. I think the proof is in the pudding.
THANK YOU so much Ashlee + Terrance
for the fun, insightful conversation!
This is the first time I’m actually doing a three-part interview posts for a single film, but it’s the first time I’m featuring an International production starring a pair of Twin Cities actors! This weekend I posted my interview with Emily Fradenburgh, the female lead of Project Eden Vol. I, so today I’m featuring the male lead Peter Christian Hansen. Some of you might notice that he’s the lead actor in my script reading post, so before even seeing this movie, I already knew the filmmakers picked the right talent for the job!
I’m thrilled that Twin Cities Film Fest is sponsoring the Minneapolis premiere of the film this Wednesday, February 15 (you can get your tickets here). I’m also looking forward to seeing the duo filmmakers Terrance Young and Ashlee Jensen who flew in all the way from Sunshine Coast, Australia!
Since Peter lived in town, we’re able to sit down for our interview. We went to this charming Irish coffee house, Claddagh Cafe on West 7th in St. Paul, as it’s not as noisy as the big chain coffee houses. We started off with conversations about his theatre background and general discussion about acting for various mediums before we dived in and talked about his work in Project Eden.
Q: First let me ask about your theatre career as you’ve done an extensive amount of stage work here in town. How many shows do you typically do a year?
Depends entirely on the year. This past year and a half has been different for me as I’ve been doing a lot of film and I’ve done very little stage work. Usually I do about 3-6 shows a year. Well, more like 3-5 shows and then I’d do smaller workshops, readings and other smaller projects throughout the year.
Q: How do you approach a particular project. As you run your own theatre (Gremlin Theatre), how do you choose which plays you’d do there, as well as other stage work around the Twin Cities?
I do have the luxury of choosing which plays I would produce. But otherwise I’m at the mercy of somebody else. So I’d do auditions for other stage productions or someone might call me and say, ‘hey do you want to come in and do this?’
Q: Would you talk a bit about the inception of Gremlin Theatre?
I started it back in 1998, so about eighteen years ago right after college. We stared it because we were a bunch of young actors with weird schedules. So me and this actress I was working with at the time, we were doing this touring children theatre thing where we’d go around these different places in the Upper Midwest doing a bunch of different shows. So we’re on the road all the time and we couldn’t really audition for anything else or be involved in anything else, so over the course of the year, we’re always looking for something to do. So we and some other friends who had strange schedules thought ‘hey why don’t we start our own show?’ and so it got started that way and we just kept it up.
One of the first shows we ever did, we actually built out a space temporarily into a performance space. So that was our model for a while. We had a couple places that we rented for a little bit or we’d book a theatre. A couple of years later, we took another space and converted it temporarily into a theatre. Then after that we decided we wanted to build our own place, so we built our first space in 2002 in Downtown St. Paul. We had that for six years. It’s great because we had it as our home but we also could rent it out to other companies. So there’s a lot of opportunities for other performers to use that space, which is good.
Then we moved to another space on University Avenue and that was a cool space. We had a lot of success so that was really great. But we’ve been looking for a space where we could be in for the long haul, so we closed down that space in 2013 because it wasn’t going to be that place. It wasn’t going to be in the long term. So the last couple of years we’ve been producing in various locations, taking on different projects that don’t have to be in our space, while we think about where we want to be. Well recently we found our space [in Vandalia Tower, St. Paul] and that’ll be great as we can be there for a long time. It’s going to be an exciting performance space. So yeah, that’s sort of the evolution of our company.
Q: So were you a theatre major in college in St. Olaf College?
No, my majors were History and Latin. But I did tons of theatre when I was in college and also back in high schools. I just never majored in it, I think I’ve taken maybe two [acting] classes total. I think training is good, it’s worth a lot of things. But for me, the best training is by doing. I certainly learned by doing. One of the first jobs I got out of college was I got hired as an actor for the touring children company, and I was fortunate to keep getting work. And also, as a producer you can provide work for yourself. It’s great as you’re not always at someone else’s mercy and you get to choose projects that you think are worthwhile. The downside is that, well, what’s nice about working for someone else is they’d just hand you a paycheck.
Q: Now that you’ve done TV, films and theatre. What’s one main difference between those three formats in terms of how you approach the role you are playing?
I think the main difference is, unless you’re working on a movie that has like an enormous set of budget where you have a whole lot of time to prepare, in theatre you get a lot of rehearsals. With films or TV, you don’t get that. I mean you do have the script and you prepare on your own, but a lot of it is going as you go. You shoot as you go, you don’t usually get a lot of rehearsal time. But at the same time, it’s sort of like rehearsal and performing rolled into one in film, as you’d have to do a bunch of takes so you explore things as you’re going. For me, I always find that I learn about the story, about my role and other people’s roles while I’m doing [the scenes]. But in theatre, you get that during rehearsals, as well as during the live performances. But in film, the process is sort of rolled together…you learn as you’re shooting the thing. So I think there’s a different sort of way of how things are discovered.
Also, the time commitment is so much less in film. But theatre is so much more time consuming. That doesn’t mean that [doing a] film is easier or less tiring as I find them to be just as tiring and demanding in very different ways. I usually feel really energized after I put in a really good day’s work, especially in a theater performance. It’ll take me a while to wind down and go to sleep. It doesn’t make me tired. Even if I’m exhausted, I’m still energized. It just stimulates my mind a lot, it’s a very physical thing what you do on stage. I’m not saying I don’t get that with films, it’s not that I never get the same sensation, but there’s a different rhythm to it. You have to pace yourself very differently, so I guess the pacing is what I find really different between the two mediums.
Q: Do you feel that theatre is a “purer” form of acting, if you will, than films or TV?
No, I don’t feel that’s true. I would say that for something where you’re essentially doing the same thing, you’re using a different muscle, if you will. So there’s a root or a trunk that’s the same, but then you find different ways of what you’re going to do. I don’t think one is purer than the other. Some might say that film is purer because you can be so up close and personal an more natural, but I don’t find it to be the case either. I wouldn’t say one is necessarily ‘a mirror up to nature’ you might say [nice Hamlet reference there!], because you’re conveying someone’s story through two different mediums, so neither one of them is really sitting down at a table like I am with you. One of them is a film, the other is a stage. We fool ourselves into thinking that one or the other is like real life. It’s not that one is purer than the other. It’s just different.
Q: Now, spring-boarding into ‘Project Eden’. I’ve always championed female directors and here we’ve got a pair of male and female directors helming the the project. How was the experience of working with them?
It was cool as we’ve got two different perspective of going about things. Some of it is simply because Ashlee is a woman and Terrance is a man. But also partly because of the different focus they both brought into the project. He’s good in the technical side, whilst she worked more on the performance aspect for the characters. At the same time, I don’t want to give the impression that their worlds don’t overlap. It’s very rare that they weren’t on the same page as to what they wanted, both from the technical aspect and how they want the performance to be, how they want to tell the story. If that wasn’t the case, then it’s also to their credit as they’ve certainly done a good job in shielding that from me and the other performers.
Yes, there’s always that initial worry as to ‘Well who’s going to be calling the shots here? What happens if they don’t agree on something?’ But from the very first time I met them, I didn’t feel like it was going to be the case. We had an interesting audition process for this, and I really liked them both personally from the moment I met them. So I was really excited to work with them. It has been true the whole way through, I just really enjoyed them both as people, which makes working with them really fun. It’s been a delight working with them, and it’s not always the way it goes in my career. One of my favorite part about this whole project has been getting to know them and being a part of this whole journey of Project Eden.
Q: How did you come aboard this project? Would you speak a bit about the casting/audition process?
When the filmmakers decided they wanted to shoot partly here and brought some people from here to the project, they contacted my talent agency and so I went and read for them. A lot of the audition process is chatting with them about the project, but we also did some of the performance. So we did some scenes and they filmed it. They wanted me to bring in a monologue so I did a bit of that on camera as well, but we also spent some time together.
Q: Tell us a bit your character, Ethan Varick.
He’s a bit of a wild card. There’s a lot of unknowns in this movie, it’s about how we start to put the puzzle together as the film progresses. When we’re first introduced to him, we don’t necessarily know if we should trust him or not. In fact, that’s the question that goes throughout the whole the movie, we don’t know if we should trust him or not… Which side is he on? What is he after? He is conflicted a bit himself. He’s a character who has a very troubled past, someone who’s trying to find himself in the midst of a story that’s much larger than himself. He is searching for the truth. The thing for him is that regardless of some of the things that transpire in the course of the movie, centering around trying to figure out who everybody is, the core of what he is after, in his own way, is truth.
In the trailer it’s revealed that he’s lost his daughter and his wife, so that’s the common bond he has with Emily Fradenburg‘s character Evelyn whose son is in danger. But he seeks her out and she’s trying to figure out why he seeks her out, what does he know about her. And she’s been warned off of him, so the theme is who do you trust.
Q: I like that this is more of a grounded sci-fi, it’s a more relatable world like the one we live in now.
Yes, it is a sci-fi movie but the world it’s set in isn’t an outrageous world. It’s not a post-apocalyptic nightmare with monkey people running around. It’s pretty much like the world we’re in now but with a few twists. The world is different enough to allow us to explore interesting possibilities, as well as metaphysical ideas that pick up steam as the film goes along.
Q: Is it set in the future?
It’s set in the same world we live in now, perhaps a little bit in the future but the world isn’t quite the same world we live in. That’s the sci-fi part, otherwise it’s the same world. It’s not 100% clear where the characters and events are set in. So the world is familiar, but it’s not quite the same.
Q: The scenery that’s in the trailer, it looks absolutely stunning. Tell us a bit about filming in New Zealand.
New Zealand is a beautiful place. One of the things that’s great about it was you can go quickly from location to location. So we shot those beautiful forest and the sand dunes, it was like 20 yards away from each other. So in between takes, we were sitting high up on the sand dunes, Emily and I. It was kind of windy that day, I remember I started laughing like a little kid and she’s like, ‘what are you laughing about?’ And I said, ‘whatever else people might take away from this movie, when I watched this I’d feel like I’m watching Emily & Pete’s Travel Log, going from one exotic place to another.’
So yeah, we parked in the same lot. We shot the forest part, then we went down an access road and into the beach. There’s this huge dunes and whichever way you pointed the camera, it’s just ridiculously beautiful.
Q: What’s the most memorable moment of filming? Any particular on-set snafus that stood out to you?
I tell you one of the most memorable nights. We were shooting in this place called Waipu (about 2 hours north of Auckland). We were shooting a night shoot, an overnight shoot, it was a pretty ambitious schedule. We just had one delay and difficulty after another. We had problems getting up to the location, which you could ask them [Ashlee & Terrance] in more details, but basically it’s one of those nights that culminated into not shooting a 4-hour scene at the end of the night that we have to pick up the next day. I think it’s totally the right call that I’m glad they made, as it’s the end of a long series of events of things getting pushed back and having problems.
It was memorable for a whole host of reasons, including the power generator going down, being caught in this rainstorm that wouldn’t stop. We were shooting this car chase and the weather would come in and out. We were sitting in the car and it started to rain. So people would come over with these umbrellas to keep the camera dry and then try to keep us from getting wet inside. Then it would stop raining and they would have to wipe down the cars so they don’t look wet. We tried to shoot some scenes and then it would rain again so people would come in again so we’d do this over and over. So that was memorable.
Q: How was your experience working with Emily Fradenburgh?
She’s great. We’ve worked together on smaller projects like readings and stuff, but she and I haven’t worked directly on a project like this. I feel like I’ve known her for a long time but we’ve never collaborated that way. She’s very sweet, very conscientious, always wants to help out, she always tries to do the right thing. She’s very giving, just lovely to work with. I had a good time shooting this with her.
I’m lucky with this project. I’ve been in a lot of projects, some are smoother than others. Sometimes you have to work with people you don’t care for that much. But I felt like we’re lucky with this one as everyone got along. It also helps that everyone was in on the project, everybody bought in. When that happens you have goodwill to fall back on. You have a sense of teamwork instead of just the hired hands.
Q: What’s your own favorite sci-fi films?
I like movies but I don’t watch a ton of them. My favorite sci-fi films are the original Star Wars trilogy. And what I really like is the old Twilight Zone episodes where the world is kind of like the world that we know, but a little bit different and weird. I like that when you take the rules and mix them up a little bit. I’m a big fan of those classic sci-fis like those.
Q: Well I noticed the name is Volume I. So are you going to be on Vol. II?
Well I don’t want to give anything away as I don’t want to give the ending of the movie, but you know what, I guess I can tell you that there will be Vol. II as I think it’s already on IMDb. We’ll see where we’ll film the next bit. In fact I’m hoping there will make three volumes, I think there’s enough materials for three films. So definitely there will be more because the movie gets us to a certain point of the story, and no farther. They’ve always planned for more films. The way we shot this movie, we’re only telling the first part of the story.
THANK YOU so much Peter for the delightful conversation. Can’t wait to finally see this movie on Wednesday, here’s hoping there’ll be a Project Eden trilogy!
It’s always a privilege when I get the chance to chat with indie filmmakers and actors from all over the world. I actually have heard from my dear friend Kirsten Gregerson, who has a small role in this movie, a year ago. Well, imagine my excitement when I heard that Twin Cities Film Fest is sponsoring the Minneapolis premiere of the film on Wednesday, February 15! (you can get your tickets here)
I got to meet Emily Fradenburgh last year at TCFF so I’m thrilled to be able to interview her for this film. It’s interesting how everything is connected, as it so happens that Emily’s co-star Peter Christian Hansen ended up doing my script reading last January! (stay tuned for my interview with him early next week!)
Q: First let me ask you about ‘Project Eden.’ How did you come aboard this project?
I first heard about Project Eden when I received a call from my agency, Moore Creative Talent.
Q: Did you have to audition for the role? Tell us a bit about the casting process.
I did have to audition. I always try to gather as much information about the production team/project as I can before an audition to get a sense of their style. I researched Mad Anth’m and watched their first movie, 500 Miles. We were given a monologue and sides and were asked to perform an additional monologue. When I found out I was being called back I was given notes and was asked to wear a singlet…which is what we call a wrestling garment in the U.S…in Australia it’s basically a tank top- good thing I clarified before I came in for the second audition. I again performed the sides and did another monologue. Then Ashlee (Jensen) and Terrance (Young) wanted to get to know me more and asked my feelings about the independent film process and we touched on some themes of the movie. I later found out that it was this latter part of the callback that was the deciding factor in them casting me as Evelyn Green.
Q: Tell us a bit more about your character Evelyn Green, and what appeals to you about portraying her?
In this first installment we get a glimpse of what life has been like for Evelyn Green for the last 7 years. Despite all that she’s gone through, she remains a dedicated mother and is willing to go to extremes in order to find answers that could mean the difference between life and death. I was drawn to this role because she’s not just on a physical journey, we slowly get to see her transition emotionally too. Evelyn will go through a major transformation in Project Eden Vol. II, which I’m so looking forward to, but that’s all I can say about that for now 😉
Q: How was the experience working in New Zealand with the Aussie filmmakers?
Everything wonderful that you’ve ever heard about NZ is true! It wasn’t hard for me to act like I didn’t know what was going to be around the next corner: a forest opened up to sand dunes which unveiled the ocean- absolutely breath taking! Not only were the Australian filmmakers fantastic to work with but the cast and crew consisted of talented folks on both sides of the camera from all over the world: New Zealand, UK, Finland, Italy, US, Canada and South Africa. It was remarkable the way everyone came together to help tell this global story.
Q: It must have been fun to film all the action scenes. Any particular memorable moment from the set?
Indeed it was! We had fight choreographers, stunt coordinators, an armorer, and stunt drivers. One of the most thrilling days for me on set was riding in the truck with a stunt driver named Gareth. He was amazing! It also became a challenge as a performer- I had to fight my instincts to be giddy and cheer him on while filming a dramatic scene.
Q: There were several Twin Cities cast members in the film, Peter, Kirsten and also Aleshia Mueller as the script supervisor. How was the experience working with them in an International production?
The MN actors and crew are top notch- MN really has it all. 10 of us were lucky enough to travel overseas to film Block 2. Peter Hansen and I were the 2 performers and the other 8 were part of the outstanding crew. When you film a movie, inevitably it’s like a new little family forms. This is especially true when you’re on the other side of the world for nearly a month and you’re living together.
Peter was awesome to work with. Not only is he a dedicated actor and completely invested, but he a great human being. I loved his confidence and commitment to the character and story. He’s also very open-minded and engaging in conversations…which led to us discovering more layers along the way. Working with him nearly every day was both exciting and comforting.
Q: You have done dozens of feature films and shorts throughout your career. What has been your most challenging role to date?
Often when I’m in the thick of preparing and filming a role, I tend to feel that it is the most challenging one to date. Roles can be challenging for different reasons- the character, the physical or environmental circumstances, the dynamics of the people I’m working with, and other various factors. Thinking about a character though, I was in a music video recently where I portrayed a suburban mom who was also a heroin addict. As you might imagine, it was extremely emotional. I was filming with a young boy who, in real life, doesn’t know about the devastating reality of heroin, so we all tried to keep the mood light in between takes and scenes. It was taxing to jump in and out of character more often than I normally would, but I welcomed the challenge. This was a difficult one to tackle and hits close to home. I wanted to be very careful not to make a caricature out of her and I felt a dire responsibility to be truthful not only to the role but to the subject matter itself.
Q: How long do you typically take to prepare for a role? Specifically, someone like Evelyn who’s experienced trauma in her life. Does your psychology major help in tackling such a role?
I take as long as I’m given to prepare and it starts the minute I first hear about an audition- I’m all in! If I’m fortunate enough to be cast then I’m already off to a good start. If I’m not cast then I can walk away from an audition knowing I put absolutely everything I had into it. My psychology degree certainly helps with every role but especially with someone like Evelyn. After I was cast, Ashlee provided me with a detailed backstory of her character which I found extremely helpful. I had 7 months between being cast and Block 1 of shooting to prepare and was able to communicate with Ash and Terrance throughout that time. I changed my physical appearance a bit and spent a lot of time with the script and then walked away from it and spent time in nature trying to look at things like Evelyn would.
We filmed the movie in three Blocks and there were 8 months between Block 1 and 2 and another 2 months between Block 2 and 3. With so much time between Blocks I needed to keep Evelyn close while still trying to carry on with my “normal” life. To aid in this process I made a playlist of songs for Evelyn that I listened to quite a lot. After we wrapped it took me a few weeks to readjust and release Evelyn, it was a quite a process and I realized how close I had held onto her over the course of a year and a half. My psychology background helped with letting go too.
Q: What’s your favorite genre of film? Which actors and/or directors whose work inspire you?
I can’t say that I have a favorite genre. Some of my favorite films are: Jacob’s Ladder, Harry Potter, The Burbs, Fried Green Tomatoes, The Neverending Story, Dead Poets Society, and The Usual Suspects. It would be a dream come true to be directed by Ron Howard and Tim Burton.
I have been inspired by countless performers and the list continues to grow. To name some: Kathy Bates, Cate Blanchett, Mary Louise-Parker, Meryl Streep, Viola Davis, Hilary Swank, Millie Bobby Brown, and Daniel Day Lewis, Bryan Cranston, John Lithgow, Gary Oldman, J.K. Simmons, and Ashton Sanders.
Q: What’s next for you? Any future project you would like to mention?
Of course I’m thrilled about Project Eden Vol. II. I will also have a small part in a feature titled, The Dark Field, which is set to shoot in Germany. The feature of Evergreen is further in development and I look forward to teaming up with Adam Zuehlke (dir.) again on that. We did the short film, Evergreen, back in 2013.
THANK YOU so much Emily for your detailed, insightful answers to questions! Here’s hoping there’ll be Project Eden Vol. II and III 🙂