It may be surprising to many people that yes, in fact, there are more film festivals than Sundance and Cannes. Now, there are a scant few other than these two where a feature filmmaker might actually sell their film but there are plenty of festivals that give the filmmaker the opportunity to get their film on a big screen with plenty of people to watch it. The reality is that festivals are more about screening your film and networking than they are about actually getting distribution. At various festivals I’ve attended I’ve met other producers and filmmakers that I’ve stayed in contact with and have worked with, so that made the trips to festivals worthwhile.
I recently attended a very small festival in Starkville, Mississippi called The Magnolia Independent Film Festival. Filmmakers from all over the country submit films to this festival because all the films play to a packed house and few other festivals pamper the filmmakers as much as this one does. While there, we were put up in condos on a golf course and we ate and drank our fill for free the whole weekend. Also, all the filmmakers had plenty of time to network before and after each day’s film screenings. We were able to spend a bit of time with filmmaker Jay Edwards who was at the festival promoting his film Stomp! Shout! Scream!,a feature length 60’s style campy monster movie. We talked with Jay about his film as well as his day job being a producer and editor for the hit Cartoon Network series Aqua Teen Hunger Force and its accompanying movie hitting theaters in April 13th.
Stomp! Shout! Scream! Is a 60’s period film about an all girl garage band stuck in a small town in Florida. At the same time, the mysterious skunk ape makes an appearance on the beach and kills the parents of a little girl. The local police and a scientist are hot on the skunk apes trail while the band agrees to play a show for the local mechanics upcoming beach party in exchange for repairing the girl’s van. The film is a hilarious homage to the beach party flicks and the low budget “man in a rubber suit” horror movies of the 60’s.
If you aren’t familiar with the series I highly recommend checking it out. Aqua Teen Hunger Force airs as part of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block of adult oriented animated series along with other shows such as Robot Chicken. The series is about a group of friends, Master Shake, a giant milkshake, Frylock, a big box of French fries with a facial hair, and Meatwad, a wad of meat, and all the adventures they get into. Each one has special abilities, Meatwad can change his shape, Master Shake shoots lasers out of his straw, and Frylock shoots lasers out of his eyes. Yes the series is just as surreal and bizarre as it sounds. Based on the trailers I’ve seen the movie plans to up the bizarre humor a few notches. Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters is easily one of my most anticipated films for April. In this interview Jay discusses Stomp! Shout! Scream!, the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie, the events that occurred in Boston due to the viral marketing of the movie, and a little about how and why he became a part of Cartoon Network.
SL: Alright, it’s the final night of the festival, we are headed to the party, to eat more food and drink more beer. But, before that we are here with Mr. Jay Edwards. We are going to talk about his film endeavors Stomp, Shout, Scream! and Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Tell us about your film.
JE: Stomp! Shout! Scream! is a beach party rock n roll monster movie. It’s a 35 millimeter production. I set out to make the best possible B movie that I could with characters that people care about. It kind of sweeps you in and carries you along. It was made to be shown at film festivals and to be an alternative to what is typically shown at film festivals, dramatic films and documentaries. Those should be seen, but you need an alternative. Hopefully, this is a fun silly but well-crafted film that is an alternative to those.
SL: There are a lot of musical performances in the film. Is there a musical side to you that you were trying to get worked out in this film?
JE: I had to live with this film for 4 years, from the time of writing it to filming it. So, I knew that if I had to live with it, because I was editing it too, that I needed to like the content. I wanted to make a 60’s rock and roll movie and 60’s garage rock is something I am addicted to so I still love the songs in the film 4 years later. Plus, the script was inspired by a song that already existed. I won’t tell you the name of the song because it might spoil the best moment in the movie. The song was written by an Atlanta, GA band called Catfight! so it is a great moment in the movie and it gives the main character her back story.
SL: Does the band Catfight! do all of the songs in the film?
JE: They do all the original songs. But, there are also a lot of other garage bands in the soundtrack too, like The Woggles, The Evidence, The Hate Bombs, The Flesh Tones, lots of great bands.
SL: This is a period film. Tell me about some of the obstacles you had to overcome to make this film, like costuming, hair, etc.
JE: The girls had to get in hair and makeup 3 hours before filming everyday, so they had longer days than anyone else on the set. The hair and makeup department was one girl so it was a very bare budget crew. When you set out to make an independent film there are some things that everyone tells you not to do for your first film, such as no animals, no kids and no period films. I skipped the first two. The film is set in 1966 and that is my favorite time of the 60’s. There are the early 60’s, which is still doing the twist and new dance crazes and the late 60’s is all hippies, so to me, 1966 is the transition because things are still innocent and happy in a lot of ways but the bands are plugging in electric guitars, and over-driving them and playing power chords, I love that. They are starting to play psychedelic but they don’t know quite yet how to dance to it.
SL: The girls had great costumes. Did you go vintage shopping or did someone make those?
JE: It was a combination. I thought we could find everything in a vintage shop. Claire’s flower dress was a vintage rental that I ended up purchasing so we could keep it on hand anytime we needed it. Someone knew a girl that could make the other two girls costumes so they would match Claire’s. Dr. John Patterson, the scientist in the movie, is wearing a green suit that is actually my own suit that I have had for 10 years. I found it at a thrift store in South Carolina. It was like the best thrifting find ever. I really wanted more of a shiny blue suit for him; we could never find it, so I brought him my green suit and told him to see if it would fit.
SL: I heard a rumor that you were considering more films in this series. Is that true?
JE: When you debut a film, the first question is always “What are you doing next?” It can be frustrating but I débuted this film a year and a half ago, so I can answer that question now. This is the first of a “Skunk Ape Trilogy”.
SL: The skunk ape is the monster in the film?
JE: That’s right, the Skunk ape, the legend of the Florida Everglades Bigfoot. I have heard that legend my whole life. So, my idea is to do a Skunk Ape Trilogy, you catch up with the lead character in the film, Viola, every 5 years. Next, she is in a country band, then, a punk rock band, she is in a different genre of music for each of her encounters with the monster. So, that’s my plan, I haven’t written the other two sequels yet, but that’s my plan.
SL: So, I can’t let you leave without discussing another film you are involved in…
JE: I am the producer and editor of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force television show and I also produced and edited the upcoming theatrical release Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters. That’s my day job. I took two weeks off to shoot Stomp! Shout! Scream! and I work full time for Cartoon Network. It pays the mortgage and the bills. I have been working on Aqua Teen Hunger Force since the pilot episode in 2000. For the past two years, I have been the editor and supervising producer for Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters coming out April 13th.
SL: For the uninitiated, tell us what is Aqua Teen Hunger Force?
JE: Well, essentially, it is a Happy Meal that lives in the New Jersey suburbs with a neighbor named Carl. When the show was pitched, the concept was “Hey, they live there, stuff happens!”
SL: So, Sort of like Seinfeld, but with food.
JE: That’s what it has evolved to. But, the network people said they need a hook, make them detectives! So, we tried that for one episode, then we just let stuff happen. Matt Maiellaro and Dave Willis, the creators and writers for the show, are just great writers. They know these characters so well so there is the logic that precedes everything that happens on the show. Once you plug into that logic, I think it is really funny.
SL: How did you guys get a feature film made of Aqua Teen Hunger Force?
JE: Things on Adult Swim are produced more like independent films than like television more than anywhere else. There is very little corporate oversight so if something doesn’t work out; they haven’t lost a lot of money. People just don’t get as upset. We kind of operate under the radar in that way, Cartoon Network is just a small part of Time Warner. So, like a lot of things we do, we just went ahead and started working on it and let someone else get the ball rolling on how to manage it and pay for it. We just started doing it, because we knew back in October 2004 when it was written and we started recording voices that we if we didn’t start working on it then, the wave of popularity we were riding might be over. We had no idea that it would take us over 2 years to get it done and into theaters.
SL: So, is there another season of Aqua Teen Hunger Force after the film is released?
JE: That’s what I understand. There will be another season of Aqua Teen Hunger Force.
SL: I understand with this next question, there will be some aspects you can’t discuss. But, with everything that happened with the viral marketing campaign in Boston, MA, I am sure there was some anger and frustration with everyone working in the office. Do you think that all the news coverage, at the end of the day, will hurt the film or will the extra publicity help the film?
JE: It is hard to have a perspective on how popular something is when you are inside of it. Seems like it would be really rare that I would meet someone who hadn’t heard of Aqua Teen Hunger Force but when the whole Boston thing happened, we realized we are really pretty far under the radar. So, I think from a marketing and PR standpoint, it is probably a net gain for the show to have that much press, negative or otherwise.
SL: From someone who is “inside the machine”, did you even know that type of marketing was happening?
JE: I know some people in marketing, but no, we didn’t know at all that that particular type of marketing campaign was being used. And, of course we had NO idea that it would get mistaken for something dangerous. No one involved had any concept that that would happen. Everyone involved in the production and the network had no play or knowledge that someone would do a bomb scare as a publicity campaign. It is absolutely crazy that it happened that way. Another thing that is crazy is that the Mooninites used in this marketing campaign are the most ineffectual villains of all time, they have no power, they have no ability to scare anyone.
SL: But what they do, they do as hard as they can!
JE: (laughs). The Mooninites just talk a big game, they have no real terror.
SL: I would actually be more afraid of “The Shaving”?
JE: (laughs) Because he can actually rip off your arms and drink the blood.
SL: Do you have any expectations for the film? Do you have any clue how it will do when it comes out?
JE: The last I heard was that it is coming out on 800 screens on April 13th. Please, go see it!
SL: So, are they any more plans for other movies for this show or any others you work on at Adult Swim?
JE: The Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie has been such a big project and a difficult thing to get through, I think we have all realized that we are a TV producing company and we need to just do that for the most part.
SL: Did you set out to work in animation?
JE: I fell in love with editing in college. After discovering it, I changed my major the next day. I gravitated toward projects where the editing was more story telling rather than promos or music videos. I gravitated more toward documentaries and long format. I started working for Turner Broadcasting in 1995 and I would do the occasional long form documentary for CNN and I loved that because the story telling is all in the editing. The way Cartoon Network was producing Space Ghost at the time was very similar, they would do the interview first, write a script, transcribe the interview, record the voices then recycle this library of animation to create this show. So, that show the whole production was editing and then making it work. That is why that show had a weird pace and weird cut points that were jumpy at times, and you had a fixed interview to work around, so what looked good on paper might not be the actual reaction you thought you had, so you would have to search the interview for another reaction to use. Or, write a new joke. So, those shows would really change a lot in the editing process.
SL: So, it really wasn’t about for you whether it was live action, documentary or animated, it really is the process of story telling in the editing for you?
JE: I like having to make those types of storytelling decisions, of thinking about the big picture. With Space Ghost, you are telling these big, broad jokes but moving his mouth up and down one frame at a time.
SL: So after the Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie comes out, what is your next project for Cartoon Network?
JE: There is still another season of Aqua Teen Hunger Force and I have been there a long time so whatever comes down the pike, I think they will keep hiring me. I like having that as my day job, and then for my own creative pursuits, I will write another script and make another movie.
SL: Isn’t Stomp! Shout! Scream! available on DVD now?
JE: You can go to www.stompshoutscream.com for DVD’s, soundtracks and posters. The DVD is also available on Amazon as well.
SL: Thanks for taking the time to talk to me.
JE: You’re welcome
SL: See you soon…