Interview: Trent Haaga (12/24/2011)

With the impending release of Trent Haaga’s directorial debut, CHOP (click here: http://chop.golnx.co/7 for more about CHOP, or click here to read my review of CHOP if you haven’t already), right around the corner (Dec. 27th), I am presenting a trilogy of CHOP interviews.  Here is the finalization of the trilogy with an in-depth interview of director Trent Haaga.

[Ryan] Was there a particular film that made you think “I want to direct movies”?

[TH] I can’t say that there’s one movie in particular. I’ve always been crazy for movies as long as I can remember. I’m of the last “pre-VCR” generation, so movies were something special – you couldn’t just buy the DVD and watch any time you wanted. I can say, however, that once VHS came out and I started to REALLY dig into movies, the films of Troma and Lloyd Kaufman made me say to myself, “Hey, wait a minute … maybe I can make movies, too.”

[Ryan] Who would you say is your favorite director working today? (and why)

[TH] Alex de la Iglesia has never made a bad movie in my opinion. Even his “not as good as the others” movies are better than anything Hollywood Produces. Like a lot of European filmmakers, he gets to have a vision and stick to it regardless of the commercial potential … and that’s what makes his films art. I also love Pedro Almodovar and Werner Herzog and Gaspar Noe… basically all of my favorite filmmakers are from Europe.

[Ryan] And a favorite director of all time?

[TH] That’s a tough one. Sergio Leone or John Carpenter, I suppose. But there are so many great filmmakers and films that it’s difficult to name just one as my all time favorite.


[Ryan] What is your favorite part of the filmmaking process?

[TH] Being on set and shooting the film is always the best part, I think. It’s stressful and crazy, but you really feel the collaborative and artistic nature of what you’re doing happening in real time. I do enjoy the post-production process, but it’s not as immediately gratifying. My least favorite part is trying to sell or promote a movie that you finished … once it’s done, I feel that plugging it and trying to secure festival screenings and talking about it is the worst part of the job.

[Ryan] What advice would you give to people trying to get their foot in the door?

[TH] I don’t know if anyone would want to follow MY advice… I went about things in a long and circuitous way. I guess that I’d tell someone just to go out and make a movie for themselves… something that took me years to do after toiling away on dozens of projects for other people. Make yourself available and don’t be afraid to work for either nothing or close to nothing. Hopefully if you’re good enough, you’ll get to make a living at it one day.

[Ryan] What filmmaking “jobs” do you do, and what is your favorite?

[TH] I’ve pretty much done it all from PA to actor to Assistant Director to writer to Producer and now Director. I’ve made the most money as a screenwriter. I get the most recognition as an actor. But obviously being a director is the “best” job out of them all – you get to incorporate all of the knowledge into one job heading.


[Ryan] Out of the films you’ve been involved with over the years, do you have a favorite?

[TH] I guess that you never forget your first one… TERROR FIRMER was truly a life-changing experience for me in many ways. And it was a great and exciting set to be on. As far as critical response and happiness with the final product, you can’t really beat DEADGIRL.

[Ryan] What do you think is the “perfect” budget for an independent film (and what amount do you have the most control of the process, but still have a decent budget to work with)?

[TH] It’s true that once you have too much money, the movie becomes more about bottom line and your crew, while maybe more “professional,” is just there for the paycheck. This is why you see so many lackluster $1 million movies – they just have enough money to hire people that are good, but don’t necessarily care. I’d say that keeping it in the $300,000-$500,000 range is the way to have something look good, but still have it be a labor of love.

[Ryan] What are the pros and cons of working with the RED camera system?

[TH] The pros are that it’s tapeless and looks amazing. The cons are that it’s tapeless (if you don’t have a good workflow system in place, you could accidentally lose footage – we actually lost a scene in CHOP due to this) and it’s kind of a bulky piece of machinery. We weren’t able to do as much hand-held as I wanted and trying to film a guy driving while the DP sits in the passenger seat is practically impossible. I’m happy to see new pro-sumer cameras that look great but are a bit more manage-able now.

[Ryan] How did you get involved with CHOP?

[TH] I had become internet friends with South Carolina actor/writer/director Adam Minarovich over a mutual appreciation of each other’s work – Adam knew of my Troma work, in particular the book MAKE YOUR OWN DAMN MOVIE, and I had just watched his movie ANKLE BITERS on DVD. Somehow we contacted one another and became friends. Adam kept sending me these great screenplays and I ended up optioning CHOP from him. He had a ton of other great scripts and after I showed them around he ended up getting signed to a major agency here in Hollywood. Adam’s an incredibly talented guy and I knew it the minute I started reading his stuff, so I wisely secured a script from him before they were all off the table.

[Ryan] Being a screenwriter yourself, why did you choose to direct someone else’s script for your directorial debut?

[TH] I write my scripts in a very detailed manner – almost as if I’m already directing them on paper. It’s maybe a bad habit, but I construct them in a way so that they’ve got tons of visual direction and detail in them. So in a way, I’ve already “directed” the story in my head while writing it. Adam’s script was very lean and mean and allowed me some artistic interpretation. I also simply wanted to concentrate on directing and didn’t want to be too “locked in” to the material. Most importantly, I’ve made my living as a screenwriter for the last few years. Therefore my writing has some sort of value – there’s a chance I may be able to sell a script. But I don’t get paid to direct movies. So, in a way, if I directed something that I wrote, I’d be taking potential money out of my own pocket. It’s not out of the question that I’d direct my own script one day, but I’m pretty sure that my next movie will also be written by someone else…


[Ryan] CHOP seems to have a lot of your “voice” in it; how much of what ended up was from the script and how much was influenced by you as a writer?

[TH] I think that’s because Adam and I have very similar attitudes, humor, and taste. There’s a reason that I was attracted to the material – it’s because it’s something that really resonated with me – I was entertained by it. It made me laugh in a guilty way. Certainly I had input into the whole process – you can’t help it as a director. I maybe broadened the humor a bit, tried to really contrast Tim and Billy’s styles so that they really seemed like they were from two different movies… There are things that change while you’re shooting and things that change in post-production, too. But I tried to make the movie that I think that Adam wrote…

[Ryan] What made you decide to choose CHOP in particular for your first film as director?

[TH] Quite truthfully, it was within the budget range that I thought I could pull off. Limited number of characters and locations, mostly an acting piece, etc. Adam had other scripts that I would have loved to direct, but CHOP seemed the most “do-able” out of them all. Plus, as I said, I just really loved the script and wanted to try to capture the violent humor that was there.

[Ryan] What are the pros and cons of stepping up to the director’s chair?

[TH] The pro is that as a director, you get to have the final word on things and you get to interpret as you wish – of course that goes two ways… you can either get all of the praise or all of the blame, depending on who you’re talking to. The con (for me, anyway) is that I’m still in the red with my investor and worked my ass off for months on a job that I never earned a dime on… I’m a grown man with 2 kids and a mortgage – it’s rough to work so long and hard for no monetary return.

[Ryan]  What’s next for Trent Haaga?

[TH] I’ve got another script that I want to direct (and no, I didn’t write it), but it’s really pretty crazy and “out there,” so getting the money together is gonna be hard. I’ve been writing some movies that are all gonna shoot practically back-to-back in 2012. Two of them are for TV networks and the third one is a spec that I optioned to a really awesome indie film producer who has made some great low(er) budgeted films that got festival play and nice distribution.

[Ryan] Do you have anything that you would like to add?

[TH] You can keep up on CHOP and my other movies by visiting my blog at trenthaaga.com. I committed Facebook suicide, so this is the best way to find out what’s going on with my projects. And thanks for the interview, Ryan!

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