Love it or hate it, Jen Tonon has a tendency to tell it like it is. A multi-talented artist working in the fields of music and graphic design, she has come to forge a new venture in her life with the creation of her first film – “Super Tromette Action Movie Go!” – an eccentric and bizarre buddy cop movie about two sexy female crime fighters brought together under ludicrous circumstances. As well as being an over the top comedy, “STAMGo!” (as it is affectionately called) marks the first time the lovable “Tromette” takes center stage in a feature film. Nearing completion and having its debut in the Washington D.C. area on Aug. 23rd. Ms. Tonon was nice enough to sit down and share her thoughts about her experiences creating her first feature.
You’ve been involved with many things since you started in the creative arts. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
It’s all my dad’s fault, I swear! Well, that’s mostly true, anyways. I got the arts gene from him (he’s also a musician/artist), and we got my first drum set together when I was thirteen or fourteen. I got the drum bug at twelve and rocked the ride cymbal (literally, just the ride cymbal) in the sixth grade band. That definitely started it (God help us all!).
I’ve been involved in theatre for about a decade as well, and between the music, visual art and live stage stuff, I keep myself pretty busy. Ask any one of my friends or family; they’ll tell you I never stop moving. I like to keep busy, though. Having downtime to chill out and play WoW [World of Warcraft] is great, but I can’t sit still for very long.
How did the premise for “STAMGo!” come about?
Both fellow Tromette Merrie Swain and I were constantly getting confused for each other at conventions. Most of the time it was me being mistaken for her, but I guess having red hair is all that makes a person who they are. I highly doubt any of those folks were remotely interested in anything aside from my “assets,” so I could have been Barbara Bush for all they cared.
We (Merrie and I) joked about writing a movie based on people confusing us for each other. Somehow it evolved into a full-on buddy cop idea with influences harking back to the “Naked Gun” series. In the beginning, we even tossed around ideas about having weapons made entirely out of tampons (new ones, of course). There is actually a site somewhere on Al Gore’s interwebs that shows you how to make such weapons.
What was the writing process like?
Writing “STAMGo!” lasted roughly from November of 2006 until February of 2007. I had never written any screenplays for a full-length movie before, so the entire thing was a learning process. There was a basic skeleton devised, between myself, Merrie, and a good friend of mine, Erin Sparks. From that outline, I picked the important events of the movie and just sort of went off of the deep end. Some things evolved as I wrote, and some got thrown out (like the tampons idea). The day I finished was bittersweet; I knew it was just the beginning of the wild ride that was about to consume the next year-and-a-half of my life.
You participate in many artistic endeavors, such as playing in the band LIKE NO TOMORROW as well as graphic and game design; how were you able to fit the making of this movie into your schedule?
You make time! We only shot for nine days, so aside from taking vacation from work, I didn’t really have to put anything else on hold. LNT [Like No Tomorrow] was actually on a break from shows at that point, so it was one less thing to stress over at the time. Shooting the movie wasn’t too terrible time-wise. We actually got 95% of the movie done in those nine days. It’s the post-production that has been killing me. Making time to sit down and edit (I’m doing the editing myself as well) has been proving very difficult. A decent rough cut has been put together so far, but it’s taken me almost a year to do it. But that’s what happens on a low budget indie, kids. You get to wear many hats and often times do things without any help at all! Luckily, I did have people willing to help out if I needed it. It just became one of those things where I couldn’t really delegate any of the work I was doing.
The illustrations that are used as transitions for the film are really well done. Who were the artists as how did they become involved in the film?
We have a hodge-podge of art going on in the film. I’m a HUGE fan of animation, and wanted to have some sort of cartoony/comic-book element to the movie. The art was done by several people, including Dan Levay, Joseph Grotesque, Thor Svendsgaard (who also did our new More Brains logo/intro), Sean Darnell, Charles Pobre, and myself. Charles I knew from art classes in college, and is one of my closest pals. Dan is also a good friend (and a killer tattoo artist!). I roped him in towards the end of the process, and was very pleased with the results. Joseph is a friend of assistant director Chace Ambrose, and Chace got me in contact with him about doing some art. He was actually the first artist to draw something up for the movie. Sean Darnell answered a Craigslist ad I posted for more artists. He actually painted his transition stills on canvas board and scanned them. I bought the originals from him, and they are currently framed in my house. And believe it or not, I actually met Thor at a concert. I managed to give him my card before the mosh pit separated us, and he e-mailed me the next day. I did one of the still toons, but focused my attention more on drawing and editing the comic-book style transitions. Those have more of a “Spider-man” feel to them, and hopefully add a lot to the movie. I hope.
How did Steven A. Grainger come to direct the film, and how was your working relationship with him?
This sounds like one of those juicy Hollywood gossip questions! Steve and I had met through other Troma stuff, and had been pretty good friends for about a year. Our original director dropped out a week before production, and I called up Steve to see if he could take over. I was already wearing a hundred hats on this production, and couldn’t handle one more thing on my plate. Luckily for us, there were a core set of people on the film that worked their buns off to get things done. He had helped with some of the script-writing process, but it had been a good six months or so since he had read the script. For not being overly-familiar with the material when we started shooting, he did an amazing job
Was it hard to find funding for such a low-budget film?
Funding? What funding? That’s called “me and my poor sucker family!” Between money I saved up, and money my grandma and mom generously donated, I had nearly enough for what I had budgeted. We threw a couple rock shows as fundraisers as well, which garnered a little bit, but wouldn’t have made or broken the movie’s production. Doing an indie movie is all about the hustle, and for a first film, trying to hustle somebody into giving me money was not going to happen. Now that I have something under my so-called belt, I can use it to try and garner money for future projects.
What was the editing process like?
HELLLLL! Seriously! I love to edit, but it becomes a point where it’s just entirely too much for one person to do. I have great respect for auteur filmmakers who do everything themselves. This stuff isn’t easy. Not only are you trying to weave a story with visual and audio elements, but you’re also limited by your technical abilities as an editor. I’ve had a lot of FUBARs during the process, but as a whole I don’t think any one f**k up that might show up in there will really inhibit people from enjoying the film. And really, if you’re nitpicking something that people are comparing to Troma and other schlocky-but-fun films and companies, you really shouldn’t be watching this in the first place.
The biggest issue so far, as with most indie films, has been sound. Bad sound can definitely break a movie, and that’s what I’ve been sweating the most. I definitely have some issues that still need to be dealt with, and some of them are being handled in such a way that I never would have thought of. You’ll see what I mean when the movie comes out, but we definitely made lemonade out of these lemons.
Babette Bombshell is excellent and steals many of the scenes she is in. How did she become involved in the production?
I believe I posted something on MySpace about casting actors for the film. She responded to me interested in the part of Sally (the waitress), and just based on the hilarious YouTube videos and photos on her MySpace page, I didn’t need to have her audition. This proved to be one of the best things in the entire process, because she ended up playing something like five or six other characters in the film. A real modern-day Lon Chaney. I would cast her in anything in a heart beat. A total professional, and will pretty much do anything for her art. That may even include the occasional blumpkin.
The film deals with subject matter that is outrageous in tone. Are you worried how this will be perceived by an audience?
Yes and no. I have been fortunate enough to have been compared to folks like Lloyd Kaufman and John Waters in terms of the content of the film. If that’s supposed to be an insult, insult me all you want! I took something that was not necessarily a funny subject, and poked fun at it. There is nothing hilarious about rape; especially the rape of a child. But what people need to understand is that we’re not celebrating the rapists or the rape itself. One local actor, who shall remain nameless, threatened to call the police on the production, because we had minors involved in the film, and deemed that the set was unfit for minors. What the genius didn’t realize is that we NEVER had kids around any sort of questionable content during the entire week of shooting. Any time there was something that was not decent, we sent the kids outside to play.
My view on the whole thing is that if people get offended by this, they don’t have a sense of humor. Nothing in this movie is meant to be taken seriously. I even have my younger brother in the movie as “Cancer Boy,” and he really does have cancer in real life. He’s in the hospital as I write this, recovering from a lung operation. We take something tragic and give it the finger by making light of it. If you can’t laugh in the face of tragedy, you might as well just give up.
You’re having your first premiere in D.C. in a few weeks. Are you excited?
Excited, for sure. I know that probably reads like Ben Stein is saying it, but I really am. I’m also extremely nervous. I watched a cut yesterday, and it still had a lot of work to go before its good enough to be screened. I’m looking forward to seeing how people react to it, so I’m treating this screening as a test audience kind of thing. The screening was booked by my rock musical partner-in-crime, Andrew Lloyd Baughman, so it’s going to be used as a fundraiser for the upcoming Landless Theatre Company’s 2008-2009 season. I’ve been with Landless since 2003, so I’m happy to get the screening and help out the company. Who knows, maybe one day Andy and I will convert “STAMGo!” into a stage play? One can only hope. Or dread.
Since this was your first film as writer/producer/editor/actor, what have you taken away from this? Any lessons or observations?
Don’t do all four at once! I’m not kidding. This is especially if you have a day job and somewhat of a life outside of the movie-making process. I’m pretty sure my head is going to explode Scanners-style any day now. I’m actually answering these in between doing accounting for work, so I’m sure I’m going to get yelled at soon. I enjoyed each role individually, just not at the same time. The most fun was probably the writing process, simply because there wasn’t any pressure to get it done, and I had total creative freedom. Once you employ a director other than yourself, you have to take into consideration their vision for the film, so you get to watch your baby evolve into something new. Sometimes it’s not what you expect to happen, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Also, don’t cast yourself as a lead if you’re going to be producing. I can’t tell you how many times I had to get things ready to shoot or solve some other sort of problem when I should have been going over my lines. The entire movie-making process is long and almost always stressful in some way, but once you have something you’re proud of, all of that stress doesn’t matter anymore. How’s that for a sappy ending?