Hollywood is well known as the seat of the movie industry, but travel a few hundred miles north and you’ll find another community of California filmmakers—one that is doing delightfully aberrant things. The Sacramento-based cult film collective known as Trash Film Orgy has grown quite a bit in the past decade. With roots in cable access television, TFO began as a popular underground film fest and evolved into a full-fledged movie production house. Led by writer/director Darin Wood, cinematographer/producer Christy Savage and producer Amy Slockbower, TFO has produced two short films and a feature, all possessing a gloriously trashy retro aesthetic. TFO’s principals recently took a break from editing their next flick, Planet of the Vampire Women, to join me for a rollicking roundtable discussion covering everything from childhood memories to giant armadillos. Oh, and fun, fun, fun!
Let’s dive right in. The Trash Film Orgy is a singular beast that resists definition. Personally, I like to think of TFO as a state of mind. How would each of you define Trash Film Orgy?
Christy: One word: fun. Trash Film Orgy is all about fun—fun with your friends, fun with movies, fun with theater, fun with art, fun with music, fun with history, etc.
Darin: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The kind of films that I enjoy are those that mainstream audiences have discarded. Trash films are not bad films; they are the best kind of films, but they are not for everyone.
Amy: I agree that TFO is a state of mind—one of fun, creativity and originality. Being normal is boring. TFO encourages you to embrace your wild side!
Christy: Darin and I had been doing a cable access TV show about horror and exploitation films for years, and for a short while our buddy Keith Lowell Jensen was producing a grindhouse film show. When his show was canceled and he lost his partners, he convinced the Crest [Theatre] to take a chance on doing a grindhouse-style midnight movie festival, and we were the obvious choice for partners. We brought in some more helpers, including Amy, and we did our first show June 23, 2001. And the rest is history.
What is all of your backgrounds?
Darin: I have been a musician and an artist and a writer.
Christy: I have a background in art, photography and filmmaking, as well as being something of a trash film scholar. Besides making movies and putting on shows, I do a lot of painting, mostly pulp horror comic-style illustrations.
Amy: Growing up, I was always kind of the weird kid and into the unusual. I somehow infiltrated the mainstream and have a background in business and real estate.
Darin: Filmmaking was for sure always my goal, but the things that made that possible did kind of fall into place organically.
Christy: Darin and I started making movies together in 1992. We actually got side-tracked for a while with our TV show, Deth’s Oogly Hed, and the TFO Film Festival and weren’t doing film for a while. But as of 2005, we were back where we’re supposed to be, and there’s no stopping us now! A lot had to do with just the right catalyst of modern technology and enthusiastic helpers—although having our own film festival doesn’t hurt!
Amy: I always wanted to be involved with making films. TFO Productions developed organically. When the Crest Theatre, where we do our film festival, got their digital projection system, I think we all looked at each other and saw the opportunity that provided us in making our own films.
So, you guys are long-time horror/cult film fans, eh?
Christy: Absolutely. I think most of my fondest childhood memories revolve around seeing horror films in the theater or on TV. I think I may even go as far as saying that horror and cult films may be the single biggest influence on me and how I turned out as a productive adult member of society.
Amy: Since I was a kid, I always loved horror movies. I did inside sales for the now defunct Tower Video main office from 1991 to 1998, that job allowed me to dig deeper into various types films and really “sealed the deal” for my love of cult cinema.
Okay, seminal influences please.
Christy: Besides EC Comics and pulp and classic crime fiction, I have been greatly influenced by the films of Roger Corman, Alfred Hitchcock, Roman Polanski, John Carpenter, Dario Argento, William Castle, John Waters and many, many more. I’m also profoundly influenced by brutality and horror in classic literature, like Macbeth, The Black Cat, as well as history—Salem witch trials, JFK’s assassination. And it absolutely shows in my own art and films.
Darin: My favorite movie is Bride of Frankenstein, but my filmmaking is probably more influenced by Roger Corman.
Amy: Growing up an only child, I had to rely on my imagination for entertainment, I would go see horror films such as Nightmare on Elm Street or one of the Friday the 13th series, then act them out afterwards over and over again. I would make up new things for Freddy or Jason to do and try to scare the neighborhood kids with my stories. This inspired me to want to me a filmmaker one day.
Christy: Hell yeah! I am a long-time purveyor of exploitation culture—in movies, books, music, art, theater, etc. Gots to have me some blood, boobs and brutality at all costs!
Darin: The retro feel is not really on purpose. It’s just that those old films are what I think is cool.
That absolutely comes through, and you have a real feel for that vibe, man. Y’all are based in Sacramento. That’s not the first California city that comes to mind when one thinks of movie making. Is there an arts or filmmaking scene there? Or are you guys it?
Christy: Yes! There is actually a great art scene here, and [Sacramento’s] filmmaking scene has been growing a lot in the last few years. There’s a lot of talent here and it’s fresh—not jaded like you get in that other movie-making town. There are a lot of folks here who make films for the sheer love of doing so, partly because the film money isn’t really here yet—unfortunately. But it’ll come.
Darin: There are some great things going on in Sacramento; people are making films. But there are a lot of projects that never happen because the filmmakers come up with a budget for their film and try to raise the money and then it goes into a sort of limbo. What we have done is to find a way to make the movie no matter how little money we have.
Amy: Sacramento is the type of place that you have to make things happen and create your own fun. Because of that, there is definitely a filmmaking community. Filmmakers in our town are very supportive of each other and try to help each other anyway we can.
You seem to have built an informal repertory company over the years. How did you come to collect all the people involved with TFO?
Darin: As part of the film festival, we do short, bloody skits on stage and put on interactive shenanigans in the lobby. These have been a great way to find talent. Plus, we have augmented that with general auditions. But I think that, mostly, I enjoy working with the same people that I am comfortable working with.
Amy: Because we do live stage and lobby shows during the TFO, over the years we have collected a great group of volunteer actors and crew. Some of our film actors we also recruited through craigslist, and now they are involved with the stage shows also. Once people get a taste of the TFO and how fun it is, they tend to stick around.
Christy: We provide a fun, creative outlet for folks who want to be involved in film, theater and art projects that are a little bit out of the ordinary. And did I mention fun? The festival gives us a little bit of legitimacy, I think, too. It’s an event that folks look forward to every year and it’s also a guarantee of sorts that the projects will actually get done. So many micro-budget films get started but never get finished—that’s frustrating for the folks that work on them. And I think our longevity at this point helps, too. Everyone in Sacramento knows us and what we’re about. And a lot of them want to be a part of the fun action!
Christy: [Laughs] No way! But sometimes we might let them think so. Actually, it boils down to that magic word “fun” again. Our projects are fun to work on, and we’ve got an excellent group of people involved. We all have a great time and treat each other with a lot of respect.
Darin: I’m not really sure why. I know that as I direct, I feel that part of my job is to keep the set stress-free, so I try to keep a positive vibe.
Amy: There is a bit of that philosophy, we try to let people have a creative input, while still maintaining our vision. We also have the attitude of working hard, but having a good time while doing so. It is not just the end product; it’s the journey. We could not create the high-quality, big production value films we do without our volunteer family.
Christy: Yes. We are planning to premiere the film in October at the fabulous Crest Theatre—still lots of work to do, though. But what a fun project. You’re going to love it!
I can’t wait!
Amy: It has a very retro science fiction vibe and is filled with sexy space pirates, monsters and super-hot vampire women.
I might be wrong, but this film seems to be taking longer to produce than previous efforts. Is this flick more ambitious than your others?
Christy: [Laughs] You obviously haven’t done an in-depth feature on Monster From Bikini Beach! But yes, Planet of the Vampire Women is extremely ambitious for our budget range. We have a lot of effects—both practical and computer-generated. We shot all on sets that we also made ourselves. We did all the costuming and props and gore and everything in-house. It’s been a lot of hard work and we still have quite a bit CG effects and 3D modeling to do, as well as all the sound mixing and music. But we’re really looking to use this film as a stepping stone to garner larger, more legitimate budgets and thus make bigger, better movies!
Amy: We try to improve our production value and get more ambitious with every movie we make. I think that is one of our strong points: always pushing ourselves to get better and better. Monster From Bikini Beach and Planet of the Vampire Women both took longer to make than originally planned—making films is all about overcoming adversity. Our casino scene in Planet had about 50 extras in it; with that many people to manage, something is bound to go wrong. We would rather have our films take a little longer to make than compromise our vision or production value.
What can we expect from a TFO flick titled Planet of the Vampire Women?
Christy: Boobs, blood, explosions, suspense, badass tough chicks in space, monsters, mayhem and lots of fun! Did I mention fun?
Amy: We are starting our 10th fabulous film festival season this summer, premiering Planet in the early fall and producing our next film in the spring of 2011.
Christy: With any luck, we’ll take the world by storm with Planet of the Vampire Women and then move on to hordes of criminals, zombies and giant armadillos for starters—with boobs, blood, violence and lots more fun!
Criminals, zombies and giant armadillos are great ideas for separate flicks, but if you combine them into one movie, I think you’ll have an epic for the ages! Okay, last question: Have you thought about the next step in TFO’s evolution? Is it time for a magazine, maybe? Or, oooh, a reality TV show?
Christy: Nope. We’re just gonna keep on making bigger and better movies! More action, more blood, more boobs! And dare I mention…more fun!