I recently caught up with filmmaker Mars Roberge who has just launched ‘Scumbag’ in the UK. A movie which has been written about in over 60 publications, gaining somewhat of a cult status by randomly appearing on Top 10 lists of greatest club movies of all time, as well as best picture of 2017. It’s the ﬁrst feature narrative by Canadian-American director Mars Roberge, born in Toronto, based in Los Angeles.The story takes place circa 1990s. A young wannabe DJ, Phil, takes on a day job at a telemarketing company, working with crazy people, ex-prisoners, drug addicts and murderers. It looks at a time in his life where he battles addiction, ﬁghts the law and tries to maintain the only sane thing left in his life, his girlfriend, Christine. Roberge describes his ﬁlm as a Rocktopia, a ﬁlm genre he created and describes as“an individual’s struggle against the ideals of a Utopian society, where the only freedom of escape is to rock out.”
Here is what Mars had to say!
My name is Mars Roberge and (as Bruno Wizard from the Homosexuals likes to say) I’m a Hellawood filmmaker living in Los Angeles who just finished my second feature film (first narrative) which is a comedy called “Scumbag”. BTW, ‘Hellawood’ refers to a new movement of Hollywood-based filmmakers that want nothing to do with the structure or system of Hollywood in the same way punk wanted nothing to do with mainstream rock. We shoot our films illegally and cast cool underground legends (Nick Zedd, Keith Morris, Kid Congo Powers, Nina Hartley, etc.) instead of mainstream A-list union actors. There are too many copycats and wannabes in the industry like wallpaper but we just tear through that and light them on fire. We make films from the streets for the streets. Otherwise, if you want to know about my background, I’m a Canadian-American dual citizen (born in Toronto, living in Los Angeles), graduated from York University Film School back in ’95 jumping straight into a 20-year career as an S & M dj which took me to NYC for 10 years where I also worked at Sex & the City’s stylist Patricia Field’s boutique working with club kids and drag queens, eventually making an award-winning documentary about it called “The Little House That Could” then moving to L.A. and making “Scumbag”.
Did you face many obstacles when you were starting out with the concept behind the film?
(Long sigh as I remember the years of hardships) I made “Scumbag” because it’s essentially a true story of my life (that most people can’t believe) about an awful job I had in the 90’s at a telemarketing company in Toronto which was eventually shut down by the feds for fraud. I purposely put myself in a crazy situation with an odd bunch of characters so that one day I could write about it. However, I fell into the same pit of darkness with that partying lifestyle and almost never returned, getting very suicidal in the end. It took me 1 country change and 17 years of recovery for me to get my mind back and remember everything. Then one day, about a week after my divorce, it all came back to me in a week where I could remember everything verbatim and banged out my script over a month. The truth is, I was “technically” writing my film since 1995 but got detoured, losing my mind. Making “Scumbag” was a much needed therapy for me. It wasn’t like I set out to make an offensive film or a punk film, it’s just my life I guess is considered “restricted” or even “offensive” by many. It also helped that between my sister (Kid Congo Powers’ ex-wife), my club life, playing in bands, being bi-coastal and living a life in recovery that I was able to track down a lot of my old heroes to play roles in my film. So in a lot of ways, many of the musicians and people I looked up to when I lived the movie actually play my friends in the movie. Punk, especially hardcore punk when I was a kid, saved my life back then and it’s saving my life even today with “Scumbag”—I owe a lot to it. I grew up in a rough neighbourhood outside of Toronto called “Scarborough” (the area that Drake raps about having enemies in—or being too afraid to go to) and hardcore punk was my survival then. I’m 45 today.
As far as my drive for the film went, I had just gone through a divorce, living in Los Angeles (by accident, I am more a New Yorker at heart) thinking what am I going to do with my life, feeling that everyone lost their belief in me and that I had to start over in life. However, I had just finished touring with a documentary I made (which I also got into making by accident, never planning it originally) and said now is the time and I’m going to make this film no matter what. I ran a crowd-funding campaign, asked for $100k and only got $3900 and said “good enough”. From there I worked only with people who believed in the film and treated making the movie like a graffiti artist would on making a mural—it will be done no matter what. I also had it in me that if I have to perform every job (which I didn’t) and even act in front of a camera that I’m shooting I will make this. So, it was my stubbornness that made me do it. It’s like “you’ll have to kill me to stop me” and voila it was done! Took us a year of shooting though as my funds could only really handle 1 day/month after my first week of shooting. In the end, I have a 2-hour film shot with two 4k cameras in raw, a cast of 220 people and minimal film crews in Los Angeles and NYC (shot in both). Basically a lot of favours that I still owe and am slowly paying back.
As for roadblocks, I had a 140-page script, 220 cast roles, multiple locations including shoots across the country from each other with actors who have to act with people they will never see…. Yeah, most people thought I was crazy but we pulled it off. Also shooting with no permits in L.A. is very dangerous as you can go to jail so our P.A.’s acted as look out people. Then, if that wasn’t enough, having to fire one actor after shooting two-thirds of the film with him (because he wanted to extort the production company “like OB1 Kenobi in Star Wars” by not signing a release form). We had to go back and CG him out of every shot and replace him with another actor who basically did all the scenes by himself (in the office). I had a great Flame Artist (because I work in post-production) named Josh Kirschenbaum who was able to make the needed changes in a flawless way. That was probably my biggest roadblock but we succeeded. The only other roadblock I could think of was being worried that the people I based my movie off would be offended but in the end, even the oddest people out of the whole group loved the movie. It’s a nice feeling because I wanted to keep the movie as real as possible. Oh and I also had many conservative types say “you can’t make a movie called ‘Scumbag’ because nobody will go to it.” Well, we proved that actor wrong having our world premiere at the 46th International Film Festival Rotterdam (along with Academy Award-winning Best Picture “Moonlight”) in 2017. Funny enough, nobody was really saying “Scumbag” back in 2015 (when we shot it) and now if you Google “Scumbag”, our movie is the first thing that comes up.
Can you tell us about the greatest moment in making this film?
When we shot an award-winning song-and-dance number in one take on top of cars on a street in East Los Angeles. The song (written by the lead stars Princess Frank and Debra Haden) was written in like a week, the dancers with choreographer put it together in like a week and we filmed it in one take before the cops pulled up to take me away (literally). This was from a dream I had while we were making the movie and wasn’t even part of my script but I knew it had to be done. That scene won the lead actors Exceptional Emerging Artist award and Best Composing from Hollywood Film Festival. Funny thing is a real crackhead showed up during the shot and started screaming at the cast because he thought he was having delusions. We didn’t know if he was going to pull out a gun and start shooting but eventually he walked away and the cast continued like their professional selves as if he wasn’t there.
Can you tell the readers what they can expect when they go to see Scumbag?
You will quickly learn who your PC friends are and who has a sense of humour as half the audiences walk out offended while the remaining half stays, loving every second. There is no middle ground with Scumbag. It is a cult film and as people continue quoting the movie it won’t be long (I predict) where our audience (the scumbags) start talking to the screen. I really don’t doubt that will happen. The movie is meant to make you laugh while at the same time make you think. One reviewer said it’s an “intelligent film about stupid people” instead of the standard Hollywood format “a stupid film about intelligent people.” Also, if you catch Scumbag at screening in the U.K. soon, I can almost guarantee that at least someone from the film will be at it for a Q & A sessions (most likely someone from the soundtrack as there are many U.K. artists who lent their music to our film).
What is your greatest achievement to date?
It’s definitely Scumbag and standing on a stage in Rotterdam, introducing the film to a 500-seat sold out crowd at the World Premiere (3 nights in a row). The awards and praise we have been receiving have been amazing. It has given a lot of people hope too.
Can you tell us where we can see this movie or where it can be purchased from?
Scumbag is theatrically distributed in the U.K. by OurScreen so ANYONE can request the movie at their local U.K. theater by going to ourscreen.com, selecting Scumbag, picking the theater, date and time. You’ll even receive one free ticket for setting it up, you just have to convince about 23 other people to purchase tickets in advance for it to happen. If not enough tickets are sold, nobody is charged and it doesn’t happen. Our next set screenings are June 6th at VUE Reading 7pm; June 26th at ODEON (Brighton) at 8:30pm (presented by OriginalRock.net); July 29th at Crouch End Picturehouse (presented by Vive Le Rock) at 8pm.
The film is only available for purchase in North America on most VOD platforms such as iTunes by our distributor Freestyle Digital Media: http://www.freestyledigitalmedia.tv/film/scumbag/
Plus, it’s going to start playing theaters in Spain soon (with Spanish Titles) through our distributor there, Youfeelm (youfeelm.com), which does the same theater-by-demand thing we are doing in the U.K.
We also are continuing to play film festivals throughout the year. You can learn about screenings from www.scumbag-movie.com.
Before you leave to get back to your work can you share with us if you have any upcoming project(s)?
There are 2 films that I want to make back-to-back, both shot in NYC and both are completely different. One is a horror/thriller and the other is a coming-of-age LGBT comedy that would also appeal to everyone. My reasoning is I never want to lose my audience (if people support me, I don’t forget them). So, my first doc did really well in the LGBT world (having it’s world premiere in 2013 at Frameline (in San Francisco) and I also got my horror bug after attending the 23rd Lund International Fantastic Film Festival (in Sweden) for Scumbag. Both movies are also constantly coming to me in my dreams (like put in my head by someone else) and I’m writing them every night when I sleep. I can already see a bunch of music montages for both. See, I write, cast, direct, produce, edit and even sometimes score my films (with songs I have previously written) so I have to see the whole picture in my head before I start shooting and sometimes it’s hard for me to explain to people until the final product is done. My producers are just starting to trust me. Logic was always my enemy and will slow a guy down. I try to stay far from it cause magic can’t happen with logic. So, I don’t want to give away too much yet on those films but I’m expecting to start shooting them in 2 years and would love to do a double-feature world premiere at a big festival. I also believe fans of both worlds will be able to appreciate the other film. It’s like I’m the host of a party (like in Scumbag) saying “Keith Morris of the Circle Jerks, meet Lenny Dee the hardcore techno legend and there’s Penny Arcade from Warhol films over there…”. In the end, cool is cool…. Oh and why 2 films at once? I’m a master when it comes to First A.D.’ing (planning shoots) as I had experience doing it on several hip hop videos in Toronto during the late 90’s where these guys (like Ghetto Concept) would want entire neighbourhoods to show up and be in their videos and we would have to shoot several locations for a $4k Canadian art grant in 16mm film that the band would want a $100k video from. I pulled that off and my planning is pretty dead on so I always knew that if I had a couple of the same locations and could hang onto my crew for an extra week we could have probably made another movie. So, I’m going to give that a whirl.
We would like to thank Mars Roberge for taking time out to chat with us at The Punk Lounge and look forward to seeing the movie soon!