Jason Trost has been hard at work making himself a legend, though you could be forgiven for not knowing that. A one man force for creation, he has worked as actor, director, producer, editor, advertiser, distributor, special effects, art direction, and more. Jason’s work has spanned genre and tone, whether in the somber horror How to Save Us, covering how childhood trauma leads us to escapism, or the gritty superhero stories in his All Superheros Must Die franchise. He is most well known for his FP series, a sports satire centering on the underground gang warfare carried out via lethal rhythm game battles. Watching these films, it’s as clear that they have small budgets as it is that those limitations don’t matter at all. The heart, creativity, and drive that Jason puts into his work connect with a receptive audience deeper than any blockbusters I’ve seen in all my years, and have inspired me to bite the bullet and enter the world of independent film as well.
All of his work is available for free on Amazon as well as his Youtube channel, and I highly encourage you to check it out if this has sparked even a passing interest. At time of writing, he and his fanbase are funding the FP Fest extravaganza, a virtual convention which will see the release of FP3: Escape from Bako, the third in a planned quadrilogy of FP films. Jason has been lost to the wilds of Australia since the pandemic reared its head, but he was kind enough to tighten is sky hooks and speak to Gamingtrend about the process and struggles of his work. Below the freshly released trailer for FP3: Escape from Bako, you can find his thoughts on independent filmmaking and the struggles it entails.
I know it’s partially out of necessity because of your film’s low budgets, but you clearly have a firm grasp of a lot of different aspects of filmmaking. You have worked as writer, director, director of photography, star, editor, and more for your multiple feature films. Where did you get your start with the craft and how has production changed since you got started?
Thanks for noticing! My Dad is a practical Special Effects coordinator and I grew up on a lot of sets as a kid. I’d hang out on the FX truck or in my Dad’s various workshops, trying to keep out of the way of the people working and slowly realised I was surrounded by this magical toy shop of FX equipment, pieces of scrap wood, metal, nuts, bolts, piles of hardware junk. Then I figure, I’m bored, I should build something with this junk. So I started building little sets for my GI Joes and started making movies with them.
It’s kinda funny to look back on those early days, 25+ years ago and realise that not a lot about my process has actually changed. Sure I’ve gotten better and making things out of trash, but I’m still just that kid, turning trash into treasure, messing around with a couple friends making movies that put smiles on our faces. And I feel like with filmmaking you have to get back to that mindset of being a kid. If you’re not careful, you can easily fall into the rabbit hole of trying to speculate what people want to see or what’s marketable and then basing your entire film on focus grouping and market research. But before making a movie, I always try to remember how the kid in me would respond to all that. He’d probably say something like, “How the hell do I know what other people want to watch? I know what I like to watch. How about I make that and see if anyone else likes it too?”
What’s crazy to me looking back though, is that I never really wanted to be a filmmaker. I was obsessed with Terminator 2 and Arnold as a kid (still am) and all I wanted to do was be an actor. But after being on set long enough from such a young age, I quickly realised that having a facial physical disability was going to make my odds of Hollywood ever casting me in a movie next to zero. Friends, even family, told me I should give up wanting to act because of how impossible it would be for me with my situation. But I was always a pretty stubborn kid, I think I was watching Batman the Animated Series at the time and I remember thinking, “Batman doesn’t have powers, but he still gets to be a superhero. His super power is just hard work and determination”. And that’s when the filmmaker inside of me was born. I found the loophole. If I couldn’t be in movies because I had one eye, I’ll just learn how to make movies and then I could make the rules and cast myself. Overtime I realised there was a lot more to it than that. But every time I’ve come up against an obstacle such as, “You can’t make that movie because you don’t have someone who can do this or that” I just go and learn how to do that job and here we are now. It’s crazy what you can achieve if you’re crazy enough to try.
With FP3 and 4 the world got hit with COVID and instead of giving up. I learned how to make green screen movies, because I could make them virtually alone in an apartment. I always wanted to get back to building miniature worlds out of trash in movies like I did when I was a kid and now I finally got my chance to return to how I started making movies in the first place.
In many ways it seems like your limitations are your biggest strength. I see a lot of creative decisions forced from limited means, like the documentary nature of All Superheroes Must Die 2, the lone wanderer horror of How to Save Us, and the trash inspired production design of the FP. How do you feel the low budgets have influenced your work?
Low Budgets have entirely influenced my work. I remember when I first started writing scripts when I was a teenager, I’d write these big crazy massive stories. Then I quickly realised, well that’s impossible to make without 300 million dollars, I’m never going to get 300 million dollars to make a movie, so I should stop writing things like that so I don’t waste my time and bum myself out. That’s why now whenever I write a movie, I’m constantly thinking about if I can realistically make what I’m writing. I always find your low budget films are much more successful if you write for what you know you have as opposed to what you hope you’ll have.
Along those lines, do you have an idea for what you would do with a larger budget if it were ever available?
Finally Pay myself minimum wage. Or probably just buy the film rights to Chrono Trigger and make that my Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Your work definitely appeals to a niche audience, given the unique tone and subject matter, but I always felt that your films deserved a bigger voice that the modern film industry doesn’t give it. What do you think is the issue with the film industry that pushes creativity out in favor of less personal products?
Money. The film business is first and foremost a business. They want to guarantee a return for their investors. Creativity sadly just doesn’t guarantee the sort of return on an investment like making a carbon copy of something that was successful last summer does.
While the rest of us were busy with disease and depression during the lockdown, you filmed the quarantine based comedy Corona House. From concept to turnaround was a short period, and it gives the impression that nothing will stop you from filmmaking. What was the process like for that shoot, locked down as you were in an Australian apartment?
Double points for actually knowing what that is and watching it! Basically my wife Tallay Wickham and I had just moved half way across the world at the beginning of the Pandemic. Everything was super uncertain. I had footage for two FP movies sitting on a bunch of hard drives. I needed to learn a new editing program because of how intense the post process on FP3 and 4 were going to be. I knew I needed to work on something a bit simpler to learn the ropes of the program before I embarked on that odyssey. So we figured, we’ve got a couple cameras and an apartment, what can we do with that? We don’t have production value, but neither does reality TV. And we really need to get our minds off of what’s happening in the world right now, so how about we just make of our current situation. It really helped pass the time. We’d have weekly watch parties with everyone who donated to our indiegogo campaign, and those screenings were some of my favorite moments of my career so far. Everyone was so far away from each other but the sense of, “we’re in this together and it’s nice to laugh about” was incredible.
It’s safe to say that, despite having all the best in talent, heart, and creativity, your work is underappreciated. To your fanbase, what is the most practical thing they can do to help you keep going?
I used get hung up that too, but during the pandemic, I really realised that I actually kinda love the level of appreciation my work is at right now. I have complete freedom to make whatever I want and I don’t have to answer to anyone but my fanbase. And they’re really the best fanbase I’ve ever encountered. I actually feel weird even calling them my “fanbase” because I’ve legitimately become good friends, even if only virtually, with a lot of them. We’re all just a bunch of like minded people who see the world a little differently who like getting together and having a good time. The best thing people can do to help keep me making movies is continue to contribute to my indiegogo campaigns or buy my blu-rays directly from me. I have links to them in the bios of all my social media pages. I’m actually in a pretty awesome place right now because I feel like I’m not even a part of the film industry anymore. I’m just some silly artist who makes fun little movies on commission for a bunch of rad people who want to keep seeing more of them for some reason. I don’t know. I feel extremely lucky to be in the position I’ve somehow found myself in.
Your personal writings describe a huge number of ideas that you consistently produce with limited support or resources. I know that the reception to your work has not always been kind, despite a devoted fanbase. How do you keep yourself going against all of this?
I just stay as far away from superhero movies as I can get! I learned my lesson. Superhero fans are way too intense for me. After a lot of experimentation, I’ve found that I really like to stay in my own worlds. If someone doesn’t get an FP movie, it really doesn’t bother me, I know they’re not for everyone, they’re actually only for a very particular sort of person and I’m very okay with that. They kind of act as a litmus test at this point for me. If you get The FP, you probably get me and we’re probably going to be friends. Which makes hanging out with fans of the movies so much fun, because we all get each other. And that’s probably the most exciting thing for me as a filmmaker. Sure everyone doesn’t love my movies, but the people who do, really love them. And that’s what keeps me going.
In the commentary to All Superheroes Must Die you talk about filming in an abandoned Boy Scout camp that also appears in How to Save Us. How much of the writing process has resources like this in mind, and how much does that come up later during filming?
Wow! Someone listened to the commentaries? Well done! Haha. Like I touched on before, when I’m writing a script, I write for what I know I have access too. And in the abandoned Boy Scout Scenario, I’ve been running around that place on weekends with friends since I was a teenager, It looks rad, continues to age and look cooler and cooler, and no one’s ever there. So naturally it’s no budget filmmaking gold. INT. ABANDONED BOY SCOUT CAMP – NIGHT for life!
Are there any other underground filmmakers or artists you think we should be checking out?
I honestly don’t know. I think most people I would mention have since become popular and gotten real jobs. I don’t really know anyone that’s stayed in the shadows as long as I have. I’m way out of the loop down under, haha! Honestly, these days I play way more video games than as opposed to watching movies. You want recommendations on rad indie video game story tellers though… We’ll be here all night!
John Farrell is a legal aid administrator, living in West Chester Pennsylvania. You can listen to him travel the weird west as Carrie A. Nation in the Joker's Wild podcast at: https://jokerswildpodcast.weebly.com/