Recently (early February 2008) I had the pleasure to chat with both creators of the cult horror-comedy film “The Janitor”: Andy Signore and TJ Nordaker. The Janitor has long been my personal favorite horror film and I know many fans who share that feeling.
In this interview, we learn how to cast Lloyd Kaufman, Judah Friedlander and a bunch of topless women in a low-budget film. We learn about Ron Jeremy’s alleged case of contagious pinkeye. Someone actually defends Michael Bay’s honor! And a special surprise: a personal message from none other than Robbie the Mail Guy!
Let the fun begin!
GS: TJ, tell us about the very hard-to-find 2000 video “Sickening Conceptions”. It has been compared to such hit shows as “Jackass”…
TJ: “Sickening Conceptions” was a cable access show I created with my friends in Seattle. The only intent was to get a rise out of the religious and political programs that were monopolizing the station in the late 90s. It was a variety show, mixed with skits, stunts and pranks bookended by a live talk show. It ran from 1999 – 2000 at which point it was one of the highest rated programs in the station’s history. To see some clips or hear hate mail go here: www.myspace.com/sickeningconceptions
GS: Whatever happened with the proposed film, “Eric Anderson”? This title has been floating around for many, many years.
TJ: I love horror/comedy but have always been interested in doing a “proper” horror film. “Eric Anderson” was a code name for a psychological thriller I started but ultimately put on the back burner… Never discuss your projects until they are finished, kids…
GS: Okay, Mr. Signore, your turn. What are you hiding underneath that beard?
AS: Hard boiled egg crumbs, booze residue and some pale Irish skin.
GS: TJ, between the two of you, you’re said to be the horror fan. We know Peter Jackson’s “Braindead” inspired “The Janitor” — what other classic films might our reading audience be overlooking?
TJ: Anything that is a masterpiece of excess… Horror and comedy are my favorite types of film, so I was really inspired by genre bending movies like Frankenhooker, Re-animator, The Story of Ricky, Street Trash, Brain Damage, Evil Ed, Body Melt, Premutos… I can go on and on but I won’t because you’ll stop reading.
GS: No, we wouldn’t, I promise. One of our readers, Seth, asks, “Where does someone come up with the line ‘Clean it up with your pussy — peace’? That’s the most memorable line in a movie ever!”
TJ: The blood bukakke scene, yes… That line wasn’t in the script. If I remember correctly that was an improvised line.
AS: Actually, that and my other favorite line in the movie “don’t paint with it”, were both improvised on the day by a friend of mine — Brett Snider — who just so happened to create the third most Tivo’ed 2008 Super Bowl spot for Doritos called “Mouse Trap”. He’s a hysterical guy, and I was glad he was willing to be a part of our movie. That scene was the most fun to shoot. It was a scene that wasn’t in the original script, and we realized we needed more blood sooner — so we added it after finishing the bulk of filming. Thank God we did, because in my opinion that’s where the movie finally picks up and becomes an actual movie.
GS: I saw the Doritos commercial and I freely admit it was one of the better laughs I’ve had in a while.
AS: Yeah, they shot it last year for that Doritos contest, and found out two days before the bowl that it was gonna air — not too shabby to be part of the 2nd most watched TV event ever.
GS: For me, the best lines in “The Janitor” came from Robbie the Mail Guy. Any chance we’ll be seeing him again?
AS: [The actor who played] Robbie changed his name from Chris Hall to Logan Christopher — guess he was a big Wolverine fan? I haven’t heard from him in a while, I’ll shoot him an email and get an update for you.
[A day after the interview, Logan did respond to Andy, who forwarded the message on to me. He says:]
LC: Right now I have two commercials running, one for Wendy’s and another for Progressive Motorcycle Insurance. Also, field producing for Serena Yang, www.serenayang.com, who just signed a four show development deal with Fremantle Media.
Optioned a few scripts and working on putting together the teams. My production company, www.Po8prod.com, is officially moving forward with our commercial and industrial division, having signed up 4 directors.
As for “The Janitor”, when people who have seen the film recognize me, it gets almost uncomfortable until I tell them it’s alright that they’ve seen my ass. Unfortunately, I was hoping the ladies would come out of the woodwork after seeing the film, but that was not exactly the case. Oh well; dream big, I say.
I just look forward to making a sequel or a prequel where we learn Robbie’s real intentions and aspirations in life!
GS: How does one get Lloyd Kaufman to appear in their movie? And why do I suspect our mutual friend Doug Sakmann might have something to do with this?
AS: If you give Lloyd a chance to plug Troma, he’ll show up to pretty much anything. He’s a true whore for his art, and we love him for it. But getting him to L.A. for our shoot was thanks to TJ who actually scored that hook-up, and timing.
TJ: Lloyd is probably the most accessible person in the entertainment industry. His book “Make Your Own Damn Movie” is peppered with his personal email address. All it really took was a phone call to his assistant… no big story there. Although I have worked with Doug in the past, he really didn’t have any involvement in getting Lloyd in the movie.
AS: It was totally last minute, and Lloyd was in town to honor Stan Lee at some event, plus he had been gathering footage for his “Make Your Own Damn Movie” DVD set — which we were honored to be a part of. For his scenes, which weren’t in the original script, John [Carreon], TJ and myself got drunk the night before and wrote some of his scenes.
TJ: John, Andy and I basically got completely obliterated and wrote his scenes in a few hours. John showed me how to “shotgun” a beer for the first time that night…
AS: I wanted something ongoing that we could pepper throughout the flick to give him more screen time. We had three segments, but ultimately we thought it was too much for the final cut. Thankfully you can see all of Lloyd’s brilliant work uncut on the DVD outtakes.
GS: Any other heavy drinking involved in the film’s creation?
TJ: Not so much on the actual shoot. When you’re shooting on such a minuscule budget you spend most of your time finding solutions to all the problems that arise on a hourly basis. I equate film-making to being kicked in the balls for 12-14 hours each day. The first thing you want to do is go home and drink yourself into a coma, but we didn’t have that luxury. Once we got heavy into pre-production there really wasn’t any time. We shot the bulk of it in 10 days, so we barely had time to sleep. Now, after the movie is another story entirely…
GS: Now that we have the low-down on Lloyd, how about the other recognizable cast member — Judah Friedlander. Where did you find him?
AS: Mr. 30 Rock was a friend of TJ’s. They met through another comedian friend, and TJ ended up helping Judah by filming a lot of his stand-up routines…
TJ: Judah and I met through a mutual comedian friend named Brody Stevens. Brody hosted a cable access show in Seattle around the same time as “Sickening Conceptions” called “The Brody & Teina Show”. One of the few that was worth watching.
AS: It’s great to see him blowing up. My brother worked on a film with him that he was just amazing in — American Splendor — if you’ve seen it, you can see he can do more than his popular funny hat-wearing Judah character. He’s a super nice guy, and man is that guy driven to succeed — he doesn’t stop.
GS: The million dollar question: how does a film with no budget get so many naked women? I hear the trick is to shoot the nudity before the dialog to keep them from running away.
AS: You ask really nicely. (big grin) Also having your wife in the room videotaping helps keep them at ease and shows you as a little less pervy. But, honestly, it was a titty flick, people either got that or they didn’t. And if they didn’t get it, we didn’t want them — as we knew they’d bring negative Diva energy on set — which is the last thing you can afford on a zero budget movie. In Los Angeles you’d be surprised what some actors will do to get a credit on a feature length film and be on IMDb. So in casting Mary, the hooker and the TNA girls, we promised them actual parts with lines, some of which sadly got cut — but also appear in the DVD outtakes.
TJ: I would advise you not to “trick” them. We made a point to be 100 percent honest about the nudity requirements for each of the roles, and if we sensed that they were the least bit apprehensive about it we would go with someone else… the last thing you want is for them to back out last minute or accuse you of coercing or manipulating them into doing something they didn’t want to do.
Check out the behind the scenes documentary “Blood, Guts & Cleaning Supplies” on the DVD. There is a segment that goes into this topic.
GS: “The Janitor” features urine, semen and more blood and guts (and cleaning supplies) than many other horror films out there. Were there any bodily fluids you forgot?
AS: Well, you forgot vomit — Mitchell Roche, our vomit guy, is actually one of my favorite re-occurring bits.
GS: Let’s side-track this for a moment. Andy, what opportunities has “United 300” opened up for you? No doubt it brought a lot of attention that the less-mainstream “Janitor” had missed.
AS: Sure, but the biggest reward was just the experience of being recognized in such a large forum. Being able to share that moment with my wife, my family and my friends that have supported me through my years of filmmaking attempts gave me all that much more drive and passion to “keep going” as Lionel might say. I’m now repped at United Talent Agency – which gives me a serious venue to pitch my ideas, develop and pitch around town. I’ve got nothing signed yet, but I’ll keep at it… eventually something will hit. One idea I can share is an “animated” take using The Janitor characters – I’ve been meeting with flash animators, hoping to connect with somebody out there who might be into partnering up on it – if you’re interested or know anybody who can draw, please do drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org)
GS: I’m always looking for juicy Hollywood gossip. Any MTV after-party stories involving Hasselhoff?
AS: No Hasselhoff, sadly — but I do think Ron Jeremy gave me pink eye!
First, they sat me behind King Leonidas himself, Gerard Butler. He was such a nice guy. Totally knew about “United 300” and was all happy to meet me — then he goes, “But, seriously, you thought I just yelled all the time?” (laughs) It totally took me off guard, so I just played it off. “Oh, come on, I’m sure it’s Zach’s fault — he probably just directed ya ‘louder'” — he laughed and said “actually, yeah”. I reassured him, “Dude, your performance was amazing, you’ve inspired more people than I can think of.” I called my buddy Scott who portrayed him in my spoof and asked if he’d say hello — he did happily — and they spoke for a few minutes.
The after party was just as surreal, I walk in to the back lot at Universal Studio (where the show and party were held) and they’ve been playing the show on loop in the background, and as I’m making my entrance, people are congratulating me, and suddenly my speech comes up on this huge jumbo screen — all these people — Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite, one of the stars from Prison Break, Jerry Bruckheimer, Michael Bay, etc are all giving me pats on the back, thumbs up, etc. Super crazy.
But the funniest Janitor related gossip, was back when we were shooting, we tried really hard to get Ron Jeremy to make an appearance. Someone lived by his building and saw him passed out in his car all the time, plus we had Lloyd call him for us. But ultimately he passed. So I’m walking around the MTV party and suddenly Ron Jeremy comes up to me! He tells me how great the short was, and even admits “My friend _______ submitted too, he told me to vote for his, but when I saw yours, I couldn’t call his the best — yours was way funnier.” I then told him about how he passed on Janitor and he turns to his agent saying “I passed down work??” At that point he apologized and gave me his card. Told me to call him directly next time. So I’ll make sure we get Ron in Janitor 2 this time — just gotta wear gloves, because I woke up the next morning, after shaking so many hands and no sink near by, with a bad case of Pink Eye! Damn those porn stars.
GS: Was it difficult to share a room with Michael Bay without calling him a no-talent hack?
AS: (laughs) Come on, “The Rock” was pretty damn fun. I dunno — Pearl Harbor was horrible, and I didn’t love Transformers — but visually both kept me interested (Megan Fox more so than Optimus Prime). (laughs) I guess I’m pussing out in joining the Bay Haters Club and calling him a hack in print, just like TJ who pussed out when I tried to call [a notable horror director] a hack — now that guy I don’t get at all — [his] movies suck. TJ wouldn’t let me call [the director] a douchebag at the Fangoria convention in Burbank. His [upcoming movie] trailer was pretty great, though.
GS: TJ, want to respond to that?
TJ: No thanks, man. I guess I’m a “puss”… Andy can be brash because he doesn’t go to the horror conventions, screenings, parties etc.
Andy: You’re missing a great chance to get TJ to blush.
[Gavin notes: TJ had wished me to remove the reference to the horror director out of respect for that individual and the industry. As I found it to be a perfect follow-up to the Michael Bay question, I have compromised and left the conversation in but removing the man’s name, leaving our readers to guess!]
GS: Another reader, Chelsea, asks, “Were you afraid that spoofing a 9/11 film would come off as being in poor taste?”
AS: The concept for the spoof came from my best buddy Daniel Hartley. He pitched it more as a tasteless joke — but when I heard him say “United 300” I took it seriously, and soon we both agreed how badly we wanted to see 300 Spartans kick the shit out of terrorists. I don’t think we “spoofed” United 93, the film or the event. I don’t think anyone can say we made fun of those victims. As tasteless as I can be, I would never want to hurt those families. I wanted to inspire people.
We were very careful with the connections we made between our 300 spoof and their film — we made the terrorists German, we didn’t use knives, we didn’t say “let’s roll”. So to answer the question, did I think some people would be offended? Of course. But I wasn’t afraid to make it. I got e-mails from family members who lost people in the attacks, from soldiers, even actors from the United 93 film — all with 100% support for our short. So that felt great.
GS: TJ, let’s talk about your non-Janitor career. You’re also an accomplished musician. What is the current status of Modern Movement and/or The Charles Shaw Project (with Aimee Lynn Chadwick, whom our readers know from “Return of the Living Dead” parts four and five)? And, for those following along at home, who is Charles Shaw?
TJ: “Modern Movement” is a punk band currently on hiatus. “The Charles Shaw Project” was an acoustic folk band named after a cheap 2 dollar wine that Aimee and I would drink when we would sit down to write. You can check out the bands here:
GS: Andy, let’s stray even farther now. This is really off-topic, but I can’t help but notice you’re an out-spoken supporter of a certain presidential candidate. Without getting too preachy (we’re bipartisan at Killer Reviews), any words to share on the state of politics or the world today?
AS: Well, to be honest, I hate people who preach their views about politics, unless they’re asked to do so. I’ve got nothing to hide, and since you asked — I’ll tell you. I, like many in this country, got fed up with politics. To me the state of our country, over the past 8 years is so corrupt, tarnished, battered and bruised — it’s hard to not just wanna give up on it all. But I got dragged to an Obama rally — and man I have to admit, I got swept up by the passion he has. I truly believe that guy is the real deal. Sure some say, “oh he’s just preaching, yes we can do this, yes we can do that, but how???” I honestly could care less about his policies (even though I also think they’re strong). I’m more impressed by his intelligence and ability to lead and inspire — not continually divide us, like one popular millionaire in a pant-suit. I’m so sick and tired of two family dynasties (Bush and Clinton) in charge of this country for the past 20+ years. I’m a freakin’ liberal, and I can’t stand Hillary — but even most conservatives I know have trouble knocking Obama. To me that says everything about the possibility of the future, and I can’t wait to see it all unfold over the coming months.
GS: Now, TJ, let’s try to wrap this all back together again with some general genre questions. Is horror going in the right direction or the wrong direction? Personally, I love the rise of multi-theater festivals like After Dark’s 8 Films to Die For. But the remakes are a drag and I think the “torture horror” genre has more than played itself out.
TJ: Horror has always come in waves. You have to take the good with the bad. The market gets over-saturated but there are usually a couple of movies that stand out every year. Rest assured that the genre isn’t going anywhere, no matter how many remakes they decide to cash-in on. Being a horror fan, you have to do your homework, there will always be the little underground movie that some horror fanatic made on his own volition that will blow you away. The big budget, A-list horror that you can see at your local Regal Cinema isn’t it… I don’t think it ever was…
GS: I think you might be one of the few people who despises horror remakes even more than I do. Any remakes lately that just pissed you off?
TJ: Remakes are basically a slap in the face to us all. You know that the goal behind its entire inception is to exploit its built-in audience. They’re basically capitalizing on a cult film’s established fan base, and they KNOW that as much as we bitch we will still see the remake in one way or another… That being said, there are some remakes (I can count on one hand) that have been worth checking out.
GS: Let’s wind this down the most generic way possible — what can fans be expecting on the horizon from Signore and Nordaker, either together or independently?
AS: Well, I know TJ’s working on a project, that perhaps he’ll fill you in on. I’d be more than happy to help him with it in whatever way possible. But I don’t see any clear joint directing ventures anytime soon.
TJ: I just finished another splatter script that I hope to get the funding to shoot this year.
Andy is going about it the smart way and wants to try his hand outside of horror. I’m just a horror geek that will probably inevitably wind up typecasting myself into the genre, get jaded and dwindle away like all the other “horror directors”.
If you want to stay updated on my projects, you can add me on MySpace : www.myspace.com/teajay
AS: I’m writing two scripts — both R-rated comedies. One’s a really clever Will Ferrell type vehicle that my friend came up with, and another is sort of “Parody Movie” — that will be NOTHING like the shit that was “Date Movie”, “Epic Movie” or “Meet the Spartans” — I can’t believe people are still paying to see movies by those guys. I heard “Spartans” wasn’t even 70 minutes, so they had to add 18 minutes of bloopers/credits to create its (UNDER 80 MINUTE) running time.
I also have a few series and shorts being pitched around town for the web — I’ll be sure to keep you posted. Best way to keep up to date with me and my projects is to check out my website — http://www.SecretSauce.TV — or by adding me on MySpace — http://www.myspace.com/janitor
Thanks for the excellent questions, mate. You’ve clearly done your research and showed a level of interest most others don’t waste time sharing. If you need anything else, don’t hesitate to let me know. As TJ will confirm, I don’t have a problem shutting up or talking about myself!
GS: No, Andy, thank you. And thank you, TJ. You guys were great and lots of fun to throw random questions at. Killer Reviews will keep pimping out “The Janitor” and we hope to see more greatness from both of you soon!