Interview with Mars Roberge
By Christopher Duda
Photography by Amelia Burns
noun: scumbag; plural noun: scumbags
- a contemptible or objectionable person.
Scumbag is the first feature narrative by Toronto born/LA based director Mars Roberge (The Little House That Could). The story takes place circa 1990s, and is about a boy who gets a job, but realizes it is going to cost him his life. There’s also a great musical soundtrack, with tunes by OFF!, Cyclops 7666, The Midnight Six, Tulips for Tina, En Esch, Red Road Warriors, D.H. Peligro, Slick Idiot, Neon Music, DJ Keoki, and many others.
1. How did the ideas for the characters come to fruition? Are most of them based on real people?
Most of the movie I lived and most of the characters are based on real people from a job I had at a fraudulent telemarketing company near City TV in Toronto during the 90s that the Feds shut down. It’s a very Gabe Kotter from “Welcome Back, Kotter” sort of travel down memory lane with my own take on the Sweathogs except mine get into a lot more trouble. I feel like I would be just another hack filmmaker trying to copy Hollywood if I couldn’t write from experience. I purposely put myself in some messed up situations so I could write about it (like becoming a DJ for 25 years). The only catch is I almost never came back. This script took me 20 years to write and 15 years in recovery to remember what happened. Lol.
2. Why does this movie need to be made and why do you think it will differ from other releases?
This movie is made. Lol. However, I had to make it because nobody could ever believe my stories when I told them. They thought it was well beyond fiction but it was the truth. I want to make movies that the everyday person can relate to so that they can see the magic in their lives. In today’s age, most of the population mimics Hollywood yet Hollywood never knew how to live. I’ve walked all these paths I write about, like a method writer you might say. I really don’t think anyone else could have made this movie and I gave people 20 years to do it so here I am. Sort of like why I made my last film (“The Little House That Could”), a documentary of Sex & the City stylist Patricia Field and her gang of gay club kids who took over NYC–it had to be made because nobody on the outer world had a clue it was going on. Again, I lived it by working at her store for a decade.
3. What is your background in film?
I graduated York University’s film production program just outside of Toronto in 95. After that I spent many years working pretty much every job in the industry from low budget music videos at companies like Black Walk Productions to high end commercials. I got sick of it–the whole commercialism of it. In the end I felt like a construction worker and not a filmmaker. So, I basically quit to just concentrate on DJing clubs and playing guitar in bands. Like a schizoid, I played guitar in Britpop bands that sounded like Suede while DJing die hard Goth, groups like Christian Death and the Swans, often venturing out to raves to dance to hardcore techno. My life was always a big mishmash but I tried to always stay die-hard in what I did. I guess I didn’t really find myself until I hit the NYC club scene in 2000 where it was cool to look however I want and be into whatever I want. In Toronto I felt like you had to always be limited to one specific scene where the other scene wouldn’t accept you. So I ended up being an electroclash/techno Dj in NYC that looked like a Goth. I was Die J! Mars and still am.
4. You were once a renowned Toronto DJ. Was music always a passion and how did you make the leap spinning for crowds of drunken revellers?
I got into Ding in ’92 while attending York University and pretty much played every cool club in Toronto and NYC up to 2011. I kind of blame Toronto house Dj (and high school classmate) Matt C. Lol. As a favor to a friend at York, Gavin Bradley (who is now a big music producer for people like Nelly Furtado) I had him meet Matt who was one of the biggest DJ’s that city had–Gavin wanted to become a professional DJ. I went with him. What ended up happening is I took down my own notes and got the bug to want to do it. Mind you I was learning how to beat match Fields of the Nephilim instead of BKS. Then I got a gig on CHRY 105.5 FM doing an all night slot with another guy name Dominik who came on to guest. Dominik became Canada’s biggest hardcore rave Dj and I did my thing but I learned the technical stuff from him and all the hip hop guys at the station to apply it to my industrial/goth programming. I tried a gig at Kat Klub on Colborne Street that lasted about a month. I think I got fired because I ruined a listening party for Bobby Brown (or was it Boys II Men?). They were cutting into my party and what was I supposed to do? Lol. I made some lifelong friends there like Heiki (Mouth 392) from Digital Poodle and Gerry Belanger from CKLN 88.1 FM. I tried another gig at a student bar called The Dance Cave where I didn’t gel with the crowd either. So just when I thought I was done, I got a mysterious phone call to my radio show where a club owner wanted me to do 2 nights at his club called Death in the Underground. The rest was history. It seems like I can never throw in the towel. I was sort of retiring when I moved to LA but now I’m getting flown back to Toronto a lot to Dj reunion parties. It will always be with me DJing. I love music and I take the art of DJing serious. Hell, the first year I got into it, I used most of my school loan money to buy records and turntables. One of the best investments I ever made and I still have them. I used to (and still do) practice for hours a day, especially before a gig. That’s something that the new generation look at me weird for. Lol. Most of the good guys do. Like I could never go to Supa DJ Dmitri’s house (from Dee Lite) and hear silence. He kept his place always going constantly as if he was spinning at a mega club–and it shows because he’s a flawless DJ. You’ll notice that there is always some form of djing in my movies. In fact, Die J! Mars makes a quick cameo in Scumbag too. Oh and I have Superstar DJ Keoki and Michael Alig (both depicted in Party Monster) in the movie too!
5. I am getting pretty tired of the acceptance of PUNK and all the 40 year celebrations. How do you feel about the publics acceptance of the genre and how important was it to you (or is)?
Honestly, if you really want to go back to the ideals of punk, Trump is punk. Offspring is not. Why? One doesn’t care about pissing people off and probably gets off on it like Johnny Rotten used to. The other represents unity like a bunch of acne covered hippies. <Not saying I side with either, just an observation>. I always liked the music but I would rather do things to make my point than whine about it. I think the way to do it is through becoming a technology nerd and staying a free-thinker. Don’t get me wrong, I have maximum respect for all the originals out there: The Steven Leckies, The Keith Morris’s, Kid Congo Powers, Don Bolles, Howie Pyro, D.H. Peligro, Angelo Moore, Nick Zedd, etc. (of course most are in my movie), etc. What they say comes from the heart. I just can’t really stomach the kids with the Emo haircuts doing it today. I have more respect for rappers like Chief Keef for keeping it real and talking from a non-poser standpoint that only they would know. It’s like my films, I want to educate about the subculture while at the same time telling a story everyone can relate to. My fav films are cult films like that: Beat Street, Cheech and Chong Up in Smoke, What about Me? Etc. It’s our job as filmmakers to tell the stories of OUR lives, not the lives from the generation before us or else we are going to get bored of watching the same film forever.
6. Are you a scumbag? Or are you THE SCUMBAG.
I was a Scumbag (or in relevance to my movie I was THE Scumbag) but I’m not any more. Recovery has me trying to walk a different path. Doesn’t mean I don’t like sitting down with some from time to time… I like real people no matter who they are. I miss old school New Yorkers while I’m living here in LA. I’ll take the Dice Man any day over the nice politically correct guy who wants to stab me in the back when I’m not looking (which make up a lot of the people I meet).
7. Were you ever a contender to join The Mentors?
I’m out of the loop and don’t have cable. Don’t know what the mentors is. But in life I do have some. These days John Lehr from Hulu’s QuickDraw gives me some good entertainment advice whereas I learned some good life lessons from Steven Leckie from the Viletones, Mad Mike from Detroit’s Underground Resistance label, Genesis P-Orridge from Psychic TV, my sifu Eric Carr who got his knowledge passed down directly from Bruce Lee, etc. When you hear something’s right you got to make a note of that somewhere.
8. How did you collect the vast cast of characters to appear in your film?
I knew half of them from NY, or through my sister Patty Powers and the rest I got Ed Wood style by hitting every door in Hollywood. I really believe in my ideas (almost like a psycho–ask Moby). So you’re either in it or you’re out of it. Outside of my 222 cast members, people don’t see all the lengthy dealings I had with Jerry Mathers, Peter Murphy, Angelyne, Pee Wee Herman, Crispin Glover, Juliette Lewis, Jason Segel, etc. I mean who didn’t I approach? Ringo Starr even yelled at me on a street corner where I wanted to throw a rock at him. Lol. I don’t care, you only live once and I made damn sure this is the movie to die for. I couldn’t be happier with my final cast. They aren’t just my cast but most are my friends for life now.
9. How did you choose bands to be on the soundtrack and were there any bands you would have liked to have included? Will the soundtrack be released as well?
Most of the bands on the soundtrack were either people in the movie, me, or musicians I dealt with over the years from playing in bands and djing. I wanted to keep it edgy, fresh and new. Like back in the days when you would discover cool bands from comps. Eventually I’m going to release a double-album soundtrack with 40 artists. One disc is going to be “Fuck” which features all the punk songs for fighting and the other is going to be called “Walk” which contains all the dance tracks actually beat-mixed by me in continuity. So the second disc is essentially runway music for vogue queens and club kids. As for songs I wanted to include but didn’t, originally I wanted specific songs by artists like Suicide, Johnny Thunders, Dead Boys, Viletones, Brett Smiley, etc. but I quickly learned you have to be rich to deal with obtaining rights from publishing companies. Like Brett Smiley really wanted me to use his song “Space Ace” but told me his record label owns all the rights. It’s sad because these labels do nothing to help the artist and hoard everything. Steven Leckie too tipped me off on how Nirvana covered one of his Viletones songs and my first thought was “yeah, I’ll have unreleased Nirvana songs in my movie!” However, it would have been a very costly legal battle to use it that would probably cost a lot more than my movie ever did so it just wasn’t worth it. In the end I went with friends and that wasn’t too hard since all my friends were musicians anyway. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention we also have a song by OFF! In it thanks to Keith Morris who is definitely one of the coolest guys on the planet. On a side note, a bunch of artists I was seeking like Alan Vega and Brett Smiley died while making Scumbag. I even have a track by Steven Strange from Visage who also passed during it. Alexis Arquette also was supposed to be acting in this movie but had to decline a month before her shoot due to health complications. I can at least say I knew all these people were so great before the accolades happened after passing and I know that they also knew I was always a true fan.
10. Is financing a film in this day and age a difficult task?
Fuck yeah. With a capital “F”. Since this movie was all self-financed minus the $3900 I raised from friends and family on Indiegogo, my month always begins (and still does!) where I take my entire paycheck and leave 10% of it for me to survive–the rest goes into the movie. Lucky I have a supportive fiancé, Debra Haden, who is also the lead actress. I have made us both super broke for about 1.5 years now. Potato chips has become a normal lunch meal for me. I have a nice new car that I leave in the garage while I take the bus to/from work because I can’t afford gas. Let’s just say L.A.’s public transportation ain’t like Toronto or NYC. There is always at least one meth head living on it with mental disorders. I must have gotten in at least 3 screaming matches with people where I was waiting for their knife or gun to come out–all in the name of making a movie! On a side-note, there was an unknown actor in my film who thought it would be a good idea to not sign a waiver so that he could blackmail me into becoming my business partner (“like OB1 Kenobi from Star Wars”). I had even shot 2/3 of the movie when he pulled this. So, after starving like I did, let’s just say I might have had some evil thoughts going through my head. In the end, intelligence won and I was able to replace him and seamlessly CG him out of all the shots. That was one point where I was glad I was the editor of the film because I knew exactly what I needed. See, we shot this film over a year and I cut it as we went.
11. Where can we expect to see this film and for that matter where can we locate your past efforts?
My goal is to have this film everywhere. Right now though, I’m just waiting on important film festivals to see where we have our premieres. So, I’m doing the festival circuit for the next 2 years and hopefully by the end of the first year, I will have found the right distributor to help get it everywhere. Ideally, hoping it plays theaters and follows in the way of Kids or Office Space. As for my last film, “The Little House That Could”, it just became available today (Sept.23rd) on Queer Culture TV (www.queerculture.tv) and is also available for streaming on Mainstream Media Unplugged (msmu.me). Plus, it is going to start playing in Europe on OUTtv. For a film I started shooting in 2006, it is actually still playing the festival circuit too. It just won Best Documentary this year at Philadelphia Independent Film Festival and took the Audience Choice Award for Best 2015 Film at NewFilmmakers Los Angeles. Plus next month it is “supposed” to have its Russian premiere in Moscow at City of Lights Festival if all the paperwork gets in order. If not then, it will play in Russia soon.
12. Do you have other seeds planted in your brain for your next efforts?
Absolutely! Since all my films are about my life experiences, so will the next one. See, The Little House That Could represents my 30s (I’m 43 now) and was my LGBT documentary. Scumbag represents my 20s and is my slacker comedy. My next film is going to be about my teen years and is an Urban Drama sort of like a Spike Lee joint. My goal as a filmmaker is to never be pigeonholed and be able to take on any genre. I feel bad for a lot of these guys who call themselves “documentary filmmakers”. What they don’t see is it’s going to be so hard later to jump to the other side of the fence with the people who fund their movies because of labeling themselves for so long. I especially saw it in Canada and wanted no part of the NFB where I’d be making films about Eskimos for the rest of my life. No thanks. Oh yeah, I’m hoping to also make a part 2 for Scumbag as well as a TV series.
13. What do you hope to accomplish from this release… world domination? Cover of GQ?
No joke but my company isn’t called World Domination Pictures, Inc. for nothing. My idol is also Napoleon Bonaparte (for real!). However, I want to do it from the streets on up and help people in every step of the way. GQ? Ha, I’d love that but I’d be happy being on “Cracked” or “Crazy”.
14. What is the process for getting your film accepted to various film festivals? Are you fairly open to it being shown at most?
Basically send it in via secured online screener through outlets like Withoutabox.com, pray and hope it gets to the right judge. I’m only aiming for the largest and most important festivals for my first year or it will be harder to get distribution. I learned my lesson from touring around 14 festivals with my last film. It’s a hard fact but unless the festival has been around for at least 10 years, they probably get no press and have no audience. Not to say they aren’t good people that mean well but I have to pay back 300 people who all worked on spec with me and I got to do what’s right for the film to make that happen. I’m an honest guy and really want to make sure my cast + crew are happy. This film was a joint effort that I couldn’t have done by myself. However, after the first year of submitting to the big festivals, I will probably play it anywhere and everywhere. Oh yeah, as for my big festival logic: All big festivals want the premiere and they won’t want your film if you chose the tiny festival in the same town/country, etc. So it’s a long waiting game that I have to play out. Keep checking back on www.scumbag-movie.com for updates.
15. Do you have a favourite film maker or film?
Tough question. First off, let’s just say I don’t want to be like anyone else. Now, back to your question. I love the work of Harmony Korine, F. Gary Gray and Milos Forman. Of course, Scorsese has to be on everyone’s list. I also wouldn’t be Canadian if I didn’t cite Cronenberg as one of my heroes. These days though I’m really enjoying the new ones like Miranda July and Marc Webb (minus his very commercial stuff). My favorite film is “After Hours” and the film that had the most impact on me as a filmmaker is “The Breakfast Club”–it showed me how important dialogue is and what it can do.
16. If you were still located in Toronto do you think you would have achieved the same level of success?
If I had stayed in Toronto, I would have died. I was venturing down a dark road for many years in the end and NYC saved me from myself. Now, from a professional point, if I moved there today, I really don’t think I could get as far as a filmmaker as I can by living in LA. I don’t think I could have made Scumbag. Not that I have anything against Canada or the people, it’s just Los Angeles is a film town where everyone can act perfectly (have gone to school for it) or owns all the best camera gear right out of their garage. So, pulling together a team of 300 people to make a movie really only took me a few months. I couldn’t do that in Toronto if I wanted to. Well, maybe I could have but it would have cost me a lot more and taken a lot longer to make it happen. I also hate the grant system up there. I must have applied to 15 VideoFact grants from Much Music and several Go! Grants from the Council for the Arts and am ALWAYS turned down. It’s about favoritism and awful ideas. Yet, I’m the one guy who goes back and shows my movies in rep theaters that have a following (off the grid). I will always like the Canadian people but I’m currently at war with the heads of the Canadian film industry. My doc was shown at a Toronto festival that shares my similar hatred–it’s called “Censured in Canada”. I will probably show Scumbag there eventually as well. What really sucks is I think I can help Canada by being a liaison between my crews in NYC, Los Angeles and Toronto if only they’d budge and pretend to care. Oh yeah, NYC isn’t much better for film either. I shot one of my 18 days there and let’s just say the perk is you can shoot anywhere without a permit (for the most part) but the negative is that I found everything more expensive because of the lack of film resources compared to Los Angeles. Doesn’t mean I won’t shoot in Toronto or NYC again if the set is right though.
Check out the official trailer and teaser below, as well as the official film
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