With a growing number of independently made off-the-grid cult films to his credit, pictures like The FP (2011), All Superheroes Must Die (2011), How to Save Us (2014), and three more FP films, including the latest one FP 4EVZ, filmmaker, actor, and jack-of-all-boots Jason Trost periodically shows up in other peoples’ projects, but it’s in his own films where he has his best niche as a unique type of hero. In the four FP movies he plays a Dance Dance Revolution underdog champion named JTRO where his opponents become more freakish and outlandish as the sequels progress, and in 4EVZ (distributed by XYZ) the plot careens from being a far-out post-apocalyptic space odyssey to being a time-travelling spoof of the genre, a culmination of ridiculous concepts only Trost could have concocted. His best film remains the sincere and serious one-man show How to Save Us, an introspective post-apocalyptic riff on survival horror video games, and in this interview, Trost discusses his inspirations, interest in the end-of-the-world genre, and indie filmmaking and the unpredictable side of distribution.
I’ve been on The FP journey since the beginning.
That’s a long time.
I saw the first one in a theater in a weird, one-show only screening.
Where did you see it at?
Ontario, California. I was one of three people in the theater.
I did see the second one in a theater as well, and you showed up to a screening of that.
Where was that?
At The Frida, in Orange County.
Oh, cool! We did a screening of FP 3 and 4 back to back there back in October of 2022.
So, yeah. I’m not coming into the series cold with part 4.
Good. Because it’s really strange if you are. (Laughing.)
You’ve said that the first FP was your take on Rocky. And that the second one was your Highlander or Conan the Barbarian. What would 3 and 4 be for you? Where do those fall in?
Oh gosh. They get a lot crazier. Three goes into Miyazaki cartoons and The Running Man and all kinds of odd anime references like that. Four is a little simpler for me because it’s more like Indiana Jones / Star Wars. I joke a lot that it’s Brendan Fraser Mummy movies. That’s really what I was going for.
That makes sense. I wanted to ask you something. The conversation could die right here or it could take on some new life. Do you know who the filmmaker Donald G. Jackson was?
He did little no-budget post-apocalyptic movies like Roller Blade and Hell Comes to Frogtown.
Oh, yeah, yeah. I saw those years ago.
I kinda feel like you’re going in that direction with the FP movies. Into an “anything goes” post-apocalyptic future. Weird, post-apocalyptic-adjacent futures. I mean, you’ve got mutant ducks in these movies.
Which is awesome. What I’m doing is just trying to make my own genre. I’m just bored with movies, and I want to make things that are just generally wrong for bigger movies. That’s what I want to do.
That seems to be your entire approach to filmmaking. You are doing something with an independent spirit, completely off the grid of what I guess would be mainstream. But it has a niche. Your style is very go-for-niche, and you’re going for something. You do have an audience.
Yeah. I feel like too many movies now … the magic of movies used to be to directly target people, but too many times now the budgets have gotten so big and have gotten so corporate that you’re trying to make something for everyone. And when you do that you make something for no one. Nobody is going to be serviced. You’ve got these giant movies that are trying to hit every type of demographic, and when you walk away you go, That wasn’t right. They forget about it the next weekend. It’s one-use entertainment. Like the Marvel movies. Yeah, it was fun, but then you ask your friend what happened in it, but they don’t remember either. My movies, whether you love it or hate it, it’s directly targeted to one person. It’s dangerous if you want to make a career or money off of that, but people who love these movies love them more than anything. People who hate them, hate them more than anything. It gets a solid reaction. If I spend a year or two of my life on something, I want a reaction. Not just a, Huh, I forgot about it already.
Let me be completely honest. When I saw the original, I had a very negative reaction to the film.
That said, the score to that movie by George Holdcroft was so incredible, that I think it’s gotten more airplay than anything else in my collection, ever. There’s something really pure and beautiful about that score, and it gives life to your movie.
Yeah. The issue with that movie is that it’s top to bottom sarcastic and a satire that makes fun of a group of people that I grew up with that a lot of people have grown up around. I don’t think people understood that it was a satire or a comedy. A lot of people came in and went, “Look at these assholes!” I know it’s a tough watch because the subject content … it wasn’t marketed that way. I shined a mirror on those assholes. It was supposed to be a joke, so I didn’t want to do the same thing with the sequels. I tried to make the sequels more obvious as a joke because no one really caught on the first time. There were some who did, which is why we’re still here doing this. I didn’t want it to be like the first time: “Look at these guys saying bad words!”
(Laughing.) I watched the first one again recently. It’s aged pretty well. I went into it the first time in a different mood.
I’ve got to say that my favorite movie that you’ve done … it’s because it’s so sincere, and I feel like I got a sense of your heart a little bit is How to Save Us.
Oh yeah. I love that one too.
It’s the best thing you’ve done. It’s a really pure little movie.
Yeah, I really enjoyed that movie, man. I’ve always loved survival horror video games. That was my Silent Hill / Resident Evil movie with no money. I’ve always liked horror movies where it’s just one or two people. I like a smaller cast so that you can feel the vibe of the characters. It was definitely something at that age, processing becoming an adult … it was a very cathartic movie. I’d just met my not-yet at the time wife in Australia, and she introduced to be Tasmania, and the place was haunting and beautiful. I wanted to do something there, and I like horror when it’s done in a haunting, beautiful landscape. The strange juxtaposition I find haunting. I really like that movie. The release for that movie was botched quite a bit. There’s a whole dark side of distribution storyline there. I wanted to continue on with that, but it was such a … horrible experience on the backend that I haven’t gotten there yet. But one of these days. I like that universe. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
That was a question I had. I know you’ve taken polls in the past. “Should I do another sequel to FP, All Superheroes Must Die, or How to Save Us,” and everyone wants more FP. I feel like I’m the only person waving my hand for How to Save Us.
I’ve been getting that question more and more lately. I feel like I’m going to get there. I feel like a pinball because I’ve been doing FP movies for 10 years. What am I going to do next? I feel like I have to something that is not FP. I need a break. I want to go back really bad, but I think my sanity is going to break if I did another one right away. I should just do something completely original again, a one-off. I’ll do something completely crazy, and then I’ll do a sequel after that.
This is my take, but How to Save Us is very pure, and it’s not a joke. There’s no irony to it, and I pinpoint that as your best movie. I’d like to see you go more in that direction, not necessarily as a sequel, but something unique and sincere again. I see a real awesome filmmaker there, and I’d love to see you grow in that direction.
Yeah. I’m sure that’ll happen again at some point. It’s a far less marketable direction. I’m not by any means a rich or famous person, but these FP movies have a big fan base and it’s real easy to get them distributed and funded if I do them myself. Those other movies are so tooth and nail to get funded, and they’re getting harder and harder to make and distribute. I know if I try to make another one of those other ones, it’s going to be a real hard ride all the way through. I have to be ready for that sort of thing. With FP 2, 3, and 4, they grow more and more personal as they go, there’s some real personal moments in there. With each one, I don’t try to make them funnier, I just try to make them better movies. The mission statement for each of those is the harder you try to make them, the funnier they become because they’re each more ridiculous. That’s my sense of humor.
I wanted to ask you about the distribution process a bit, which you’ve already touched on. The second FP seemed self-distributed, as did the 3rd one. But this 4th one is distributed by XYZ, a great company that put out The Raid and some very big films. That caught my attention. What’s going on here? How did XYZ get involved with this new one?
I didn’t know that was happening until just a few months ago. I was just going to distribute it myself like I did the previous two. Basically, after How to Save Us and all the drama and the pain I had with that, I just stopped releasing things to people. I’m done. I’m out. I can do this myself now. If you’re with the wrong distributor, it can be quite a shit show. Especially if you’re an independent filmmaker, doing it all on your own. So, I was gearing up to distribute part 4 with a home video release, after our premier for all the “F-peeps,” if you will, and I got an email from my buddy James Shapiro, who works at XYZ, and what’s funny is that he was on the distribution team all the way back on The FP with Drafthouse, and he was working with Drafthouse all the way until the pandemic hit, and then he moved on to XYZ, and he’s the only reason we got the film to play at Fantastic Fest because they kept saying, “No, this movie’s not for us.” They screen more prestige, art movie things, but he kinda forced them to play it, which was awesome, and then it was the one of the most fun screenings ever. So since then, James has been like, “We’re going to do something with you someday.” I thought, Okay, cool, great. James is one of the only people in the distribution world that I’ve ever genuinely liked. We’re friends. I’ve known him for probably 15 years now. Then I get the email, “Do you have a link for FP 4?” Okay, yeah, sure. A week later, he’s like, “We’re doing it. We’ve got a release slot. Let’s bring FP to the people.” I was like, “Sure. Why not?” It was funny. There’s a joke that goes Every overnight success story takes 10 years. That’s kind of like what this was. Maintaining that friendship with someone who ended up having a great position at XYZ.
That’s cool. Is there any way to retroactively put out parts two and three with them? Those two slipped through the cracks.
I agree. That conversation is happening. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say, but I know that they are trying to get some sort of physical release of those and release a box set later this year.
Oh, okay. Awesome.
Yeah, you’ve gotta have the box set.
Totally. Not these MOD, made-on-demand discs.
I wanna own ’em proper! We’ll see. I guess it depends on how this one does when it comes out in two weeks.
Let me veer back a bit to the post-apocalyptic aspect of the franchise. You’ve dabbled a little bit with this genre. How to Save Us is there. FP 2 is more apocalyptic than part one, but say something about this genre. It seems like you have an affinity for it.
I really like it. It’s really hard for me to relate to real world stuff. I’m a weird guy, myself. Also, I think it’s more because I like to go to movies that are escapes. World building is one my favorite things about movies. It’s really hard to just make regular movies about regular Earth. There’s a wave of movies right now that are very pessimistic and sad, and at the end of the movie the character is in a worse place than when they started, but they might’ve learned something in the end. That’s a little too close to real life for me right now. I like to go to the movies for an escape, and there’s no bigger escape than the post-apocalyptic movies. What if after society collapses, something magical evolves from it? If you watch the first Mad Max movie, it’s very debatably post-apocalypse. Maybe, I guess. Then, The Road Warrior went full bore. That was always the joke with these FP movies. I went from debatable to increasingly and increasingly to the point where if you went from part one to four, you go, “Holy fuck, what happened?” It’ll be that jump again from four to five. I’m just upping the stakes every time. If it was just Dance Dance Revolution, it would be like a Step Up movie, which is funny enough, but Dance Dance Revolution in the apocalypse? Now you’ve got my attention. Add space. Sure, why not?
I feel exactly the same way in terms of how you’ve built this world. Say something, since we’re talking about part 4. I don’t know how this movie will fit all by itself. If newbie audiences are coming into it not having seen the previous three simply because the distribution is more visible, how do you think it’s going to affect their point of view of what you’ve done here?
Who knows? Maybe it’ll help! I have no idea!
Jason, if you were to survive the apocalypse and somehow ended up in the How to Save Us future, do you think you’d survive? I’m guessing you’d be fine in an FP apocalypse. You literally are JTRO.
Yeah. Well, I think in the FP world I’d make it for sure. I’m built that way. Like in Last Action Hero: Jack Slater can’t die. So, I’d just be fine there. But, How to Save Us … Fighting spirits and demons and things … I’d probably crack. As much as I like watching things, I love watching those moody horror, post-apocalypse movie things. I do question it, though. Could I survive? Would I want to keep living in that? Maybe I’m good. If you watch these things like The Road where they’re scrounging for scraps and everyone’s dirty, and he’s teaching his kid to kill himself with a gun in his mouth in the first scene … whoa. I don’t know if I want that to be my reality. I might punch my own ticket at that point. I have no idea. It might be okay to watch, but I don’t know if I’d want to put myself there. In COVID, we got a brief glimpse at what that might be like, and it was like, whoa, man. I dunno. (Laughing.) The serious one might be too much. I want to go to the one where you just have to get drunk and dance. It sounds way more fun!
FP 4EVZ will be released on VOD and digital platforms on 2/23