John Patrick Brennan [Interview]

 

Hello Folks! Welcome to the 2020 edition of our Month of Horror. It’s almost humorous that we are showcasing the motion pictured displays of horror when it seems as though we simply have to look around us to see the natural horror that is enveloping our daily lives. But nevertheless, a quick escape from the surrealism of our daily lives is often appreciated. In this vein, we honor these wonderful folks who seek to only entertain us with a good scare and a break from the actual horror that is all around us. We have assembled a wonderful batch of actors, writers, directors & beyond, who have worked on so many different projects that you know and love. I am beyond excited to share them with you all throughout the month of October. Enjoy!

Today’s guest is the amazing filmmaker & musician, John Patrick Brennan. John has done some wonderful work in the world of horror, specifically for one studio that we have talked about and featured guests who work in it literally dozens of times now, the great Troma Studios. Think of a project you love from the Troma world from recent years, John has probably worked on it in some capacity. He is also the man behind the theme song, and other works, of The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs which airs on Shudder that you should all be watching.

So Folks, please enjoy some kind and interesting words from the great John Patrick Brennan!

 

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What inspired you to get into the world of entertainment? Was it an early aspiration you can always remember having since your youth, or did you just find yourself in this world one day?

On Movies: When I was very young, 5 or 6 years old, in the 80s, my parents rented a video camera to capture our family’s New Years Eve festivities. It was brand new technology at the time; a heavy, clunky camera that recorded directly onto VHS tapes. The first thing I asked was, “Can we make a movie!?” I wanted to film something with karate fights in it. I tied toilet paper around my head, wrists & ankles (because I must have seen something similar on TV at some point) and tried to direct. Unfortunately, I have a very large family – nine aunts and uncles on my mother’s side, with countless cousins – so my karate movie didn’t come to fruition that day. The rest of the family ended up hogging the camera. But, this, along with my love of Star Wars and Indiana Jones, was the spark.

Then, when I was in high school, my parents bought a Hi-8 camera and I basically confiscated it on day one. My friends and I taped hundreds of hours of skits, parodies, and performance art over the next four years. I still have a lot of that material safe and secure in my personal archives. We had so much fun. It’s why I decided to pursue the arts for a living. After that I went to film school. From there, post graduation, I moved to LA to become a screenwriter. I failed miserably in that endevor and returned to NY eight years later. That’s when I got involved with Lloyd Kaufman and Troma Entertainment, and the real “shitstorm” soon began!

On Music:  My parents had excellent taste and started me out young on the good stuff. I had a 45 of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” and played it on repeat for hours on end using my Fisher Price vinyl record player. Still my favorite song. When I grew up a little, getting to grammar school, I became obsessed with Heavy Metal. It was the heyday of MTV and my favorite show was “Headbangers Ball.” Then in middle school I got really into rap. Cypress Hills, Black Sheep, A Tribe Called Quest. Music is the best! My top six favorite musical acts are: Ween, Frank Zappa, The Beatles, Wu-Tang Clan, Stevie Wonder & Madonna. As far as learning to play music, I had three guitar lessons in the 6th grade. The teacher taught me bar chords, first thing. Later, in high school, I taught myself open chords from a book of Beatles tunes. With that foundation of bar chords and open chords I started writing my own songs. I’ve written around 700 to date, 42% of them might be enjoyable. I home recorded music as a hobby for about two decades, until finally getting the chance to write and record the theme song for “The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs.” It’s been a blessing working on the show!

 

 

What was your first paid gig in the world of entertainment? And were there any kind of lessons learned from this project that still affect your work today?

My first paid gig came about during my senior year of film school. I was hired to produce a documentary for an insanely rich man, who had made his fortune in software. He wanted to make a documentary about heroin addicts switching over to methadone in order to get themselves clean. It was kind of the dawn of digital video back then, so affordable editing software was able to run on home computers for the first time ever. I got to learn as I worked. The subject was very interesting to me. New York City’s mayor at the time, Rudolph Giuliani, had come out and said he wanted to abolish methadone clinics, which caused a huge uproar for an entire community of people in recovery. I put a small crew together and we interviewed local politicians, clinic workers, recovering addicts, and addicts that had sadly relapsed.

The shoots went smoothly and we purchased a bunch of stock footage from local news sources to fill in the information blanks. Unfortunately, about two weeks into editing many months worth of material, the rich man showed our Final Cut Pro timeline to his friend who was visiting from Texas. Unfortunately, my co-editor and I weren’t present. The two of them couldn’t make heads or tails of it, mainly because we were at the dawn of the edit. We needed at least a month to get a watchable rough cut together. Instead, I received a phone call from him saying he wanted to try and edit it himself. That was that.

About a year later I received a VHS tape of the finished product. There was literally no editing on the final product at all. The entire piece was just raw interviews with no discernable theme, context, or cohesion. He sold maybe a dozen copies. I guess the lesson here is that people with money can do whatever the hell they want, right or wrong! I was simply too young and inexperienced to argue with the guy. I do sometimes wish we’d been given the time to properly put that project together. It was a juicy and compelling subject. Could have been an interesting documentary.

In your own personal opinion, what do you believe it is that makes the horror genre special? What sets it apart from other genres you have worked in?

What makes the horror genre special is that it takes a shit load of imagination & skill to create, produce, and execute the best ones, but even the worst ones usually have some redeeming qualities (great special FX work, schlock, etc.). This isn’t true for all genres. A bad romantic comedy is just BAD. A bad horror movie is most likely watchable.

Horror is easily the biggest escape from reality in cinema for me, even films that deal with real life events or socio political commentary. There’s usually enough fantastical elements contained within to help me forget about life for a while and just enjoy the ride.

And, what sets horror apart from other genres I’ve worked in? Honestly, the craftsman that goes into creating practical FX and CGI FX. Watching those elements come to life over the course of different projects has been truly special to behold. There are so many incredible creative people in this industry. I can’t wait to continue working with the artists I know, and meet new artists to collaborate with.

You have done some amazing work with one of our favorite studios in the world of horror, the great world of Troma. I am curious to know how you found yourself in this world? And what sets it apart from other studios you have worked with?

Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz have been my greatest mentors in the entertainment industry. Some people talk trash about Troma – low pay, etc. – but I had extraordinarily valuable experiences there. I started with the company as an editing volunteer in 2013, working on Lloyd’s “Make Your Own Damn Movie” lessons for YouTube. My mindset was to treat Troma HQ like a second film school. I worked hard, gained credits, and networked. Troma is perfect for that. If you go in thinking you’ll co-write and co-direct The Toxic Avenger Part 5 after three days volunteering, you’re mistaken. I encountered some impatient people there who thought that way. Troma wasn’t for them. For any aspiring filmmakers who have extra time in their week, within commuting distance, volunteering at Troma is an awesome opportunity. You’ll get to know like-minded artists, and you’ll work closely with Lloyd Kaufman, President of Troma Entertainment and Creator of The Toxic Avenger. He’s very accessible and takes time to collaborate with anyone who helps in the office.

After about a year and a half volunteering at Troma, Lloyd asked me to be his personal assistant. This meant I’d get paid to do every job from scrubbing the toilets to producing the movies. During my time as his assistant, Lloyd taught me the entire process of making a film, from the dawn of an idea all the way through post-production. Invaluable. Besides this, Lloyd is a skillful improviser, a fantastic on-the-fly joke writer, and a master punster. Gleaning bits of his Uncle Lloydie persona – observing the way he handles situations from crafting a promo to interacting with fans – without a doubt, helped sharpen my skills as a performer and a writer. Lloyd is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. I laughed every day I worked at Troma. I cried, too, but the tears were worth it!

Michael Herz, Co-Founder and Vice President of Troma Entertainment, is an expert lawyer and an experienced businessman. He taught me how to read and understand contracts. He showed me how to catch complicated wording that isn’t in your favor, and how to negotiate licensing deals. Before working with Michael, my eyes would have crossed three lines into reading a contract. Now, I have a basic understanding of flowery legalese. Thanks MH!

On top of all this, if it wasn’t for my time working at Troma, I would have never gotten involved with The Last Drive-In. I met the show’s producers, Matt Manjourides and Justin Martell, back when they were Troma employees. Not only did we become good friends pretty soon after meeting, but many years later, knowing I’d written and home recorded hundreds of hours of music, they asked if I wanted to submit a demo for consideration as the new Joe Bob Briggs theme song. I did! It was approved in less than 48 hours. This proves the power of networking!

 

 

What is your favorite scary movie?

It’s hard to pick just one favorite, so here are ten in no particular order (and the originals where apporpriate, not the remakes): The Exorcist, The Thing, Cannibal Holocaust, The Lost Boys, Frankenstein, The Haunting, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Alien, Evil Dead 2.

The Exorcist, when I was a child, and Cannibal Holocaust, when I was in my twenties, were the two that hit me hardest and changed my life forever.

I’ve also been really into The Conjuring universe lately. Absolutely loved The Nun.

I can easily list a hundred more favorites! (for adventurous types, definitely seek out the shot on video classic Splatter Farm).

I know this year may be a bit different, but I am curious to know if you have any sort of Halloween traditions? Anything you would normally do each year?

 

Like a lot of horror fans, I do a month long October marathon of genre films, seeking out a bunch I’ve never seen before. I still receive Netflix DVDs in the mail, so some of the ones I have lined up in the queue are: Onibaba, The Sinful Dwarf, Wishmaster 1 & 2, The Toolbox Murders, Woodchipper Massacre, Gutterballs, The Man Who Laughs, The Abominable Dr. Phibes and Dr. Phibes Rises Again.

I’ve also discovered a perfect Halloween double feature that’s fun for the whole family: The Ghost and Mr. Chicken & Ernest Scared Stupid.

Halloween season is my favorite time of year! Cannot be beat!

 

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

 

Lloyd Kaufman’s #ShakespearesShitstorm, a movie I produced in 2018, had its virtual world premiere as part of the Fantasia Film Festival Aug. 29th, 2020. The response has been overwhelmingly positive from both fans and critics alike! We have a lot more festivals lined up and we will definitely do a proper theatrical release once the world returns to normal. This is for sure one of Lloyd’s best films! Stay tuned to http://shakespearesshitstorm.com/ for updates and screening dates.

Besides that, The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs continues to air on Shudder. We have a Halloween special scheduled for October 23rd, a Christmas special in December (date TBA), and Season 3 in 2021. Keep an eye on my social media – @badtechno on Twitter & Instagram – for updates. Also, subscribe to https://www.shudder.com/

What was the last thing that scared the hell out of you?

A tropical storm ripped through my area at the end of the summer and dropped a humongous tree onto my neighbors house, and half onto mine. My girlfriend and I were in the room at the time, right next to where it hit. Felt like the scene in Poltergeist where the tree comes alive. I almost shit my pants. We had no power for three full days. Totally sucked. Thankfully no one was hurt!


What was the last thing that made you smile?
This scene from “Serial Mom” directed by John Waters:https://youtu.be/HvUZvcppVXo

“Fuckin’ Don Knotts”

“He’s the coolest”

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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