Interview: Jeff Renfroe (director of The Colony)
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Date Stamp: April 22, 2013
Give us a little rundown of your career thus far.
Jeff Renfroe: I came up through music videos and commercials. My first feature was called One Point O. It’s a low budget science fiction thriller. It was nominated for Grand Jury Prize at Sundance (Film Festival) 2004. My second film is called Civic Duty, a psychological thriller. That was released in 2007. And I’ve been doing some TV. It’s been about six years developing and bringing The Colony to this point.
Tell us about The Colony and the six-year development of the project.
JR: The Colony came to me originally…my producer, Paul Barkin, sent me the script. I was immediately intrigued by the notion of the next ice age and how people would potentially be surviving that. Not just as shit is hitting the fan but over a long period of time, what would happen. It was initially a much smaller film, it was like a two million dollar movie that was contained to the one colony. I didn’t want to do another small movie, so I talked the producers into blowing the scope up. And over the years, we just kept blowing it up and up and up, and realizing that there was this appetite out there to be able to do a larger film in Canada. It took a lot of development, and support from Telefilm Canada and Alliance. Both came on in the early stages.
Speak on some of The Colony’s influences and inspirations. It definitely recalls some classic late ‘70s and early ‘80s sci-fi.
JR: I’m a huge science fiction fan and I grew up on movies like The Thing and Aliens. So, yeah, I knew I wanted to make films at a pretty early age and brought all of that desire to make those type of movies into my career. The Colony is essentially about the last known group of survivors of this next ice age and how they must defend themselves against a colony of people who have run out of food and resources, and they’ve devolved a little bit, they’ve gone feral…they’ve turned to cannibalism. I think what’s interesting is that on the surface we’ve got this fun and scary popcorn movie that has great action and has great style, but what’s been fun for me is working with the themes underneath. I think any great sci-fi movie plays with these themes. We’ve got the obvious climate change, and this notion of what makes communities sustainable, and essentially how greed and consumption have really destroyed our human spirit. So, in a sense, it’s a bit of a two-part cautionary tale: careful about who you become and be nice to mother nature or else she will kick your ass.
At what point in the development did you get the big names like Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton?
JR: Quite late in the game. It’s always a bit of a chicken and egg kind of thing when you are trying to finance a movie. A lot of people need to know who the big name is before they will give you the money and a big name actor will go, where’s the money? We were lucky enough to catch Laurence’s attention. I got on the phone with him, and I can be pretty convincing when I feel it, and Laurence was someone I really thought could pull that role off. He told me he was a big fan of post-apocalyptic movies and that he really wanted to be a part of it. So, having his interest at that level was a complete game changer and financing came pretty quick after that.
We see that you just recently directed a couple episodes of Being Human, and it’s funny because we just spoke with Sam Witwer the other day. How was working on the show?
JR: It’s funny because The Colony was such a long and complicated and difficult shoot. We had some of the worst locations, and there’s a lot of moving parts, and (it was) cold and damp and dirty and ugly. When I learned I got those two episodes of Being Human, and all the post for The Colony was happening in Montreal and the shoot for Being Human was in Montreal, I’m like, this is an amazing opportunity. I could go shoot some TV and do post on The Colony during the summer in Montreal. It was so nice to parachute into this machine that was very well oiled, and a crew that knew each other very well. It was just a lovely experience because there was this great little family. It was a breath of fresh air to not have all the responsibility of being one of the writers, one of the producers… I was there to do a job, and I had a ton of fun. The actors were a blast…all very talented.
Being a big sci-fi fan, what are your thoughts on the upcoming Star Wars movie and J.J. directing it? What do you think about possibly directing a Star Wars film?
JR: For sure when I was sixteen and making ninja movies, that’s what you have in your head, I’m going to make a Star Wars movie one day. I think it’s really exciting what they are doing with the Star Wars franchise and that they got this amazing, amazing director. So, I can’t wait to see what J.J. comes up with.
What are you working on next?
JR: I’ve definitely got a few things in my quiver. I’ve got three bigger projects, sci-fi/action/thriller types that I’m developing. And right now I’m on production on a documentary on Steve McQueen. (It is) a complete departure from commercial filmmaking. It’s been awesome. I’ve produced a couple of docs as well. I cut Anvil: The Story of Anvil. So, docs are a part of my world and it’s another brain exercise in filmmaking. I got an episode of Haven coming up in spring. I’m attached to direct a remake of The 39 Steps, a Hitchcock movie. So, lots going on.
With superhero movies being so popular right now, are you working on anything or talking to anybody in that area?
JR: I’m developing a TV series called Diary of A Superhero based on a short story by Vinnie Penn, a New York comedian. Definitely growing up, I was always geeked out about that stuff. So, it’s my world and I intend to play in that sandbox to the fullest.
If you were given free reign to do any superhero movie you like, which would it be?
JR: I love Iron Man and I think that’s largely because of what Robert Downey brought to that character and that role. So fun and grounded.
I know The Colony is opening wide but will it be at any festivals?
JR: I heard rumours that we might go to Sitges, that a pretty big genre festival in Spain.
Jeff’s Top 5 Sci-Fi Movies of All Time
3. District 9
4. 28 Days Later
5. The Thing
The Colony opens Canada-wide on Friday, April 26th