I was able to interview Johnny Zito and Tony Trov a few months ago about their backgrounds and comic book projects. (You can find the interview here.) I’m now interviewing them again to learn more about their upcoming independently made horror film, Alpha Girls.
Produced by Zito’s and Trov’s studio, SOUTH fellini, Alpha Girls mixes Devil worshipping and witchcraft with the horrors of the Sorority life. Set to come out in October 2012, the film is an excellent example of true independent movie product in the 21st century. (Ron Jeremy also has a small part in it.)
Nicholas Yanes: Alpha Girls is a supernatural horror movie centered on a sorority. What inspired you both to make this movie? Were there any specific stories or movies that you both drew inspiration from?
Tony Trov: Alpha Girls was going to be a comic book originally. On our way back from New York Comic Con we were spit balling ideas for another book pitch. We got our teeth stuck on the haunted sorority house thing and after a few weeks it was like, hey… I think we can make this. So, we consciously wrote towards our production strengths and it kind of came together from that.
Johnny Zito: I think we were really inspired by Suspiria, Heathers, and Evil Dead. These movies served as the visual vocabulary between people creatively involved in the project. These are the films that get you excited to make something of your own. There’s an energy and excitement on screen that translates so well because the people making it love what they do.
Yanes: As I’m sure you both realized, making a movie is a huge project. What steps did you two have to take before you knew that this movie could get done?
Zito: When the script was finished and it looked like we could make it as a movie, we took an informal survey of friends and co-workers to see who would join us on this crazy idea. It was pretty encouraging when so many people pledged support. I think that gave us a confidence to take it seriously and marshal our forces.
Trov: There was an endless checklist of things we needed: gear, costumes, art, personnel, food, a camera… We started gathering supplies a year in advance. That gave us time to work out bottled water sponsorship, get the best deal on lenses, search for the perfect locations and assemble an amazing cast and crew.
Yanes: While creativity and passion are needed to make a movie, so is money. How did you both go about creating the budget for the film? Are there things you learned about fundraising that you wish someone would have told you about sooner?
Trov: We watched the director commentator track to Clerks five times in one day. That was when we decided to break the first rule of film making.
Zito: A lot of our movie was self financed. We saved $5 from every $10 we made peddling funny books. We also ran a Kickstarter campaign while shooting to raise additional funds. We pretty much told everyone “The post production for this project is all on credit. Please, help us finish this movie.” I think being honest and explicit about our plan really helped convince people to open their wallets.
Yanes: You mentioned that you turned to Kickstarter to help raise money for the film. How do you think Kickstarter, and similar websites, are changing how films are made?
Zito: It was very interesting because we essentially pre-sold copies of the film. We received hundreds of $20 donations in exchange for a copy of Alpha Girls. And this was all happening before the movie was made. Crowd sourcing is a very powerful tool. Anyone who’s ever asked themselves “How does all this crap get made?” can sign onto Kickstarter and support the kind of entertainment they want to see.
Yanes: The phrase “indie movie” gets thrown around a lot. Hell, even Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is technically an independent production. What do you think people don’t understand about movies that have bare-bone budgets?
Trov: Micro budget films can’t afford to fight the elements that surround them. You have to completely embrace your location. The logistics of moving a film crew is much more involved and expensive than anyone could imagine.
Yanes: A movie doesn’t just have to be made, it has to be marketed, distributed, and I imagine lots of contracts need to be written and signed. What are some of things you two learned about these aspects of the industry?
Zito: Well, we were already marketing the movie as soon as we launched the Kickstarter. We produced art, graphics, props, photos, behind-the-scenes videos… Just anything we could think of about the film making process that we thought an audience might find interesting. Through that process we developed an aesthetic for our marketing.
Trov: The general rule was to be as legit as Batman. If Batman has a music video then so do we. If Batman has a minimalist poster, so do we. If Batman has a viral marketing video, so do we. Of course we did it our way, put our spin on things… But the whole point of any movie is to provide a completely immerse experience and that starts with world-building in your marketing.
Yanes: You both have created comic books for several years now. Did your understanding of comic books at all influence how you approached movie making?
Trov: Images. Every scene should have some sort of indelible imagery that makes it pop. Comics do this very well because in sequential art you can suddenly interrupt a flow of tiny panels with a giant splash page. It’s a little different in a movie; you kind of have to lead the audience to things with more subtlety.
Yanes: A lot of independent movie creators often struggle between trying to make money off their film through traditional sales, or encouraging people to digitally distribute the film (through bit torrent and similar file sharing services) in the hopes that fans will donate money to the project. How do you two approach this problem? Do you see bit torrent as a tool, an obstacle, or something in between?
Zito: To be honest, we haven’t gotten that far into the process yet. In general I feel like there’s a place for file sharing. One of my favorite parts about reading comics when I was a kid was trading issues with my friends. To that end I became a lifelong fan of certain characters and creators I may never have been exposed to otherwise. But If you like something and you want more of it, you gotta drop a buck. An audience votes with their dollars.
Yanes: Overall, what are your long term goals for Alpha Girls? For instance, is Alpha Girls the start of a long term franchise, a stepping stone to bigger movies, or something else?
Trov: Our ultimate goal is to be the first sorority film to screen on the Moon. It’s more of a long term plan.
Zito: I think Alpha Girls might make a cool supernatural/teen drama someday; in the way Buffy the Vampire Slayer found a second life on TV.
Yanes: With Alpha Girls out of the way, what are your next projects that people should look out for?
Zito: We have a graphic novel out right now called DOGS of Mars from Image Comics drawn by Paul Maybury. It’s about Astronauts marooned on the red planet. Then, later this year our super hero comic, Moon Girl, illustrated by the Rahzzah, will be released as a paperback from Red5 Comics.
Trov: In the meantime if folks are interested in Alpha Girls please visit its homepage here – AlphaGirlsMovie.com – to find out about screenings in your area.