Sex, Drugs, And Telemarketingâ€“ A Look At Mars Roberge's SCUMBAG
Mars Roberge talks about his experience writing and directing Scumbag, and how it's actually based on a true story. See the NYC Premiere of 'Scumbag' on February 23, 2018 @9:45pm at Cinema Village (22 East 12th Street) at New York City's 7th Annual Winter Film Awards International Film Festival. Winter Film Awards' Liv Tjernberg spoke with Mars about his work on the film.
Mars Roberge releases his breakout film "Scumbag" - one that he's been writing for 20 years. Mars and I, on opposite sides of the country, spoke on the phone while he was in the middle of one of Los Angeles' infamous traffic jams. While we obviously spoke about "Scumbag", he also offered his own insight on the new downfall of Hollywood and his criticisms towards other Canadian filmmakers.
In the film we follow Phil, played by Princess Frank, a DJ who's forced into finding a day job to make ends meet. He lives with his girlfriend Christine, played by Debra Haden, who represents the life that Phil dives from, landing headfirst into a creepy, debauchery-filled life full of people that he meets in the world of cold-calls and printer toner.
The premise of telemarketing is enough to make one's skin crawl, but meeting the people behind those random numbers and scripted sales pitches is even more jarring.
Both Phil and the audience are thrust into the odd workspace, immediately introduced to some of the colorful characters that'll eventually become more than coworkers to Phil. Here we have a pig-man that snorts as part of his pitch, a large man with red hair named Elmo, Ron Jeremy, a man named Travis with a cowboy hat that embodies the offensive redneck that city slickers love to hate-and those are just to name a few.
The most notable actors are Princess Frank, Haden, and Scott E. Myers, who plays Ryan. Frank dressed his character, Phil, in his own personal wardrobe, giving Phil the edge to visually stand out and in general make him an interesting character. Haden's natural charisma was a refreshing contrast to the rest of the film's themes, making her character funny, quirky, and by far the most likeable. And Myers was perhaps the most natural in front of the camera, also somehow making his sleazy, creepy, sexist character a little endearing.
What's particularly unique about this film is the number of characters in it. "If I would've known I was shooting a 140 page script with 220 actors I don't think anybody would've worked on it."
The characters within the office space don't mesh together like they were ever meant to be friends, and perhaps the only things even remotely bringing them together are their love to party and their mediocrity as salesmen. The motley crew of actors elegantly translates into characters that any viewer can jive with, especially for viewers that appreciate the anti-Hollywood story where morals are questionable and HAPPY ENDINGS are atypical. Scumbag should be awarded alone for the realistic take on with whom you end up as friends as adults, and what path you might find yourself stumbling down once you embrace whatever life throws at you.
Despite the sheer volume of characters, it doesn't trump the presence and individuality that each actor brings to the table. "Everybody kind of contributed their own thing, and I let them run with it."
Phil starts out a bit timid, learning the ropes of the sales world, when his coworkers begin taking him out to PARTY ON a nightly basis. This new lifestyle of heavy drinking and drugs eventually wears into his relationship with Christine, who is sweet, innocent (despite working in a sex-shop), maintains her loyalty to Phil throughout most of the film, and cares about little more than his best interests.
The occasional lack of continuity can be disorienting at times, but the point of the film is not to abide by the traditional rules of Hollywood. Mars creates his own language and art, combining musical elements with dark humor and one-liners from characters that you could only find in the early-morning hours at an LA club. I asked Mars about his choice on casting a few adult film actors, for example Nina Hartley and Ron Jeremy. "I wanted to keep it as real as possible. To me, porn is a popular thing in NORTH AMERICA and these people are very popular. They're very household names. But there is a part of Hollywood that gave me a problem with it because they don't want to be associated with something like that."
Mars told me there were even some actors that pulled out of the movie upon learning adult stars would be featured, so Mars' choice was not an easy one, but rather a conscious decision to both make a broader point and also bring a certain flair. "At the end of the day, I thought everybody I chose was the perfect person for the role that they were playing."
Mars not only lost actors from the film, but also lost a few people in his personal life who didn't approve of some of his cast and other choices. But he proves to be one of the few honest, dedicated screenwriters and directors out there who type their fingers to the bone and risk popularity and a good reputation to reach those that are not accurately reflected nor portrayed in the movies. "I don't want to lose my fans, my target audience-I know who my target audience is and it was made for people who lived this life. It's made for the blue-collar workers, it's made for the person who hates their job, [for the person who] goes against the political correctness of today. I wanted to stay true to that so I'll fight for my actors to keep them in the film."
Regarding a popular website with movies and ratings by users: "At the end it's a bunch of accountants looking at these numbers... meanwhile they don't look at the story at all, they end up getting a COPYCAT movie and they're wondering why Hollywood's movies are bombing all the time. My idea of putting rock stars in the film is a cool thing in my eyes and to my friends. But from a Hollywood point of view 'That's a money loss, nobody's going to see a film with a rock star in it.'
"I base things on, it's my film, I'm spending my money on it, I want a film that I think is cool with cool people in it."
Mars is not the filmmaker that'll sell out to make more money or gain more popularity. In short-"it's my film".
"I actually wrote it over 20 years... I almost got lost in that life and didn't come back. I remember getting this job and thinking, that telemarketing place, and thinking that there's all these interesting people, I should stay here and write about it and I ended up getting trapped in it for 7 years and the DJ thing for like 20."
I asked Mars what movies or directors inspire him. "There's always other filmmakers that I like, like Martin Scorsese and his movie After Hours played a big role in my life. I just like the whole idea of crazy characters in the city and late-at-night when anything can happen. And films like The Breakfast Club played a big role for me when I realized you could do an interesting movie in just one room with cool characters. You don't have to have a million sets and a million scenes, it should be about characters. Characters are very important to me, more than the actual plot."
Mars had some criticism about how Canada treats its filmmakers, and the limitations they have when it comes to allowing creative expression. "Being from Toronto, I guess over the last couple months I started realizing I'm trying to do what [David] Cronenberg did a long time ago, like doing his own thing and being from Toronto. The Canadian filmmakers, I'm not a fan of. They all have to follow whatever it takes to get a government grant to make a bad film that only Canadians care about. Cronenberg did the opposite-he made weird films that I like."
But one thing's for sure-"I'm not trying to be anybody." I respected his assertiveness towards his own creativity, and being a pioneer in "weird" movie making.
Scumbag is cartoonish at times, but nonetheless provides an accurate reflection of how easily a person's life can become unraveled. Phil enters AA towards the end of the film, having the epiphany that the life he wants and the life he needs are two different things. Being a DJ doesn't pay the bills, but being in a toxic environment that does just doesn't cut it for Phil.
There are so many components to Scumbag to pull apart and analyze. It can also be interpreted as a think piece-the dueling complexities and monotonies of adult life, the dangers of working a job you hate, the thin line between being self-destructive and being a legitimately terrible person, and the fragility of one's wellbeing and happiness.
Scumbag is a must-see for those who fall under Mars' target audience, or those who are currently living the way he once lived. It's not an escape-it's an acknowledgement of reality and a confrontation for many people. The collage of characters is enough to glue you to the screen, and I honestly can't wait for the sequel.
By Liv Tjernberg for Winter Film Awards. Liv is a born and raised New Yorker, aspiring writer, horror-movie enthusiast, and amateur pool player. She lives in Manhattan with her misfit pets and still tries to pass as a blonde.
New York City's 7th Annual Winter Film Awards International Film Festival runs February 22-March 3 2018. Check out our jam-packed lineup of 93 fantastic films in all genres from 31 countries, including Animation, Drama, Comedy, Thriller, Horror, Documentary and Music Video. Hollywood might ignore women and people of color, but Winter Film Awards celebrates everyone!
Winter Film Awards is an all volunteer, minority- and women-owned registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 2011 in New York City by a group of filmmakers and enthusiasts. The program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and the NY State Council on the Arts.