Director Jeff Renfroe recently talked to the Chico Movie Examiner about his new film, “The Colony,” which releases to select theaters and VOD on Sept. 20.
“The Colony” is a post-apocalyptic film that focuses on a group of survivors in an outpost in Antarctica. As they struggle to get through each day, they soon discover that something evil has taken over another colony and will soon find its way to them.
Renfroe talked about the film, what it was like to work with actors Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton, and what will be his next project. Check out the full interview below.
David Wangberg: As I was watching this movie, I kind of got the feeling that this was going to go toward John Carpenter’s “The Thing.” Was that one of the inspirations for making this?
Jeff Renfroe: Oh, absolutely. I grew up watching that movie; it was just stuck in the VHS player, man.
DW: Now, do you go snow hiking or snowboarding or anything like that yourself?
JR: I, yeah, I come from a family of crazy wilderness people. [laughs] You know, there were quite a few summers where we would go up into the Alpine Mountains and get lost and get stuck in the snow fields. So, there’s definitely a lot of that aspect of my own personal life brought into that notion of survival and out in the s*** and trying to get to Point A to Point B without dying.
DW: So this is taken as the fear of what would happen if you guys get lost in the snow or if something comes up.
DW: The villains here – I was having trouble trying to figure out what they were. Were they cannibals, or were they zombies? Because they didn’t really look undead, but they didn’t really speak, either.
JR: Yeah, my take was always: we’re doing what is essentially a monster movie. To me, what is ultimately a little more scary is when the monsters are more grounded. Personally, I don’t get into supernatural, or if there’s a virus, it has to be explained in some sort of fake science. At the end of the day, the ferals – the cannibals in “The Colony” – that’s it; they’re just like me or you if we had run out of food and surrounded in a community with other people. To me, that’s frightening, and that’s grounded, and that’s real, and that’s organic – as opposed to something very far-fetched. That’s what we were going for.
DW: So, do you think you might, later on down the road, you might try to make a zombie movie, or one of those supernatural kind of movies? Or do you want to keep it more realistic when it comes to filmmaking?
JR: I think that there’s a right way to approach supernatural creatures in premises, and I think it’s a fine line to walk, and it’s all about creating a really believable and detailed background. It doesn’t take too much frontloading to try to buy into it in more so of a visceral way. I think zombie movies are completely entertaining. I just think that, at some level, they’re not quite as frightening as something that is a little more tangible.
DW: Yeah, a lot of the zombie movies that have come out recently, they mainly do it for the action in the film – not so much for the down-to-earth, this could actually happen thing.
DW: You have quite the cast in your movie, like Laurence Fishburne and Bill Paxton. How’d you like working with them?
JR: Oh, they were fantastic. I mean, Bill’s a hilarious wild man – just every bit as crazy as his character, but very warm and receiving. I mean, he’s directing for a little while, so he gets the plight of the filmmaker, and I learned a lot from him. He challenged me, but we got along great. It was fantastic working with him. And Laurence was just extremely professional and just brought his A-game. He always wanted to make a post-apocalyptic movie, so I think he was really excited to come on board, and I just feel really blessed that we got two of these guys who are just amazing actors and amazing humans.
DW: What was the inspiration to making it post-apocalyptic as opposed to making it, I guess, a present-day story where it’s not post-apocalyptic?
JR: I’ve been a fan of science fiction, and I love it when a movie can take you to a new time and a new place and plunk you down in the middle of a s*** storm. All of us don’t get the chance to travel to Antarctica. In film, we are able to take our audience there. I think that’s exciting and, as a filmmaker, to be able to sit down and kind of create that world is very fulfilling and fun.
DW: And you said that Bill helped you with trying to get the aspect of certain things down?
JR: Yeah, the character of Mason is definitely a supporting role. And I think that when Bill signed on, we realized that we had a cool card in the deck – that we weren’t fully exploring to its full potential, and I think Bill had a lot of great ideas, and at the end of the day, I really started to see that his character is kind of that missing link between human and feral. It’s like he’s kind of one foot into the feral direction. When you don’t work together, and you operate out of fear and selfishness, you’re getting ever closer to just crossing that line and, one day, you’re sort of losing your humanity and becoming an animal.
DW: Yeah, he was definitely the different one from all the others featured in the film. One guy gets sick and instead of just taking him to quarantine until he gets better, he takes him out and shoots him. So, he’s pretty much the no remorse, “if you get sick, you’re done” kind of guy.
JR: That’s right – as opposed to the way that Briggs – Laurence Fishburne’s character – approaches a community is that everybody deserves a chance, and that there is a way to treat people and to operate with compassion, instead of ruling with an iron fist and being judge, jury, and executioner.
DW: I actually wanted to talk about your next project; I saw it on your IMDb page. You’re doing a Steve McQueen documentary [“I am Steve McQueen”]?
JR: I am, indeed.
DW: So what got you interested in wanting to make a non-fictional film about McQueen?
JR: Well, I’m a huge fan of movies, and I’m a huge fan of cars. Put both of those things together, and who best kind of embodies the movies and cars than Steve McQueen? His films and filmmaking in the late 60s and early 70s [were] hugely inspirational. And digging a little bit into what made him tick and the choices he made were just inspiring as a filmmaker myself, and digging into just what it was like in that era to make movies – really fascinating. And he was a guy who really spoke from the heart and was really true to who he was as a person and tried to bring a lot of his own personality into his movies, and I think that’s why his movies connected with their audience. And so once I kind of identified that, it helps my own art in a lot of ways. It’s been a very inspiring project.
DW: Are you open to directing any kind of film – not just a post-apocalyptic or a horror film?
JR: Sure. I am; my agents aren’t so open to it. [laughs] They always try to stick you into one pigeon hole, and there are obvious reasons for that. I certainly appreciate movies of all genres. I love how a guy like Steven Soderbergh can kind of skate around through different genres, but not a lot of guys can pull it off.
DW: Yeah, there is a couple right now. I know Soderbergh’s one of them; I know Danny Boyle – the “127 Hours” director – will do that quite a bit, too. And it’s really fascinating how they do it, and they still make perfect films.
JR: Yeah, exactly.
This concludes the interview, but the Chico Movie Examiner would like to thank Jeff Renfroe for taking the time to talk about “The Colony.”