An Interview with ‘Monsturd’ Directors Rick Popko and Dan West – By Duane L. Mar

Rick Popko & Dan WestFirst off, let’s start this out by having you tell me a little bit about yourselves. Anything you’d like. Childhood traumas, girlfriends who jilted you, adventures with duct tape…anything at all.

Dan:
Certainly a bizarre question to begin an interview with. Perhaps the inquisitor has some unresolved issues? I’ve certainly experienced my share of strange things in my life, but nothing involving duct tape just yet, although I never shirk from a challenge. Duct tape and jilted lovers aside, I think we just set out to pull off a great prank. Childhood traumas were legion, hence my transformation into a total asshole.

Rick:
Believe it or not, I’m actually a pretty normal guy. In fact I’m probably more normal than most of my friends (except for the fact that most of my friends don’t derive great joy from dressing up in shitman costumes and spraying each other with watered down pudding on their free time). But other than that, I’ve got no sexual kinks, no hang-ups… I actually enjoy being a dad to my daughters (now 3.5 and 4.5 Y/O) and a husband (been married 11 years now). The only childhood trauma I can remember was one day after high school let out (up in St. Helena in the Napa Valley) I was walking down main street and a friend I was with pointed at a school bus that was slowly coming down the street. “Look,” he said to me, “it’s the opposing football team we’re playing later tonight!” To make a long story short, I was dressed like a homeless pervert (complete with hobo cork beard), and I was packin’ a VERY realistic looking 45-magnum bb gun in my waistband. As the bus passed us, I whipped out the gun and pointed it at everyone inside. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. Wait I take that back. I wasn’t thinking about what I was doing period. All the cheerleaders and football players saw me and hit the floor. (Note: this event happened in 1984– way before Columbine). At the time I thought it was a funny joke. Later that night at the game, I was still dressed as the scruffy little freak from earlier in the day. And, like a complete moron, my friends and I decided to plant our butts in the opposing team’s bleachers to watch the game. (Note: We did this because our school didn’t allow the home students to smoke in the stadium. We thought if we hid in with the families of the opposing teams no one would notice us puffin’ away) Everything was going swimmingly until I heard someone shout out, “That’s him! That’s the guy who pointed the gun at the bus!” I looked up and a parent was pointing right at me and next to him were two local cops. I about shit my pants. Everyone on the stands stopped what they were doing and looked at me. I quickly and quietly stepped down from the bleachers and followed the two officers to the stadium entrance. All of my peers from the home side of the stadium saw me being led away and decided that my being busted was infinitely more entertaining than the football game in progress. As I was being questioned and searched, at least 80 students encircled me and began chanting “Uncle Ron,” “Uncle Ron,” “Uncle Ron!” (Note: Uncle Ron was the name of a video Dan and I filmed earlier that year that was subsequently banned from school). The cops confiscated my gun, called my mom to pick me up and the principal suspended me from school for three days.

You guys wrote and directed this movie together. Where did the whole idea for the movie emanate from? Are you both big toilet humor fans, or were you just sitting around brainstorming and decided it would be funny to make a movie about a turd monster?

Dan:
Well you had Jack Frost, the killer snowman and Uncle Sam…the killer…well, Uncle Sam costume…it seemed like a natural progression.

Rick:
Monsturd was inspired by “Jack Frost.” Dan and I agreed that if Hollywood had no qualms about releasing a movie about a walking/talking killer snowman they shouldn’t have any problems distributing a movie about a homicidal shit monster. Am I a big toilet humor fan? Yes, I am, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I about shit my pants the first time I saw Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo on South Park. I find shit to be incredibly funny… sometimes… of course it’s not funny when you step in it as you’re walking down the sidewalk.

MonsturdObviously one of my first questions would have to be about the turd monster itself. The behind the scenes documentary shows us how you made it, but I gotta ask you how many can’s of spray foam did you use to make the monster outfit, and did you have pieces of the outfit that got damaged at any point and had to be re-created?

Dan:
Shit, there must have been thirty cans of that crap used to constantly re-create that damn thing during the production. It was sawed apart, sprayed back together and then dismantled again to get the stupidity we were striving for. The final incarnation in Rick’s garage must be two feet thick by now. Re-creation entailed a hack saw and a can of spray paint. We had no Rick Baker at our disposal, probably for obvious reasons. That thing was Roger Corman from day one. Rick designed the monster, and to his credit it worked. It was brilliant in it’s own stupid way. That seems to be our forte’. Brilliant stupidity.

Rick:
Jesus, I don’t think we kept count. I think when all was said and done we probably used about 50 cans of the stuff. And, yes, pieces did get damaged throughout the production. We had to break the arms off the thing and re-glue them onto the torso a couple of times to give the monster different poses. I don’t know if you noticed, but throughout a lot of the movie the monster was completely inflexible. When that stuff dries, it dries solid.

What were some of your biggest problems with the outfit itself as far as mobility, heat, etc…, and how did you deal with those obstacles?

Dan:
Well I played the Monsturd in the key scenes. Dan Burr played him in one scene when the shadow of the beast is revealed. I take a perverse pride whenever I think about that. I can go to my grave with the knowledge that I portrayed the shit monster. It was like playing a z-grade Jason or Freddy Krueger. Paul Blaisdell (not sure of the actual spelling) created and played many of the monsters for Roger Corman for his films of the early 1960’s , and I’m a big of that era , so I didn’t feel like such a douche bag sweating it out in a monster costume made of fake feces. It wasn’t a pleasant experience and I’m sure I was hurling obscenities at an alarming rate, but it looked funny on camera so I have no regrets.

Rick:
The biggest problem was that it was made out of foam insulation. Meaning it keeps all of the heat inside the costume. And when you’re wearing garbage bags, the practically inflexible outfit, and you’re standing under hot halogen lights doing numerous takes, it can get annoying pretty quick. How did we deal with it? We shot as fast as we could and when we yelled, “cut,” the actor got the hell out of the costume as quickly as humanly possible.

Was the turd monster in this movie inspired by any other monsters you’ve seen? The first thing that popped into my head when I saw it was the turd looking monster from the Roger Corman classic, Creature from the Haunted Sea.

Dan:
I guess I covered that one with the last answer. In any case , it was inspired by sheer desperation to either annoy people or give them a good laugh. This was Our version of “Blood Feast”, but substituted with shit instead of blood.

Rick:
As I mentioned before Monsturd was inspired by “Jack Frost,” as for the “look” of the monster, we didn’t have an inspiration. All we had to go on was that the creature had to look like a walking, talking piece of poo. After we discovered what the spray foam looked like when it dried, it all starting coming together from there.

Beth West and Paul WeinerHow was the cast assembled for the film? Were they mostly people you knew or did you actually put out a casting call to fill the various parts?

Dan:
Our philosophy was that anyone who was game and wanted a movie credit and didn’t expect a paycheck we couldn’t provide was just dandy for the project. We didn’t know what we were doing so we didn’t expect oscar-winning performances out of actors. Luckily when you make a cheap-ass horror film the weirdos come out of the wood work, so we were never at a loss for actors up for something completely idiotic. There wasn’t any ego involved in getting good performances so it was certainly a nice exchange. We knew we were making a bad movie from the get go. We just wanted to make the best bad movie we could pull off on our miniscule budget.

Rick:
The cast was simply friends and friends of friends. We never held an audition or “tryout.” Basically, if we knew someone we thought would be good for the part, we just asked them. 99% of the time they said yes. In fact there was a scene in the movie (the city hall scene) that was cast five minutes before we rolled tape. Dan and I were working at CNET at the time. We needed a conference room for this one scene and CNET had a good one. We waited until 5 o’clock (where we were officially off work), then ran around to everyone’s cube and asked people if they wanted to be in a movie. If they said, “yes,” then we told them to report to the conference room in five minutes. After buggin’ 20 or so people, we got eight volunteers. Dan passed each of them the line they were supposed to say. No one got a script and no one knew what our movie was about. If they asked, our standard reply was, “it’s a low budget horror movie–sort of a “Blair Witch Project” kind of thing. 99 percent of the time that was enough for most people. To further complicate matters, Paul Weiner (Sheriff Duncan) and Beth West (Agent Hannigan) weren’t there to deliver their side of the dialog. In fact Beth and Paul’s side of the dialog wasn’t even filmed in a conference room. It was filmed in my downstairs basement. So we had 8 non-actors in this conference room where everyone basically had one line to say. Dan West had to stand in for both Beth and Paul and told each actor, “look at me when you deliver your line.” But, all-in-all, I think the scene worked.

I see from the documentary included on the DVD that much of the “poo” was actually chocolate pudding. Were there any other “special” ingredients involved?

Dan:
I don’t know what “special” might entail for a shit monster movie, but I can assure you that it was only chocolate pudding. This wasn’t a picture founded on method acting if that’s what you’re implying.

Rick:
We used anything that was cheap, brown and had a liquid-like consistency. This included pudding, and powdered brownie mix (diluted with water).

Where was the film shot, and what kinds of problems did you run into at the various locations as far as weather, people, extraneous noise, etc…?

Dan:
The film was shot at a multitude of locations over two years under extreme duress. We experienced every sound and location problem that you could fathom. The irony is that we are now shooting the sequel and the problems have only gotten worse. When we shot the sewer scenes from Monsturd we actually lost power in a winery tunnel and had to resort to using a single outlet for our smoke machine, camera and lights out of sheer desperation. The power shut down in the middle of the shoot due to our overloading the circuitry and we had to find our way through a complex series of tunnels to find an outlet in the winery to continue the shoot. Thank God we had our cop flashlights as props. The entire cast had to trek through numerous pitch-black tunnels by flashlight to find a single power outlet so that we could continue filming the scheduled scenes. This was just one in a series of mishaps, but on such a shitty budget you learn to compromise as well as improvise. When Life gives you lemons you make lemonade, when life gives you Monsturd as your movie legacy you make some serious compromises. Suffice it to say, it may not be an easy film to watch , but it wasn’t exactly an easy film to make in any aspect. We knew this crap was bad but we didn’t want it to be unwatchable. Production value was really the only thing we had going for us so we wanted to make the most of it. You can say the movie looked like shit, but you can’t accuse us of slacking off. Certainly it’s idiotic, but that was really the point of the whole thing, wasn’t it’?

Rick:
Monsturd was shot in and around the Bay Area, including San Francisco and Napa Valley. What kinds of problems did we incur? You name it, we incurred it. Well, let me take a step back. Now that I think about it we were pretty fortunate considering our entire shoot was guerilla. We didn’t have any permits (and didn’t get hassled by the cops—even when we were driving around the back roads of St. Helena in an unregistered cop car). We didn’t have insurance (and no one got injured). If it rained, we simply filmed a scene that took place indoors. The biggest audience of spectators we had was when Brad Dosland (Jack Schmitt) was in the tank of water towards the beginning of the movie. A pack of 15 German tourists happened by as we were setting up for the shot (we were on National Park property, so we couldn’t tell ‘em to buzz off). Right before I yelled “action,” I yelled “Quiet on the set!” Funny, even though they all spoke German, they all seemed to know what “quiet on the set” meant. And they were quit for the duration of the scene as Brad lit the smoke bombs below and splashed around in the murky water. When I yelled, “cut,” all of the tourists broke out into applause, took pictures and headed along their merry way.

The movie actually had a premier at a local theater, which we get to see at the end of the documentary. How was the turnout and what kind of response did you get?

Dan:
We found out a lot of people in San Francisco like bad movies. A hell of a lot more would have shown up if our advertising campaign had been stronger. It was a strong run for such a half-assed joke.

Rick:
The premiere surpassed our wildest expectations. The theater held 350 people, and I think we had 325 there for opening night. Granted many of the people were friends, family and cast members, but we also took an ad out in a local newspaper. The ad said that tickets were $6, but you’d get a $1 off if you mentioned the ad at the door. I was blown away by the number of people that ad pulled in. I thought the audience response was really right on the money, with one or two surprises (there were a couple of times people laughed at something we didn’t think was funny and there were a couple of times we thought there was a good joke there and were met with dead silence). Looking back, if I could go back and re-cut the movie, I’d probably whack out a minute or two from the running time. The one scene that bothers me to this day is the scene where Professor Downing (the guy with the flies in the cat carrier) walks to his truck. It was supposed to be suspenseful and then the suspense was supposed to give way to humor as it’s obvious we’re trying to be really suspenseful, and it just didn’t fly.

RetarDEAD ZombieYou’re currently working on RetarDEAD, the sequel to Monsturd, which sounds absolutely hilarious. Tell us about the movie and when we can expect to see it out on DVD.

Dan:
Dr. Stern comes back and well……BLAH , BLAH, then retarded zombies come to town. JUST LIKE AN X FILES EPISODE!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Rick:
Yes, we’re currently shooting RetarDEAD (the sequel to Monsturd). We’ve shot a little more than the first half of the movie. There’s not a whole lot we can share about it at this point other than to say Dr. Stern miraculously survives Monsturd, heads back to Butte County, and begins researching a drug to make people smarter. He infiltrates a school for the specially-abled and uses the students in his class as his control group. Of course they get super smart, however the side effect to the drug is that it ultimately melts their brains down and turns them into zombies. Long story short: The zombies get out, wreck havoc with the town and it’s up to Agent Hannigan, Sheriff Duncan, (and Dan and I as the two dip-shit deputies) to save the day.

FBI Agent Susan Hannigan played by the very pretty Beth West makes her return in the sequel. What other characters from the first movie are making returns in the sequel?

Dan:
The very pretty Beth West will appreciate the fine compliment. All of the main principals will be returning. Timmy will be back…ahhhhhhhhh Timmy, poor misunderstood Timmy. Will he get fired in this movie? You’ll just have to wait and see.

Rick:
We’re trying to get everyone back into the sequel. So far most of the leads are back and just about everyone else has made some form of cameo appearance.

What’s on the agenda after RetarDEAD? Do you have any solid plans for the next film, or are you still working up ideas?

Dan:
We have a script for a third sequel. It’s a pretty low-key deal so we’ll see what happens. We could use a vacation from all of the high production bullshit we’ve been striving for the past few years.

Rick:
What’s up after RetarDEAD? It’s hard to say. We’ve got a few movie ideas in the hopper right now. Ideally, for the third one, we’d like to get some kind of financing like a limited partnership of some kind. I’m tired of paying for all this shit on my credit card (Note: As of this writing we have not seen one red cent from our distributor for Monsturd sales). I feel it’s time for people to pay us for a change. I don’t want to go through the rest of my life having to pay to make movies. I want to get to the point where I can just make movies for a living.

Is there anything else you’d like to add before we wrap this up?

Dan:
What , like more duct tape?

Rick:
Yeah, support indie filmmaking, and buy a copy of Monsturd today! 😉

If you’d like to find out more about this film and / or pick yourself up a copy, you can see the trailers and get all the info at the 4321 Films Website.