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Christopher Webster [Celluloid 09.20.13] post apocalyptic scifi horror thriller

Yesterday I spoke with Jeff Renfroe about his new post-apocalyptic thriller, The Colony, a film about a group of survivors in the next ice-age who bite off more than they can chew when they answer the distress call of another outpost.

The films stars Laurence Fishburn, Bill Paxton, Kevin Zegers and Charlotte Sullivan and opens this weekend in theatres across the US.

Please note that there are *minor spoilers* below.


We first heard about The Colony back in 2008. How long did it take to bring the film from script to screen, all in?

It was six years in the making. The original script was written by Pascal Trottier and Patrick Tarr, two young writers from the Canadian Film Centre. They had this really great idea and I liked what I read in the script, but their story was also very contained. It was designed to be a smaller film that could be produced for under a million dollars and I had just come off of a couple smaller projects and was looking to do something with more scale to it. But still, here was this great script and my producers and I, we all agreed, that we could expand this world, give it scope and make something big and impressive, visually.

And the visuals are stunning for the money you had. We get all the epic exteriors we want to see in a PA flick, and they are so interesting, almost painterly.

That was very much intentional. I'm also a huge fan of graphic novels and comic books and like to see things presented in a somewhat stylized way. I was also aware that if we presented the ice-age as it would be, the exteriors would be a total white-out. It would just be blinding white which would be very bland and not something I would want to look at. It's really a balance, and I always try to blend the impressionistic with the hyper-real to get something that's visually unique.

Speaking of hyper-real, why the decision to go with cannibals as the film's big bad rather than zombies, which are popular, or something supernatural? Were you ever pressured to consider going that route?

I really didn't want to do anything supernatural in that way, particularly because there is a glut of these projects out there right now. Also, as soon as you have a supernatural element you become bogged down with explaining its origin and the rules of it in the world of your film, and then you've already lost me.

In the first draft I read of the The Colony there was a virus that was turning people into these blood thirsty animals. It was revealed that it came from a stew that included meat from dead people. It was meant to be a sort of Mad Cow parable, and it worked, but I wanted to get back to a more justified monster. And also, one that fit into the overall themes of the film.

The thing about the cannibals is, these are just men and women who have lost their humanity in the face of being put in this hugely stressful situation. I mean, this is seven or so years after all the food has run out. That's a long time. The monsters could be you, or I and I find that much more interesting.

How does Bill Paxton's character play into that?

Paxton is very much the missing link between humanity and monster. He is slowly slipping to the other side, but under the belief that he is doing the right thing.

Did Paxton take any convincing to play such a hateful antagonist?

I think he recognized a great, complex character with a subtlety worth exploring. He did challenge me on the script for a while, but also because it was a smaller role that he was interested in expanding. Nothing changed drastically, though he did suggest that we discover his character had been sneaking human meat form the bodies on the surface.

Wow, that would be a very sinister motivation for him to do what he does in the film.

No doubt. But ultimately the producers and myself decided that that would be going in a direction that we didn't want to, so it was left behind. But Paxton was very involved. He's that kind of actor.

How did you get access to shoot in a decommissioned NORAD facility? Why there, and not exclusively on a sound stage?

I'm always an advocate for shooting on location. It helps the actors get on board with the vision, because they are right in the thick of it.

It was a really amazing experience, super creepy and cool to be down there. It was built in the 50s, under this huge mountain and you could almost feel the weight of it on top of you when you were down there. We were the first civilians to stomach the red tape it takes to get in, and actually photograph the base. It was pretty incredible, but at the end of the day it was restrictive too, so we matched it with some footage we got from other locations including a massive coal generator.

I would say there is a subtle environmental message in the film. Was that intentional, or more about the needs of the story concept?

That message was present in the original script, but the writers made a point to not explain the origins of the next ice age. But I felt that audiences would want to know what happened and be interested in that, so I did a lot of research into weather modification, which is a real thing that's been happening for years. There's been cloud seeding happening for a long time now, and while it hasn't reached the point where it's caused any known damage, I think it speaks to human selfishness and our ignorance to think that we can alter mother nature without it having any long term effect on our world. But that idea is really in the background. The Colony is a human story first.

What's next for you? Any projects you're working on right now?

I've been doing a lot of TV lately. Just got off a couple episodes of Being Human, Haven and the upcoming Beauty and the Beast. I'm finishing up a really cool documentary on Steve McQueen that I'm excited about. But nearest and dearest to me right now is Stray Toasters this amazing graphic novel series created by Bill Sienkiewicz and published by Marvel back in the 80s. This guy came up under Frank Miller and its sort of futuristic detective story. It's really amazing. I'm thrilled to have the option on that.

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