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SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL

A do-it-yourself route to lead role

January 23, 2008|Gina McIntyre | Times Staff Writer

Most young actors spend years going through the audition process, working their way up from bit parts and walk-ons to something a little meatier. Trevor Matthews decided to take a different approach. The enterprising 25-year-old gathered a group of friends, founded his own indie film company and produced his own starring vehicle, "Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer."

The film -- which made its North American debut with a special Saturday night screening at the Slamdance Film Festival, a parallel event to Sundance, and will show again Thursday -- is an ode to gloriously campy 1980s horror movies, a not-quite-so-low-budget homage to "The Evil Dead" and "Dead Alive" with a dash of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" thrown in for good measure. Matthews stars as Brooks, who goes from down-on-his-luck plumber with serious rage issues to an ax-wielding superhero determined to keep the beastie population in check. Horror icon Robert Englund (a.k.a. Freddy Krueger) even appears as the demonically possessed Professor Crowley.

The project is the first feature from Matthews' Ottawa, Canada-based indie outfit, Brookstreet Pictures, in which he is partnered with "Jack Brooks" director Jon Knautz, 28, and another of the film's producers, Patrick White, 30. They previously collaborated on several shorts; one, "Still Life," played at Slamdance in 2006. But what might set the trio apart from others on the festival circuit is a sort of pragmatism about the business.

Matthews' business acumen was inherited from his venture capitalist father, who has invested in both Brookstreet and "Jack Brooks," and the actor concedes that given the choice between acting and producing, he'd rather remain behind the scenes.

"It's a big step to make a feature film, and it's naive to think that you're not going to make mistakes," says Matthews, seated around a kitchen table in the Park City condo where he and the others are holed up for the weekend. "A monster movie seemed like something that would be really fun and would afford us all the experiences that we wanted. Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, all those guys started out in low-budget horror."

The movie was shot over 44 days in Ottawa during August and September 2006 on a budget of about $2.5 million. Toronto effects house Form and Dynamic designed the creatures, which range from your garden-variety undead ghoul to the elaborate "prof" monster -- think Jabba the Hut with lots of tentacles and slightly more human facial expressions.

What might be most unusual for a B-movie with only one name star, though, is the symphonic score, recorded live with a 93-piece orchestra and composed by Ryan Shore, 33, nephew of Oscar winner Howard Shore. "We made it as theatrical as possible," White says.

"Jack Brooks" premiered in 2007 at Spain's Sitges International Film Festival of Catalonia, which is devoted to fantasy, horror and other genres, and it is set to screen at next month's Berlin film market. As for the future, the company is in negotiations to remake an obscure 1980s horror film that Matthews declines to name on the record, and, of course, there's always the possibility of a "Jack Brooks" sequel. "I want it to be much more of an action film," Matthews notes.

The onetime aspiring professional snowboarder and amateur mountain climber says he sees a real future in movies, monster or otherwise. "We're working hard, but we're seeing results -- and it's fun," he says, grinning. "I want to do this for the rest of my life."

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gina.mcintyre@latimes.com

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