Punk Rock, Hardline sXe, Horror, and an Open Mind: An In-Depth Chat with SXE KEGGER’s Jason Zink

I grew up in the punk scene and considered myself a straight edge from ages 14 until about 19, though I technically didn’t “break edge” until I was nearly 22. Before I go on, a few definitions may be in order:

So, back to my intro… I must admit that when I was going into viewing this film, I was a bit skeptical as it seemed quite interested in ripping a subculture that I once embraced and still respect. And, while I ended up enjoying the film and not seeing any anti-edge agenda, I’ll simply turn it over to Jason Zink, the film’s director/writer/producer, for his thoughts on the scene, the film, and more…

Hey Jason, thanks for the opportunity to chat. Before we dive into the film, let’s get into some background. Tell us a bit about you, both as a person and as a filmmaker.

Thanks for the interview! Well, I’m a horror nerd, first and foremost. I think horror is the one genre that can encompass all other genres. You can make a comedy like Zombieland or a socially relevant thriller like Get Out. So I think that the majority of the films I make will always lean towards the dark side of humanity. But I’m also eclectic so my heroes range from Kevin Smith to Ti West and anywhere in between. By day, I work an office job doing mindless data entry and when I can find the time, I’m trying to make movies with my pals. Gotta have a “side hustle”. Punk and hardcore is my cup of tea but I’ll also never turn down listening to Tom Waits or Bob Dylan. So I guess rebellion is the link in pretty much everything I’m into and all that I do. I’ve got a Woody Guthrie tattoo on my arm that reads “THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS” if that tells you anything.

Clearly, the punk rock scene has meaning for you. I grew up in North Jersey in the 90s, where punk, ska, and hardcore were king. Our scene was vibrant and many of our local bands went on to have big national followings. I mean, I saw Midtown’s first show, was with Element the night they signed to Tooth and Nail, and saw tons of bands in their demo days. What’s your story when it comes to the scene?

I grew up in small-town Indiana. So there really wasn’t a “scene” where I lived. We sort of had to create one ourselves and it was incredibly lackluster. Imagine us as Heroin Bob in SLC Punk when he plays Generation X to Steve-O for the first time, and the folks in the real scene in the city were more like Steve-O and Bob when they grow up. That’s kind of what it was like. We just dug into music and kept searching until we finally found ourselves immersed in it. So it was a lot of listening to Black Flag and The Misfits while driving around our small town and skateboarding more than it was throwing house shows and hanging with scene kids. All that came a lot later. For me, punk was what taught me how to think and how to question. It also was the thing that showed me that you could (and should) do things for yourself. That was hugely instrumental for my starting out as a filmmaker.

Your film is heavily immersed in the punk scene, with specific mind payed towards a militant straight edge group. While the hardline guys I knew were never this hardcore in their tactics, I watched my share of kids brawl over cigarette smoke and animal rights. What led you to build a story around hardliners going overboard?

It was just a means to make a punk rock horror movie. That was the goal. Nazi punks were already tackled in Green Room so straight edge felt like the next logical step if we wanted to make a punk rock horror flick that hadn’t been seen before. But the whole idea is very similar to what Kevin Smith did with Red State. He took the Westboro Baptist Church and just imagined that they took things one step further and made them killers. So that was really it. What if these guys had a reason to kill?

I have a few straight edge friends left to this day, though most have broken edge along the way. I, myself, fall into the latter category, having called myself edge from 14-18/19 and still living edge until almost 22. Did you ever identify as edge? Do you have a good deal of friends who have or still do?

I never considered myself straight edge but lots of folks called me edge for years. I still don’t smoke or do drugs but I am a drinker. Lots of my friends who used to identify as straight edge have since broken edge. In fact, our lead character Brad (played by Cory Kays) is named after my only close friend who is still standing strong. But it’s been interesting for me to watch people struggle with that identity and their transition.

A few of my edge friends saw your poster on a social media post and there were varying responses. A common one seemed a strong skepticism about your film, its message, and it’s goal. What would you say to them?

Thank you for asking about this! I totally get why at first some edgers would be skeptical of the movie. I think we did a bad job with the proof-of-concept trailer of showcasing what the flick was going to be. It makes sense because we didn’t have a feature in mind at the time. But the tone in that could be perceived as mocking. That wasn’t intentional but I get it. So they should know that the feature is not intended to mock anybody. The point was really just to make a horror flick with punk/hardcore subculture as the aesthetic. I’d be willing to guess that the response will still be somewhat polarizing for those who aren’t open to questions. It’s meant to be a fun flick about conflicting beliefs and cultures as well as internal conflict for a handful of our characters. If somebody wants an accurate depiction of straight edge culture, go watch a documentary. This is a fictional story and it isn’t meant to provide any answers. Just start a discussion.

Having seen the film, I mostly saw the hardliners as a means for incorporating punk subculture into the film and create the primary tensions to fuel the story. In fact, the drunk kids aren’t portrayed in any type of positive light either, so I can’t say that I felt like you were trying to send an anti-edge message or anything. I still wonder if edge kids will feel like the film attacks their beliefs and culture. What do you think?

You’re 100% with me, then. There is definitely no anti-edge message. While I may not be edge, I certainly support the straight edge community and still align with the majority of their beliefs. I wouldn’t ever intentionally make something that would harm a community that I support. If they watch the movie and think I failed in their depiction, then that’s fine. You can’t please everybody. But if they think that I’ve attempted to make something that paints them negatively, they’re definitely incorrect and I hope that they come out of the movie feeling differently. It’s really just about one guy who takes everything too far and the rest of them are stuck in the situation. So I hope the straight edge community will just give it a shot. I think they’d be pleasantly surprised by a micro-budget horror flick based on their culture.

As to the film itself, what inspired the story, the look, the tone, etc. I’ve seen folks mention films like Assault on Precinct 13 in comments and I can see that. What influenced you most and what were you aiming for?

Assault on Precinct 13 is definitely a good one. When we were in pre-production, I made a mixtape of sorts with scenes cut out of a handful of movies to help my cast and crew get into my head space a little bit. There was a wide variety in there but a few of the flicks were SLC Punk, Romper Stomper, You’re Next, This is England and of course Green Room.

The band UGLYBoNES was featured in the opening scene. Are they friends? How did they get involved?

I couldn’t speak any more highly of these guys. We met years ago when they were opening for Sloppy Seconds at Reggie’s Rock Club in Chicago. The person going to the show with me had to bail last minute and so I was at the show by myself. I almost didn’t go. Kinda weird to think about how different life would be if you zigged when you should have zagged. Anyways, I was sitting in the balcony, bored to tears and then I heard Lev (their lead singer) say, “It’s okay. You can hit him. Just punch him in the face.” My ears perked up and then they started playing. So I went downstairs and loved every second of their set. Then, Lev walked through the crowd handing out demos from a backpack and we shot the shit. A couple months later, they played a show at my house. A few months after that, we shot their music video. And over time, it turned from a mutual appreciation to friendship. I think they’re one of the most underappreciated bands around and I champion them every chance I get. When it came time to shoot the opening scene of the flick at the Subterranean, there was no other band that I’d have wanted up there than UGLYBoNES.

How about the rest of the music on the soundtrack? How did those bands and songs end up in the film?

If there’s one job in the film industry that I could do working for others, it’s as a musical supervisor. I love music. More specifically garage, punk and hardcore. And like most punks, I tumble down the rabbit hole looking for music that isn’t the easiest to find but hits you hard. NOOSE is a great example of that. When I heard that demo on YouTube of all places, I knew that I wanted to use them in the movie. Luckily, punks (by and large) are all about community. So all of the bands worked for free, cheap or at least far below what they’d get from a big budget movie. If you can, always go punk and keep things as local as you can. It’s really easy to pick out music before getting permission and it can be heartbreaking when you get the NO. The edit that you’ve fallen in love with has to be re-worked and usually never feels as satisfying. With Straight Edge Kegger, I can happily report that was not the case. I’m so stoked on the music in this movie and feel like it helps the flick to feel like its own song with hooks and beats.

As a website, we sometimes explore faith and belief and how these collide with art. While there isn’t any specific spiritual faith outlined in your film, the film is at its core entirely about clashing of worldviews and deeply held philosophies. With the hero being a character who seems to be questioning what he’s believed for years and dabbling into another world, do you think there’s an element of this story that may be suggesting that it’s important to have an open mind?

That’s my whole life now; being open minded. Or at least attempting to be. I spent a lot of my 20s as an elitist. I used to argue with people about film and music and it was not only futile but it was fucking exhausting. I think there’s nothing more frustrating than somebody taking the air out of the room when you’re just trying to chat with your friends. I don’t really care what the topic is. I think you’ll always learn more about yourself and others by having an open mind. So that’s what I’m trying to do at this point and that’s definitely something I tried to get across with the movie. Life isn’t black and white. It’s almost entirely gray. And I think if you don’t realize that, you’re likely the one that folks are rolling their eyes at.

I’ve seen you mention Kevin Smith as inspiration in other interviews. In Dogma, he lays out a central thesis that the inability to be flexible in one’s beliefs can literally destroy the world. In the end, Bethany paraphrases something Rufus said to her earlier – that she doesn’t “believe”, but rather has “a good idea”. Do you think this film is trying to say something similar?

I definitely do. Just like everything else in life, making a film is incredibly complicated. As a consumer, it’s easy to just disregard a flick from the poster, trailer or even a famous actor that annoys you. But the older I get, the more I realize that it took a lot of people to get these films across the finish line and all of them probably have something worthwhile in them. With Straight Edge Kegger, we tried to take an unbelievable story and make it believable. And throughout that process, we let our characters surprise us. I think folks should be conflicted watching it and it should leave them with lots to talk about after the credits roll… but to completely disregard the film before giving it a shot should set off an internal alarm that tells them they may be taking things too seriously. This film is about conflict, both internal and external. The funny thing about the movie is that my opinion of it can all be summed up with the Ian MacKaye quote at the very beginning. Everything that comes after that is just a story. It’s not political. It’s just a little horror flick that I made with my friends.

If people are unsure still about the film, what would you say to them to convince them to check it out?

At the end of the day, we aren’t trying to change the world here. We made a movie that’s meant to be entertaining. It’s a horror flick with a lot more heart than most can claim. And it was made by some of the most hardworking and broke people that I’ve ever met, so they should give it a shot for them. Not for me. We’re a total DIY film house and we made this with essentially nothing. The fact that the film even got finished is a feat to be celebrated in and of itself. Let alone the fact that folks seem to be digging it and we’ve still got festival selections and award laurels rolling in. So we must not have botched it too much, right?

Where and when can they feast their eyes and ears on this punk rock horror flick?

We’re still seeking distribution and there’s a lot that goes into that. Sadly, no definite plans for a release yet. But they can catch us at a whole bunch of film festivals and screenings in the meantime.

April 27th: Windy City Horrorama (Chicago, IL)
May 26th: Crimson Screen (N. Charleston, SC)

Thanks again and I look forward to talking more. Before we wrap for now, how can people follow news about the film and what else you’ve got going on?

No, thank you for the opportunity to talk about all this. This has easily been the most in-depth interview that I’ve done and it was sorta therapeutic to unpack everything. The best way is by following our Facebook page for Straight Edge Kegger. We also try to keep up to date on our website and Instagram but it’s literally just me maintaining all that so I can only do so much. And folks can always reach out to me using one of those channels. If I don’t respond, it’s really just a forgetfulness thing. So feel free to reach out, I’m an open book… just don’t yell at me if I miss the message for a bit.

Justin has been running websites since his first Geocities site in 1994, but only did he ever start covering anything of substance years later. After he stopped regularly running local concerts in Northern NJ and the greater Philly area, he knew he needed to step up his writing game if he expected to continue to get free music to listen to. He writes regularly here and at Cinapse, as well as contributing to a few other sites on occasion. He likes music, film, the Philadelphia Eagles, the 76ers, talking about Criminal Justice, reading Intelligence Report, and his family... not in that order. His beautiful wife is far more talented than he is and his kids far more adorable... and crazy.
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