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SXSW: Producer talks 'Big A-- Spider' and 'Cheap Thrills'

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Travis Stevens

One of the first things future Snowfort Pictures founder Travis Stevens did after arriving in Los Angeles was hit Tom Cruise in the head. “I moved to L.A. with a degree in filmmaking and I thought I would be hired to make films,” he recalls. “Within a couple of months I realized ‘No’. So I started doing work as an extra just to be on a set.” One of the movies Stevens worked on was 1996’s Cruise-starring Jerry Maguire. “There’s this scene where Tom Cruise gets out of a limo and there’s all these reporters,” continues Stevens. “For some reason they gave me this big telephoto lense on my camera and in one of the early takes I smacked him him right in the head. I almost crapped my pants. I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’ve just killed my career.'”

As it happens, Stevens’ career would turn out just fine. In 2010, the now seasoned film exec founded Snowfort Pictures, a boutique production company specializing in smarter-than-average — or so-called “elevated” — genre movies, and immediately impressed horror fans with A Horrible Way To Die from director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett (the pair responsible for this summer’s much-tipped You’re Next). Stevens now has two films debuting at this month’s SXSW — the rather self-explanatory Big Ass Spider and the black comedy-thriller Cheap Thrills — and a number of other projects in the pipeline, including the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune and the revenge movie American Muscle.

We asked Travis to walk us through his upcoming slate of movie mayhem.

BIG ASS SPIDER

This Mike Mendez-directed tale of an outsized arachnid stars JJ Abrams favorite Greg Grunberg and has its world premiere at SXSW on March 11.

TRAVIS STEVENS: [Laughs] Isn’t it nice to just be direct? Patrick Ewald and Shaked Berenson at Epic Pictures Group had a script called Dino Spider. It was a monster movie and it followed the TV movie structure and format. To their credit, they said, “We want to do something cooler than this.”  I liked that challenge.  I was like, “Why hasn’t there been a cool monster movie?”  Not to be cynical, but the majority of those movies are being made because there’s a financial model there. Nobody cares about what people will think of that movie in 10 years, 20 years. It’s, “Hey, if we make it for this price we can sell it to this channel for X amount and all make a profit and move on to the next.” So we started a 9 month development process to take that monster movie template and have it be cool, have it be fun. The result ended up being this goofy adventure in the vein of Tremors.

CHEAP THRILLS

The directorial debut of E.L. Katz, stars Innkeepers lead actors Pat Healy and Sara Paxton, David Koechner (Anchorman), Ethan Embry (Can’t Hardly Wait) and Amanda Fuller (Last Man Standing) and was produced by Stevens with Gabriel Cowan and John Suits of New Artists Alliance. It plays at SXSW tonight.

TS: It’s about two down-on-their luck guys who meet a wealthy couple and over the course of one night they start playing a game. We spent two years really working on the script so that when the real dark stuff starts happening, the audience are playing along themselves and understand a bit more why the character is doing what he’s doing.

I think audiences are going to flip out because we’ve got David Koechner, who‘s mostly known for these big mainstream comedies, and he’s hilarious in this movie, but he’s playing this darker character. Ethan Embry, that everybody remembers from these mid’-90s movies where he’s this cute, adorable little kid, he plays a bad ass. He’s f—ing phenomenal. People are going to watch him and be like, “Where’s this guy been for the last ten years?” And then Pat Healy, who’s the lead, he’s just a great actor who now has a part that he’s going to shine in. And Sara Paxton and Amanda Fuller are in it and they are different sides of the same coin: Amanda Fuller plays Pat Healy’s wife and she’s sort of the heart of the movie and Sara plays [a character who’s] almost like a sociopath, who’s so rich and so numb to life that the only thing she can do to feel anything is to set up this dark game.

Next: “It has everything that I love in the world: Naked tattooed chicks riding motor cycles with Uzis and a bad a– guy who doesn’t really speak too much.”

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