‘Mars,’ A Dark Comedy From Cult Sketch Group Whitest Kids U’Know, Honors Their Best Friend Who Died During Production

There are endless challenges to getting an indie feature-length animated film made: Lack of money, not enough time, fruitless rewrites, a vision that can’t get across the finish line. When asked what the biggest challenge was while making their upcoming comedy “Mars,” co-writers and voice actors Sam Brown and Zach Cregger can’t help but riff an answer to a question that inelegantly ignores the elephant in the room.

“Well, Trevor died,” Brown says.

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“Trevor died, that was a toughie,” Cregger says. “I guess it was getting it funded — that was bigger than Trevor dying. No, no, no, no, no. Also, COVID was annoying. So let’s go COVID, funding, Trevor dying.”

Trevor is Trevor Moore, the de facto leader of Whitest Kids U’Know, the five-person sketch group — consisting of Moore, Brown, Cregger, Timmy Williams and Darren Trumeter — behind “Mars.” The group, which began as a club at New York’s School of Visual Arts, grew in popularity due to their live shows, which turned into a series deal on Fuse and then IFC. “The Whitest Kids U’ Know” ran from 2007 – 2011, growing a devoted fanbase.

“Mars” was a long-gestating project from the group that began in 2012, and after a successful crowdfunding campaign of around $300,000 during the pandemic, production was rolling along. The plot follows a man searching for himself (and escaping a walk down the aisle) by volunteering to be on a manned mission to Mars, alongside a group of bizarre would-be astronauts and a billionaire funding the mission who matches the hubris of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

But in 2021, Moore died suddenly in an accident. Yet the group was determined to see the film through as a tribute to him and a gift to the fans. While they were fortunate to have recorded Moore’s dialogue before his passing, it was an emotional process throughout the production.

“Trevor is like our brother,” Cregger says. “He’s our best friend, and then going and having to finish this thing in the wake of his very sudden death, to sit there in the edit and listen to his voice and pick takes…”

Cregger pauses.

“He was the driver of the show, too,” he continues. “Let’s be very, very honest. Trevor Moore was the driving force of the Whitest Kids. To go on and get this thing over the finish line without the main captain is really tough, and it was a lot of debating of how we thought things should be, but also trying to factor in ‘Let’s give Trevor a vote in this.'”

“Broke out the Ouija board,” Brown quips.

The jokes Brown and Cregger make in conversation to process their pain is a reflection of their quick-witted comedy, and while “Mars” features a surprisingly deep exploration of relationships and human nature, its boundless humor is the main attraction. Twisted gags about death, suicide, drugs and surprising sexual situations fuel some of the most gut-busting set pieces.

When asked which scene most purely reflects Moore’s comedic sensibilities, Cregger cites a trippy segment where Moore’s character is “doing meth and yelling about conspiracy theories.”

“That’s just classic Trevor,” Cregger says of the surreal scene. “It feels like I’m hanging out with him all over again.”

The film also looks colorful and sharp thanks to director Sevan Najarian, whose previous work includes animating the original “Rick and Morty” short. He was able to translate the group’s vision on a limited budget due to his unique approach to the medium.

“I wasn’t really an animator, so I just did it by necessity to make things,” he says. “That style is not traditional. It’s done in After Effects, so it’s something that I can control, and I think it’s cheaper to make that on a lower budget. It lends to the style of adult animated comedies.”

The film includes at least one easter egg paying tribute to Moore, as well as a heartfelt dedication before the credits. Additionally, the group worked to have one last surprise for their friend at the end of “Mars.”

“One of the things we’re excited about with the tribute at the end was we were able to license a song that was originally written for our TV show,” Brown says. “Before it aired, (Trevor) loved it and he was like, ‘This needs to be our theme song.’ That’s something that I feel like he would have loved.”

Ultimately, the Whitest Kids U’Know are thrilled for their fans to experience the film at its world debut at the Tribeca Film Festival on Thursday, but it does close a chapter in their relationship with Moore.

“It’s crazy coming to a point where we’re going to be done with this project because we have had this luxury of getting to work with our friend,” Brown says. “We worked with his humor and his sensibility for years.”

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