Published on September 27th, 2013 | by Craig Silliphant0
Interview: Jeremy Gardner (The Battery)
I have been a fan of all things ‘zombie’ since I was a kid, but lately, I’m starting to feel that zombie fatigue that comes with my favourite thing being mined for all sorts of nefarious purposes; it used to be a weird thing that weird kids like me watched in their basement at night, but now they have romantic zombie comedies (I mean, ones that aren’t Shaun of the Dead). I recently checked out a new indie film called The Battery, which I’d almost call an ‘anti-zombie’ movie. Sure, it’s sounds like a lame writer’s buzzword, but it feels right. The movie tells the story of Ben and Mickey, two unlikely buddies that are navigating the zombie holocaust. However, the unique angle to The Battery is that the zombies aren’t all up in your grill — they’re more of a backdrop to a larger story.
I was so taken with this film that I sought out director/writer/star Jeremy Gardner to chat about all things cinematic and zombified. Gardner was cordial enough to sit down to talk about The Battery, baseball, DIY filmmaking, and things that knaw your face in the night.
The Feedback Society: Where did the idea for the movie come from?
Jeremy Gardner: The idea for the movie came from an audition video I made for a horror movie that was being cast through a social media filmmaking website. Instead of just auditioning to camera, I kind of made a little short film about two friends who were documenting their day-to-day life in the post-zombie wasteland. Needless to say, I was not ultimately cast in the now classic, Perkins 14, but I couldn’t shake the idea of two guys roaming the woods of a zombie infested world. There was a nugget of something in that little video, the idea of keeping the apocalypse off-screen by staying out of the major population areas, that I thought would make for an interesting take on zombies, and at the same time feed into the fact that we would ultimately have an absurdly small budget.
The Feedback Society: This movie seems to have breathed something new into the zombie genre, but it was perhaps by being an ‘anti-zombie’ movie. Do you think this genre is in danger of being mined out?
Jeremy Gardner: Zombies have definitely gone mainstream. I was talking to someone at a festival recently who said that his kids will never know that zombies used to be horrifying. There are cartoon zombies and hero zombies and zombies vs. plants in video games. They are so ingrained in popular culture that the next generation is being raised desensitized to how creepy they are. I know the only reason I made a zombie movie, is because when I was ten I saw Night of the Living Dead and was mortified by the very concept of them. Shambling and slow and methodical and grotesque, it was a completely new monster to me, one that I have come to equate with the inevitability of mortality. So they will always be interesting to me. There is so much talk, all the time, of when the zombie bubble will burst, but I think it all comes in waves. If someone makes an interesting, thoughtful, exciting, well-made zombie movie, it won’t matter how many shit ones came before it.
The Feedback Society: How was the movie financed? What was the budget? I heard it was five or six grand?
Jeremy Gardner: The budget of the movie was six thousand dollars. I did a very loose budget mock-up and basically just decided it could be made for that amount. I then asked ten friends for six hundred dollars apiece in exchange for a financial stake in the film. The idea was not to take so much from any one person that it would hurt them if the movie failed. I was convinced we could make a good film for six grand, but I didn’t want to lose any friends if we couldn’t.
The Feedback Society: Less than El Mariachi!
Jeremy Gardner: [Yes], we came in under El Mariachi, but that movie was shot on film, twenty years ago. Even if we had made the film for literally nothing, I don’t think it compares to how resourceful Rodriguez was. There are so many technological shortcuts now that he couldn’t lean on back then. But I did read Rebel Without a Crew cover to cover.
The Feedback Society: The story wisely leaves a lot to the imagination instead of spoon-feeding scenes to the audience. Was that being creative with budget constraints, was it because the imagination can be so much scarier, or a combination of both?
Jeremy Gardner: I think an audience’s imagination is the low-budget filmmaker’s best friend. If you can’t afford to shoot it, suggest it and they will fill in the rest. That said, I think even hundred million dollar movies could benefit from leaving a little to the imagination. My favorite film of all time is Jaws, so a lot of those decisions were deliberate, but, just like Jaws, a lot of them were because the zombies weren’t working. Or we didn’t have the time or resources to rig a squib or bust a skull on camera.
The Feedback Society: Do you have people that bugging you to know what The Orchard is? What is your response? Also, please don’t make a sequel and ruin the mystery of The Orchard.
Jeremy Gardner: People ask me all the time what The Orchard is, and if Ben is going to go kill Annie. I read once that Tarantino said he knows the entire lives of every character he writes. I can’t write like that, I have a vague idea of what The Orchard is and Annie’s relationship to Frank and how the whole place operates, but it wasn’t important to what was happening in The Battery, so I didn’t explore it thoroughly in my own head. I don’t envision making The Orchard anytime soon, but I wouldn’t count it out. Because I would be intrigued to sit down and figure out who those people are myself. And speaking of El Mariachi, I have been asked if I had the opportunity to remake The Battery if I would do it. Of course not. But I have talked about making The Orchard instead, as a standalone sequel like Desperado.
The Feedback Society: Why did you choose to make the characters baseball players?
Jeremy Gardner: I love baseball. Absolutely adore it. But I also thought the dynamic between a pitcher and a catcher would help reinforce the differences in Ben and Mickey’s character. ‘The Battery’ is an old baseball term for the pitcher-catcher tandem.
The Feedback Society: Was it just me, or were all the characters named after famous mice? What was the significance of that?
Jeremy Gardner: Someone else mentioned the famous mice thing. I had absolutely no idea. Random coincidence I guess. I haven’t even looked it up yet, I still don’t know who the Annie and Frank famous mice are.
The Feedback Society: For two guys roaming in an open space, there is sure a lot of claustrophobia in the film. What is it about claustrophobia that freaks you out?
Jeremy Gardner: What doesn’t freak me out about claustrophobia? That’s a pretty universal fear, I imagine. Because I wouldn’t even say I am particularly claustrophobic, but the idea of squeezing through a tight fit in a cave or being buried alive in a coffin is terrifying. For me the claustrophobia element of the movie was all about taking the audience out of their comfort zone after being in it for so long. That was one of the earliest ideas for the movie, to start very wide, and very green, and at some point, put the characters and the audience in a sardine can and never let them out.
The Feedback Society: The movie looks really good, especially considering the low budget. Did you do anything special to achieve that, or are we seeing the fruits of more and more amazing home video tech?
Jeremy Gardner: Thank you. Part of it is obviously, what you are able to do from the comfort of your bedroom now that you couldn’t achieve even five years ago. However, just because the technology is available, doesn’t mean anybody can utilize it, and all the credit for the look of the film goes to Christian Stella, my DP. I said I want it to look lush and wide and green and like nature is taking over, and he shot it that way and then color-corrected it himself at home. He’s a little tech-genius troll.
The Feedback Society: What was your plan with the soundtrack? How does it compliment the film?
Jeremy Gardner: Well the movie is very much an extension of my personality. It has weird quirks and strange humor, so the music was always going to follow suit. I was a fan of Rock Plaza Central for years and was lucky enough to have Chris Eaton, the lead singer, contact me through Twitter after seeing a little video we made with one of his songs. That blossomed into a collaborative relationship and he ended up recording the cover of ‘Ain’t No Grave’ for the opening credits and helped us find The Parlor, another band that features prominently. The other bands — Wise Blood, El Cantador, Sun Hotel — we either knew, or knew someone who knew them. We were so lucky with the music; people describe it as being a third character in the film and I couldn’t agree more. The musicians were so unbelievably generous to us, trusting that we would use their art in an interesting way, and the movie would be jarringly different without it. Everyone go buy their albums!
The Feedback Society: What zombie movies, or hell, any movies or media influenced the making of The Battery?
Jeremy Gardner: Oh God, everything I’ve ever seen and read and listened to. Jaws, Children of Men, Night of the Living Dead, Dogtooth, Tremors, David Gordon Green’s All the Real Girls, Badlands, Stephen King, Albert Sanchez Pinol’s Cold Skin, Alden Bell’s The Reapers are the Angels, which is the best zombie novel I’ve ever read. I actually read it after I wrote the script, but it felt very akin to the tone I was after. Now there’s an adaptation I’d love to make.
The Feedback Society: What is your background? How did you get into film?
Jeremy Gardner: I was born and raised in Florida and actually dropped out of high school my junior year, got my GED, and started making shorts and a couple feature horror-comedies with my friends. That was our film school; watching movies and making movies and troubleshooting. I eventually moved to Connecticut to be close to New York for acting, and after about a ten year hiatus decided to ‘get the band back together’ and make a real movie. So, all of the people I made those dumb little horror shorts with when I was 18 worked on this one as well.
The Feedback Society: What are your future plans?
Jeremy Gardner: Be happy. Make movies for a living.