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“THE BATTERY”: What Happens when you make an Indie Horror Hit?

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Few films garner a groundswell of support like THE BATTERY. Over the course of two years, the understated and unexpected zombie film from writer-director-star Jeremy Gardner and producer-star Adam Cronheim toured the world via film festival circuit, picking up diehards in the audience and industry alike which led directly to its new home release. The film is inspiring, revealing the independent horror community at its best and reassuring fans that a fresh, contemporary zombie film exists.

Thanks to both its quality and this ever-expanding crew, it’s likely you’ve seen (or heard of) THE BATTERY. This $6,000 languid road movie with a supreme hangout vibe and an immense, tense final act has gone the distance; from festivals to online, and now a Blu-ray package from the beloved Scream Factory. Thanks to the latter, or even FANGORIA #336 (in which Gardner pens a “Notes from the Underground”) you’re familiar with how it was made.

What I was interested in, in speaking with Gardner and Cronheim is what happened after. From its premiere to this month’s physical release, the filmmakers chronicle the elation and the reality of making an indie horror hit.

 

FANGORIA: Where did the film premiere?

JEREMY GARDNER: We had a public/private screening in Bridgeport, Connecticut for all the friends and family to prove that we actually made it. We had 200 people fill this theater; that was amazing. The official premiere was at the Telluride Horror Show in Telluride, Colorado. We were so excited just to get into a festival, that seven of us flew out to Telluride just to be there and watch it on the big screen with people. That was really, really fun and crazy.

ADAM CRONHEIM: That was October of 2012.

FANG: Could you tell, from there, that this was something special?

GARDNER: The audience loved it! The audience really ate it up out there, which was amazing. We were just kind of on Cloud Nine. But then, we got into nothing for six months. It was really, really demoralizing. It really felt like time slowed to molasses, nothing was happening. Then, I got an email out of the blue that we got into Imagine Film Festival in Amsterdam, and that was the true turning point I think. Imagine is a part of a European genre festival network, so people started asking for it. We got into Dead by Dawn because of that, and another festival, another festival… It just started picking up steam.

What’s been really fascinating to watch throughout the festival circuit is first, you start off paying fees and never hearing anything. And then, people start waiving fees once you get into a few of them. And then, people start paying you.  So, see the difference from being like we’re never going to be in a festival again to ultimately playing in well over 50 and watching that tide turn from us dumping money into a hole and never getting any rejection letters, to suddenly—by the end of the festival run, there were festivals that we didn’t even know we were in.

FANG: You put so much into making this movie, but then going to many of these fests, touring with the film is a whole other change of life.

GARDNER: One hundred percent. Adam can speak to this, too, because Adam was the one who convinced me that I needed to go on that first European leg. It was Imagine in Amsterdam and Dead by Dawn in Scotland. He was very adamant that I be there. We actually had a little fundraiser, and so many people—friends and family and community here—showed up, and breweries donated packages and prizes for people. We ended up raising a lot of money for us to take that first trip over there. Of course, we get there and we win the Audience Award at Imagine and fly over to Dead by Dawn and win the Audience Award there. It just didn’t feel real.

CRONHEIM: That aspect, was very surreal. One of the things that happened after the premiere is when we didn’t get into all of those film festivals we wanted to get into and it was kind of silent for six months, we decided to sign a digital distribution deal just to get the movie out there. We were like, no one else is gonna take it, let’s just get this movie out there. That kind of bit us in the butt a little bit, because we ended up going on this huge festival run. The whole thing was a learning curve for us. We had never tried to distribute a movie before, let alone get into as many festivals as we got into. We were learning as we went.

GARDNER: Adam’s been all over the world, but I had only left the country one time. My dream is to travel the world and make movies, and suddenly I made a movie and I’m in Amsterdam, Scotland and Spain and Brazil and Mexico City. Just to be able to see the world because of something I love to do was incredible.

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FANG: Could you expand on how the digital might have hurt you?

CRONHEIM: I don’t know that it necessarily hurt us, because it was only in the U.S. We actually didn’t play many U.S. festivals, so it wasn’t affecting us worldwide until Canada, because Fantasia had specific guidelines about it. We were able to work through that. We had a screening there, which was great. But, I don’t know that it necessarily affected us festival-wise. It just affected us, distribution-wise.

We got super lucky. I don’t know how many films give away their digital rights and then get a release from a company like Scream Factory. We really lucked out on that.

GARDNER: It didn’t necessarily hurt us. We used to joke that the world loves our movie, but America hates us. We only played the two or three festivals in the states and we played about 55 through the rest of the world. We just could not buy our way into American festivals. I don’t know if that has something to do with the slowness of it, or the sensibilities of it, the Euro vs. American sensibilities. That didn’t affect us that way, but I can see how it might affect other filmmakers. I would just caution everybody to have confidence in their product and maybe not jump in as soon as you think you have to.

FANG: Though it didn’t play a lot of American fests, the film has such an amazing community support from genre filmmakers, genre actors and genre press. It’s quite unique.

GARDNER: Every time you bring something up, I keep saying it’s the most rewarding part of the process, so I guess it’s all the most rewarding part. That’s been amazing. It sounds a little ridiculous to say, but one of the things I kept telling people when I said I wanted to make this movie was, we’re not a dime-a-dozen splatterfest that is just gonna be on a shelf and makes money because it has a fun title, or whatever. If I do what I’m trying to do, then I know the people that I respect will respect it. Even if it doesn’t work, they’ll respect the effort. The fact that they did, even surprised me. Look at AJ Bowen and Larry Fessenden and all of these other filmmakers, who are finding it and telling other people. Every week, someone comes out of the woodwork that has seen the movie, and that I am already a fan of. It’s incredible.

One of the most interesting things about this process is going from being a fan of someone to being a collaborator; it’s unlike any feeling in the world. You always feel like you don’t know what to say to somebody you’re a fan of, and then when they treat you like an equal and a collaborator and artist on their level, it’s just where am I right now, this is surreal.

FANG: A lot of the conversation around THE BATTERY is how little it was actually made for. Now that you’re moving on, are you feeling pressure to replicate that? Do people want you stick with such tight budget constraints?

GARDNER: Well, we haven’t gotten that far yet, unfortunately. Where we’re at right now is a weird middle ground. The new script I have written could be made for a quarter million dollars, it could be made for a half million dollars; we could probably make it ourselves for $75,000 in a different version. What I’m really torn between right now is getting into the long, drawn out process of getting the money to bump up to that next level versus just making a movie. We just want to make movies, and at some point I think the process of going back and forth with notes, and trying to get this, and pre-sell this territory… I can envision it wearing us down and making us say, why don’t we do it like we did before?

So, I think what we’re trying to do now is have an option to make a film like we did with THE BATTERY, on our own, and also at the same time be going forward with something bigger.

CRONHEIM: We don’t want to put our eggs in one basket and realize we hadn’t made a movie in three years, because we’re waiting. Which is why we’ve already gone out and shot something else, but it hasn’t been edited yet.

GARDNER: Absolutely, that’s why we made that comedy. We said, “Let’s make a movie for less than $6,000.” Just to get back out there and do something, to prove that we’re not going to sit here, stagnant. We want to step up to that next tier and prove that we can work on those levels, but we’re not gonna not make movies in the meantime.

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FANG: Has anything on this journey surprised you? Anything you’ve been disillusioned by? Jeremy, you’re outspoken about maintaining your day job.

GARDNER: I don’t think a lot of people do understand. I’m a little self-effacing about, but I’m quick to remind people that I still wait tables, you know? If they really want to talk to me, they can come sit at my table in the restaurant and I’ll have to serve them a hamburger. That’s my job!

I think I knew enough about the business going in, that I knew it wasn’t going to change my life, overnight. I think what’s hard, is realizing that it’s really hard to do it for a living, and that’s a little disheartening. It seems like it’s out there, it seems like all these wonderful people can move mountains and get things done. I’ve seen it, and yet we still can’t figure out a way to do it on a day-to-day basis that makes any sense for us, financially. So, that’s a little unfortunate.

The other thing is, I’ve been in the restaurant working and someone walks in and tells me, “Oh my god, I totally downloaded this movie and it was you, you’re my waiter, I can’t believe it.” They don’t understand that telling me they pirated my movie while I’m serving them a beer is offensive directly. That’s an interesting thing to deal with.

One more thing that’s been interesting has been, having written THE BATTERY for nobody, just for myself, there was no pressure. I probably spent as long as I’ve ever spent in my life on the latest script, because suddenly people want to read it. That’s hard now, understanding an audience that has, maybe unfairly or not, expectations of you and what you’re going to do next. And deciding what to follow up THE BATTERY with is something that crops up into your head every once in a while, even if you don’t want it to. You try very hard not to let that affect the output of what you’re gonna do, the stories you want to tell, but you can’t help it. At some point, it’s there.

FANG: Adam, similar question. What’s your reality after the film hit and garnered support and a following? Where do you want to go, what do you want to do? What are you doing?

CRONHEIM: When I first sat down with Jeremy to talk about doing THE BATTERY, we said, “Jeremy’s an actor, I’m an actor. I want to make a movie so we can get out there and get more work.” This is what we want to do be doing. Now that we’ve made a film and we know we can take it from start to—I wouldn’t say finished, I don’t know when you’re ever really finished—but now that we know we can do that, it’s kind of changed my perspective on how I want to continue with my acting career. I know I can help produce a movie, why wouldn’t I invest myself in my own work? This world of acting where you traditionally go out and pay for a class, or you pay to get in front of a casting director, it’s crazy. I was auditioning for a long time and I didn’t have any work on my resume. They’d say, “Go get some work and then come back,” and it’s like how am I supposed to do that, you’re the one that’s supposed to get me the work.

We made a movie three years ago, I’m itching my skin to get back on camera. We shot this thing so fast, I definitely take all the criticism I see and know that I can do a way better job. I’m just ready to get out there and do it again.

As far as going to fests and stuff, I’ve never been big into horror movies. That’s completely changed now. I think a big part of that is the people that I met along the way.  The horror community is unlike any community I’ve ever met. I played sports and plays in school and stuff like that, but the horror community is a very special community and it’s something that I definitely want to get back to. We’re thirsty to get out and make a movie, but we’re also thirsty to get out and see all of the people that we’ve met. We had such a great time doing that.

Also, I was so insistent on getting out to these festivals, because I know when we go there, we’re going to meet people that are just like us. We happened to make a movie, but these are people that want to make a movie and trying to make a movie. Let’s go meet people that we’re going to really get along with, get the word out. I think that really helped play into our following, or at least people screaming it from the rooftops. We got along with everyone along the way.

FANG: How did it end up here, with Scream Factory?

GARDNER: It all goes back to champions and being championed by people, and people not shutting up about it. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but in my mind it happened something like: AJ Bowen loves the movie, wouldn’t shut up about it, started basically stalking me until I finally acknowledged him. Yes, yes AJ, I will be your friend. No [laughs], he went on the Killer POV podcast in LA. Those guys are incredible. He wouldn’t shut about it until the hosts finally asked about it. They watched it, and then they wouldn’t shut about it. And then Scream Factory, who’d been guests on their show a few times, I believe asked them “What’s this movie THE BATTERY you keep talking about?” I believe it was Rob, or Elric from Killer POV, who sent them the screener. And then they got in touch with us.

It’s just incredible. You imagine wanting to get your movie physical somehow. It’s hard to explain to your mom why you don’t have a DVD. For us to be approached by arguably the best company that’s putting the most love into horror movies right now on a physical medium, is just… Done. Cherry. Topped. Game over. Next movie.

THE BATTERY is now available from Scream Factory.

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About the author
Samuel Zimmerman
Fangoria.com Managing Editor Samuel Zimmerman has been at FANGORIA since 2009, where fresh out of the Purchase College Cinema Studies program, he began as an editorial assistant. Since, he’s honed both his writing and karaoke skills and been trusted with the responsibility of jury duty at Austin’s incredible Fantastic Fest. Zimmerman lives in and hails from The Bronx, New York where his pants are too tight and he’ll watch anything with witches.
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