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Sunday
May112014

THE WOODSMAN: THE JEREMY GARDNER INTERVIEW

Jeremy Gardner was a young filmmaker with a vision for a film that would occur in a post-apocalyptic zombie world but which was really about two friends, road-tripping through the undead wasteland. So Gardener took on a starring role opposite fellow newcomer Adam Cronheim and, with a skeleton crew and just US$6,000, took to the backwoods of middle America to craft The Battery, a dark buddy-comedy that has become a cult hit the world over. Despite having been spruiking his film for nearly two years, Gardner (pictured, below) has a bottomless pit of enthusiasm for his directorial debut, as SCREEN-SPACE discovered when he chatted with us ahead of the film's home video release in Australia...

It has been a long journey for The Battery and it has collected a lot of awards and fans along the way. Did you ever envision the vast reach and warm response it would recieve?

It has literally been the most fulfilling and amazing part of the whole process. I have always said I wanted to make movies that travelled, so the fact that I made a movie and got to travel has been ridiculous. For awhile there we didn’t think it was going to go anywhere because there was a good six month lag between our first festival and the next one we got into. But as soon as we got into Imagine Film Festival in Amsterdam (pictured, right; with co-star Adam Cronheim), it just started steamrolling. Just that one friendly hit and that was it. I never envisioned it would have such a long life but I always certainly hoped it would.

The Battery doesn't colour post-apocalyptic mankind in rosy shades. Support characters pose a great threat to Ben and Mickey's survival; even their friendship is deteriorating. Is this dark view of humanity stemming from your personal philosophy?

No, it isn’t. I have my days when I get really down, when I’m reading the news and it really depresses me. But I do believe that if you need help, then maybe 90% of the people you come into contact with will help you. Maybe I was just writing from a dark place, I think. I guess I believe that in situation like the one in the film, it is not going to be the brainless thing that is just acting on instinct that is going to be the problem, it will be those that calculate and decide what we can get out of other people that will be the dangerous thing.

There are some knowing nods to films like Tremors and Jaws in there that genre buffs have great fun with. What films have inspired you and influenced The Battery? 

Oh, God, I have a Jaws tattoo on my arm! To me, Jaws is the greatest movie of all time. When I was a kid, I loved Jaws and then when I grew up I loved Jaws for an entirely different reason. I just didn’t realise how much of a character driven movie that was as a kid. When I grew up, I realised that the dynamic and the chemistry between those three performances was just incredible. Outside of Jaws, a lot of weird, indie stuff interests me. David Gordon Green (pictured, left) had a big influence on this; I saw All The Real Girls when I was about 22 or 23 and just the way he would let moments breathe with this weird, awkward realism I thought was completely engaging. It wasn't necessarily plot-driven and that kind of aesthetic stuck with me. There’s some Alfonso Cuaron in there, too; just letting things play out in front of the camera.

The thickly-wooded setting in which much of the film takes place seemed very remote. Did this sense of being 'removed' from society, of having that 'small crew intimacy', infuse the storytelling at all? 

The whole movie was constructed around having it play on a bigscreen but such that it wouldn’t be a financial burden on myself or investors. I wrote it for wooded areas, though I didn’t know where that was going to be. Then when you get to that place and it is so remote and so creepy and you are only there with four or five people at time, it invokes a sort of ‘in the trenches’ feeling with these people. And having no money, everyone was doing everything just to get it shot. Our main actor, Adam (Cronheim) took on a producer credit because he would spend his downtime getting food for extras or keeping traffic away because we were shooting. Don’t forget, out in those woods when it got dark it was like ‘outer space’ dark (laughs), pretty terrifying. We only shot one scene at night, when my character is drunk and dancing around in the old house, and when we wrapped you’ve never seen a crew pack up so fast (laughs).

(MINOR SPOILER) The film climax involves one of the longest single takes, with a static camera no less, that I can ever recall and it yields a perfectly pitched finale that is stunning. Was the decision to go with the one-shot and not to cut away at all a deliberate one?

Thank you very much, because that has proven to be the one thing that divides people. Originally, there were a bunch of trappings we added to it that (sequence) that were in early scripts that came from more sort of ‘classic zombie’ films. The outside of the car was done up with wire and nails so it was more like a ‘death mobile’, stuff like that, but once we realised we didn’t have the money to do all that stuff we pared away all of the nonsense and just got back down to these two guys. I had a crisis of confidence the night before we shot the sequence, totally convincing myself that the ending just wasn’t going to work, so I got my good friend and DOP Christian Stella and we just drank beer in the parking lot where the car was parked. Now, I bought the car online and didn’t even know it had a sunroof until then, so we reworked the ending when we realised that. And we made a rule that once they got inside the car, the camera would never cut inside a scene; every time it cuts, you know that its later in time. So once we made that rule, there was no way we were going to cut when Mickey left the car.

Your chemistry and timing with Adam Cronheim clearly came from a long-standing friendship...

(Laughs) Actually, I didn’t meet Adam until a month before we started shooting! (pictured, right; Cronheim, in yellow, with Gardner) I’m glad that sense of friendship came across and he is certainly one of my best friends now. And that’s largely because of the stress and anxiety we went through, of knowing that you are there for one another with a shared goal despite an intense schedule. The fact he was a baseball player in college helped; when I first met him I made him bring his glove so we could play catch.

Finally, Jeremy, you make the ultimate sacrifice as an actor and offer up to your audience a full-frontal nude moment. It looked freezing under that waterfall; was it really that cold...?

(Laughs) Yes, it was so, so cold, but that’s no excuse for what you see up there on the screen.

The Battery will be available on DVD from Accent Film Entertainment from May 21.

 

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