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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.




America’s independent horror film community are flocking to the iconic New Beverly Cinema in midtown Los Angeles in anticipation of this week’s Hollywood Horrorfest, where new indie works are screened side by side with such classics of the genre as Return of the Living Dead (pictured, below).

“We celebrate the past and showcase the future,” says festival director Miles Flanagan (pictured, below), kindly speaking to SCREEN-SPACE early on his Sunday morning, ahead of the busiest week of his year. “To fans of horror we just say have a fun time. It's mostly free and we like giving away stuff so that shouldn't be too hard for them to do.” Flanagan has structured a unique industry gathering that combines a hectic screening schedule with philanthropic and tutorial elements. 

The two-day event kicks off the afternoon of March 28 with the LA premiere of Billy Club, followed by the first of the festival’s three shorts programmes. Drew Rosas’ and Nick Sommer’s black comedy/horror work, along with Derek Lee and Clif Prowse’s body-horror thriller Afflicted, will screen outside of the official in-competition entrants.

Vying for honours will be Shaun Paul Piccinino and Jason Sanders’ violent actioner The Lackey (starring Australian Vernon Wells, of Mad Max 2 fame, who will attend the screening); Christopher Schrack’s wilderness survival pic Backwater; Martyn Pick’s supernatural-themed Brit gangster film Evil Never Dies; and, Rico Johnson’s woodland slasher reworking, After Dark. In line with the event’s commitment to furthering the careers of the next generation of horror auteurs, eight unproduced screenplays will also be in contention for awards.

The official Opening Night event is one of the hottest tickets amongst West Coast film aficionados. Director Joe Dante will receive the inaugural Price Award, named after the late horror icon Vincent Price and to be presented by his daughter Victoria Price; also being honoured will be legendary character actor and longtime Dante collaborator Dick Miller, who will accept the Impact award for a career dedicated to his work in horror and fantasy films. “Both Joe Dante and Dick Miller were a perfect combination,” says Flanagan, “and we were just lucky they were both available for the weekend.” In conjunction with the ceremony will be a screening of Dante’s werewolf classic The Howling, attended by co-star Belinda Balaski, with a portion of the funds being donated to the Vincent Price Art Museum.

Flanagan acknowledges that there has been a surge in independent horror production. “Technically it's easier. But it's always hard making something good,” he says. Frustratingly, often these intensive ‘labour of love’ projects go unnoticed due to a fledgling producer’s lack of understanding about the distribution mechanism. The festival aims to address that issue with a two hour session called ‘A Panel To Die For’, in which a dozen of the sector’s smartest minds (including the prolific genre director Rolfe Kanefsky; pictured, right) identify hurdles and brainstorm solutions. “(Whether) you have a film in competition or not, you can learn how best to finance, produce and distribute your work,” says Flanagan. “I hope filmmakers know more about the business they're entering and how to hopefully make a living from it after the weekend. Knowledge is power and we firmly believe in sharing whatever knowledge we have to each and every filmmaker who comes to the festival.”

Hollywood Horrorfest wraps with the Awards Ceremony and a 30th Anniversary 35mm screening of the late Dan O’Bannon’s cult classic, Return of the Living Dead. Cast and crew, including Jewel Shephard, Miguel Nunez Jr and James Karen, will front the sold-out session. Miles Flanagan hopes the final night festivities reflect the celebratory mood of his horror love-in. “Network with other new filmmakers, win cool awards, get some great photo ops,” he rattles off, when asked what he hopes fans will take from Hollywood Horrorfest. “We give away tons of cool collectables, have a panel giving out free advice, and make every screening a red carpet event…so, yeah, I hope the feedback is great.”

See SCREEN-SPACE Managing Editor Simon Foster's interview with director Joe Dante from 2010 Melbourne International Film Festival here.



Genre flicks with mid-range price-tags were a Hollywood staple for decades, only to have petered out as audiences demand for expensive spectacle grew. But director Jeff Renfroe has proven that action and thrills don’t need a mega-budget with his snowbound, post-apocalyptic work, The Colony. From his base in a suitably chilly Montreal, Renfroe spoke to SCREEN-SPACE about the Canadian production, working with mad man Bill Paxton and crafting an elegant, bloody adventure story outside the studio system.

“If this film had been made by a Hollywood studio, there would certainly be another zero on the budget,” says the director, who brought in his vision of a decimated Earth for US$16million “It was a real challenge to get some of the shots called for in the script. But thanks to dedicated, extremely talented people behind the camera and behind the computer, I think we were able to get a pretty cool, very unique looking genre world.”

The Colony imagines a planet ravaged by a new ice age; small outposts of mankind still exist, living underground in rusty industrial landscapes. When contact is lost with the nearest settlement, Sam (Kevin Zegers) and Briggs (Laurence Fishburne) set out to find an answer, only to discover that the survivors have resorted to brutal cannibalism to survive.

“When I first received the script, it was one of those virus movies, a zombie-style story where if you get bitten by one of the things you become one of the things,” recalls the director. “I suggested it might be better if we just took it down to a real base level. To me the central question is, ‘What happens when you run out of food?’ Instead of some crazy-ass science-fiction myth, the horror becomes tangible and an ethical issue. How desperate would our decline have to be for mankind to cross that line?”

Though it amounts to a catering spend on most Hollywood blockbusters, the budget is a sizable one by Canadian standards. Renfroe knew star power was needed to give his movie the necessary scope as well as assuring a US theatrical release and international sales. Fanboy favourites Fishburne (The Matrix; Event Horizon) and Bill Paxton (Aliens; Near Dark) were just the ticket (pictured, left; the stars and their director). “Bringing a couple of guys with name value into the mix was absolutely integral,” says Renfroe. “The financiers want to see names that they recognise and that they know the audience will recognise.”

What the director didn’t expect was the genre knowledge that the two actors brought to the production. “Fishburne is a huge fan of post-apocalyptic stories, be they films or comic books, so he was really excited about the picture and brought his love for the genre every day,” remembers Renfroe. “Bill was the same; he loves these movies and would not stopped entertaining us all with stories about James Cameron and yelling out randomly, ‘It’s just like Aliens, man!’ They were totally focussed on making the best film that we could.”

To ensure that the freezing conditions required by the script were convincingly realised, The Colony cast and crew were shipped to the most northern part of Ontario during the coldest weeks of the Canadian winter. “We shot in an abandoned airplane hangar in a place called North Bay, and we had to keep one huge hangar door open all the time,” says Renfroe, who recalls days when the temperature hit 30 degrees below (pictured, right; Renfroe on-set with Laurence and Zegers). “Lenses were freezing up, mechanical stuff was seizing. I equate the whole experience to shooting underwater, everything moved so slowly.” The production was also able to utilise an abandoned NORAD facility, a location that took the crew 60 stories down into the earth's surface. 

The film found a mixed critical reception upon its North American release (“I respect their opinions and try to learn from them but I don’t take too much of what is said to heart.”) Instead, Jeff Renfroe cites the response from the crowds at horror and fantasy festivals like Sitges; the world’s leading genre film event awarded The Colony the jury-voted Best Film honour this year. The award is a source of tremendous pride for the director. “You check in with the people who love these sort of movies,” Renfroe says, “and judge yourself against their sliding scale.”  

The Colony will be released on DVD/Blu-ray in Australia on January 8 through Eagle Entertainment



Under the guidance of festival director Neil Foley, the 2013 edition of Monster Fest kicks off in Melbourne on November 21. Lovers of international horror cinema, including visionary works such as Big Ass Spider (pictured, below) will settle in for 12 days of films made to shock, disgust and delight. As a dedicated follower of the genre, SCREEN-SPACE will be providing extensive coverage of the event, with interviews, reviews and features. Bookmark this link to follow the ever-expanding content.


Creepshow: The Monster Fest 2013 Preview: “Monster Fest champions films that challenge our imaginations, films that confront our fears, films that twist our realities..." 

Kier-La Janisse and The Women in Her Life: "Canadian film scholar Kier-La Janisse paints an unforgettable portrait of international cinema’s most deranged and driven female leads in her landmark book, House of Psychotic Women: An Autobiographical Topography of Female Neurosis in Horror and Exploitation Films..." 

Cannes Critics Maul Dario's Dracula: "The internet was buzzing with negative feedback to the trailer, but any work from the Giallo master is keenly anticipated and the film had been afforded the first Midnight Screening slot at the 2012 event..."


Joe Somebody: The Michael Tierney Interview: "I don't think I had a personal identity any more. I had become Joe Blow..."

Body Melt: The Addison Heath Interview: "We wanted to take dark subject matter and turn it in to an absurdist comedy. One of our initial concepts was ‘What if Wes Anderson directed Taxi Driver?’...”

Welcome to the Jungle: The Andrew Traucki Interview: "There were many physical challenges, especially given that at one point, it rained for a week during filming. There was so much mud!..."

The Killer Inside Me: The Duncan Cunningham Interview: "I am in love with the process of creating a world full of characters that didn't exist. And to see what you have created in a moving picture is phenomenal..."


The Banshee Chapter 3D: "Winter, a striking beauty and convincing on-screen presence, has a terrific chemistry with Levine, who whoops it up as the off-the-rails anti-establishment underground renegade..."

Here Comes The Devil: "It exudes an effective creepiness and a free-wheeling attitude to both hot and horrible sexuality..."

Contracted: "Much about Contracted is reminiscent of the AIDS era horror film, when films like David Cronenberg’s The Fly and Brian Yuzna’s Society reminded us all that pleasures of the flesh often cost a pound of the same..."

Chocolate Strawberry Vanilla: "As Warren, the extraordinary Glen Maynard creates one of the most memorably sympathetic portraits of repressed rage and social disconnection in local cinema history..."

Foresight Killer Instinct: "There’ll be something to offend everyone (feminists and cat-lovers, in particular, should stay well clear)..."

Hatchet III: "Finding a comfortable middle-ground between the jokey tone of the first instalment and the overly grim milieu of its sequel..."



Though still very much a young man, Christopher Ad Castillo carries with him a lifetime of movie memories. His late father, the great Filipino director Celso Ad Castillo, was a defining force in Asian cinema; his son would often accompany him on-set, leading to acting roles in several productions. Now, the son is a directing force in his own right; Castillo's third feature, the independently-financed supernatural thriller The Diplomat Hotel, featured at the recent Cinemalaya Film Festival and opens wide in its homeland this week. SCREEN-SPACE spoke with the LA-based director about his ghostly tale, the role of memory and spirituality in his storytelling and the legacy left by his father’s love and talent…  

What were the origins and inspirations for your story?

My interest in The Diplomat Hotel began two decades ago when I was an actor in my father’s film. We were shooting a scene in front of the already abandoned place and strange things happened that night that I cannot explain. So right there and then I knew that the next time I came back, it was to do a movie about the place. I have always been fascinated by personal tragedy. We were put in this world to suffer tragedies. From there, we decide whether to rise above it or sink further below. The will to get up and get back in the game is something not everyone can accomplish. It takes a certain pedigree. And to a storyteller, tragedy is the battery that powers life. It is very interesting to watch people caught in it struggle to find a way back, to find redemption.
So if tragedy is the story then the idea of redemption is the soul. This is what (lead character) Veronica (pictured, below; lead actress Gretchen Barretto with the director) has to deal with. To have her great life ripped out from her in front of a mass audience and to climb back from the dead to get everything back that belonged to her. It’s always been a very interesting dynamic that is the basis for some of the oldest stories ever told. That’s the brave new world we live in; Veronica inspires people and she inspired me to write this story. 

Describe shooting at a site that is famous for its supernatural properties? What influenced you to decide to shoot on location, especially this one?

People leave traces of themselves where they live. And the longer you stay in that place, the stronger you embed yourself. Now that print could be about happiness or darkness. The Diplomat Hotel was built in 1913 as a rest house for Dominican priests and the 2nd World War is where evil emerged when the Japanese beheaded the priests and nuns. And the traces of the dead stayed in that place and as the years go by, their prints become stronger. Their souls become the building. So there’s something there. It cannot be spared from what happened. The place gets very uneasy as night time gets nearer and the coldness invades it. The main thing is the shadows. They appear in certain areas and you realize that there’s no angle of light from where it could originate. It’s not just me who saw it, several of us did.
And that is the idea of why I wanted to shoot there. If I could not make my film there, then there’s no use in making it. Unlike other real haunted places like the Amityville house where no one has really seen what the interior looks like, The Diplomat Hotel has become a tourist attraction and a lot of people have been inside. So cheating the interiors would be unnerving to people and would take them out of the story. Plus it’s the most haunted hotel in Asia. Who would not want to shoot in there? 

The great horror films draw upon and provide commentary on the society from which they are created. What did you see as the important underlying issues central to The Diplomat Hotel?

The Philippine culture is filled with stories of monsters and creatures that were partly used by our elders to scare us into doing their bidding. And they’re great stories, full of life and energy. As the stories get passed from generation to generation, the monsters get bigger and the stories get bloodier. That’s the idea behind The Diplomat Hotel. Stories have been told for decades now of headless priests, roaming children, wails and moans, and of evil itself. But what if it was not true? What if the place was not really haunted and it just became evil because society keeps talking about it and keeps saying it is? What if the energy of the stories gave it life? Words are powerful, enough to destroy nations and people. What if society created the persona of The Diplomat Hotel? What if we were responsible for it being evil? Those are the questions asked by Veronica and that’s the commentary that I built the story upon. (Pictured, above; from left, the director on location with cast members Sarah Gaugler and Mon Confiado).

You are revisiting the location after having worked with your late father on the site. Did the themes of memory and recalling the past hold special relevance for you during the shoot?

There were times leading up to the shoot and during the shoot and even up to now that I stop and think that the film exists because of my father (pictured, right). And how cruel fate can be that he’s not around to see it, that his idea decades ago of bringing me to a place I have never heard of has become something that I have offered to the audience as a creation.
I thought of the irony that I play with memory and the past in the film and I thought about him when I was alone. Memories are a very dangerous thing that can entirely consume a person and it helped that I was really busy with a very difficult shoot. I was able to set aside any sadness that I had.
It’s funny to think that a haunted hotel has become the last physical bond between a father and a son. This film was about much more than just me directing; it was also about me coming to grips that he is gone. I was exorcising any guilt that I had as a son as I finished the film. None of us are perfect and there are times where I think that maybe I could have been a better son, a better friend, and involved him more in my adult life. I should have told him how much I loved him more often.
I miss The Diplomat Hotel. No other film will be made about it. We are the first and the last. It is already being renovated and it will look totally different a year from now. And it will always be the place that I share with my father. Sometimes something good comes out of something evil.

Read our review of The Diplomat Hotel here.

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