In 2012, just as the movie and television worlds were becoming over-saturated with generic zombie material, a small, low budget movie hit the horror festival circuit by the name of The Battery. That film defied all odds to become, perhaps, the most celebrated zombie work within the horror community of the last few decades (including its inclusion in our list of the 100 Best Horror Films of the 2000s).
Recently, the filmmakers behind The Battery — Jeremy Gardner, Adam Cronheim, and Christian Stella– announced that their second film project, Tex Montana Will Survive, has finished and that they are looking for support via Kickstarter to fund distribution of the film in a way that will allow themselves more time to commit to future projects.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Jeremy Gardner (who is also the star of both films) to discuss the details of this crowdfunding effort, his future plans, and a shared favorite horror film. You can read our full discussion below and, after the interview, be sure to check out the Kickstarter campaign to find out how you can help.
David Shreve (Audiences Everywhere): Who is Tex Montana?
Jeremy Gardner: Tex Montana is a very famous television survivor host, in the vein of a Bear Grylls, Les Stroud kind of Survivorman TV host. He’s been caught coming out of a restaurant when he was supposed to be surviving in the wild. It kind of went viral and tarnished his reputation. In an effort to clear his name, he decides to go out into the wild for 30 days without a camera crew, just himself, in an effort to prove that he’s the survivor he said he was. But he’s an egomaniac who gets in way over his head.
AE: How did you come up with him as a writer, and how did you find him as an actor?
JG: I’ve always wanted to play one of these goofy, Will Ferrell and Danny McBride-type prideful man-babies. I had the idea originally that we could go out and ape one of these survival shows and it would have a horror bent to it, and that never really stuck with anyone. And one night, I decided it should be a completely serious comedy. But the entire movie is improvised. 100% improvised. So as a writer, I didn’t have to do much. I knew I wanted to give him an obnoxious southern accent. Whenever I’m down in Florida with my family, I start to drift into this ridiculous drawl and I have no idea where it comes from. When I tell people I’m from the South, they don’t immediately think of Florida as the South, but trust me, where I’m from is the South. Right before we started rolling, I was listening to some interviews on YouTube with Matthew McConnaughey and other famous southerners to try to get the drawl right. Then I kind of used my cousin—who’s an idiot—as a presence in my head. And I just went from there and started riffing. It was about putting ourselves in these situations in the wild and having me riff on them. We knew we wanted Tex to start off very confident, then get lost, and then lose his mind as he started to realize and accept what a fake and a fraud he is. So, that was really the only through line we had to go with: those three broad act structures.
AE: Any trouble getting rid of the accent when you were done?
JG: I can turn it off and on pretty quickly, but it comes out when I talk to my mom or dad.
AE: How immersed in the survivalist element were you? Did you film in a park behind Burger King or actually go deep into the woods? Any weather hardships?
JG: We were out there. We actually shot in the same place we filmed The Battery in Kent, Connecticut. Luckily for the movie, but unlucky for us, we actually ran into a snowstorm on day three and it was about nine degrees for the rest of the shoot. We were out there for 14 hours a day, and because Tex Montana is an idiot, he’s wearing pants, cowboy boots, and a leather jacket. And it’s funny, but I actually had to be wearing these things. It was miserable. I had a chunk of frostbite on my toe. Christian Stella, my co-director, was coughing up blood on the hotel pillows every night because it was just so dry.
AE: Does it bother you that Leonardo DiCaprio is about to win an Oscar for the same thing, when he had a million dollar crew?
JG: [laughs] Of course I’m jealous of anyone actually making a living in this business. So it’s less about the award and more about the fact that he doesn’t have to worry about where his next meal is coming from.
AE: So here’s an idea. You’re something of a guerrilla filmmaker, so maybe you could put that guerrilla element into your marketing. Sneak into the Oscars. When DiCaprio wins, go onstage in character, grab the mic, and shout “Tex Montana Will Survive!” Boom. You’ll get all of your funding.
JG: That might not be… Well, it’s a risky proposition. Also, I think the Oscars air after our campaign ends. [laughs]
AE: While we’re on the topic. Yours isn’t a standard crowdfunding effort. Can you explain your goal in your own words and why it’s important?
JG: Absolutely. We made The Battery and by all accounts it was wildly successful beyond what we expected. But, we had investors, and once you start wading into how residuals get back to filmmakers after signing distribution deals, there’s a lot of middle men and expenses: lawyers, fees, insurance. And they sell the movie to individual companies to different territories in the world, and those companies take their time in paying those deals off. So you end up making very little money as it trickles its way through the system and you make it in quarterly bursts every three or four months or so. It was never enough at one time to allow us to take the time off to go out and make another movie, which is all we want to do. So we figured with this one, we would try to basically pre-sell the movie to the world. If we can get what we’d expect to make over four or five long drawn out years of the traditional route, then we’ll have the small windfall we’d need to take the time off and make another movie, because that’s our dream. We had tons and tons of people from all over the world trying to buy The Battery in countries where there wasn’t a deal made in their territory. So those people know the movie is available, but they don’t have a legitimate way to view it, so they will torrent it. Piracy is an incredibly difficult situation to deal with, but there are also quite a few people who have torrented the movie and then sent us donations. So we are trying to tap into a community that might be willing to pay for it if they had the option. We are trying to pre-sell it and let a few generous people help us hit this goal, and then we’re going to have a worldwide release for free on every platform we can think of digitally. We’ll put DVD and Blu-Ray ISOs up with art work. People can download it. It will be under a creative common license. People can burn it, re-edit it if they want to. It’ll be free like that forever if we can hit that goal. And we’re coming down to the wire now.
AE: Is this a model that you thought up on your own, or is there a movie that’s used this method before? Because it’s kind of revolutionary—
JG: Well I don’t like to think of myself as a revolutionary but… But we can’t think of another campaign that’s done it this way. There are certainly people who have gone direct to consumer and skipped the distribution model. You think of people like Louis C.K. and people who have a massive built-in audience to where they can release something and recoup a lot of money very quickly. We’re trying to do that with a small network of fans and friends that we’ve built throughout the festival tour of The Battery so it’s a little more difficult. We’ve had incredibly generous donations so far. We’re almost to twenty grand, and that’s 99% from people we’ve never met before. But unfortunately, we’ve kind of maxed out the network we were able to build. So we just need to get some new eyeballs on it. Hopefully people will think that what we’re doing is interesting. When the campaign is over, if we’re successful, the movie will be available almost instantaneously—about a week later. The movie is finished. We’re not trying to fund a budget, we’re not raising money to finish it, we’re raising money to try this experimental distribution strategy.
AE: You’ve spoken about the loyalty of your fans. I happen to be one of those. We actually put The Battery in our top 20 horror films of this decade. So given that most of those fans are horror fans, and horror fans are very loyal, was there any concern that there might be pause that you were shifting genres into comedy?
JG: You know, I don’t necessarily think there’s been a pause with the fans. I love the horror community and that’s where I plant my flag. That community has been nothing but amazing to us. Horror and genre are typically the stories I want to tell. We’re not going away from that for good. We’ve got plenty of horror ideas coming down to the pipe.
AE: It’s worth noting that comedy is also something you’re good at. The Battery is a funny movie.
JG: Thank you! Again, it’s not necessarily the fans. I always said that by going to these festivals, meeting these people, shaking hands, and making yourself available as a filmmaker is how you get these people to follow you. I was explaining to my girlfriend a couple of years ago. She said, “Why do you want to watch that ballet movie?” and I explained, “Well that’s the guy who made Requiem for a Dream and Pi.” It doesn’t matter what they’re doing. I like the artist and I’ll follow them wherever they go. And so hopefully that’s what we were able to set up. It feels like that’s what we’ve done. There are certain people who want us to make horror. But more than that, we’ve gotten pushback from the network of websites and film festivals who only traffic in horror news. They’re saying “We love you guys, but we don’t have a place for comedy.” That’s been unfortunate. After we built this network, we destroyed our chance to use it immediately.
AE: You have horror ideas ready to roll after this, right?
JG: Oh, yes. I have a monster movie that’s been ready to go for a while. It’s not a five million dollar movie, by any means. It’s a $250,000 movie, but it’s amazing in this day and age how difficult it is to get someone to sign off on that kind of money. That’s part of the reason we went for Tex Montana. We spent about two years doing the water bottle tour, taking the meetings, getting partway down the path, getting to casting talks and all that. When nothing came of it, we got so frustrated. We said, “Let’s just go back into the woods and make something ourselves.” When you have to ask permission to make a movie, it can just be demoralizing. But yes, my monster movie seems to be coming together now. I got a good vibe with how it’s coming together. I’m also working on a sequel to The Battery, because… well I can’t help myself. Not like anyone’s begging me for a sequel to The Battery—
AE: I’m begging. I’ll beg. I love The Battery and it’s the perfect ending to warrant a sequel. That’s the best thing that could come out of this interview for me.
JG: Lovely! I was kind of avoiding it for a while. Then suddenly an idea struck me of how to get into it and I can’t shake it. I was never going to write but now that the story got its hooks into me, I can’t shake it.
AE: Maybe a Jeremy Gardner extended universe? Tex Montana crossover with The Battery later on?
JG: That’s not a bad idea.
AE: I want to ask about one more project I’ve seen you talk about. Do you still have any hope that you might get your hands on the Tremors reboot?
JG: Ah, I did hold out hope until they announced the series. You know, when they first mentioned part five, I thought it was the remake, and I was really sad. But it turned out to be another crappy sequel. And I thought, alright, I still got a chance. But now with the series, I don’t know if it’s going to happen. I actually saw Tremors in 35 mm last year at the Alamo Drafthouse in Yonkers. Kevin Bacon was in attendance. And you know, for the longest time, he was kind of coy about Tremors. He didn’t really want to do it when he did it. And now I think he realizes what an amazing cult film it is and he’s ready to get back into the saddle. I had a great idea for a Tremors reboot. I don’t know that it’s revolutionary, but it would take place in Bixby, the big town outside of Perfection. You don’t have to go crazy to scale up with Tremors. Just move it past those mountains and get it into a slightly bigger city.
AE: Hold on to a little bit of hope. I need to see that. I love Tremors.
JG: It’s an amazing, amazing movie. I’m so obsessed with it, I actually read the screenplay a few times and started writing a novelization. It gets laughed off as a giant worm comedy movie, but the reason that movie works so well is the characters. You lose that in so many horror movies from 1990 on. Those movies could be so much better if half as much attention were paid to making the characters real.
AE: I want to get you out of here on a hopeful note. You’ve shown incredible determinism in your work as a film artist, in both of your first two projects. We’ve discussed the ways in which the current industry isn’t always rewarding for that kind of effort. So what advice do you have for anyone who, like you, just wants to get his or her movie done?
JG: I would say, first and foremost, write not what you know, but what you have. Build your story around locations, actors, and crew that you know you have. I maintain that a thrilling story can be written in any limitations. If you’ve got an old church, write a story that takes place in an old church. Second, plan. Before you get on set. That was one of our setbacks. We were poor pre-production people. So make sure you got as many ducks in a row as you can beforehand. That way, when everything goes to shit, which it will, at least you’ll have already had the things you can take care of done. Get your finances in order now. If I had had decent credit, I could have put this whole movie on credit card and I’d be fine right now. But I didn’t, so I had to give away a lot of the equity in the process. And that’s another reason it hasn’t paid off as well as it could have. So, yeah, write what you can get, plan, and save your money.
Featured Image: Tex Montana Will Survive, O. hannah Films