The story follows engineer Josh who receives a dreaded phone call: he is dying. After much contemplation, he has resigned himself to that fact and instead of living life to the fullest, he lounges around mulling over his misfortune. However, when a space rocket crashes back to Earth, it brings an extra-terrestrial virus along for the ride that turns the people into monsters the minute they come in contact with it. Josh, after be-friending a group of survivors including the love of his life, discovers that his machines make great weapons and his disease is an almighty plus.
Director Mitch Cohen has made a fantastic new film here, full of wit, adventure and action. Luckily for us, we were able to catch a few words with the upcoming director about his short film and his future projects.
I love genre films, especially Sci-Fi, apocalyptic and comic book films and had a desire to make something that had all the hallmarks of these movies that I enjoy. My worry was that making a film at any level is a daunting task and you need to commit a terrific amount of time, energy and usually money to actually produce something. So if I was going to invest my heart and soul into making a film, I thought it would be pointless to make something I felt was derivative or uninspired.
Another aspect of storytelling that I love is a human interest story that I personally can identify with. Nothing in a film excites me more than living vicariously through a character in a meaningful way. Usually genre films and human interest stories tend to be mutually exclusive drivers of the narrative, so I wanted to find a way to fuse them together. While I was thinking about how to accomplish this, I kept asking myself how a regular guy like me can change the world and do it without having to become someone else or be gifted with powers. Eventually I had the lightbulb moment when the conceit of Super Zero just popped into my head.
IWG: Did the character come first or the story?
The character came first. Looking at films, especially how someone with a shy/geeky personality is portrayed I never thought it felt accurate or real. I’m really immersed in “Nerd Culture” and film and TV characters that live in that world are either stereotyped, lampooned caricatures or simply that identity as a geek is their entire being. Just like anyone else in life, I wanted to show a character that was a person first with authentic feelings and different personality traits and then add in relatable elements that a certain demographic can identify with. I saw an opportunity to make a genre film feel more humanistic.
IWG: Josh is quite a realistic character, how did you develop him?
If you want to make something relatable,- well - relate it to yourself. So there are parts of Josh and his pessimistic outlook on his existence and shortcomings I drew from my life trying to be a filmmaker and the constant feeling of inadequacy. Also, I wanted to tap into elements that I think are universal to all people – Why don’t I feel special? What am I living for? What can I offer the world? And beyond that I wanted to make sure he was likeable and not just a depressing person you didn’t want to watch on screen. So underneath all of that emotional weight, he had to have a genuine sense of humour that you can smile with and not at. Otherwise nobody will care what happens to him.
IWG: There’s some really great special effects here, how hard was it to create them?
The effects were difficult, but the producers and I spent a great deal of time to find the right people to pull them off and also help refine the shots to make them better than I imagined. As a director I need to be aware of all the facets of filmmaking, but I needed to surround myself who were skilled craftspeople in every discipline. I’d be doing a disservice to the film and the people I’m working with to help guide what their departments create and bring to the film. We were lucky enough to find really talented people, who were passionate about the project and wanted to contribute their best work.
When I went to college I studied business and marketing. I always loved films, but it was from a fan standpoint and I never even thought of entertaining the idea of getting involved, I wasn’t really into the arts at the time and growing up in the Mid-west it all seemed distant and foreign to me to think of filmmaking as anything other than from a passive perspective So while taking a bunch of classes that were core to business, I needed to take a few electives and there was a video production class and I said to myself, “Why not?”. So I took this class not knowing what to expect and for the most part it was rudimentary stuff about cameras, lighting, editing. It was fun, but it really didn’t hold my interest at the time. But, towards the end of the semester we were given an actual assignment to make our own short narrative piece.
So I made this little film and since I had no real skills with producing anything, my film looked horrific. It was a total mess, the lighting sucked, you could barely hear the dialogue, and half of it was out of focus. It was bad. But, when I screened it in class something happened that I never expected.
The other students in the class all made films that were more vignettes, or slice of life pieces. – Most of them were in one location and were about relatable stuff like, asking a girl out, painting, fixing a tire, simple situations like that. But mine, was nothing like that. I made a little film about two drunken hunters that go out into the woods. Things go bad and one ends up accidently killing the other. He panics and decides the best thing to do is bury the body in a shallow grave to cover it up. The guy goes back to the truck to make a getaway and realizes they he just spent all day putting his friend in a grave and buried him with keys to the car.
When I screened this thing, it through everyone in the class for a loop. It was nothing like the other films and frankly almost inappropriately violent for a class like this. However, the other students really liked it. They thought it was funny and was an actual full story. Getting a positive response to something I created was a feeling I had never experienced. I immediately got hooked and decided that’s what I want to do with my life and quit business and decided to get into filmmaking. It was a fairly irrational decision, but I did it.
IWG: Do you think short form cinema is gaining more momentum in this internet filled world?
Absolutely it has really opened up some opportunities to get your film seen, but at the same time presents a number of hurdles which could be a detriment to your project. First, making a film is one thing, getting seen is entirely another. Before the last few years the only way to get any size audience to see a short film was at the festival circuit level. Having to pay to apply, wait months to see if you got in and then another few months for the festival itself wasn’t a very empowering for filmmakers. Plus, acceptance to get into a festival is so subjective, it’s frustrating to know how navigate that world is.
So now that the internet not only allows you to upload your films, but do it at a quality that holds up to cinematic quality, the world can see you film anytime they want. However again getting people to see your film could be hard. The web is so oversaturated with content, connecting to an audience through all the noise is again a difficult task. But one of the great things about the internet is you can have instant communication with your audience and they can help spread the word about your film. That can be awesome to hear from some random person halfway across the globe that your film resonated with them. But again there is a downside. If for whatever reason the audience you discover isn’t into what you made or worse don’t like it, then they can be very vocal about that and that instant criticism can be soul crushing after you put in all that work. At the end of the day if you are confident in the film you’re making that’s all that matters.
I think what inspires me most have pretty varied tastes, but I think I gravitate towards filmmakers who bring independent spirit to mainstream movies. Some of my favorites include Sidney Lumet, Sam Fuller, P.T. Anderson, The Coen Brothers, Danny Boyle
IWG: The zombie genre is very popular, why do you think it is often well received?
I think zombie films and their storylines resonate with people today for a couple reasons. First the antagonist or evil force isn’t a fantastical creature of monster, the evil are actual former people. When you see a Zombie you immediately perceive who that actual living breathing person was before they became a Zombie and it screws with your mind because you get caught up in the idea of them still having humanity and it affects how you deal with it.
The other thing that I feel makes Zombie films a great storytelling vehicle is the versatility of the genre. Everyone knows what a Zombie is and to a certain degree have a solid understanding of how the “device” works. A Zombie script doesn’t really need 20 pages of exposition to explain why they exist and how it happened. Using people’s preconceived notions to your advantage, you can accomplish that in one page and use your whole script to tell a different story. The Zombies are just a device for drama and you can tell a much more interesting story with political or social undertones to it. The Zombies are not necessarily the bad guy in films, they are the manifestation of some other evil. They can be utilized as the perfect conduit to symbolize anything you can imagine and how that is a nonstop overwhelming pressure trying to destroy you. Also at the end of the day, who doesn’t like a good Zombie kill? That never gets old.
IWG: Combining your film with a superhero element, how did you balance the two genres?
At first I thought it was going to be an extremely difficult thing to do and wasn’t sure how to make them work together and feel like it was one film, but then I looked at it through a different lens and it kind of fell into place. I took the position that this is a superhero/comic book that happens to take place in a zombie apocalypse. So the active narrative unfolds like a superhero origin story and that plot plays out over the backdrop of a Zombie uprising. People are so familiar with both types of films that I can use the audiences’ knowledge to my advantage. I didn’t have to spend too much time with exposition explain things that are familiar. So it made sense to me to not make the film about both, it was about placing one in the context of the other.
So as I was writing it the fusion of these two things worked pretty well, because one of them is about a danger to civilization by an “evil force” and the other is about a “Saviour” of civilization. Those things aligned and I didn’t have to alter the natural course of either type of film. It tells a Zombie story, it tells a superhero story and it tells a superhero and zombie story.
Yes. From the beginning I was making the short for two reasons. First, I had this character and set up and shaped it into a short film that was a complete story in itself with a beginning middle and an end. But concurrently the short was to be a proof of concept for something much bigger. I’ve developed out this world to tell a bigger story and all the main characters have their own arcs. I found so much fertile ground in where it could go and there are a lot of things planned that I’ve never seen before and I’m excited to bring those to life.
What are the hopes for Josh and his team?
Well, behind everything in the world and all the people that inhabit it, our main character has a ticking clock in his head eventually he’s going to be taken over by the cancer. So that element underscores everything that happens. Over the course of the series, we reveal a lot of things about each character that make them really interesting beyond what you see in the short. The idea is audiences will really identify with these characters and live vicariously through them. The adventure gets pretty crazy and fantastical, but the hope is no matter what insane thing happens that the characters feel grounded and interesting and you it always feels like reality.
IWG: Are there any other projects that you are working on?
Right now I’m working pretty heavily on scripting the series for Super Zero. Its just really fun to write and it’s lived in my head so long, its been goof to finally put it to paper. Beyond that I have two feature scripts I’m developing. One is a contained Sci-fi action/horror script that takes place just after mankind figures out long distance space travel. The other script I guess I’d call a thriller. It has a really big twist I think could payoff and I’m curious to write it to see if it works. The only way I can describe it at this point is the film takes place during a bank heist, but then it becomes something entirely different
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