Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella, the brilliant filmmaking team responsible for The Battery, are going to make a monster movie with the minds behind indie-favorites Spring and The Endless. Gardner and Stella broke the news at the closing ceremony of the Chattanooga Film Festival. They start production on their newest film, Something Else, at the end of May.
Gardner and Stella have linked up with Rustic Films, the production company run by the team behind another of my personal favorites: Spring. Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead, and David Lawson recently struck out for themselves with their own production company.
Even cooler, MastersFX will be doing the creature effects. They’re the team that made the fucking demons in Demon Knight. Yes, MastersFX also did the creature work in Spring, which was outstanding. But, you gotta lead with Demon Knight, right?
A production team, a crew, a budget, special effects teams? This is kind of a sea change for Gardner and Stella.
The Battery was a genre-festival darling. They made the film for $6,000. No shit. And, I know. You’re thinking, “Oh, it’s probably really good for a micro-budget picture.” Nah. It’s the kind of thing that you watch and when someone tells you what they spent, you do a spit take and tell ‘em to pull the other one.
Audiences dug it. Which, when you see it, is unsurprising. The movie is pure heart. Gardner, who writes their scripts, gave us some real humans struggling to navigate the psychological aftermath of a zombie apocalypse.
Gardner also stars in the film. There is a no-cut, ten-minute take at the end of that movie that in terms of emotional experience is up there with Bob Hoskins final minutes in The Long Good Friday.
Stella operated as producer and DP. The film looks great. About a year and a half ago, we had a chance to catch up with Stella about his work on that film. It’s one of my all-time favorite filmmaking conversations.
Here’s the rub though. As hard as it is to make a movie, making a movie with no budget that’s worth a damn is harder. And they crushed that challenge. Only to find that the popular reception at festivals did not translate to money, or recognition, or even the opportunity to make another movie. What do you do when you hit a home run and nothing changes? The movie-making business is brutal.
They walked out into the woods and made Tex Montana Will Survive!, which you can watch on YouTube right now. It’s like if one of your favorite reality survival shows got a bit too real and a bit too insane.
Gardner has had the script for Something Else ready for awhile. I’m really looking forward to seeing what these guys do with a budget.
But, uh, one note before we proceed. How to say this?
You know, the thing that makes Gardner and Stella so interesting to talk to is that they have no filter. Mostly, that expresses itself in insightful, earnest remarks. The kind of thing you don’t really get too much of in this world.
But, you know. #NoFilter. So. We start our conversation. And the first thing that comes up is a conversation they’ve been listening to all weekend. Well, you’ll read it. All I will say is, hey. We’re all adults, right?
I mean, seriously. Right?
Remember how just recently everyone was on about DJ Khaled and his, uh, preferences? Up to and including The Rock? Well. This starts a bit further out there than all that.
I’m no square. But, it was literally the last thing I expected to discuss that evening. So. While you’re reading this, keep in mind this writer-dude was like:
“WHAT IS THE CORRECT LEVEL OF ENTHUSED FOR THIS TOPIC? SOMEONE TELL ME HOW TO BE NORMAL RIGHT NOW.”
It went pretty great. Check it out.
A (Lightly Edited) Conversation with Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella
Brad: So. We’re going to transcribe this. We’ll edit it a bit for clarity, but basically, we’re going to put the conversation online.
William: So, if you guys say something you want us to chop out, just call it out and we’ll strike it.
Christian: Just “strike that from the record.”
Jeremy: What? Like when you talk about someone talking about eating ass all weekend?
Christian: Jesus Christ. You gotta strike that.
Jeremy: Absolutely don’t strike it.
William: Wait, what?
Jeremy: Everyone was talking about eating ass all weekend because someone keeps bringing it up. That’s all he cares about. That’s the end of the conversation.
Christian: This is not even a joke.
Jeremy: I’m sorry. He has skills. I don’t know.
Christian: But 40 minutes of conversation in front of the theater? Right in front of the doors, with people coming in and out? I was only out there for the last fifteen minutes of the conversation. It was like, “Are they still talking about eating butt hole?” And I was like, “Oh my God, how long has this thing been going on?”
Jeremy: Well, then it was the same thing at the restaurant. “Are you guys talking about eating ass again?”
Christian: Yeah, it’s carried over into today.
Jeremy: It’s all he wants to talk about. I mean, I get it. He’s right.
William: What’s his position?
Jeremy: Uh, his position?
Jeremy: Depends on where the ass is.
William: Not my best choice of words.
Jeremy: He’s very pro ass-eating.
Christian: Is he in a relationship right now?
Jeremy: He’s in a relationship with ass.
Jeremy: What’s going on, guys?
Brad: Alright. Transition! Segue! Let’s talk about your partnership with Rustic Films. How did you guys get with them?
Jeremy: God, it’s a long story. That’s kind of what makes film festivals important, right? I met Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead in Amsterdam, like six years ago, at a festival. I was like, “Oh, these assholes. Look at them. They made a movie too. We gotta go talk to these guys.” But, our schedules didn’t really line up.
Then we saw them again in Brazil and we were there for a whole week. We got to be good friends. They called me, “Hey, you want to be in Spring? We got this small role.” They flew me out to L.A. and they actually did one of the best things anybody’s ever done for me. They Taft-Hartley-ed me into SAG.
William: Oh, nice.
Jeremy: I had never been able to get into SAG before. It’s really hard to explain why you have to fly in a white, bearded guy from Florida or Connecticut because L.A. is like, “Hey, we have plenty of those.” So, they ended up getting me SAG, and that was awesome of them.
And that’s where I first met Dave Lawson. I gave them a script for a movie tentatively called Something Else. At the time it was a monster movie I’d written about long-term relationships. And what happens when one person in a relationship realizes after ten years that they gave up everything about themselves for the other person. And there’s also a big monster in it.
I gave it to Justin and Aaron and then, you know. Eventually, they got back to me.
They were like, “The amount of scripts we’ve been given since Spring came out… This was the only one we were ever like, ‘Oh, we would do this one,’ but Jeremy wrote it. So, we can’t do that one.” They really loved the script.
But, at that point, I was still trying to get it made with a bunch of other different people. And when all that shit finally fell through, The Endless was kicking ass. So, they kind of had a little bit of weight behind them. Dave came to me and was like, “Hey, I finally read your script, you stupid piece of shit. It’s pretty good. Let’s make it”.
Then it’s happening all of a sudden.
William: When do you guys go into production on it?
Christian: Supposed to be next month.
Jeremy: We will always say “supposed to be” because we never believe things are really happening. Even though we’ve talked to the money, we’ve seen the money, and we’ve seen the dates, and we talked to the fucking guy making the monster. We’re so jaded by having things fall through that we’re like, “Well, it’s ‘supposed to be’ this.”
But it’s May, mid-May we’re supposed to go into production.
Brad: That’s weeks away. That’s not a month away. That’s weeks away.
Christian: Shh. Don’t tell us that.
Jeremy: Baby, baby, baby, this is how this works. No, we’ve had conversations with MastersFX, who worked on the monster. We’ve gone out to some actors, and we’re trying to get things going.
Dave seems to think that this is a perfectly normal schedule for how these movies come about. We go, “Okay?!”
I mean, I’ve known the script for five years. So, I know the script. Let’s go.
Christian: It is normal for us. It’s normal for us, but we don’t usually have a budget behind us.
Jeremy: Right, that’s the thing. It’s not scary for us to go out and make a six thousand dollar movie with a month turn around because we’re like, “Fuck it.”
But if you’re working with somebody else’s money, it’s like, “Oh, maybe let’s make sure we have everything in order.”
William: What’s that been like for you guys? Well, I guess you’re really not kind of in it yet, but that’s gotta be a sea change for your approach to filmmaking. Or, does it just feel like that’s an upgrade?
Jeremy: I mean, it’s an upgrade. You get to do more, right? I wrote Something Else at the time thinking, “Oh yeah. The Battery’s doing so well at festivals. This’ll be like, a piece of cake budget jump.” But. No one will give you that money. You think it’s a nothing budget, but no one will give you that money.
What it’s really changed for us is like, “Oh wait, we don’t have to do everything? We’re gonna hire people who do that shit for us?”
It reminds you that you can just focus on the actual stuff. The creative side. You don’t have to worry about getting the pizza to feed people. We’ve done all that shit. So, that’s changed.
But it’s also just having to scale up and understand a production side that we haven’t had to deal with before, right? It’s like, being in charge of people.
Christian: Yeah. I wanted to hire an assistant camera, but I also want him to be a good steady cam operator. And Dave’s like, “Yeah, you can’t get an AC that’s also a steady cam operator.” He’s like, “Those are two different jobs.” I’m like, “Yeah, but I’m trying to merge them into one person because I’m just trying to get the set smaller.”
Jeremy: That’s how we’re used to working, right? Everybody puts on as many hats as they can.
Then you’re like, “Oh wait, that guy can’t wear that hat?” “No, that’s a different hat. You can’t put a cowboy hat on an Amish guy. That doesn’t make sense. You gotta have the Amish guy have his hat, and the cowboy’s gotta wear the cowboy hat.” I was like, “Well, he’s got a head. Can’t you just put that hat on his head already?”
You get a lot more specialized roles.
Christian: I want a team. And I was like, “I want everybody to kind of be able to do a little bit of everything.” And they’re like, “Yeah, no. They’re all specialized.” I’m like, “Alright. I guess so.”
I see it as kind of a collaborative thing would be kind of fun because I’m interested in working with other people. Because we don’t have that.
Jeremy: Right, and I think it’s great that it allows us the freedom to focus on performance and directing and not really worry about all the bullshit that gets in the way of that.
But, it’s scary, too. Like. Okay, look. If I wanted to put a ninety second shot of tooth brushing in fucking The Battery, I’m gonna do it. Now, there are more voices. There are more people to please, like the people who put the money in. You have to justify your creative decisions a lot more. You gotta pick your battles.
Jeremy: And you have to be willing to go, “Okay, we really don’t need that tooth brushing scene if we really want to keep that ass-eating scene in.” Gotta pick one or the other.
Christian: The great thing is that Dave, Justin, and Aaron are so on-board with our style. Obviously, you’ve seen their movies. They’re onboard with doing the stranger things.
Jeremy: So, here’s what’s crazy. I meet, like, potential partners who love The Battery. They say it’s such a unique thing. It’s all your voice. And it’s, like, “Oh great.” But, then you start talking with them. And then it becomes, “Hey, can you maybe add the old guy at the bar who explains where the monster comes from? Can you kind of add this back in?” You’re like, “Okay, so all the stuff you said you liked about me, is this stuff you’re trying to iron out of this new script?”
And with Dave and Justin and Aaron, it’s like, “Oh no, no, no, that’s what we love.” And I keep waiting for them to say no. I’m like, “I can star in it?” “We assumed.” “And Christian is the co-director?” “Uh, yeah, please.”
These are the things were fighting for with other people who said they liked our way. These guys are like “we like your way”, and they’re not trying to change anything. They actually do.
Christian: Yeah. We were talking the other day about, “Should we talk about the title Something Else?” We were thinking they’re gonna want a flashier title or whatever. They were like, “Well, uh, we love the title. So, we would like to keep it.”
Jeremy: So now we’re like, “Oh shit, we gotta actually just make it.”
Christian: We would be more scared going in if it weren’t for the fact that we’ve seen that they actually made movies that are artistic and good, you know? If this was like, some new producer, it would be a lot scarier.
Jeremy: We know what they’re about, right? They make genre movies that have an artistic bent. And they have something to say. Well, that’s what we’re trying to do. So, there’s no friction in that realm. It’s really just them trying to be very, very helpful.
Especially in getting us over the bump of, uh, budget. We made the last one with four people in a car. So, there are obviously going to be areas where we’re unfamiliar with how to run a populated set.
But Dave, even though he’s insane, he’s a professional. And he says, “My job is to keep this shit out of your way so you can make the things that you guys do because that’s what we’re trying to be a part of here.”
You know what, Christian, I think we might actually have to fucking make this thing.
William: It sounds like you just convinced yourself that it’s a real thing.
Jeremy: Christian, I think we’re fucking doing this. Oh my God. I don’t wanna. I don’t wanna.
Brad: So, you wrote it what, like, five years ago? And now you’re actually making it happen. Has the film changed for you in five years?
Jeremy: It’s interesting that you bring that up.
So, when I wrote it, I was in a very long-term relationship. It was coming from a very specific place in that regard. There was a time, actually, when it wasn’t happening, and I said, “Look, if this film doesn’t happen soon, I’m gonna be disconnected from the feelings that inspired that in the first place.”
So, it’s changed in that I’m not in that relationship. At that time, the script was an outlet for me to try to figure some of those things out subtly. Now, I don’t have to be as shy about it anymore. I’m on the better side of that.
So, now I can look back it more, what’s the word? Objectively. See the things that I was wrong about or scared of or wasn’t even telling myself. And it’s a lot easier. If I were still in that situation, and we were trying to make this? I’d be tiptoe-ing around a lot of things that I was worried about.
William: But that’s gotta make it richer, right?
Jeremy: It does. It does because now enough time has gone by where I can analyze that. I’m not still in it. You’re not still canceling your flight and driving me from Connecticut to Florida to live with you anymore.
Christian: Oh yeah, no, that isn’t happening anymore.
Jeremy: Yeah, you know, maybe some of my stuff is still in my friend’s basement of his bar in Connecticut, but I don’t need that stuff anymore. I’ve got happiness. I’m about to make a movie. So.
My only fear is, am I too happy? Nah, I’m miserable.
Christian: Nah, yeah, no. You’ll never be too happy. No, you’re Jeremy Gardner.
Jeremy: That’s true. I can’t even find a fucking drink. Oh, here we go.
Christian: It hasn’t changed that much, though. We still get people coming up and being like, saying they read the script. But, it’s probably the five-year-old version that’s been mostly passed around. Like, the one that Justin and Aaron got a hold of.
Jeremy: What’s changed is that I am not afraid of the feelings that I was afraid of when I was writing it anymore. And that’s a good thing. That’s a good thing. I’m free to just really lay into those things when we actually start making the thing.
Christian: And it’s kind of crazy right now between all of the producers and the financing. That this team that’s making it now, they’ve not asked us to change a single thing. I don’t think, right?
Jeremy: Well, we’re still working on that ass-eating scene. I am determined. They don’t understand.
Christian: No, God.
Jeremy: When he eats the ass, it is an accumulation and a culmination of that entire relationship. You know, because she never let him eat her ass before, and now … I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about.
William: It’s definitely a milestone.
Jeremy: This is the Chat-ass-a-nooga Film Festival. I can’t.
Brad: So, monster movie though.
Jeremy: Dumbest idea ever, right?
Brad: Well, I mean, it’s a very specific type of horror film. And it’s also a type of horror film that really sparks a lot of interest within the fan community. Was that just because of where you were emotionally at that time? That monster had to come out?
Jeremy: I mean, maybe. I know for a long time, people were like, “Oh, the monster is marriage. The monster is commitment. The monster is all these things.” It’s really just a thing with really big claws, and it’s fucking a nightmare. But, I get what they’re saying.
Look, I always said, “I’ll be happy at the end of my career if I’ve made my version of a vampire movie, a werewolf movie, an alien movie, a ghost movie, a zombie movie, and a monster movie. Then I’m done.” I just want to do my version of all of those things. Monster was the thing that came next.
Actually, it all started as a joke. I was so pissed off we weren’t making anything I said to Christian, “Christian, let’s do an experiment. I’m gonna write three pages of a script.”
Christian: Oh yeah.
Jeremy: “I’m gonna send it to you. You write the next three. I’m not gonna tell you anything else. You just write the next three. Send them back, and I’ll write the next three.”
So, I started with just a couch in front of a door. You pull back, and you see this guy sleeping on the couch. And it’s barricaded against a door. Then Christian wrote three pages then he sent it back. He was like, “I’m done with that shit.” So, he only wrote three pages, but I had these six pages.
Christian: I like my three pages. I think there’s a line left in there, maybe.
Jeremy: No, you put a big freezer in, but that’s only-
Christian: What? Does he just grab steaks out of it?
Jeremy: Well, now it’s cut out.
Christian: Spoiler alert, he grabs steaks out of a cooler.
William: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Come on, guys. I like the movie unspoiled.
Jeremy: Big freezer with some venison steaks in it, you heard it here first.
Christian: The mail thing? Is the mail thing still in? I think it’s in there.
Jeremy: No, that’s done.
Christian: It’s gone?
Christian: We should know this. I should know this.
Brad: It was five years ago.
Jeremy: Yeah, so anyway. Because of the first six pages that we did, I knew there was a couch in front of a door. Why is that couch in front of a door? What’s trying to get in the door? It just became a monster movie. But the problem there is, you go, “Okay, zombie movies, if the zombies suck, people are gonna hate us.” Now, it’s like the monster movie. If you make a monster movie, and your monster sucks. It’s dead in the water.
Jeremy: Doesn’t matter how good it is, and that’s terrifying. We just like to keep making really difficult things based on our budget. But, you know. We’re working with some pretty top-notch monster makers. I think we’ll be okay.
William: It’s the guys that did the monster scene for Justin and Aaron in Spring, right? All the practical shit that went along with the monster reveal in that film?
Jeremy: Well, it’s also the people who made all the fucking demons in Demon Knight. I almost shit my pants.
William: Oh shit, really?
Jeremy: I’m talking to him on the phone and saying, “You’re trying to convince me how you could make my monster, and you did do everything in Demon Knight. You know that, right?”
Brad: That’s exciting.
Jeremy: Demon Knight‘s one of my favorite fucking horror movies of all time.
Brad: Same. Ernest Dickerson. Oh my God. That’s such a good movie.
Jeremy: So, I think we’ll be okay in the monster regard. I think we’ll be okay, yeah.
William: What do you guys dig outside of what you do? What movies do you connect with? Do you have time to watch movies at this point?
Jeremy: Yeah, I have time to watch movies, but I just end up watching too much goddamn T.V. Now it’s baseball season, so then I end up watching baseball all night.
I try to watch movies all the time. I just watched Shape of Water for the first time like, two days ago, finally, and I thought it was just lovely. I connect to anything where I feel the person there.
I would rather watch a bad movie that I know that person made than a polished movie that feels like it was done by a committee. I seek that shit out. But, I still found myself like, “I haven’t watched Killing of a Sacred Deer yet.”
Christian: I haven’t watched A Ghost Story yet.
Jeremy: I haven’t watched A Ghost Story.
Christian: A Ghost Story was made for us.
Jeremy: I buy all the movies on blu-ray, and then I just put them on the shelf, and I look at them.
Christian: She eats a whole pie in a shot.
Christian: It’s made for us.
Jeremy: I know. I know. I haven’t seen it.
Christian: Well, watch it, and it’s beautiful.
Brad: Yeah, it’s a gorgeous movie. I had the craziest most antagonistic audience with that, so-
Brad: During that pie eating sequence, they were shouting at the screen. “Finish it!”
Jeremy: Oh my God, really?
Christian: Aw, that’s awful.
Jeremy: We made a movie where I eat a whole cake in a scene.
Christian: That’s true.
Jeremy: We were way ahead of the curve on that one.
I’m trying to think what I’ve fucking seen lately that really got me. I watched The Ritual. That was good.
William: Oh, that was good. I dug that.
Jeremy: Although, that was a book that I’ve had on the top of my “to read” pile for like 6 years, and then suddenly I looked and was like, “Oh shit, that book’s on Netflix!” Then I just watched it, and I’m never gonna read that book now.
William: Did you guy see anything here?
Christian: The Ranger.
Jeremy: We saw The Ranger. Yeah, that was super fun. Jenn Wexler should have made a movie a long time ago. She’s just awesome. So, I was happy to see that. But no, we keep missing everything because we end up having to talk to people in rooms.
William: Haha well, same. Well, same, sir.
Jeremy: No, if I weren’t talking to you in this room, don’t worry, I’d be smoking a cigarette outside. Have you guys seen anything lately that I should go home and watch? You seen A Quiet Place yet?
Brad: Oh, I just saw it, yeah. That was great.
Jeremy: You just saw it today?
Brad: No, I saw it on Wednesday. Right before I came down.
Jeremy: Wednesday. It opened on Wednesday, where?
Brad: Alamo Drafthouse advance screening.
William: I had tickets to that. I fucking forgot about it.
Jeremy: I was so excited about that, but then I said, “You know what, I swear to God. The day I finally get to make my monster movie, Jim from fucking The Office goes out and makes an awesome one? I’m so pissed off.”
He’s handsome. He’s tall. He has a beard. He has monsters. I’m done with it.
Brad: Yeah, yeah.
Jeremy: So, just so you know, it’s probably not gonna be as sharp and millions and millions of dollars looking as that.
Christian: Speak for yourself.
Jeremy: We’ll have way more ass-eating, and that’s what happens when you don’t have a studio.
Christian: Oh my God.
Brad: Well, you know, I guarantee you that your version of a monster movie’s going to be different than Jim from The Office‘s.
Jeremy: Yeah, I think so. I just, tell me this. Spoiler alert.
Jeremy: Does anybody eat anybody’s ass in that movie?
Brad: No ass-eating.
Jeremy: You know why? Cause you can’t be quiet when you’re eating an ass.
Christian: This is the whole trip. The whole trip.
Jeremy: I know. I’m sorry I put so much ass-eating in here. Or not enough. I don’t know.
William: Is there anything else you’d like to get into?
Jeremy: Well, there’s like, so many things I want to talk about, but then you’re like, “Oh wait, that’s not locked down yet, and that’s not real, and we haven’t really figured out if that’s happening.”
Christian: I think MastersFX could come and be like, “Hey guys, we couldn’t figure it out. We quit.” You know, it’s weird.
Jeremy: I don’t think Kevin Bacon is a lock yet.
Christian: Oh stop.
William: That was almost believable.
Jeremy: I know. It was like an actor that could have been. I was gonna say a huge name, but then I was like, “Nah, let’s get somebody that might be possible.”
William: Well, he’s fine with nudity. So, I think that’s gonna work out.
Jeremy: Yeah, he’s all about the cock though. He’s not so much about the asshole.
Brad: That’s true. That is true.
William: There’s gonna be some light editing for this conversation.
Jeremy: Just a little bit. I wanted to put enough ass-eating to where even if you cut most of it out, you still couldn’t quite get it out.
Brad: Can’t get rid of all of it.
Jeremy: You can’t. You can’t get all the ass-eating out.
Christian: You have to keep enough to make it make sense because otherwise it just looks strange.
Jeremy: You can’t cut all the ass-eating out, or it’s just gonna be non-sequiturs.
Christian: Right. You don’t want a non-sequitur ass-eating section.
Jeremy: No one wants an article without any ass-eating.
NB: I edited out less than I thought and probably more than you would think.