Three days ago, my day changed completely when I saw this tweet.
— Christian Stella (@ChristianStella) June 4, 2013
Of course, anyone claiming to make it to #4 on iTunes with a big shoutout to planet5D gets my attention!
I soon was swapping DMs with Christian and he sent me a link to the movie. I was busy trying to crank out some emails and blog posts, but decided I'd watch the first few minutes and then get back to the other things – saving the movie to watch later… within the first 2 minutes I couldn't stop watching – the opening scene is 2:20 long and is uncut (all one take)… it grabbed my total attention. It was obviously different, and it wasn't screaming “zombie movie” with gobs of blood and lunacy of dead people chasing the living. It was slow, deliberate and honest. I like those kinds of movies.
Within about 15 minutes, more DMs were going back and forth as I just had to know more about this amazing movie — and I HATE Zombie movies! We agreed that I'd shoot him some questions about the movie and he'd get the team to put out some answers.
As I watched, the movie (which of course did take me out of the ‘moment' at times), I was thinking about this being an indie movie made on a budget of only $6000 and I had to keep writing questions for the team. The more I watched, the more I was intrigued and the more I wanted to know.
Mid way thru, nothing had changed, I had to see how things ended, but at the same time, there were a couple of scenes that were just downright painful to watch. Not because of blood or gore, but because of the intensity of the portrayals of the characters and what they were going thru.
I won't give things away, but one of the final scenes is a whopping 10 minutes – uncut – all one take! And it is intense and nerve wracking and totally absorbing. I can't imagine too many Hollywood blockbusters that could pull off such a stunt. They would consider it too risky to attempt and many audiences wouldn't put up with the pace getting bored with the single camera angle because they're used to camera movement every 2 seconds or less, but the indie filmmaker can do it and this team totally made it happen. Of course, shooting on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, they couldn't make it much longer ha!
It isn't often that you run into gems like this, but I have to take my hat off to Christian, Adam, Jeremy, and the entire cast and crew of “The Battery” – you have made an outstanding, captivating movie and I cannot wait to see what you do next!
Make time to rent this movie on iTunes! It is a $4.99 rental, but gather your friends around for a party and watch – you'll be glad you did.
“The Battery” Trailer
April 2013: The Battery wins three European audience awards: Mauvais Genre: France, Imagine: Amsterdam, and Dead by Dawn: Scotland!
The film is about two former baseball players, Ben (Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim), cut an aimless path across a desolate New England. They stick to the back roads and forests to steer clear of the shambling corpses that patrol the once bustling cities and towns. In order to survive, they must overcome the stark differences in each other’s personalities—Ben embraces an increasingly feral, lawless, and nomadic lifestyle—while Mickey is unable to accept the harsh realities of the new world. Mickey refuses to engage in Ben’s violent games and longs for the creature comforts he once took for granted. A bed, a girl, and a safe place to live.
When the men intercept a radio transmission from a seemingly thriving, protected community, Mickey will stop at nothing to find it, even though it is made perfectly clear that he is not welcome.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
The Battery was shot on a budget of only $6,000 in the span of two weeks. For most of those two weeks, the crew consisted of only 6 people: Jeremy Gardner (director/writer/actor), Adam Cronheim (actor/producer), Christian Stella (director of photography), Nick Bohun (sound recordist), Elise Stella (production manager), and Kelly McQuade (makeup/art director).
planet5D exclusive! Questions and Answers
We have a few questions about the film so here are the answers we received from Christian Stella (Director of Photography) and others.
planet5D: The Battery was made for $6,000, what equipment did you use and how much of the budget went to equipment?
Christian: I shot on the 5D mark ii, which I already owned for my real life job of food photography, so that was a huge savings. My portion of the budget was $1200, and that had to go to equipment, plane tickets for my wife and I from Florida to Connecticut (where the director lives, and we shot), and editing software.
I rented a Zeiss 21mm lens for the shoot, as well as a Singh-Ray variable ND filter so that I could shoot with a shutter speed of 50 at all times (one of the many things I would have not done and screwed up if it weren’t for Planet5D).
Premiere Pro was a huge portion of my budget, even though I luckily only needed to purchase an upgrade license because I owned other Adobe software for my food photography. Because of this, I had only a $70 Opteka shoulder rig for support. No follow focus, steadicams, monitors, or anything that I will never film without again!
planet5D: The film has a very slow pace at times, with some incredibly long single shot scenes that break every rule in the book, especially with today's film watchers not having the attention span of a gnat… what made you decide to go with this pacing? (Honestly, it is something I love and it drew me into the film right away, so I commend you for it.)
Christian: Jeremy (the director) and I spoke about this from the start. We weren’t breaking rules just for the sake of breaking them—it serves a purpose tonally—but we knew that we were taking a huge risk by doing some of the things we did. With a movie this small, you have to take risks to get noticed. So when we did something like show nearly two minutes of the guys simply brushing their teeth, we’d say, “Half of the audience is going to absolutely hate this,” but then we’d remind ourselves that it is those exact scenes that will make the other half of the audience love the movie.
planet5D: The soundscape is really well done, what did you do for audio? Any tricks for other indies?
Christian: We hired a sound guy who had a boom recording into an external Tascam recorder. Then we rented a nice wireless lav microphone to go with that, which was hidden behind objects to pick up sound in the extremely wide shots where the boom was simply useless.
The best trick was using PluralEyes software to sync the sound to the video in post. Because of that we didn’t need to use a clapboard or timecode, etc.
I did the sound mix as well and really wish I had not. I think it took me six months and I’m very critical of it. I believe there is 550 pieces of foley and ambience in the mix, not including the score by Ryan Winford (which I also mixed).
planet5D: How did you secure such amazing songs for the movie?
Christian: A few of the bands are friends of ours, but we truly lucked out with the music. Part of the movie was written around the band Rock Plaza Central, so getting them was key. Thankfully, the lead singer Chris Eaton not only helped us get his band in the movie, he also recorded a cover of a public domain song for the opening credits. Then he got us in contact with the band The Parlor who provided two more songs. Sun Hotel, El Cantador, and Wise Blood round out the movie. We owe them all big time and hope people check out their music.
“The Battery” Continued
planet5D: How did you get on iTunes? Is it difficult?
Christian: We signed with a digital distributor weeks after we locked the final cut. They saw a rough trailer that was posted on a horror website and that was it. We were looking into doing it ourselves before that and I believe there are services that will get you onto iTunes for a one-time fee of about $1000.
The distributor allows us to get on every service on the same day, which was important to us. Digital rentals are so fragmented right now and we really wanted to make sure that people can watch the movie on their TV no matter which devices or services they own or use.
planet5D: Being #4 in the horror genre is amazing—are you making any money going this route? Would you recommend it to other indie filmmakers?
Christian: This is a funny question because we honestly still do not know what our iTunes ranking equates to in sales or rentals. We’ve been searching Google trying to figure it out! We’d LOVE to know. We won’t know how this release week has gone until next week. We have to think the sales are pretty good, as we are beating plenty of new studio movies and studios don’t work for charity. If the movie sells, we definitely make money.
I’ll simply say that our cut of each rental/sale is larger than anyone else in the distribution chain. For other filmmakers, I’d recommend getting as much as you can out there as early as you can, because when it hits it HITS. We spent hundreds of dollars entering festivals that mostly turned us down—then we got into just one festival and others started requesting the movie personally.
Planet5D: Has your team seen the advances from Magic Lantern with RAW video? Would you use it to shoot another feature or are you satisfied with what the HDSLRs give today? Would the RAW video give too much detail?
Christian: I could write 5 pages of text on this one… I am definitely following every detail of the Magic Lantern RAW hack. As well as just the new camera options that are coming onto the (almost affordable) market. I have a 5D mark iii now, but obviously it still leaves a heck of a lot to be desired in the sharpness and dynamic range departments.
With The Battery being my first cinematography job, obviously I could have done a whole lot better with lighting, but I did everything possible to maximize the clarity (using a Zeiss lens and the best reviewed ND filter). I obsessively download the videos of the hack off of Vimeo and I pixel peep the heck out of them. To my eye, it’s astounding, and I’m blown away by the fact that I already own the camera.
The Blackmagic Cinema Camera seemed so great, but the form factor, sensor size, and essential things missing in the firmware have really soured me on it. Up until the hack, I was pretty sure I would rent a C300 for the next film (if and when that happens), because it seems to be a pretty balanced camera, but now I’m really hoping and wishing for this hack to fully work out. I’m not looking forward to the stacks of hard drives I will need to store and backup the footage, but it will surely be cheaper than even taking a glance at an Alexa.
I’ve seen lots of glitches in the sample videos of Magic Lantern RAW that people are posting, so I am weary, but hopeful.
Mostly, I’m waiting for that 60 second or so shooting limit to be worked around. I mean, we ARE the guys who have a 9 minute continuous shot in our movie.
We hope to launch a podcast in the near future and will definitely have someone from “The Battery” on!
Thanks to the team for saying so many nice things about planet5D – we love everyone who reads planet5D!
(cover photo credit: images from “the Battery”)