If you haven’t seen Super Zero, you’re really missing out. This 15-minute zombie film is going to be THE next big thing in the zombie genre. The movie takes an introverted geek, Josh Hershberg, and drops him into the middle of a major zombie apocalypse. Josh has an incurable cancer and he thinks he has nothing left to offer the world. But the end of the world proves him wrong.
In fact, if you haven’t seen the movie, watch it right now – before you read the interview. The writer, Mitch Cohen, and his team took a shockingly small budget and made something amazing.
Now that you’ve watched the movie (and we’re serious — WATCH IT if you skipped over the video to read the interview), you’re ready for the interview. We talked to Mitch Cohen, the writer and director, about how this movie was made and his future plans for the film.
What inspired this movie?
… I’m obsessive about Sci-Fi, Apocalyptic films, Zombies and other horror movies. But also as a storyteller I like to explore humanistic, character driven stuff that I personally can relate to in a way that feels authentic to my life. And I don’t really find films that truly integrate both “high concept” and “character driven” in a way that feels balanced. … So I found a way to fuse the two together and tell a story that in one facet fit all the hallmarks of a traditional Zombie film, but injected into it the overarching story of a relatable guy who is trying to find meaning to his life.
The main character, Josh, is really well written. It looks like you spent a lot of time developing his background.
Defining the main character Josh was the key to making this work. It took some real finessing to capture what I wanted him to be. I wanted to make him feel real and interesting, but also have him fit within an easily identifiable character archetype. The key was to take expectations and use them to make things more dynamic instead of trying to invent some character and have to over-explain him.
Was “29 days later” a take from the movie “28 days later”? Are there other Easter eggs hidden in the film for zombie fanatics?
Yes, the 29 days later thing was a fun moment that the editor Dan Myers and I came up with in post as we were cutting the film. I wanted to seed in little stylistic homages and Easter eggs into the film and I think for a short film there are quite a bit. They are fun to do, but it could never be at the expense of the style we established for the film. I’ve seen a few of them called out in comments, most notably the flux capacitor reference. But there are some that I think are the best ones, which nobody has called out yet.
This movie is really high quality! What type of budget did you have?
I didn’t think the film would work on the level I wanted it to creatively unless the production value was rock solid. I was concerned that unless it looked really polished and aspirational, the movie might come across as spoof or slapstick. The budget we shot with was shockingly small for what we did and the Producers (Devon Byers, Alex Moran and Bryan Hwang) did an amazing job making every dollar count. And our cinematographer, Connor O’Brien was the mastermind for not sacrificing visuals for budget. He has an amazing talent for taking big ideas and not only making them work with what we had at our disposal, but taking them to the next level and making them better.
Where did you find such great actors?
The actors who played the four leads (Umberto Celisano, Giselle Gilbert, Al Bernstein and Tyler White) came to the film through an extremely exhaustive casting process. On paper these characters can appear to be derivative and one dimensional. But the characters are supposed to be real people inhabiting an almost absurd world. To bring a performance that could juggle drama, comedy, horror and action is far from an easy task. But the fab four made these characters their own and breathed life into them. Again another aspect of the film that could have made it tank creatively if their performances weren’t perfect.
Have you written scripts for movies before this one? The humor interspersed with the drama reminded me a bit of Joss Whedon. Who’s your screenwriter inspiration?
I’ve been writing both shorts and features for quite some time. It took me years before I discovered what “my voice” was as a storyteller. That combination of drama and humor is at the core of what I try to make. … Real life isn’t just drama or comedy. It changes by the second. It’s funny, sad, awkward and inspiring and those moments come and go all the time and I like trying to catch the ebb and flow of life in what I write.
…In a contemporary sense I get some inspiration from Joss Whedon as well as the Coen Brothers, P.T. Anderson and Edgar Wright. But I’m a total cinephile and I think my voice is informed from guys like Billy Wilder, Sam Fuller and even Chaplin.
What was the biggest challenge making the short film?
The hardest thing about making the film was the sheer scope of everything. … Each department, each creative decision, each logistical element had to be refined and set on their own and then you have to make sure all of those individual pieces work harmoniously and efficiently when the cameras roll. So many details to track and be responsible for it could get really overwhelming really fast, but that’s making a film. Bringing the right team of collaborators to the table is the key if you sink or swim.
Do you know what the plot of a feature-length Super Zero film will be?
I’m fleshing out the long form version of Super Zero. I have the overarching narrative worked out and am developing it further into script form. There are a lot of ideas I want to bring to life within this world, so … we are actually in the process of determining if the future incarnation of this project makes more sense as a feature film or an episodic series. But in the very near future there will be more adventures for Josh and the team.
What’s next in your plan for this film?
The short was only released about 8 weeks ago and it’s still finding its audience and is still tracking quite well. I think it’s going to continue to grow and get additional viewership. So I am still actively promoting the short and trying to get more people to see it. Concurrently we are trying to find the right partner to get involved to help take it to the next level.
If other people like the film, what can they do to help?
The key to being successful in that sense is building momentum. So if people like the short and want to support us, sharing it with your friends and across your social channels will really do a lot to spread the word.