He’s probably served you a beer at Grove Roots Brewing sometime in the past year, but don’t let his laidback vibe fool you.
This past April, the indie filmmaker premiered his latest film, Something Else at the Tribeca Film Festival. In July he was invited to the The Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival in Switzerland. NIFFF is a Swiss film festival renowned internationally as one of the foremost film festivals in the world for genre cinema. He will be attending two more festivals around the world by the end of this year, and has had to say no to several more. He’s kind of a big deal...
Gardner was born and raised in Kissimmee. That’s where he met his best friend, Christian Stella and together they’ve been making movies since high school, “with just whatever we could,” Gardner said with a smile.
When Gardner was 23, he moved to Connecticut with Stella and his family because Stella’s dad had a new show on the Food Network. With the close proximity to NYC, Gardner used this opportunity to audition and focus more on his acting. His friend Stella slowly became a very good photographer, shooting all of the photos for his dad’s cookbooks.
Not loving the emotional drain of the audition process, he realized he did love everything that went on behind the scenes. He thought, why not do it himself? Gardner explained, “So I wrote a script about two people on the road during an apocalypse.” It’s called The Battery. “I convinced my buddy Christian to help shoot it. He was already taking photos, so I asked him, can you use that camera to shoot a movie?” Needing funds, he made a plan. At the time, he was working at a bar and asked ten of his coworkers for $600 in exchange for a 5% stake in their movie. “We went with six grand and five people out into the woods. It was a surreal trip because we didn’t know a soul in the industry,” he laughed. They made a few rookie decisions and ended up signing with the first distributor that took their digital and world-wide rights. “But we didn’t know it was a bad thing at the time.”
When writing the screenplay for The Battery, Jeremy explained that since they didn’t know anybody in the business, they didn’t care about how others did it. “So The Battery is more of a tone poem. It’s like an elegiac, flowing, long moments without dialogue, big wide shots to just kind of show nature creeping back in after humanity. And what happens when two people are forced to live together, when they really don’t like each other that much but they have to rely on each other. And it’s a zombie movie.”
The Battery premiered at the Telluride Horror Festival in 2012. After that, they didn’t get into another festival for another 4 or 5 months. Gardner said, “We figured we tried, we did our best. And then we got into the Imagine Film Festival in Amsterdam. Because we got into that festival, it’s part of a network of genre festivals around the world, we started being asked by other festivals.” Before they knew it, they were getting letters from festivals all over the world saying they would waive the submission fee. “After awhile, we were invited to go without even submitting anything,” he explained.
Having never been to a festival before, they stayed at Imagine for the entire week. “We hobnobbed with everybody and then at the end of the week we had won the audience award. It made me realize that it’s all politics. If I hadn’t stayed for 6 days and shook hands and talked to everyone, we wouldn’t have won. There’s no way we would’ve beaten filmmakers like Danny Boyle or Wong Kar-wai,” Gardner said.
A week later they went to Scotland for the Dead by Dawn horror film festival, did the same thing and won the audience award again. It snowballed. Gardner said, “We ended up getting a DVD distribution deal in the states, got our world-wide rights back, and sold them through an international agency.” The Battery was being sold all over the country.
Jeremy started writing his next movie and it took awhile to finish. “I had been in this very long term relationship in Connecticut.” He continued, “I started writing this script about what it’s like to be in a long term relationship and what happens when one person sacrifices a part of who they are for the other person. It all started with this image of a couch in front of a door. I write so slow because I don’t start with a plot, I start with an inspiration that grabs me. I took that image and the idea of long term commitment and turned it into a monster movie with romance.”
The world premier of Something Else was at the Tribeca Film Festival this past April. “It was incredible and surreal. And now I’m back at the bar. It’s a weird, humbling up and down with this business.”
Something Else would end up costing quite a bit more money to make than The Battery.
Coincidentally, at the first festival in Amsterdam, they met Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead while touring with a movie called The Resolution. Gardner said, “They had made it for $20,000 and they seemed to have their shit together. We saw them again at a film festival in Brazil and became very close with them.” Over the next few years, Gardner was an actor in several of their movies that he has never auditioned for. He laughed because of going through all the auditions earlier and getting nothing, he was now getting parts avoiding the audition process all together.
Benson and Moorhead read the script for Something Else and loved it. They couldn’t make it though, because it was clearly Gardner’s passion. Benson and Moorhead had decided to form their own production company and they wanted Something Else to be the first movie under their new banner. They got the money and fought for Gardner and Stella to have final cut rights. “They know how weird we are and if the investors could veto an idea, it wouldn’t be our movie anymore. And the only thing that makes a movie about a guy and a monster and his romance-sadness interesting, is if there’s an ethereal voice behind it,” Gardner said.
With investors to consider, it changes things. It makes you question everything. “It’s hard to make character driven ‘think pieces’ even if they have monsters or zombies. Once your start to get up in the budget range, then it’s scarier to make,” he said. “When it’s a $6000 movie, who cares if it’s really a think piece.” He laughed.
Something Else has been sold, but details haven’t been released. During those few months after Tribeca, requests for film festivals starting coming in. Now they are better prepared with a spreadsheet of all the festivals, contacts, places they’ve been, places they want to go to, etc. With more cooks in the kitchen this time, there are more people advising them on which festivals to go to, which ones to avoid. It was Justin and Aaron that suggested they go to NIFFF. “It’s been going for a long time and has a very good reputation. It’s one of the most amazing film festivals as you look out across this glacial lake at the Alps with other filmmakers and having breakfast, lunch and dinner served to you everyday,” Gardner said. “I created a piece of artwork that the regulars and so many nice people bought, giving me just enough money to go over there so I didn’t have to worry about missing bills, which was pretty humbling and crazy. And it really filled me with a lot of anxiety to come back behind the bar again serving after standing on a stage hamming it up and being the center of attention.”
Gardner and Stella have festivals coming up in September and October. He was bummed to talk about turning down trips to Vienna and Portugal simply because they can’t afford to be out of work for that long. Gardner thoughtfully said, “How much of my heart do I take out of writing and put more of my head in and try to craft something that will have a far wider audience just so I can take advantage of the contacts I’ve made and lessons I’ve learned? Do I be stubborn and make these small, personal movies while working a day job or take a crack at writing something that’s a little more mainstream? How do I craft something of quality that has a broad appeal? It’s like a puzzle.” We sat, he took a drink of his Cheerwine and said, “But you know, I’m a bartender, I work at the brewery. Joe and everyone here has been extremely supportive since I’ve started. Joe will support people following their dreams. That’s why I was gone for six months last year, while shooting the movie. That’s why they named a beer after me called, Where’s Jeremy because everyone kept asking where I was.”
Something Else will be released first quarter of 2020 on demand and in select cities, Orlando being one of them.
“And now I put my head down and start writing again,” Gardner said.