Recently I had a chance to bend the ear of writer/director Mitch Cohen, creator of the zombie-centric short film Super Zero, available to watch in it’s entirety online. Check out the fun facts that Mitch shared with me below, and be sure to watch Super Zero a couple hundred times, then help spread the word about it ! Enjoy the interview!
THEGORESCORE.COM: Please give us the best pseudo-online-dating-site introduction/ overview of yourself.
MITCH: My name is Mitch and I love films, history and science. I enjoy long walks aimlessly wandering the streets at night and drinking rye more than bourbon. I live by a code and on principle, I refuse to read or follow any type of printed directions. Also the biggest award I ever won was for perfect attendance my second semester of my junior year of high school.
THEGORESCORE.COM: What exciting projects are you currently working on?
MITCH: Right now the main focus is building on what we’ve done with the short and developing an on-going series for Super Zero. There’s a ton more story to tell and we’ve spent a lot of time building this world out and expanding the universe to go in some really interesting and unexpected directions. Other than that I’ve been writing a feature script for this Horror/Sci-Fi/Action idea I’ve been kicking around for a while. The story is set in a not too distant future when mankind finally figures out long-distant space travel and that ability is quickly financed and exploited by corporate interests and becomes an industry. That of course leads to some bad stuff.
THEGORESCORE.COM: What was it that first got you interested in film-making?
MITCH: I went to college to study business and took a video production class as an elective because I thought it would be fun; this class was super basic stuff about cameras, lighting, and editing, and most of the course didn’t even involve actually shooting footage. But, our last assignment was to do a short narrative piece that you wrote and produced yourself. From a technical standpoint mine ended up being a total piece of crap; shots were out of focus, the sound quality sucked, it was all overexposed, I mean it was really bad. But in spite of all that, when it screened in class, people kind of liked it because it was so different than the other videos. Most of the other videos were simple “slice of life” vignettes, [but] mine was about two drunken hunters that go out into the woods. One ends up accidentally killing the other, panics, buries the body in a shallow grave to cover it up, then goes back to the truck and realizes he buried his buddy with the keys to the car. [It] was totally out of left field, and shockingly violent for what this class was, but the other students thought it was funny and that it told an actual complete story. Getting a positive response like that 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.
MITCH: They were both challenging in their own ways. I spent a really long time getting the script to where it ended up; its one thing to have a novel idea, but turning that into an actual comprehensible story that people are interested in following took a lot of refinement. It finally came together into something I felt was worth shooting. Then to film it, we had to translate that vision to reality. On top of that, with a very tight budget, the production value we wanted to inject into this film for that money was a constant juggle. It was one thing to just get it done, but another to get it done the way we wanted. Finding a ton of really talented, enthusiastic people to contribute to the film was the only way it came to fruition.
THEGORESCORE.COM: Here it is, the $100 question: why are zombies so damn popular?
MITCH: Zombies seem to really resonate with people at the moment and I think it’s because of a couple reasons. First, since the “creatures” are former people, you can still kind of decide who they were 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 is the versatility of the genre; most people have seen zombies so many times, [so] in a general sense they already know how the “device” works. Therefore when telling a story, you don’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. Zombies are not necessarily a villain or the bad guy, they are are to become 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.
THEGORESCORE.COM: If you could create a tale about any object or character, fictional or real-life, and not have to worry about pesky things like copyright infringement, the truth, cold hard facts, or pretty much anything else that might get you sued, who/what would you use, and why?
MITCH: Oh man, I think about this stuff all the time, it’s great to daydream about how to take a character or an actual person and tell their story in a really unique way that feels accessible and cool . A few I have thought about: P.T. Barnum, Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon, Joan of Arc. Also – this is going to sound utterly absurd – I actually came up with an angle that I think would be pretty awesome to make a film based on the kid’s game Hungry, Hungry Hippos. I’m serious.
THEGORESCORE.COM: Looking back on your film-making career to-date, what is the one thing you wish someone would have told you when you first began?
MITCH: If you’re a director making a film and you’re the most talented and experienced guy on the set, you did something wrong. A film needs to be better than you’re capable of doing with your knowledge and you can only accomplish that by surround yourself with people who excel at their specific craft and can guide you to success.
THEGORESCORE.COM: Do you have an all-time favorite movie? Novel? Music album or band? What makes them so special to you?
MITCH: I think what makes a favorite film or movie great is that you can re-visit it and either discover something new about it, you didn’t know before, or it speaks to you differently every time, because of the parallels you draw in your life or how your view of the world changes. Some of my favorite films: Fargo, Quiz Show, Children of Men, City of God, Almost Famous, and Fail Safe. Music-wise: The Beatles’ “Rubber Soul,” John Coltrane’s “Blue Train,” Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” Bob Dylan’s “Time out of Mind,” and The Beastie Boys’ “Ill Communication.”
THEGORESCORE.COM: Do you attend conventions or film screenings/ appearances? Do you think these events hold value for creators to participate in, and why or why not?
MITCH: I used to do that a lot; it’s a great rite of passage and they’re always a ton of fun and can really feel like an accomplishment. Watching your film with a live audience can be incredibly electrifying. So in one way, it’s something that keeps you excited and kind of makes the dream come true. I would suggest anyone who is in a position to screen their film to take advantage of it. However – especially with all the avenues that are available now – using festivals to get your film attention, I don’t think is always the best strategy. There is no real logic to any of it that I understand, and it’s so subjective and arbitrary who gets picked and celebrated. Plus for many of the bigger festivals, there are tons of politics going on. Super Zero is the first film I ever made that I didn’t go the festival route, and that was our strategy. Literally we finished it the day before San Diego Comic-Con and uploaded it to YouTube instantly; then we just tried to get everyone and their brother to watch it! I can get immediate feedback from anyone who sees it around the world, simply by them leaving a comment. Now that can also be a huge risk; by uploading your film to the masses, it can get publicly thrashed minutes after you finish it. It could [be] crippling to your ego and confidence.
THEGORESCORE.COM: What do you think is one of the biggest mistakes that creators might make when they are first starting out?
MITCH: It can be really easy for your project to lose it’s direction because of one specific shot you want to do, or one story beat you think is really fresh. You champion some “big idea” you get and before you know it, you’ve altered the original vision. There’s nothing more inspiring than getting excited about a moment in your film, but if you think the film is not worth making without that moment, well then, your film is not worth making.
THEGORESCORE.COM: Is there anything else you’d like to share that we haven’t already discussed?
MITCH: You don’t have to have a plan for why you want to make content; it could be for fun, for income, or because you have stories you just feel compelled to tell. But at a certain level of execution, unlike drawing a picture or playing music, you can’t just give it a shot and if you don’t like what you’re making then simply start over. There is such a huge commitment of time, money, and energy that once you get going, you can’t stop. It takes an incredible amount of personal strength to follow through, and most of the time, you’re flying blind. But at the same time, overthinking things can be completely debilitating, and then you’ll never actually make anything. There are so many people involved in making a film and so many facets to tell the story, it can go wrong at any second, but if you really believe in what you’re trying to create and keep the fear of failure in check, then you could have a truly amazing experience and a sense of accomplishment like nothing else can give you.
Because we are big fans of interactivity here on the site, we gave Mitch the opportunity to “flip the switch” and interview TheGOREScore.com creator Tony Schaab with a few questions of Mitch’s choosing:
MITCH: From the perspective of someone who celebrates horror by writing a book about it, why do you think Zombies are so popular?
TONY: Zombies are the ultimate “unstoppable force” – they don’t care about you, they don’t rest and won’t stop until they’ve gotten to you, they are insanely hard to permanently halt, and all they want to do is cause you harm by eating you alive. Honestly, what could be scarier than that?
MITCH: Fast Zombies or Slow Zombies?
TONY: I know that a lot of fans get up in arms about this argument, but to be quite honest with you, it doesn’t matter to me. Just like there are different types of vampires, werewolves, and a host of other monsters, it is perfectly acceptable to have variations on the characteristics of the undead. I think lots of people like to hold on to traditions, and as a result, the slow zombies get a lot of love from a nostalgic viewpoint. But as they say, “variety is the spice of life,” and I think that phrase should apply to death and zombies as well; fast, slow, intelligent, dumb, all types of zombies are still zombies, and should be enjoyed as such!
MITCH: How do you feel about the state of the genre at the moment?
TONY: I’m thrilled that zombies are still so popular! While things may not be at the “frenzy” that they once were in terms of the public eye, and even though the market has been saturated recently with a lot of “lower-quality” zombie media, the solid, popular pieces of zombie media are still plentiful: the award-winning and wildly-popular “The Walking Dead” is not only going strong on television but the original comic book series is still putting out new issues every month as well; Max Brooks’ groundbreaking “World War Z” novel was recently well-received as a major motion picture “summer blockbuster;” and the “Father of Zombies” himself, George Romero, is still producing new zombie movies. I’d challenge anyone to try and say that we are not still enjoying the high times of our “Zombie Renaissance.”
MITCH: What’s the main satisfaction you get from expressing your creativity?
TONY: For me, it’s a two-way tie. On one hand, I love helping people – whether it’s helping a reader of my books or the site find their way to a new book, film, or game that they wouldn’t have known about otherwise, or whether it’s helping an author, filmmaker, or other creator get their creation linked to a wider audience, it’s all about assisting people to make new connections. On another hand, I’m a perfectionist in many ways, so when I start to write something, whether it’s a review or a work of fiction, the satisfaction of seeing a creation to it’s complete conclusion is immensely gratifying to me. Now if only I could must the same passion for cleaning around the house…
All images in this article were provided courtesy of Mitch Cohen, except for “Hungry, Hungry Hippos” via BoardGameGeek.com