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Jeremy Gardner and Christian Stella Interview on After Midnight [Exclusive]

Jeremy Gardner in After Midnight
Jeremy Gardner in After Midnight (Courtesy of Cranked Up Films)

Bad things always happen after midnight.

The creature feature After Midnight stars Gardner, Brea Grant, Henry Zebrowski, Justin Benson, Ashley Song, and Nicola Masciotra.

Here’s the short synopsis of the film:

Dealing with a girlfriend suddenly leaving is tough enough. But for Hank (Gardner), heartbreak couldn’t have come at a worse time. There’s also a monster trying to break through his front door every night.

LRM Online spoke on the phone with co-directors Gardner and Stella about the production of After Midnight, including the hybrid plot of a breakup in a monster film, the backwoods of Florida, and creating the monster with the help of Todd Masters of Masters FX.

After Midnight releases at select theaters nationwide and On Demand starting this Friday, February 14.

For more information on After Midnight, visit its official web site here.

Read the exclusive interview below.

LRM Online: Hey, congratulations gentlemen with After Midnight. I’ll start with the obligatory question. Where did the idea come from for After Midnight?

Jeremy Gardner: Well, I was in a very long relationship that was on the out. I started thinking about how one person in a relationship might end up giving up more of who they are to maintain this status quo of this lifestyle. That ends up driving a wedge in the relationship even more. It all came down to about sacrifice and relationships.

Then I had this vision of a couch in front of a door. To my wondering, why is that couch in front of that door? Why is there a gun on the ground? Then I started marrying these two ideas of something trying to get into a house and with this relationship between the couple. I’m a very slow writer, so the story wove its way together over time.

LRM Online: Basically, you intersected two different movies into one?

Jeremy Gardner:
Yeah, that’s typically what I’ll do. There’ll be a theme that I’ve settled on like friendship. In The Battery, it started with that you’re stuck with somebody that you don’t necessarily like that much, but you rely on them. Then I put that into a zombie narrative.

For this film, After Midnight was about a slowly wilting relationship because of the sacrifice. I had this monster idea, in which I wanted to make a monster movie. Therefore, I started weaving them together.

LRM Online: How did you guys want to approach the production? Where do you start on something like this?

Christian Stella: He finished the script like seven, eight years ago. For years and years, we were trying to get this produced. At one point, we got so tired of waiting around that we just went into the woods and shot an improv movie in like five days. We had to shoot something. There’s a lot of directors and writers out there that will keep pumping out scripts until something gets produced. For us, we’re like the exact opposite.

This script is so good–we had to make this one. There were a good eight years there before producers Dave Lawson, Justin Benson and Aaron Morehead swooped to help this project. They got us the budget can do this thing.

LRM Online: Where is this location of the woods that you guys filmed at, initially?

Jeremy Gardner: That’s up at Leesburg, Florida. It’s a central Florida town. We found this house because it was in the very final scene of a movie called Away We Go with John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph some years ago. Our buddy worked as security on that set, and he stayed there at night to make sure no one broke in. It was terrifying because there’s no electricity in this house. The house is 120 years old.

When we looked for a location, he reminded us, “Hey, you guys can go check out that creepy house I’ve stayed for my job.” The owners let us have free reign with this beautiful big old house. There were bugs and moss everywhere. There was so much work to make it look like it was a livable house.

As far as location, I wanted to make sure that we put Florida on screen in the way that I grew up in it. Everybody sees Florida as beaches and oceans. I grew up in the woods of Florida, and it’s a whole different vibe. It’s very swampy, mossy, and a little creepy. We wanted to make sure that we put that in the movie.

House in After Midnight
The old house in After Midnight (Courtesy of Cranked Up Films)

LRM Online: How about the production design inside the house? Were the couch and doors yours?

Jeremy Gardner: The doors were from the house from the 1890s. The owners told us that we could put holes in and scratch them up. As for the couch, we had to furnish that whole house. It was like a house-flipping show. For an entire week, we were furnishing that place.

Christian Stella: We hung out and bought things out of the whole thrift stores.

LRM Online: One of the most exciting things that you guys did was the monster itself. Could you talk about the development of the creature?

Jeremy Gardner: Originally, I intended the monster to be much smaller. As envisioned, I imagined as a baboon that was strong but small. The creature jumps on Hank’s back, and there’ll be a fight it. Then we realized that we weren’t going to be able to put a child in a costume and throw it into a wall. So we had to scale him up with a guy in a suit.

Then we got with Todd Masters of Masters FX came on board. He liked the script and started taking these ideas we jotted down. The idea evolved into incorporating more elements with the Florida foliage, moss, and the swampiness. Those elements added to this design until we all settled on it.

They came down and brought this big, amazing practical monster suit and covered it with more moss and leaves.

Christian Stella: Then this guy into the suit in a hundred degree Florida heat, which was just insane.

LRM Online: Wow.

Christian Stella: We constantly had to take his head off.

LRM Online: In the world of CGI, why did you guys go with a practical costume?

Jeremy Gardner: First off, we never wanted to go full CGI on this. Secondly, it’s the practicality of physically grabbing and fighting. With a CGI monster, that fight sounds dumb. I don’t want to do that. The idea seems better with rolling around on the ground with a real monster. That would be cool.

Christian Stella: We lucked out with Todd Masters. The other day, I saw that Todd Masters created Chucky in the Child’s Play. I said, “Oh, my God!” I knew all his before we made the movie. He’s still pumping out excellent practical effects.

Jeremy Gardner: He did Demon Night, which is one of my favorite movies ever made.

LRM Online: I amazed. Although, I thought there was a bit of animatronics with the facial expressions on the monster itself. That was impressive.

Christian Stella: There’s very light computer manipulation going on. I wouldn’t even call it CGI. But, it’s just to make the eyes and the jaw like move a little bit more than it did.

After Midnight
Brea Grant and Jeremy Gardner in After Midnight (Courtesy of Cranked Up Films)

LRM Online: In the process of filming, you didn’t film in chronological order since there are all those flashback scenes. Could you explain the stages of filming involved?

Jeremy Gardner: We shot the whole movie with the present tense first. Then I shaved my beard, and we shot all the flashbacks with Abby. It was nice because we did it at the end of pro. By then, Brea and I had become much closer friends. All of the lovey-dovey stuff became much more believable and easier to shoot. Also, I had shaved my beard, so I looked like a can of spam. [Laughs]

LRM Online: Which look do you have right now? The clean-shaven or the bearded one?

Christian Stella: Oh, no. I’m back to the beard. It’s big and bushy as always.

LRM Online: The one scene I do love is the karaoke scene with the Natalie Imbruglia song. Tell me how you came up with that scene. I was practically singing along with it.

Jeremy Gardner: Well, actually, it’s the Lisa Loeb song.

LRM Online: That’s the singer. My mistake.

Jeremy Gardner: That would’ve cool too. I wanted to have this mixed tape from 10 years ago, and no one knows what’s on the mixed tape [except for him]. To prove his worth to her, he was there to sing that song.

Originally in the script, it was Bryan Adams, the song “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” from Robin hood: Prince of Thieves. But, that would have cost our whole budget to get that song. We wanted to make sure it was a song that everybody knew. That was the big thing, because if he sings the song and no one never heard it–it doesn’t have as much of a nostalgic impact. When we listened to that song, and it was available, everybody knew the words to it. It was perfect.

LRM Online: Before I forget, did you guys ever gave a name to the creature or any background?

Jeremy Gardner: No. I like things that happened [with no explanation]. Before we could get this movie made, an executive asked me to write a monster background. I hated every second of it by giving it a name and mythology. It was ruining it all.

I’m kind of against the old guy who says, “Oh, y’all talking about the old rat comes out of the ground?” I don’t need that.

Christian Stella: With Bigfoot, he doesn’t have a mythology. Bigfoot is this guy who lives in the woods.

Jeremy Gardner: Tell that to the Native Americans, Christian. [Laughs].

Christian Stella: I guess it’s based upon things and based upon other things.

LRM Online: Where’s this costume now? One of the studios kept it, or do you guys have it?

Jeremy Gardner: I kept the arm that comes through the door. The arm is on my wall. For the suit itself, that’s a costly suit. The costume repurposed into a werewolf. They added fur to it and turned it into a werewolf somewhere.

LRM Online: [Laughs] That’s too bad.

Christian Stella: The only thing they won’t reuse will be the head. The head is probably on one of their shelves somewhere instead of on my shelf. It makes me sad.

LRM Online: One final question, what happened to the cat?

Jeremy Gardner: Too the cat in the movie or real life?

LRM Online: Maybe both.

Jeremy Gardner: In the movie, the cat gets eaten.

LRM Online: That’s right.

Jeremy Gardner: In real life, I ate the cat. [Laughs] No, in real life, the adoption center brought us two beautiful kittens. To help them get adopted, they can say that the kittens were in a movie. I think they got adopted.

Christian Stella: Somebody out there has those cats. That’s cool when you think about it.

LRM Online: That is cool. Well, gentlemen, thank you for speaking with us. I do believe After Midnight will be a cult favorite out there.

After Midnight releases at the Arena Cinelounge in Hollywood, Calif. and On Demand starting this Friday, February 14.

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Source: LRM Online Exclusive


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