Filmmaker Interview by Chris Olson
UK Film Review recently reviewed filmmaker Zach Zeman's indie feature film Hunters' Crossing. I was lucky enough to catch up with him to discuss his film, filmmaking in general, and how watching as many bad movies as you can is the perfect way to prepare yourself for making films.
How would you describe your indie film, Hunters' Crossing, to a new audience?
Hunters’ Crossing is a love story between two soulmates—or brothers—and their journey to take down a rival hunter. I like to describe it as an aggressively realistic comedy mockumentary about hunting that sets out to defy film and genre tropes.
Why did you want to make this film and tell this story?
I had this very strange idea for making this movie all the way back in 2012. I shot a short with my cousin and we played the main characters, but it was just absolutely terrible. I consider that to be an exercise in how to tell this story because by the time I expanded Hank (the main character of Hunters’ Crossing) and Trevor (secondary protagonist) and gave them life, things made a bit more sense narrative-wise.
I am from Georgia, born and raised, and I’ve grown up around a lot of the culture that’s seen in Hunters’ Crossing. I don’t share the same opinions as these characters, however, I find a sort of beauty in their lifestyle and its simplicity. There’s a certain tenderness towards these characters despite my political views. They’re good people at heart, just often misguided by the political bandwagon. This film is sort of a simultaneous mockery and celebration of North Georgia culture, because I love it, but probably not for the same reasons as most people would.
Did you have any particular influences in mind when approaching Hunters' Crossing?
I would definitely say there was some strong influence from Christopher Guest’s film Best in Show. It’s always been my favorite of his and it sparked the original idea of trying out the mockumentary genre. When it came to the humor and style, however, it’s Monty Python. I have always enjoyed watching those guys interact with each other on camera and occasionally get into debates about the logistics of the situation.
When it comes to the long pauses and awkwardness of it all, I’d like to pay tribute to Wes Anderson and how he can take a scene that has a huge build up or should have a more dramatic consequence and just plays it straight-faced and plain. Particularly the scene in The Grand Budapest Hotel where Ralph Fiennes is confronted by Edward Norton on suspicion of murder and a chase ensues—but the camera stays in one place.
What was the budget? What were the hardest aspects of getting the film made and why?
The budget was a very small $500. This was largely due to the fact that there were a plethora of resources already available. I’ve stockpiled props and costumes over the past six or so years so there was enough to choose from there and we already had the camera and locations, it was just a matter of feeding the cast and crew and transporting everyone to the shooting location.
As far as difficult aspects of the production, I’d have to say a lot of it was scheduling. We all had jobs and some of us were going to be out of town for large spans of time, so managing to find a few days a week where everyone’s schedule would line up ended up really helping our situation. Although we had to use a Fake Shemp a few days, particularly in scenes with Clive, as Ryan’s schedule was the most booked and he rarely had free time to film.
If there was a particular scene that was difficult to shoot, I would say it was when the characters attempt to hang Clive. (Spoilers!) We had it written in the script that Willis and Samantha were going to actually hang Clive and revel in the glory and madness of it all, just kind of going over the edge of sanity—kind of an homage to the end of Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight—but we had so much damn trouble getting a rope over a tree branch, which made us wonder: “How the hell did Goggins’ and Jackson’s characters at the end of The Hateful Eight get a rope over a beam in a twelve foot high rafter when they were both bedridden with mortal wounds?” We took the preposterous nature of that scene and just made it far more realistic in an anticlimactic way like a lot of the other scenes in the film. It really fit in with the story well. I never thought it would cut together though because it was the first scene we filmed and no one had really gotten into their characters yet.
As a filmmaker in 2017, what advice would you give to others looking to start their own path?
The best thing I found to improve as a filmmaker was to watch as many bad movies as possible. I mean bottom-of-the-barrel bad. You’ve got to go out of your way to find some independent movies that are just terrible. The best ones I’ve found are from the 80s and 90s and they show that anyone can make a movie.
Watching these gave me some laughs and genuine pain from the low quality of these films, but they also taught me what not to do in making a movie and in terms of story.
And if you want to make a movie and don’t really have any money, don’t let that stop you. Think about the resources already available and try to frame a movie around those. It’s best to also focus on the characters and the actors playing them because you won’t have the budget to afford spectacle, so the actors are going to be carrying the movie and making it worth watching.
What aspects of the film industry would you change and why?
I’m always hoping for proper representation and diversity in the movies. I love having people of colour and women of colour in a cast, but when their character is built out of being a person of colour, I get annoyed. Like in Wonder Woman, it had this incredible cast of supporting characters, but each one was attributed in character to a stereotype of their race. I would like to see a cast of characters that are just there and interacting with each other.
What's next for you?
I’m in production for a prequel to Hunters’ Crossing with Rieves Bowers (the dude who played Trevor) and my good friend and colleague, David Scherker. It’s not a mockumentary, but it focuses on Trevor and his relationship with his family—and his twin brother—before Trevor met Hank. There’s a new monster in this film too. It’s funny and scary and all sorts of weird.
It’s also a play on the idea of cinematic universes and why everything suddenly needs to be a franchise or be connected in some absurd way. I’m hoping to attack a lot of prequel clichés and tropes. We shoot starting at the end of this month and we hope it goes well!
What would you say if you were a dolphin?
Something about going to space and fish. I didn’t read Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy so I don’t get that reference.