The Derby City Film Festival  sneaks ever closer – it is only a week away! One very anticipated movie is the horror-comedy “Overtime ,” created by Louisville filmmakers Brian Cunningham and Matt Niehoff. I had the opportunity to sit down with Brian and discuss the film.
(Interview edited for length and clarity.)
Could you talk about “Overtime?” In your own words, what's it about?
“It’s basically a buddy comedy about two hitmen. One of them has a family and he ends up getting in trouble with his wife because he forgets his kid’s birthday party, so while he’s out trying to fix that problem he gets called in to do another hit, and he happens to get locked in a lab filled with zombie aliens. So, basically, even though he’s in this lab full of zombie aliens the real thrust of the movie is whether he’s going to get out of the lab in time to get to his kid’s birthday party and make his wife happy. It’s very much a comedy, very tongue-in-cheek and it never takes itself too seriously.”
I saw that at some festival where it played it got an award for “Best One-Liner,” which is funny because I showed my wife the trailer and she said, “It looks like it’s just a bunch of one-liners!”
“(Laughs) Yeah, pretty much, there’s quite a few one-liners.”
If I’m not mistaken, you co-wrote it with Matt Niehoff, who directed.
“Basically we sat down and we did everything 50/50 the whole way. I was behind the camera so I was Director of Photography, he was the director, and we just cut up the credits that way… We co-wrote it, co-produced it, and he cut it, and I sat in the edit room and helped him out and gave him notes.”
How did this idea come about?
“It completely started with Matt. We worked at a company together… and we were doing commercials… marketing videos, stuff like that, and he just walked into my room one day because he knew I was a movie guy, with [my film blog] Movie Chopshop and he said, ‘I’m going to try to do a feature. I’ve got a script; do you want to read it?’ So I took it and I read it, and I said, ‘Do you need somebody to DP it?’ And he said, ‘Sure, that sounds good.’ I asked, ‘Is this the shooting script, or can I give you notes on it?’ He said, ‘Oh, no, give me notes! It’s still a work in progress.’ From there we did twelve drafts together. It became a very different movie. Actually, it started out as a really ridiculous comedy, then it almost became a drama at one point, and then ended up back towards a ridiculous comedy – but slightly less ridiculous than it was the first time… We shot over a period of about nine months: weekends, evenings, working around actors’ schedules.”
How were you able to snag [professional wrestler Al Snow]?
“I wish I had a cool story for this, but we put out an open casting call and one of the other guys in the movie is [local wrestler] Ben Wood… He was training with Al Snow. He knew us and came into the audition… and seemed to like us, so he told all of his wrestling buddies, including Al, about it, and then one day Matt got an e-mail – and I didn’t know who Al Snow was, I had no idea, but Matt did because he’d watched wrestling when he was a kid – so, he got this e-mail that said, ‘Hi, this is former WWE superstar Al Snow. I heard you’re doing a movie. I would like to audition. Tell me if that’s possible.’ And Matt just flipped out.”
Do you or Matt have any prior filmmaking experience?
“Short films. In college I actually pulled off an absolutely no-budget feature film that no one’s ever going to see. It was a learning experience for me, one of those ‘get a camera, go out and do it and learn a lot’ things.”
That’s what Rodriguez did [with “El Mariachi”]…
“Yeah, exactly, but his was good! One of my favorite quotes from Robert Rodriguez is, ‘Everyone has about a dozen bad movies in them. Best to get those out of your system early.’ When I did that first feature, I hadn’t gotten all the bad movies out of me yet, so I’ll just chalk that one up to experience.
“Matt actually went to SCAD [Savannah College of Art & Design]. He has a film degree and had done 16mm short films. I always find it really funny because everyone coming out of SCAD is doing these really serious art pieces, and he did movies about pot-smoking zombies… demonic strippers, stuff like that… He’s all about the action movie and having fun with it.”
“Overtime” is playing at the festival, but it’s already been shown around, right?
“It has only shown publicly once. We showed it at the Fright Night Film Festival. We actually went in and changed a couple things after that, after seeing the audience reaction; we used it as a bit of a test screening… We submitted it to other festivals later and got word back from which one’s it’s going to play, and we’ve been looking for distribution… We’ll probably hit a bunch of genre festivals in the next year or so and try to screen wherever we can, but our focus after this is trying to find distribution.”
Are there any plans for future features?
“I actually just finished production on a documentary that I shot in October. It’s called ‘Monsters Wanted.’ It’s about the haunted house industry. I followed a guy, he was a computer programmer making about $120,000 per year, saved up a bunch of money, quit his job, and sunk every penny he had into building a haunted house, which is twelve days in October to try to make that money back. I used that as the backbone for this documentary, and then from that branch off, go to conventions, go to other haunted houses. These are people who spend nine months out of the year working on haunted houses; I had no idea it was that much of a passion for them.”
Since your movie is about zombies, maybe you can tell me what’s up with the craze right now.
“I think they’re appealing just because they’re such a great metaphor for just about anything: military, consumerism, modern society. There’s the germ phobia that ’28 Days Later’ picked up on. They keep coming back because they’re so applicable to whatever’s going on in any situation.”
Do you use zombies as a metaphor?
“Oh, no, not in this one… We don’t actually use the word ‘zombie’ in ‘Overtime;’ we call them aliens. They’re zombie aliens, and the way it works is it’s an alien parasite; you get stung, and that puts the parasite inside you, and control of the body gets turned over to the alien parasite.”
What’s your favorite zombie movie?
“I love ‘Shaun of the Dead’… I love that they took a Romero world and put characters in it that have a different focus; they’re just funny people in this horrific world. I love that there are actually deaths in it, whereas something like ‘Zombieland’ is something where you feel safe the whole time…
“I guess I should say ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ but that would be a lie… I like the first ‘Dawn of the Dead’ a lot. I like the remake a lot, too…. I wanted to hate it… but then I watched it, and it’s a fun movie. It doesn’t have the social commentary of the first one, which I think is smart. If you’re going to remake it, don’t try to redo the social commentary.”
Do you have a least favorite zombie movie?
“There’s a movie that I saw called ‘Deadgirl.’ Everyone loved it… but, to me, it was just really bad acting – bad acting is one thing; there are some really low-budget movies with bad acting that I can get behind, but when you’re doing bad acting and you’ve got something really important to say, that can kind of kill it. It felt like they had some really heavy themes they were going for, and they didn’t quite pull it off.”
“Overtime” plays at 10:00 pm on Saturday, February 18th. The filmmakers will be in attendance for a Q&A following the film; they will also be participating in various panels. Full information on the Derby City Film Festival can be found at its website .
Image courtesy of the Internet Movie Database .