DEAD WITHIN, Dir. BEN WAGNER
Writers: Matthew Bradford, Dean Chekvala, Amy Cale Peterson, & Ben Wagner
Six months after the outbreak, a man and woman have survived by isolating themselves in a remote cabin. Starved for resources, they must confront the horrors that threaten them from outside and from within.
Full film: Available here.
Kim and Mike drove to their friend’s remote mountain cabin with their baby daughter and pet dog. Months later, the cabin is boarded up. No power. No food. The other couple, the baby, the dog... all gone. Or is that the dog outside, snarling, waiting? Kim and Mike have survived a mysterious pandemic through routine and isolation and unspeakable acts. Each day Mike ventures out to scavenge for supplies, but any time they open the door or make a noise they invite...whatever is waiting outside. Kim remains within, alone, armed with just kitchen knives and garden tools. What exactly is going on out there? Mike won't tell her. Then a voice crackles over their long forsaken walkie talkie, a forest ranger -- or is Kim just imagining it?
“This is a relationship drama in the guise of an unconventional zombie movie,” says director Ben Wagner. “Instead of a group of survivors fighting off a horde of monsters, this is an isolated tale of one woman fighting off one persistent attacker: her boyfriend.” But are those attacks real, or merely perceived? According to Wagner, “The film is a metaphor for a toxic relationship: Kim can’t leave Mike no matter how stifling their relationship has become.” The couple hide behind memories of better times and never confront the reality that they must separate to be happy. Mike doesn’t treat Kim with full respect, but loves her and believes he has her best interests at heart. She doesn’t think he can be a provider and can’t see a future with him. She would have left him had they not been forced together to survive. Ultimately she must choose between an unfulfilling life with him or an uncertain future alone in a dangerous world.
The majority of Dead Within was shot over a 72 hour period. The actors developed the backstory and the first scenes that establish this new world. After shooting these initial scenes the actors were isolated in the cabin where they improvised the second act. They did not know how the story would develop beyond the establishing scenes. Beats were pre-planned and partially scripted, and the actors were provided with scripts and scenarios only as the story unfolded.
After the marathon three day, round-the-clock shoot, production took a two-day hiatus. The crew then returned for four additional days of traditional production during which they shot missing scenes, reaction shots, VFX, and other beats necessary to complete the story. This is not a found footage film. Two cameras manned by experienced camera operators ran at all times, with remote focus pullers guaranteeing a high quality image and composition throughout. With total control of the location, the skilled crew was able to properly light scenes, anticipate camera angles, and capture usable audio. The crew worked in shifts, recording almost 24 hours a day during the initial three-day period. On-set assistant editors immediately ingested footage and strung out scenes on Final Cut Pro to identify missing shots while time remained to pick them up on the spot.
Composers Joshua Bradford and Clayton Worbeck joined the project early on. Joshua created cues that were used to set the tone for the actors in the cabin during production. Wagner supplied the composers with production audio immediately after production, allowing them to weave the “soundscape” score in and out of diegetic space. The result is an immersive soundtrack that captures the tension and psychosis experienced by the characters.
AMY CALE PETERSON (KIM)
Amy’s film credits include Fran’s Daughter (Official Selection, SXSW) and Southbounders (Narrative Competition, Los Angeles Film Festival), which was also directed by Ben Wagner. She has also appeared on numerous television shows, including on Grey’s Anatomy, The Office, Lie To Me, The Defenders, The Event and various Hallmark movies of the week. Recently, Amy wrote and starred in the short film, You’ve Got This, and is currently collaborating with Matthew Lillard on his next feature script.After graduating with a degree in Theater from Northwestern University, she went on to study with The Public Theater/New York Shakespeare Festival and Steppenwolf Theatre. She has starred in several theater productions in both New York and Los Angeles. Her favorites include Marat/Sade (LA Weekly Award for Best Production), Raising The Bar with IAMA Theatre Company, and The Pitchfork Disney. The process of creating Dead Within with director Ben Wagner was unlike anything Amy had experienced. The story unfolded during the course of the shoot, allowing the actors to really live and breathe in the given circumstances, without knowing what was going to happen next. This kind of working together demanded an immense amount of trust and collaboration that was incredibly rewarding.
DEAN CHEKVALA (MIKE)
Dean found working on Dead Within both challenging and rewarding. The intimate setting and creative approach gave the actors the freedom to develop and explore their characters together in real-time which made the experience that much more rewarding. Dean’s other feature work includes People Like Us, Arthur Newman and Mulligan. Dean also worked on the hit web-series comedy, Reception, where he plays an aspiring writer stuck in a dead end job as the receptionist at a casting facility. After receiving his BFA from Wayne State University, Dean went on to study with The School at Steppenwolf in Chicago. After working in Chicago for a number of years and establishing himself as a talented young actor, his work brought him to Los Angeles. On television, Dean’s credits include Legends, Intelligence, The Masters Of Sex, True Blood, Longmire, Harper’s Island, How I Met Your Mother, NCIS: LA, Breakout Kings, The Defenders, Justified, Lie to Me, E.R., NCIS, and Numb3rs. Dean has performed with theatres across the country and just finished a run of Do Like The Kids Do in NYC. Other notable performances include The Accidental Blonde, Hamlet, House Of Yes, A Flea In Her Ear, Noises Off, ll Bidone, Romeo And Juliet and Twelfth Night. He continues to study, work in, and produce theatre when not filming.
Ben Wagner | Writer-Director-Producer
Ben Wagner is a storyteller working in film, television, comics, and interactive experiences. Famed filmmaker Werner Herzog declared Wagner’s film 6:00 “the roguest of rogue films. Beautiful.” In 6:00, a cop confronts a gang who “done her wrong” in a non-stop, real-time fight through busted alleys, abandoned houses, and in a speeding car – all in one shot. This visually arresting and highly technical work epitomizes Wagner’s outlook on storytelling – good stories should challenge, captivate, and entertain. Wagner’s original graphic novel BAJA was released by IDW Publishing to commercial and critical acclaim and was recently re-released in the Mean StreetsAnthology. The twisting crime noir plays with conventions as it follows two couples whose fates are closely tied together. BAJA was recently re-released in the Mean Streets Anthology. His screenplay The Boundary was optioned by ABC Studios for adaptation to series.
Wagner wrote and directed the feature film Southbounders, which premiered in the Los Angeles Film Festival narrative competition and screened at festivals worldwide. Wagner is a Film Independent Producers and Writers Fellow. He studied film at Northwestern University and received an MBA from UCLA Anderson business school.
Matthew Bradford | Writer-Producer
Matthew Bradford is a Los Angeles-based screenwriter who made his way westward from Connecticut via Chicago (or, more specifically, Evanston), where he studied film with a certificate in Creative Writing for the Media at Northwestern University. He is the co-creator of the comic book Night and Fog, which has been optioned for the screen by Superman Returns producer Gil Adler, and was in part inspired by his love for the Hammer horror movies of the Sixties and Seventies. Another passion that has informed his career path is a love of James Bond and spy movies in general–particularly of the Sixties variety. Bradford is the author of the popular pop culture blog Double O Section, dedicated to the spy genre in every imaginable medium, and has lent his expertise to special features on DVDs and Blu-rays of classic spy movies. He has also produced Making Of documentaries for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy DVDs and Blu-rays. Bradford and Wagner are currently collaborating on their third screenplay together.
Timothy Gillis | Director of Photography
Tim is an experienced commercial, film, and television photographer and gaffer. His first feature as a cinematographer, Booster, was selected to the 2012 SXSW Film Festival.
Rick Grayson | Editor
Rick Grayson studied film at Emerson College in Boston where he first discovered his love for the art of film editing, and continues to be a student of the craft even as he practices his career today. He has been working on feature films since 2002 when he got his start as a post-production assistant on the film Godsend. He then worked his way up the ranks on the next few films, from an Apprentice Editor on The Passion of the Christ to Assistant Editor on Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Rick has been a 1st Assistant Editor on many Hollywood Studio films including One Missed Call andArbitrage. Rick was an Additional Film Editor on The Road.