DEVIANT PROFILE: Mitch Cohen - Super Zero

Here at Film Deviant we've always supported the independent mentality of filmmaking. This sentiment is the root of all great cinema...especially in horror. In a time when greedy Hollywood has embraced remaking our old classics, the true innovators of the genre are creating stories on their own terms. Mitch Cohen follows this very ideal of conceiving his own premise and putting it on film. However, he needs your help to get his project off the ground. We had a very interesting chat with him and his passionate feature project, Super Zero.


FILM DEVIANT: What is your favorite horror film?
MITCH COHEN: Picking your favorite horror film is like picking your favorite child.  I’ll tell you the scariest film I ever saw.  Most people, who have actually even heard of this film, probably wouldn’t classify it has horror, but it’s terrifying and scared the fuck out of me, so to me it’s a horror film.  It’s a made for TV movie, if you believe that.  It’s a nuclear war film called Threads produced by the BBC in 1984.  It was the British answer to The Day After and both were designed to strike fear in people about nuclear proliferation.  If you saw The Day After, it’s pretty weak, but Threads is totally nuts and holds up really as a film even now.   Basically the film not only shows nuclear war, but based on actual anthropological, ecological, and other scientific studies it shows what life would be like days, weeks, months, years and decades after a nuclear holocaust.  The film pretty much follows humanity as it devolves into savagery.  Check it out if you find it, you will only need to watch it once.
More traditionally, I think my favorite horror film is John Carpenter’s The Thing.  It has all the elements I love in such a great tight knit little package. Unique isolated environment, great diverse characters with top notch talent in every role, totally plausible sci-fi elements, mystery.  Seriously it’s so strong in many areas and just continues to pull you further and further in as a viewer through the whole story.  Calling it simply a horror film is kind of a disservice to it as simply being a fantastic film.  And the effects in that film are so well done.  So many brilliant practically created elements.  With all the bizarre morphing of these creatures going from human to animal and getting stuck in between.  In lesser hands that could have been laughable on screen.   Great film.  Also, The Thing From Another World, the movie Carpenter’s film is taken from it pretty stellar in its own right.


FILM DEVIANT: What is your favorite non-horror film?
MITCH COHEN: Again this is so hard to say, and I’m sure tomorrow it will be something different, but I’d say Dog Day Afternoon. On paper it’s a heist film based on a true story, but in execution it’s anything but that. Just like The Thing calling it just a genre film doesn’t do it justice. The narrative takes off from the start and you get invested so fast in these really rich characters. Half the time you forget these are actors playing roles. The film, the shooting style, the locations, just all work to create such a naturalistic dynamic. Understated yet so powerful.


FILM DEVIANT: What made you want to get into filmmaking?

MITCH COHEN: I was never into arts growing up. Athletics was my life. From when I was super young until I went away to college it was all sports all the time. Then when I went to college I ended up in a dorm with many fine arts students. I went to school for business, but hanging with some really cool creative people opened my eyes. 

As part of my business school curriculum I had to take so general electives. Being inspired by my new friends I took a video production class where I made some short films. I had no idea what the fuck I was doing, but it was fun. I shot this absurd, horribly shot film little film about two drunken hunters. One accidently shoots and kills the other and then tries to cover it up by burying is dead buddy out in the woods. He thinks his plan is successful until he goes back to the car and realizes his buddy had the keys to the car. I showed in class and people laughed. They laughed hard. Getting a reaction to something I had created was the most amazing experience I ever had and I was hooked.

I finished Business School, but when I went back to Chicago I decided I want to be a filmmaker. I found the only few working filmmakers in the city and befriended them. They let me work on their film projects and all the other video production work they did to pay the bills. It was my film school and taught me the craft. They taught me to write, produce, direct and this being the indie world, how to just make shit happen.


FILM DEVIANT: Who inspires you?
MITCH COHEN: People who unflinchingly jump in and do whatever it is that they do. Setting goals and sticking to achieving them is hard work and it can be intimidating, scary and even horrible unrewarding in process. Self doubt always creeps into life, but you see someone who appear as though they are bulletproof from thinking about any of this and they just ramble on. To me that’s inspiring.


FILM DEVIANT: How did the concept for your zombie apocalypse film "Super Zero" come about?

MITCH COHEN: It was a confluence of a few different things. Obviously I love horror and genre films, but I have other creative interests as well. I was actually working on two different pieces. I work in video games as a creative director for game advertising. I write and direct trailers and commercials for their campaigns. Running in the gaming and geek culture space I really got to know and relate to the community and wanted to write a script born from that connection. Something that spoke to them and not at them, which I found to be so common. I feel like I’m part of this culture and I’ve never seen a film that celebrates it without being pandering or cliché. The community is so much more than people who share obscure pop culture references. 

As a writer I started to develop a story with characters from this community, but that could also show them as much more than this one dimensional character type you always see. I’ve met so many diverse people who are so much more than the t-shirt they wear and wanted to tell a story about that.

Concurrently as a lover of horror I wanted to do something fresh in the genre. Zombie films always spoke to me and I was trying to develop something in this very crowded space that could be taken as original. I started to think about vampires, werewolves other creatures and how people protect themselves from these creatures. Eventually I just invented the conceit that well, Zombies eat brains, and what if they thought your brain was dead? Well, then they would think you were a Zombie also and leave you alone. Then I did some research and happened upon these rare forms of brain cancer, were the cancer is not in your brain, but the cerebral fluid around it. So your brain is basically swimming in cancer. And in a zombie world this means the zombies won’t track you, because to them your brain activity can’t be perceived because of the cancer that surrounds it. There for you are immune to Zombies.

Eventually I just melded these two things I was working on into one and the end result was Super Zero.


FILM DEVIANT: How has the reception been at the recent Comic-Con you attended?

MITCH COHEN: It was pretty awesome. I mean I didn’t have a film, I was just telling people about a short film I was going to make as a proof of concept to turn Super Zero as a feature. I had these postcards I was handing out about the Kickstarter and I was on the floor having conversations under banners for the latest massive budget studio films at the show. And I was doing just cliqued with people. They got it immediately. From the image on the postcard to the three line synopsis of the film, people instantly related to this character and the world I was creating. I’m horrible at self promotion, but I didn’t need to even pitch my Kickstarter too much because what I wanted to make was something people seemed to want to see. We received some great buzz and support there, but unfortunately it’s coming at the tail end of our campaign. I wish there was a longer window between that convention and the end of this Kickstarter because we definitely built some momentum.


FILM DEVIANT: What is your feeling on the current state of zombie terms of the success of The Walking Dead?

MITCH COHEN: As I’ve been saying throughout this interview. The Walking Dead is one of those amazing projects that supersede the genre they were born from. Its great drama and is an amazing series. It not only stands out as an anomaly within Zombie projects for how successful it’s been, but it’s a TV series and you have had season after season to get invested and it speaks to you like no other Zombie project can. 

In my opinion and I may get shit for this, there are maybe 10-15 or so really great Zombie films that have been made. The ones everyone references and talks about. And they are great because they are unique, well executed and had compelling stories. Outside of those films, I think the genre is “overrun” with derivative, utterly insulting bullshit. Zombie films can be some of the cheaper films to produce and that fact that the genre has exploded in popularity has both contributed to flooding the market with cheap garbage full of uninspired, copycat garbage.


FILM DEVIANT: What are some of your other interests aside from film?
MITCH COHEN: I am the proud father of two year old twins. A boy and a girl. My wife and I live in Los Angels and away from the rest of our families, so we’re doing this solo. It’s pretty amazing, but takes up more than all of our time. Besides my actual job and being a dad, for a little while longer its just films.


FILM DEVIANT: What is the best horror film you've seen so far this year?
MITCH COHEN: As you can tell from the last question I don’t get out much. Honestly I don’t think I ever made to a theater this year to see a horror film. So I’m going to have to go with the best horror film I saw on DVD. And for that I’m going to go with Cabin in The Woods. But now that I think about it, I bet that was 2012 and I saw the DVD in January. I’m lame. Sorry.


FILM DEVIANT: Lastly...what do you wanna say to the horror fans out there reading this who are interested in contributing to your film, "Super Zero"? 

MITCH COHEN: That I have done my best to script something that is genuine horror, but also purposely trying to find its own sense of originality within it. My goal is to make a really great genre film that also happens to have a compelling human interest story. I don’t think those have to be mutually exclusive ideas and if you can pull that symbiotic relationship off, it just makes both elements a hell of a lot more powerful.

The great thing about Kickstarter is that people who like what you are doing have the power to champion it and become part of the process to bring it to life. Hopefully many of you will identify with what we aspire to bring to the horror community and will want to get involved.

Support independent horror filmmaking by contributing to Mitch's Super Zero Project HERE! Hurry...time is almost up...and all of mankind is depending on you!
An original take on a popular genre, Super Zero is described as the story of a geeky, shy and terminally ill teen, who rises from utter insignificance to become a zombie assassin and mankind's last hope for survival. In traditional zombie films, by definition, the end of the world is the worst possible scenario for all characters. In Cohen’s Super Zero, the film’s protagonist finally finds the purpose in his life while the rest of the world scrambles to save theirs.

Thanks for reading,