Met in Manhattan
Four years ago, Travers was taking an acting class in Manhattan and he struck up a conversation with Sean Martinez, who was taking a writing course at the same school. Enter Hiram Martinez, who was taking a course in film production.
"Once it came to light that we all came from the same town, we started hanging out," Travers says.
The three guys got together to form a production company - Up Past Midnight Productions - and they started creating local TV ads for Time Warner Cable.
"Making the commercials got my mind going," Hiram Martinez says. "I said that if we could make commercials, with the ability to produce them, then I said that we could make a movie."
Martinez got to work and wrote a script for a movie called Four Dead Batteries, which focused on four friends who had an improvisational comedy group and performed for modest pay every week while they battled a host of personal problems.
Martinez says he got the idea to write about improvisational comics because Travers was taking some classes with the Second City improv comedy group.
"We would go see Ben perform, and we just needed to give the four characters something in common," Martinez says. "It just felt right."
He says it took about eight months to complete the script, which was his first screenplay.
Hiram Martinez knew he didn't have much money to make the film.
"It was the lowest of the low budgets," he says. "We initially started with about $8,000. We had the camera and a very little basic editing computer. But we had the energy, and that's what was important, more than anything else."
For the cast, Travers rounded up some of the improv comics he was taking classes with. They all volunteered their services. Travers, 28, who was also a substitute teacher at North Bergen High School, was fortunate enough to find some students who were interested in serving as extras in classroom scenes. Travers also landed the role of Hennessy, one of the leading characters.
Hiram Martinez, 25, who also directed the movie, chose several North Bergen locations for filming. He used North Hudson Braddock Park as a backdrop, rented McGuire Buick on Kennedy Boulevard for some car-dealer scenes, and shot other parts of the movie on North Bergen's streets. Several scenes were shot inside area diners and restaurants.
The initial filming took about four weeks, but that was simply to create a trailer to show to possible distributors or sponsors. Martinez finally found an interested sponsor from White Plains who wanted no credit and to remain anonymous.
"Nine months later, we were able to shoot the rest of the movie," Hiram Martinez says. "This man saw the script and the trailer and he cut us a deal." All he wanted, Martinez says, was to get his money back.
Production on Four Dead Batteries began in May 2002 and wrapped up in March 2003. Then came the hard part - editing the footage. Hiram Martinez called upon the services of his friend, Todd Zelin, who had worked with him as a film editor for Fox News and MSNBC.
Martinez and Zelin spent five months of their lives editing Four Dead Batteries.
"We lived off life savings and Chinese food," says Zelin, 27, a resident of Montclair.
After screening Four Dead Batteries, it's safe to say that the movie turned out to be tremendous.
The script is well written, clever, and hilarious. It has an imaginative story line and interesting characters. Many people frown upon independent films because they are often low quality and hard to follow, but this is a whimsical comedy that maintains a viewer's attention throughout.
On the festival circuit
It's also safe to say that this reporter's opinion of Four Dead Batteries is not isolated. The movie received the Audience Choice Award at the 2004 Garden State Film Festival, held in Asbury Park in March, setting new attendance records.
The movie also won Best Comedy at the Philadelphia Video Festival in June, closing the festival after four features and 12 shorts were shown. It will also be featured at the Woods Hole Film Festival in Massachusetts later this summer.
The guys from Up Past Midnight Productions hope to showcase Four Dead Batteries at several other festivals throughout the East Coast during the summer.
"We're trying to get word of mouth out there," says Sean Martinez, 29. "We're trying to establish an audience first. We're trying to make the audience laugh and keep their attention."
By showing the film at festivals, the group hopes that a major distributor will take on the project and give it a wider release.
"I feel confident that a distributor will give us a chance," Hiram Martinez says. "It's a comedy that can sell, if given the chance."
"It doesn't happen every day," Zelin says. "But people are seeing it and they're responding."
Up Past Midnight is also working on a second movie. A script called A Perfectly Normal Woman has been written, and the group has already received financing and will start shooting soon.
Hiram Martinez says the group is also working on developing a sitcom pilot for television, with HBO or Showtime as prospective buyers.
For more information about Four Dead Batteries, log onto www.imdb.com. A Web site, www.fourdeadbatteries.com, is under construction.