The independent movie, which was made with a budget under $100,000 and was written and directed by Hiram Martinez, produced by Sean Martinez (no relation) and stars Travers, earned countless awards last year at a host of different film festivals, like the Chicago IndieFest, the Coney Island Film Festival and the Philadelphia Video Festival, as well as the Garden State Film Festival.
However, there was no interest in having the film become a theatrical release, so HighTone Films decided to take the movie directly to the video and DVD market.
"If we had a theatrical release, it would have cost too much money, money we just didn't have," said director Hiram Martinez, a North Bergen High School graduate like Sean Martinez and Travers. "It just didn't work out, so the distributor decided to take it straight to video and market it that way."
The movie features the lives and loves of four improvisational comedians who work together as a group of "Four Dead Batteries." It can be purchased at stores like Best Buy, Target, and Circuit City, as well as online at Amazon.com.
"People have really responded well to the movie," Martinez said. "We've received some great reviews, and the responses have been phenomenal at the festivals at well."
The comedy won the Best Picture at the Brooklyn Digifest, the Best Comedy at the Woods Hole and Northampton Film Festivals, and was the Audience Choice (most popular among theatergoers at the festivals) at Garden State and Philadelphia.
During those festivals, the North Bergen natives were hard at work, trying to sell their project to the festival patrons.
"You would go to the festivals and see others not even bother to advertise their movies," Travers said. "We were there meeting the people and encouraging them to go see our movie."
"Thank God we were able to get people to come to our screenings," Martinez said.
Didn't know each other then The three North Bergen natives didn't know each other while attending North Bergen High School, but met while taking an acting course in New York. Travers had the acting bug and always wanted to perform. Sean Martinez aspired to be a writer, while Hiram Martinez wanted to make films.
They got together and formed a production company, Up Past Midnight Productions. They then started doing local television advertisements for Time Warner Cable.
"Making the commercials got my mind going," said Hiram Martinez. "I said that if we could make commercials, with the ability to produce them, then we could make a movie. I knew that we had no money and we couldn't make anything with special effects. But we could make a movie."
The script Hiram Martinez wrote the script for "Four Dead Batteries," which focused on four friends who had an improvisational comedy group and performed for modest means every week while battling a host of personal problems.
One character is having marital problems and an affair with his boss. Another is insecure and can't commit to one woman. Another is trying to have a baby with his loving wife, and the fourth is dealing with struggling relationship, while possibly pursuing another.
"While I was writing the script, I had just moved in with my girlfriend," said Hiram Martinez. "It gave me some great material."
Hiram Martinez said that 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," said Hiram Martinez. "It just felt right."
Hiram Martinez knew that he didn't have much money to make the film.
"It was the lowest of the low budgets," he said. "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, who was also a substitute teacher at North Bergen High School, was fortunate enough to round up some interested students who could serve as extras in classroom scenes. Travers also earned the role of Hennessy, one of the leading characters.
Used Braddock Park In directing the film, Martinez wanted to make sure that as much of North Bergen could be used as possible in making the movie. So 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.
"When I was writing the script, I had North Bergen in mind," said Hiram Martinez. "It just fit into the picture." In this reporter's opinion, the script is well written, clever and hilarious. It has an imaginative story line and the characters are very interesting. Most people frown upon independent films because they are usually low quality and hard to follow, but this is a whimsical comedy that maintains a viewer's attention throughout.
The DVD also has special features, including two separate full-length documentary tracks with comments from other directors, distributors, and film festival directors about the pitfalls of making an independent film.
Newspaper reviews are good "We want to make other filmmakers understand just how difficult it is," Hiram Martinez said. "Making a good movie isn't enough. You have to get out there and sell the project. It's a lot of work to get people into the seats at the festivals. I think winning the awards at the festivals encouraged the distributor to take a shot. The movie is entertaining, but the special features are very informative."
"It's nice seeing first-time filmmakers getting a chance like this," Travers said. "It's going to be a blast, seeing it on the shelves. It's getting there, our brainchild is getting there."
Martinez said that the distributor has been "optimistic" about sales of the DVD.
"There's a publicist who has been working on getting the word out there," said Martinez, whose movie has already received four stars from the magazine DVD Talk.
"Smart, funny and painfully insightful, a hidden gem," is what DVD Talk wrote. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer called the movie, "downright poignant with the bittersweet twinge of 'High Fidelity.'"
Travers said that the group has planned a college tour to promote the movie.
"The struggle never ends," Travers said. "We want everyone to see it."
After "Four Dead Batteries" enjoys a run on DVD shelves in stores, there is talk of having it distributed on television via cable.
"They're going to see first if it's worth a damn," Martinez said.
For more information about "Four Dead Batteries," log onto www.imdb.com or www.moviestation.org., or the movie's website, www.fourdeadbatteries.com.