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An Interview with Joshua Wagner and Thomas Zambeck, Directors of The Badger Game

by Mike Haberfelner

May 2015

Films directed by Joshua Wagner on (re)Search my Trash

Films directed by Thomas Zambeck on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new movie The Badger Game - in a few words, what is it about?


JOSH: The Badger Game is about kidnap, extortion, torture, sexual perversions etc. in a few words. It's also about loyalty, and where does one's loyalty lie when certain lines are crossed.


What were your sources of inspiration for writing The Badger Game? And what can you tell us about the writing process between the two of you?


TOM: Inspiration varied, and changed throughout the writing process. Initially, we looked at gritty, haphazard-caper films, in which the characters plan a crime but don’t think everything through. Movies like Blood Simple and The Silent Partner came to mind while we were writing it. As the script evolved, though, we became less focused on the plot and more focused on the characters. Who are these people? What motivates them? Is the audience always aware of their true motivations? The goal then became to create real, three-dimensional people, each of whom has a complex agenda, not aligned with good or evil.


How would you describe your directorial approach to your story at hand - and what was your on-set collaboration like?


JOSH: The directorial approach was to be as prepared as possible, which meant controlling what we could beforehand. Having table reads helped us know where the actors' heads were with the story and helped us get on the same page. Arguing and confusion during production will only slow you down. The same with our D.P. Zac Adams. We were usually aligned on what the look of the film would be. I would cater more to the actors on set and Tom would take care of the overall functioning of the production.


TOM: It was an equal split, for the most part – though I tend to focus more on minutia and logistics. That’s just how my brain works. We both settled into our roles naturally, with one picking up the slack when the other was preoccupied with other details.


The Badger Game features its fair share of violence - so what can you tell us about the gruesome scenes in your movie, and was there ever a line you refused to cross?


JOSH: We have a few key sfx shots in the movie that took quite a while to get right, but are only visible on screen for a second or two. Still, it was a lot of fun designing them with the help of our sfx team Josh and Sierra Russel, and we basically let them tell us the way to use and film their effects for the best results. As far as lines being crossed, our kidnapped actor (Sam Boxleitner), was pretty abused with his approval, but I felt bad. He got the whole second week off of work to heal, though, so in that way he won out.


Despite all the nastiness, I also found quite a bit of humour in The Badger Game - would you agree at all, and if so, what can you tell us about your movie's brand of comedy?


JOSH: Yeah, it's part of the ride and something I like to see in a movie. We didn't want to take ourselves too seriously and want the audience to know that it's ok to laugh (at certain parts) and be shocked at others and not really know what to expect. No rules. We're both influenced by the Coen Brothers and even in their darkest films there is still plenty to laugh at. People have actually laughed more than I thought they would, but at different things. There's a point in the movie where people tend to just be comfortable with knowing they can laugh if they want to.


TOM: I think a lot of the humor comes when the audience feels awkward or uncomfortable. It’s a deliberately mismatched bunch of characters, and it’s fun to see them squirm and try to navigate this downward spiral. I think some of the best movies – whether they’re comedies or not – solicit laughs as you become more familiar with them. That was always in the back of our mind.


What can you tell us about your cast, and why exactly these people?


JOSH: Our cast is awesome! We knew all of the girls (Augie Duke, Sasha Higgins, and Jillian Leigh) from previous films. Tom and I actually worked with Sasha on another film, Dark Fields. We still had them audition and read together to see how their personalities would gel. I must admit we didn't quite know which girl was going to play which role in the beginning of the process. The guys (Sam Boxleitner and Patrick Cronen) we met on an open casting call in Hollywood. Tom and I seemed to feel the same way about every actor who read, good or bad, and that made our agreeing who we liked come pretty easily.


TOM: Riffing on what Josh said, we saw a lot of great talent – LA doesn’t have a shortage of phenomenal actors. But chemistry and contrast was so important among the five principles, that we felt we had to get the combination right. The one thing that I found very interesting is that – across the board – we cast talent that brought something unique to the character, something Josh and I didn’t see when we wrote the script. They surprised us and added a quirky dimension.


Your film is limited to very few locations - so in what ways was that a challenge and an advantage, and what can you tell us about your locations as such?


JOSH: Yes, we had to limit it to few locations, hence the genesis of the story, but in doing so we still shot at more locations than we had planned to. The house in the movie along with the garage where Liam is tied up, and the back yard, front yard and road leading up to it is really like five locations. The whole first week though we were only in the garage, which is my girlfriend Kim Snow's (location manager and production manager), and that made it easy because after we were done shooting I would just go to bed and wake up and go shoot. The second and third week were more challenging because we fell behind and needed and extra day and had to deal with finding exterior locations at the last minute.


TOM: The interiors of the house belonged to RJ Gallentine and Leesa Gallentine, who have a great decorating sense. When you’re doing a low-budget film, you want the locations to stand out – and I think the house is unique and eccentric, and a character on to itself.


Do talk about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere!


JOSH: The on-set atmosphere was, in my opinion, pretty smooth compared to some other sets I've been a part of. We kept everyone fed, warm, and happy except a few whinny crew members, but you're always going to get those people who thrive on stirring up drama instead of thrive on doing their jobs. There's some people that think sets have to be like that, but not if I can help it. I like a happy, healthy, communicative set. We had a few onset romances as well, including our brother and sister duo (Patrick Cronen, and Augie Duke). But there's nothing like the end of a shoot day, I gotta say.


TOM: It was intense and difficult, in that we had a truncated schedule and it was imperative that everyone do their job efficiently. We – literally – couldn’t afford any delays, in that we didn’t have the budget for error. That said, the cast and crew really rose to the challenge and knocked it out of the park. Our actors, especially, had to go to some dark, emotional places – both mentally and physically. And we didn’t have the luxury of time on our side. I know how difficult that is to do, and how taxing it can be, and I’ll be forever grateful for their endurance and professionalism.


A few words about audience and critical reception so far?


JOSH: Our audience and critcal reception so far is overwhelmingly positive; I mentioned earlier how the audince seemed to find a lot of humor in the movie. They even cringed and gasped at the violent scenes. There's nothing like watching that kind of reaction to a packed house. As far as the reviews go, these are people who are watching it alone and still generating the same response. All I can say is keep them coming. We're both waiting for those negative reviews though, because you can't please everyone, but so far I think people were expecting it to be amateur, considering the miniscule budget. But we're getting a lot of “Wow, it felt like I was watching a real movie.” Thanks?


TOM: Agreed – the thing I love most is that the humor is shining through. This wasn’t a slapstick, toilet comedy. So the jokes aren’t obvious. It makes me feel proud that we were able to retain the subtlety of the script but still make people laugh.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


JOSH: Yes, there are quite a few. Tom and I have a script that we've been collaborating on for many years that we finally both agree on and we're looking to produce that next. Not sure if we'll both direct that or not. I have a few scripts that have been optioned and waiting to be greenlit, and a documentary about a former Gong Show winner who wants to be a host of his late night talk show called Gong, But Not Forgotten: The Original Johnny Blaze Story that've I just finished.


TOM: Josh and I actually have two projects we’re collaborating on – one in the microbudget vein of The Badger Game, and another a bit more ambitious in terms of scope. I have a true-crime mini-series that I’m shopping around to several networks, and another script entering its third draft. Hollywood can be fickle, so it’s always good to have a lot of things going.


How did the two of you first meet even, and what can you tell us about your filmwork with one another prior to The Badger Game?


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JOSH: Tom and I both met at The Motion Picture Institute in Michigan and bonded over our love for movies and The Grateful Dead. We've both worked on each other's projects since then including my first feature and his first feature: The Sweepers and Nevermore (featuring Judd Nelson), respectively. This is our first full on collaboration though.


Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever else?


The website is,,

Also, we will be on I-tunes and Google Pay in June and Amazon shortly after that, followed by DVD/Bluray release in the fall.


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

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Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
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directed by
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