Denton Film Review: "Battleground"

It’s like that idea of a tree, if a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around to hear, well if you make a film and nobody watches your movie, did you make that movie?
— Xander McCabe

Relationships are tricky, and when external forces disapprove of them, they can become even more complicated. Writer/director Xander McCabe has created a short film that explores this idea in a fresh and unique way. His film, Battleground, tells the story of Spencer (Riley Cusick) and Jess (Adaleigh Rowe), a couple celebrating their 5-year anniversary at a dinner party with friends. The topic of marriage is brought up and quickly becomes the elephant in the room, as Jess’s parents do not approve of her relationship. Why? Spencer is a furry blue puppet.

The idea for the film came about from McCabe’s personal experiences with his family. “I think people don’t approve of other people for really dumb reasons. Especially parents sometimes may not like somebody for what they do, or who they are, any kind of detail like that. So what if we made it really ridiculous, and made it about a puppet?” McCabe said, “It's more like a goofy take on a serious issue, someone not being accepted because of who they are.”

The film stars Riley Cusick as Spencer, who is not formally trained in puppetry. However, Cusick was up to the challenge of playing this new type of character. Rather than being face-to-face with other actors, Cusick often found himself huddled underneath a table bending his body to get the puppet in the right place. For him, playing the puppet was difficult, but he believes it ultimately helped the film deliver its message.

“I think definitely being a puppet was harder than being just a normal person… I think it makes you think more carefully about everything they’re saying. For some reason every line of dialog... you just end up listening a lot more than you would if it was just a person,” Cusick said.

The 4-minute film was shot at the end of October 2016 in a single night, and is McCabe’s second romantic comedy. While McCabe has directed other projects, the quick production for Battleground allowed him to take a step back from his usual approach to directing.

“For the longest time I’ve had a hard time trusting people to do it, so I’m very micromanager, and that film, as easy as it was and as fast at it was, is the first one where i’m fully trusting people at it. I stopped looking at viewfinders, I stopped double checking what other people were doing on their stuff, I wasn’t too worried about gear choices, I just more wanted to guide [Cusick’s] choices,” McCabe said.

Since completion, Battleground has been accepted into eleven different festivals across the country, including the Miami Independent Film Festival, the Fort Worth Independent Film Showcase, and the Los Angeles CineFest. The film is slated for a public release in early 2018, but can be seen at Andy's Bar on December 3.

After the success of Battleground, the duo has begun planning bigger projects, including a feature length film and other shorts. They plan to approach them the same way they approached Battleground: hard work and communication.

“We’re trying to do shorts that are easy to produce and easy to get out there, and I think those, as we’ve seen by doing successful in the festival circuit, are a great way to do it and a great way to  establish who you are as filmmakers. It doesn’t take a lot of time or money, it just takes a good idea or something that you believe in.” Cusick said.

Header image courtesy of Xander McCabe
Header image layout designed by Christopher Rodgers