“Sometimes a subject just chooses you and it’s impossible to look away. When that happens, you just have to approach the subject honestly and hope others can find value in it.” Filmmaker Ben Coccio gave this explanation for choosing the subject of high school shootings for his first feature length film, a fictional account of two teenaged boys planning and carrying out a deadly attack on fellow students.
The film “Zero Day” was shot in a faux documentary style as if an editor had pieced together home movies from the shooters’ video diary. We are introduced to Andre (Andre Keuck) and Cal (Calvin Robertson), two likeable teens who for unexplained reasons decide to commit a murderous rampage followed by their own suicides at their high school on the first day the temperature reaches zero degrees. Their video diary is an attempt to provide others with an explanation of what they did (although not necessarily why they did it), an invitation to selected media to cover the event, an alibi for their families who knew nothing of their plans, and a chance to gain notoriety.
“The narrative conceit is that it was always the two boys taping, except at the end when school security cameras and another camera enter the scene,” Coccio said during an interview at the Florida Film Festival. “It changes from the two characters controlling the narrative to the end where the narrative continues beyond their control.”
As you might imagine, Coccio had trouble finding a high school that would agree to let him film there because of the movie’s content. Instead, he used the library of a local college for the final interiors and the outside of a local high school for the exteriors for his $45,000 production shot around New Milford, CT.
The two stars, high school students Andre and Cal, actually knew each other before they even auditioned for the roles so they had a natural camaraderie, according to Coccio. Their real first names are used for their characters in the film, and the actors are supported by their real families portraying their fictional families. In addition, although all but two scenes were scripted, the actors were allowed to use their own words as long as they kept the spirit of the original lines. These elements – along with the look and feel of home video – combine to make “Zero Day” feel shockingly real.
The film received many awards including grand jury award at Atlanta Film Festival, best feature at Film Fest New Haven, best feature at Empire State Film Festival, and best narrative feature at Florida Film Festival. “Zero Day,” which is now available on DVD, also was an official selection at Raindance Film Festival, Deep Ellum Film Festival, Denver Film Festival, and Boston Film Festival.
“My goal was to show the dramatic and suspenseful qualities of these two characters as we watch them follow through with their plans,” Coccio said. “It’s a clinical, suspenseful, almost Hitchcockian story that is told without judgment or explanation. This is an amazingly random, awful situation where most of the people involved are good people. These two boys are the anomalies.”