Sean Martinez, who always had an interest in writing, graduated in 1993. Travers graduated in 1994, and Hiram Martinez, no relation to Sean, in 1996.
A bizarre twist of fate brought the trio together.
"I tend to think it was sort of predestined," said Sean Martinez. "We didn't even know each other while growing up in the same town, going to the same high school, but we ended up meeting in the same place."
Met up later
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.
"Sean was attending the class as a writer," Travers said. "I already had a private acting coach. I don't remember how I got turned on to it, but Sean was there. That's when we first met and we realized we both came from North Bergen."
At the time, Travers was attending Rutgers University and pursuing a degree in exercise science. Sean Martinez was attending Marymount College in Manhattan, studying business communications. But they both always wanted something more - namely a career in show business.
Travers had caught the acting bug at the age of 15, performing for the North Bergen Players theater troupe in a production of "Brighton Beach Memoirs."
Sean stayed on the writing side. "I was too introverted to be an actor," he said. "I think you need to be a ham to be an actor. I had always been writing since high school. I wrote two plays before college. But I went to college to take the safe route and study business."
"I was set to become a director," Travers said. "But once I took that class, I got the acting fever again."
Enter Hiram Martinez, who was also taking a course in film production.
"Once it came to light that we all came from the same town, we started hanging out after that," Travers said. Hiram Martinez had always dreamed of becoming a director, ever since he realized that "some certain names were attached to the same kind of movies."
"Steven Spielberg was a name that I remembered," said Hiram Martinez. "I just remember thinking that if he can make the kinds of movies that I liked, then perhaps I could do it."
So at the tender age of 16, Hiram Martinez bought a video camera and a computer and started making movies.
"They were little shorts, strictly for fun," said Hiram Martinez. "I just felt the need to make moving pictures and put them together. I don't know if I was trying to tell stories or not. I just did things for laughs, not a craft."
At the same time, Hiram Martinez was forgoing his college days at St. Peter's College and becoming a driving instructor at his father's driving school.
But the three guys got together to form a production company, called Up Past Midnight Productions. They started doing local television advertisements for Time Warner Cable.
Making a movie
"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 I said that 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."
Hiram Martinez got to work and wrote a script for the movie named "Four Dead Batteries," which focused on four friends who had an improvisational comedy group and performed for modest means every week while they battled 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."
Martinez said that it took about eight months to complete the script, which was his first-ever screenplay. Sean Martinez was going to serve as a producer, with Hiram Martinez the director, writer and executive producer.
"I read it when it was done," said Travers. "I knew it was very good and worth pursuing."
Eight thousand dollars 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, 28, 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.
Hiram Martinez, who was also directing the film, wanted to make sure that as much of North Bergen could be used as possible in making the movie. So the 25-year-old 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."
It also became a practical place for the actors to convene. Every day the actors met in North Hudson Braddock Park to begin the day.
The initial filming took about four weeks, but that was simply to create a trailer to show to possible distributors or sponsors. Hiram 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," said Hiram Martinez. "This man saw the script and the trailer and he cut us a deal. All he said was to get his money back."
Getting toward the end
Production on "Four Dead Batteries" began in May, 2002 and was finally wrapped up in March, 2003. Now came the hard part - editing the footage. Hiram Martinez called upon the services of his friend, Todd Zelin, who had worked with Martinez as a film editor for Fox News Channel and MSNBC.
Hiram Martinez and Zelin basically spent five months of their lives editing and preparing "Four Dead Batteries" to make it a finished product.
"We lived off life savings and Chinese food," said Zelin, a resident of Montclair. "When Hiram said that he had a production company, I wanted to be a part of it. We wanted to make it as high quality as possible."
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 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.
It's also safe to say that this reporter's opinion of "Four Dead Batteries" is not isolated. The movie recently received the Audience Choice Award at the 2004 Garden State Film Festival, held in Asbury Park in March, setting new attendance records.
The movie will also been screened at the Philadelphia Video Festival today, closing the festival after four features and 12 shorts are shown. It will also be featured at the Woods Hole Film Festival in Massachusetts July 31 through Aug. 8.
The quartet of friends who comprise Up Past Midnight Productions hopes 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," said Sean Martinez. "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 is hopeful 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," said Hiram Martinez. "It's a comedy that can sell, if given the chance."
"It doesn't happen every day," Zelin said. "But people are seeing it and they're responding."
Up Past Midnight is working on their 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 said that the group is also working on developing a pilot sitcom for television, with HBO or Showtime as prospective buyers.
"We're getting some leverage," said Hiram Martinez. "People want to know what we're doing."
For more information about "Four Dead Batteries," log onto www.imdb.com or www.moviestation.org. A web site, www.fourdeadbatteries.com, is under construction.