Q: First, why did you decide to do a zombie movie? There seems to be about a hundred of them made the past five years...
I'm not a big horror fan per se. Don't get me wrong, there are many horror films that I love but I'm not a die hard horror elitist. Rather, I'm a huge MOVIE FAN of all types. The zombie thing came as a plot point. I was up late one night playing a video game and I heard a pounding on the door. In that particular house, the door is secured behind a locked gate and a locked cast iron screen door so it was impossible to have someone knocking on the door. I looked, did a hasty perimeter check and found nothing. The neighborhood was barren shrouded in silence. It occurred to me how quickly life can alter your perspective. One moment I'm safe, relaxed and comfortable in the one place in the world that is my peace and refuge...home. The next second, a chill runs down my spine and there is a fleeting moment of paranoia and a sense of being trapped. So I went to bed that night with that in mind, casually glancing over at the blinds that cover the sliding glass door a foot away. My black sense of humor caused me to think "Wouldn't it be freaky if I pulled back the blinds and saw someone standing there.
Click. That was it. What A great scene for a movie. Then, as always when the muse strikes, the story-line brainstorming began. What could cause someone to feel trapped in their own home? Who would the villains in the story be? Zombies leapt to mind. (Though in AWAKEN THE DEAD they are more the victims than the villains). Then I had to figure out the how, the who, the why, etc. I wanted a character with an edge but crippled by guilt. Guilt led me through free association to the Catholic Church. The church. A priest. Click. A two fisted gun-slinging priest.
And so on. You know how the writing process unfolds. Later in the writing process, SHAUN OF THE DEAD and 28 DAYS LATER convinced me that the genre was opening up. SHAUN OF THE DEAD was, after all, a romantic comedy first and a zombie film second. ATD is primarily a action thriller with the zombies as part of the plot. For me, the zombies were not the focal point of the story. The characters were. So, to finally answer your question, I didn't feel bound by the hundreds of zombie films out there. I provided the raw materials and the characters dictated where the plot was heading as they grew and took on a life of their own.
Q: What are your influences as a filmmaker/director?
Kubrick, Tarantino, Rodriguez, Woo, Ridley Scott, and Sergio Leone to name a prominent few. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, BLADE RUNNER and THE MAN WITH NO NAME trilogy are etched deep in my subconscious. But there are so many. I could go on and on. I continue to find films that move and excite me. PAN'S LABYRINTH, LADY VENGEANCE and PUSHER are recent favorites.
Q: In AWAKEN THE DEAD I got a kick out of those first two zombies-the Asian girls in the school uniforms. That was a nod to the movie STACEY, right? There's also another Asian character in the film as well-what's the Asian connection?
Actually, I haven't seen STACEY. I think I may have been Asian in a previous life. I just thought it would be really cool to have two cute Asian schoolgirls go from innocent and coy to bloodthirsty flesh eaters. There's also the poetic justice of having Grin, the massive abusive pimp who abuses women for a living, ripped apart by the very type of women he used to prey on. But the connection goes deeper than that. Christopher, the priest, is wearing the Chinese symbol for 'strength' on his belt buckle. The lesson Christopher learns about being true to his real nature is very zen-like as well. One of the producers of the film, the two little girls from the nightmare, the two schools girls, the family by the lake in the final scene, and the actress who plays the ex-marine's wife are all Filipino as well. It's a subtle East meets West meets the undead sort of thing.
Q: The leads, not to mention the other actors, are quite convincing in the movie and good acting isn't something synonymous with low-budget productions. Where/How did you find your actors?
The only two actors who didn't have to audition were Paul Dion Monte and Big Will Harris. Paul is a good friend of mine who I met on another set. I essentially wrote the ex-marine character with him in mind. He's been in a ton of films from COBRA, RAMBO III, ROCKY BALBOA to WARRIORS OF THE WASTELAND. You might notice the resemblance to his cousin, Sylvester Stallone. Paul grew up in this business and his enthusiasm is always infectious. He did the film as a favor to me.
Big Will is a pro Bodybuilder who you've also seen as one of the DUB MDs in BE COOL. Paul was instrumental in bringing him in.
Our lead, GARY DOUGLAS KOHN, is a pure natural. Christopher the assassin turned priest is a fairly complex character ridden with guilt, humble yet confident, sorrowful yet sarcastic. It takes a skilled actor to bring that to life and Gary is definitely that. He told me that the script is what captured his interest. Gary also was in ER, THE SHIELD, ALMOST FAMOUS, RESERVATION ROAD with Jaquin Phoenix due out later this year, and AFTERMATH.
Michael Robert Nyman (Jeremiah) Lindsey Morris, (Mary) and Nate Witty, (Who plays Stanley, the Jehovah's Witness) were all the natural choices during the audition process.
We looked everywhere for talent but Los Angeles is a great place to make a movie. There is so much talent around. It's just took a lot of sifting.
Q: How long did it take to make the movie? What were the best and hardest aspects of making the film?
Start to finish with the script writing process through the final edit, it was about a year and a half. Actual production time spent filming was only two weeks. To say that it was ambitious for that time frame would be an understatement. Writing, editing and choosing the music were my favorite parts of the process. Fund raising and pre-production were about as much fun as a driving a rusty railroad spike through my left eye. The two week shoot was the toughest planning and execution piece. It meant 18 hour days and Israeli commando level precision and planning but we did it. Brian Gramo, my first AD, was a Swiss Watch when it came to time tables. But it takes a team to make a film and the whole crew excelled.
Q: Is there going to be a sequel... AWAKEN THE DEAD... AGAIN (or RE-AWAKEN THE DEAD)? LOL.
Yes. Bigger, better, bolder and bloodier than the first. If AWAKEN THE DEAD is EL MARIACHI, the sequel will be DESPERADO. There is a plot line and a twist that will blow your socks off. Something truly ground breaking.
Q: How can people see this movie (website, brain damage, et cetera)
We have a November 6th release date through Brain Damage Films. It will be available at many of the standard retail outlets as well as at the distributors site at braindamagefilms.com. We will update our main site at awakenthedeadthemovie.com as more news appears.