I started making films in upstate NY when I was fifteen, with some friends. Those were just amateur productions, but pretty ambitious for our age and resources. In 2000, I left Bard college a little after a year into the program, to go on to write, produce and act in a Medieval feature titled, Lycian. That film took about three years to complete, involving period costumes and a Medieval-village set that encompassed almost an acre of land. I made a couple more films with the same group, before moving to NYC, where I began working as background in TV and film productions. I met Tim Brennan doing this, and Pat Rigby through him; and in early 2008 we filmed a no-budget mockumentary called, America The Mental. Widely a showcase for Pat and Tim's impromptu comical talents, this was really the first time I had put myself behind a camera, and though I was initially hesitant, by the end of the movie, I was addicted to the camera, and anxious to develop my skills more.
Q: First, I must say that I really enjoyed the short. What prompted you to make an animated zombie movie?
Pat had an idea of a man stuck in his apartment with two zombies, back in 2008. The three of us were actually sitting around, designing a dvd cover for our previous movie, when we stumbled on the Photoshop effect that started off the animated idea. I went from there, developing the characters, storyline and illustrating/animating process, writing and re-writing the script well into the editing stage. The apocalypse aspect appealed to me because I love writing stories set in epic situations, and after reading about the year zero on Wikipedia, the Mayan Apocalypse prediction seemed to work really well with the idea of zombies eclipsing the human population. Plus, I'm just a sci-fi geek, a fan of the zombie/cannibal theme, as well as animation, so it was something that I wanted to see myself.
Q: Were you worried that the horror market was over saturated with the undead?
The only time I was really ever worried about missing the boat with zombies, was when I was about to take on animating. I had already spent a considerable amount of time on photographing and illustrating; animating was yet another skill I had to teach myself. So I wasn't sure if I could actually finish the movie in time, before zombie popularity got played out. But the zombie perseveres, because it's not a theme that tires out easily. It's a flexible idea: zombies can represent social metaphors or just go "arg' and feed on people's brains. They can be the undead or botched radiation consequences. They can be a slow dull-witted threat or explosive rabid animals. In Year Zero they are both; in the story, what is believed to be a bacterial parasite enters the host: the bloodthirsty infected eventually succumbs entirely to the parasite, becoming a zombie that functions only to feed the host with living flesh. But its also a really personal empathetic account of someone barely surviving the onset of the end of civilization. If think if you do the story right, and make something unique, it's still counts as a contribution to the genre and to the fans that are always looking for good entertainment.
Q: In part, the voice-over of the main character is what really pulls this all together. How difficult was it finding "the voice"?
Pat Rigby in Year Zero sounds like Tom Hanks to me. If you close you eyes, it's eerie. I'm glad you said that, he really a natural. I told him he should pursue VO work (he's actually a talented stand-up comedian in NYC). Pat and I were already friends and worked together before. In the beginning Tim Brennan, he and I decided to switch around our voices and images for the characters. I put Pat through a lot of recording sessions: he understood the "Loner" character immediately, it was mostly because I kept rewriting the script around the new animations; however, we were also working on the sound of his voice, resulting in his aloof yet sympathetic performance.
Tim Brennan (Exec. Prod.) voices the zombie trapped in the bathroom. In the beginning we decided to lower his voice digitally to give it a raw, intimidating (sometimes comical) sound. Tim's comedic talents really elevated the absurdity of the zombie's requests for the main character's flesh.
Q: How long did it take to create?
A little over two years, I guess. I started taking test shots in late 2008. The bulk of photographing, illustrating and compositing (and original dialogue) I completed in a year or so. I did an initial edit of the movie with Tim; then it took me another 6-7 months of editing and adding needed shots, regularly working 13-18 hour days. I composed/recorded the music and mixed in sound effects during the last months. Then I'd go back to it and fix stuff, as I'm compulsive like that. But it wasn't on HDCAM and presentable in that regard until a month or so ago.
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of the process?
More of it was challenging than came easy. I was new to editing, illustrating, animating, Mac's. I had to teach myself new programs and techniques, workflows and technical jargon. It was also my first time directing, so I was pushing myself a great deal... Sound effects really tried my patience.
Q: Is your next film also going to be an animated piece?
I hope so; I love animation. I'd really like to get Year Zero produced into a series; I already have a 12 -episode outline and a lot places I want to go with the story. I also have a Pulp Noir storyline set in the 30's, with a lot of really dysfunctional fun characters, that I think would make for a great -animated series.
Q: How can people see the film?
Year Zero will be premiering at Tribeca Film Festival, as well as Tribeca Online Film Festival, on April 24 and playing various following days, until May 1st. Whether you live in NYC and want to experience it on the big screen or want the convenience and flexibility of watching it online for free, you can get it all set up right here.