Q: How the hell did you come up with that title? It is great.
I came up with the title before I even knew what the story was going to be. I only knew that I didn't want the words "Dead" or "Zombie" in the title... one thing I like about it is that, within the context of the movie, the title has two meanings -- I wish I could say I brilliantly planned that, but it was just kind of a cool bonus!
Q: Why do a zombie movie as your first indie feature? It seems like there's this whole new wave of zombie movies being made the past few years.
Well, I've loved zombie movies my entire life -- I saw NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (the original, of course) when I was ten, and I can honestly say I think that movie is responsible for setting me off down the path of wanting to be a filmmaker. When Shannon Hale (producer of STINK) and I decided to tackle a feature, I realized I had never made a zombie flick, so it seemed appropriate. I had no idea then that there was gonna be this wave of zombie movies, so the success of stuff like 28 DAYS LATER had no bearing on the decision.
Q: How is this different from other zombie movies?
I think a lot of people end up re-hashing George Romero's work while trying to pretend they're not playing in his sandbox. There's no denying that he created the zombie movie genre as we know it today, so I went into the scriptwriting stage knowing I was working in his universe. I think what makes STINK different from the usual zombie flick is that it focuses on a group of characters who have, in a way, adapted to the world they've found themselves in and they're just trying to live their lives instead of sitting around worrying about what to do about the zombie plague.
Q: You're coming at this as a screenwriter-- do you think this makes a difference when directing? And how different was it writing this movie than it was DRIVE (which probably had a much bigger budget)?
I was nervous about directing the movie, but I think if I have any real talent as a director, it's having the sense to surround myself with people who are very good at what they do. It's funny -- STINK only had a budget of $3000 (which is far, far lower than even the lowest-budget movie I had written previously), but it's the first time that what was in my head wound up on the screen. Everybody brought something to the mix, of course, but it was nice to be in the position of saying yes or no. Fortunately, I rarely had to say "no" because my cast and crew really understood what I was after. The big difference between writing STINK and writing something like DRIVE (which had a budget of about 4 million dollars) was that on DRIVE I could just throw stuff onto the page and it was somebody else's worry about how to pull it off with the money that was available. On STINK, I took the Robert Rodriguez approach -- write around stuff you know you can get for free or at least very cheap. And of course, I got paid for writing DRIVE!
Q: The main character's name is Matool. Was that intended as a sort of in-joke, considering what he has to do to stay at that house? Did you have that actor in mind from the beginning or was it a role you had to cast?
"Matool" is a reference to Lucio Fulci's ZOMBIE -- it's the island most of the movie takes place on. And of course, the big zombie that Matool fights in STINK is absolutely a tribute to the first zombie you see in ZOMBIE. I wear my zombie movie love on my sleeve, man. And for the record, the fast-moving zombies in STINK were stolen from Umberto Lenzi's NIGHTMARE CITY, not 28 DAYS LATER or the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD.
I've known Kurly Tlapoyawa for years. He was originally just going to be the fight choreographer on the movie -- he's a Prizefighter, does Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu -- but the entire time I was writing the script, he kept pressuring me to cast him as Matool. I'm not even sure why I didn't want to give him the part, but I finally gave in and boy, am I glad I did. The guy has a ton of charisma and pretty much owns the screen whenever he's on camera.
Q: Talk a bit about the other actors... one of them is Gunnar Hansen's niece and another is a rather well-known sci-fi author.
Kristin Hansen and Bob Vardeman are also people I've known for years, and I wrote "Sassy" and "Mr. Rainville" for them. Bob has written a zillion books -- science fiction, mystery, western, you name it, and is a real sport when it comes to doing crazy stuff for movies. Billy Garberina and Devin O'Leary are friends of mine and I wrote those roles with them in mind, as well. Ross Kelly auditioned for "Nathan," and I almost didn't cast him because he's so damn good-looking, but Kristin told me to give him the part and fortunately, I trusted her judgment. Diva came in at the last minute -- we were having a hard time casting "Dexy," and she showed up at our apartment with Billy one night. After listening to us talk about the role, she said "That's me!" She read the script and decided she was in. Andrew Vellenoweth lived next door to me at the time and jumped in when another actor had to drop out. I'm hugely happy with my entire cast, and most if not all of them will be back in my next movie (if they'll have me).
Q: How did you go about deciding the look of the zombies?
I just wanted 'em to have that DAWN OF THE DEAD (the original) kind of bluish-gray look. We didn't have money for appliances and stuff, so we used latex and toilet paper for rotted flesh.
Q: What were the most difficult scenes to shoot? Was it easier to shoot in New Mexico then, let's say, California?
Surprisingly, the most difficult scenes to shoot were the bedroom interiors, mostly because those rooms were so tiny and it was hot as hell. We shot in August, and in New Mexico, that means heat-stroke. The fight scenes went very smoothly, although I expected those to be the toughest things to shoot.
As for shooting in New Mexico, it's far easier than shooting in California because you don't have to worry about permits (for the most part), and people are willing to help out and let you shoot in their stores and stuff just because they think it's cool that you're making a movie. In LA, everyone wants to be paid.
Q: How long did the movie take to complete, from first shoot day to final edit?
Well, we shot for twelve days with pickups on the thirteenth day (the opening credits stuff, with Matool and Nathan running/driving around). I edited the movie and did the sound build myself while working a day job, so it took an inordinately long time... fortunately Shannon is a very understanding girlfriend/producer, since I would come home from work, eat dinner with her, give her a smooch, then disappear into the office and edit the movie until I passed out every night. So let's see, first day of shooting was August 2nd, 2003, and the movie premiered August 6th, 2004. And of course, that was just with the temp music track and sound mix -- more work is being done on the sound now for the movie's upcoming DVD release through Tempe Entertainment, scheduled for May, 2005. All in all, I've put well over a year-and-a-half of my life into this movie... I'm just glad people seem to dig it!
Q: Will there be more zombie adventures of Matool?
I've got some ideas for a sequel, and lots of people are asking for one, so we'll see!