Exclusive Interview : Risen Zombie Movie!

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We recently had a chance to chat with the screenwriter of the upcoming zombie flick Risen, none other then David Talbot. You want to see a crew that has their act together its these folks. They are die hard fans and know what makes a good zombie movie, or at least have all the right answers to all the questions! So without further ado lets get right into the nitty gritty

First off tell us What the Risen is about, the synopsis if you like, and how the movie came to be.

First off, I’m a huge zombie fan and I’ve got my mother to thank for that. Growing up, I saw the Romero trilogy, CHUD, the wide variety of Italian horror, and plenty of horror both of the high and low quality. I had always wanted to make not just any movie but it has to be a zombie movie and it has to be a cult classic. In early 2004 I decided it was time to kick off this project and began working on the screenplay. I took a lot of feedback from a lot of people to get the script into the shape it’s in which I feel is pretty good

 With a great script in hand, I started seeking help from seasoned industry veterans in getting the project made. A lot of doors opened for the project thanks to the City Of Bellmead, the Waco Film Commission, and the fact that I didn’t expect to direct and star in the film. Several folks I talked to later admitted they get approached on a regular basis about doing a feature but the person pushing it expects to direct and star in the film. That’s just not me. I’m here to see the best possible movie gets made by getting the best possible people working on it then back off to let them do their job.

What made you decide to make a zombie movie?

Most of the folks working on this project are in film/television and this project will help build their careers, but not me. My goal from day 1 was to make the zombie movie I as a zombie fan always wanted to see and have that movie become a cult classic with no personal interest in ever making a second or third movie of any genre. I’m here solely focused on making the single best zombie movie I can because it’s something I was born to do. I’ve got a strong passion for the genre and when it’s done I want to be able to stand back and know I’ve contributed something special to the genre.

How is the Risen different from other zombie films?

I saw Dog Soldiers on the shelf of the video store and was tepid about renting it just from the box art. I was thinking, "with box art like that it’s sure to be cheesy". Then I finally saw it on the recommendation of a friend and it finally made me fully understand how important characterization is to a good horror movie. If the audience connects to the protagonists then everything they come into danger they feel something. All of Romero’s films had this in spades. A short time into the film you felt like you knew each of the leads and you cared about what happened to them.

I loved Dawn 04, but it really seemed to have missed the boat on this one instead opting to barrage the audience with more characters than anyone can possibly process or care about. Early on, you started bonding to Polly’s character only to have her disappear into the background for the most of the rest of the film. It’s kind of sad but most people I know felt the greatest loss when Andy got killed and he only had 1 spoken line.

Likewise, a lot of indie horror projects are lead by a bunch of characters that you just can’t wait to watch die. Where are the heroes? Where are the people we’re supposed to identify with? Character is important especially in a bloodbath type of movie.

With this as a baseline, I set out to make the audience care about our protagonists so when they face the horror of zombie Armageddon they’ll feel something. That said, Risen definitely isn’t a family drama with zombies, it’s a hard core survival horror piece that hopefully the audience will bond to.

How will the Risen compare to legendary directors like George Romero and Lucio Fulci?

Hopefully it’ll stand up reasonably well. Romero really created the genre and I’m on the edge of my seat excited to see how Land Of The Dead turns out. Romero has always had a great handle on the characterization piece and really making us feel like we’re right there with the protagonists. I hope under Damon Crump’s experienced direction we can get close to Romero’s mastery of the genre but it’s not fair to compare us directly to the master because I don’t believe anyone can measure up. Fulci either didn’t get characterization or it didn’t translate well from Italian to English. That said, Fulci definitely got the gore part down pat and created some memorable zombie scenes. The splinter of wood in the eye in Zombi  (AKA Zombie 2 or Zombie Flesh Eaters) still makes me grit my teeth every time I see it, very memorable. Hopefully in Risen we’re taking the best of both worlds from these two masters of the genre.

What is the rough budget for The Risen, and where/when are you planning to film it?
Risen is being funded by multiple private investors to the tune of about $100,000. Although $100k is a flyspeck of a budget by Hollywood standards we’ve been able to get outstanding help from the City Of Bellmead and Waco Film Commission in getting the kind of help that would normally eat that entire budget up if this was shot on the west coast. It’s being shot on HD by John Franklin of Frame By Frame. We’re shooting in March 2005 in Bellmead, Waco, Woodway, Lacy Lakeview and Valley Mills all locations in Texas. We’ve got some Texas specific flavor in the movie but nothing over the top, it’s definitely not a "wild west" type of project.

What audience are you trying to appeal to. Mainstream, or the die hard zombie fans?

Hopefully both. I think we’re producing a movie that is approachable for folks that have never seen a zombie movie before yet has a lot of the civil defense aspects that have been alluded to in many zombie movies but never shown. We’re going to show zombie fans a lot of stuff they haven’t seen before and that’s saying something in a genre that has Kung Fu Zombies and Underwater Nazi Zombie sub genres.

Are there any stars in the film we might know, or is it primarily a new flock of actors?

Risen is starring GiGi Erneta who has been in quite a few horror and action movies. I remember sitting in the audition and my jaw dropped she was so good for the part. She was born to play Jenny Mills. Joseph Thackery and Jason Harper are both reasonably new to the scene both having done some smaller roles in other movies with this being their first starring role. They’re both great actors that were perfect for the parts they were cast for.

As we know the key to a good movie is a good script and good acting. How do you feel your film stacks up in these two areas?

Sure ask the screenwriter if they’ve got a good script J. Yes, I do believe it’s a very good script and that is one of the things that has attracted the level of talent to the project. In regard to the actors, we received hundreds of headshots and resumes then auditioned a lot of people for these parts and the folks cast were those that rose to the top head and shoulders about the rest. They’re very good.

What sort of FX have you got planned, will we see large scale zombie interactions? Or more like Night of the Living Dead style with small groups of zombies?

There is definitely some large scale carnage planned. In terms of the scale of zombie carnage there’s one scene in particular that I can’t wait to see on screen and that’s our riot police with the shield wall hopelessly fighting back the undead hordes. Fortunately with the assistance of the city of Bellmead and the 150 and growing list confirmed extras we’ve got on signed up it looks like we’re going to make this scene really rock. Interested extras are welcomed and should email alex@risenthemovie.com to get on the list but do it soon! We’ll need most of the extras between March 12 and 20.

On the FX side, we’ve got Zombi/EFX of Laguna Hills, CA coming out to Texas to work their magic. They’ve got some really cool stuff planned that is sure to impress. The basic zombie look they’ve come up with is an innovative mix of several of the basic zombie looks that have been done before. Nothing off the wall, but it does look really good from the makeup tests they’ve done. Likewise they’ve set up and done tests on a lot of the piercing, headshots and more that look top quality. You won’t see is cheating out to cut-aways on any of the FX, it’s good enough to show and up close when the director wants those shots.

What do you feel is the biggest drawback that other indie zombie films have? There are many coming out and they all have there weakness, but what do you feel is the big thing that is constantly overlooked?

Self mocking humor is the single biggest problem in the indie zombie world. It seems there is a glut of indie zombie movies that take the strategy, "Ok, since we won’t have good production values, let’s go totally off the deep end and make a zombie comedy that makes lots of jokes about just how bad this movie is." Don’t get me wrong, I laughed myself to death watching the American dub of Zombie 90: Extreme Pestilence and scores of other zombie movies but there seems to be a shortage of good zombie movies that take their horror seriously, have good production values, good make-up effects, good characters, and a compelling plot. Shaun of the Dead doesn’t belong in that bucket, it was the only intentional zombie comedy that I’ve seen that deserves a seat at the table of zombie classics.

When do you intend to finish the Risen and where can readers check it out?

Principal photography will be done by the end of March. We hope to have a trailer out by April and a finished movie by September since we’ve got all of the resources necessary to do post lined up and scheduled. We’re already in discussions with a few distributors over the North American rights so with a little luck we’ll be in the video stores about the same time Land Of The Dead hits theatres. The very fact that distributors are talking to us now just on the basis of the fact that we’re shooting a serious zombie horror movie even before the first scene has been shot really underscores just the kind of demand there is out there for a non-comedy zombie movie. Check out http://www.risenthemovie.com

Do you read MoviesOnline? Have any feedback for the readers?

Of course I read MoviesOnline! It’s a great source for the goings on of the up and coming movies.

Most importantly what question have you always wanted to be asked, and what is the answer?

Question : Have remakes gone too far? Answer:  Definitely. It used to be people would accuse Hollywood of producing too many formulaic genre pieces, "Cop’s parner gets killed and he seeks revenge". At least each formulaic genre piece they produced was unique in some way but at this point they seem to have even given up on that and are instead opting to simply re-shoot past successful films with modern day stars as a sure fire way to turn a fast buck.

It seems like an insult to the folks that put the original together; an insinuation that they can do a better job than was done the first time. As long as the movie going audience keeps buying tickets for these remakes Hollywood is providing the fans exactly what they want. Show Hollywood you’d rather see a new movie than a re-shoot of an existing movie by buying tickets to new movies instead of remakes.

 

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