In 2001, as Fangoria prepared to release Andrew Parkinson’s second film Dead Creatures, I was asked to once again write the accompanying magazine feature. This was my third interview with Andy, this time by email.
“The idea was that when you become a zombie, a large part of you dies and any contact with your old life dies. Strictly speaking it should be called Partially Dead Creatures, which doesn't work for me!”
To what extent is this a sequel to I, Zombie?
“It's not really a sequel. Same territory, different characters. Actually, I really wanted to do a different story but as I was working on other ideas this one came along and wouldn't go away, so here it is.”
The impression I get is that I, Zombie is equivalent to Night of the Living Dead in being an isolated incident; whereas this is the same premise but expanded to involve more people and show the zombie-ism as a more widespread problem - a bit like Dawn of the Dead. Would you agree with this?
“Dead right. I was interested in a community of people living in this damaged world. It's how they function and interact that interested me. It's a story of a girl becoming a zombie and being nurtured by the zombie community. There is also a man driven insane by the thought that his missing daughter might be a zombie. I should also say that Dawn is the main reason I'm making 'alternative' zombie films. I don't think anyone will ever better it as far as the 'traditional' zombie film goes.”
And if so - here comes the obvious question - are you planning to shoot an equivalent to Day of the Dead? Where the zombie-ism has become a recognised problem that people are trying to do something about?
“The law of the zombie movie states that one is good, two is better, but three.... three is a boxed set. When I was writing DC the script could have gone two ways. The alternative script was called Paranoid Zombie. Its a parallel story to DC where one of the characters 'Mike' is a zombie who is aware of the growing community of zombie hunters and is fighting his own war. It's like the zombie state is the natural way to be and he is looking for a zombie way forward. I'm planning to do a non-zombie film next though.”
The other parallel that I can see (rightly or wrongly) is that where I, Zombie could be seen as an allegory for AIDS, Dead Creatures can be seen as an allegory for drug addiction. (It seems to concentrate more on what these people do to survive and their pragmatically blasé attitude to the horrors involved, as opposed to IZ’s examination of social alienation.)
“Well....... IZ was about isolation and DC is about community and survival. The blasé attitude to killing is a necessary evil if you are going to survive in this world. They smoke cannabis to escape from their reality for a while and relax. Also I like the idea that cannabis could have a medical use for the alleviation of zombie symptoms.”
Cripes, wasn’t that last question pretentious?
“Mike, it's time to stop reading those 1,000 page SF epics and watch a few more B movies!”
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Give me some details of how this film was shot: schedule, budget, format, etc.
“I wrote the script over about a year. It had to be right so I just kept banging away for about 15 drafts. When I felt it was ready I took a month's leave from work for the shoot. This was July 1999 and my work would only give me the August off and so pre-production was fairly manic. I needed a cast, crew and location. One month later we were ready to roll. I had a pile of 16mm, a super-16 camera, a rented beaten up house in West London, a great but slightly confused cast and a crew of IZ veterans and new recruits. The film went 35mm the day before we were due to start shooting when Jason Shepherd (the DP) decided that the bigger format would make it more commercial. This was really exciting until I discovered that the camera was noisy and heavy and our stash of film stock was a little compromised.
"Still, too late to worry and three weeks later the film was 80% in the can. I spent the Autumn cutting the film together and working out the holes in the puzzle. Then in Feb 2000 we shot exteriors and pickups for a week. From then on it was a case of cutting and re-cutting, then putting a score together. Tudor Davies (the Dubbing Mixer) and I spent a couple of months putting the sound together, with lots of post synching and sound fx which nearly drove us insane. Since then we've been getting a 35mm print made for the festivals, which brings us to were we are now.”
How was the movie financed?
“The film started out small and grew. I put up the initial money for a 16mm micro epic, a pile of money arrived from the IZ release and the production grew, then Jason Shepherd my DP decided that a 16mm camera wasn't big enough and he banked it up to 35mm. We haven't quite worked out what it cost yet. A print is on the way from the lab, and with it a pile of bills. We probably made the film for around £50,000, but there is a pile of deferments as long as your arm so its more like £100,000. Pretty cheap for 35mm though.”
Where did you find your cast?
“I advertised the film in a casting magazine. Received about 450 applications, and spent two weeks auditioning. Very manic but they turned out really well.”
Have you used many of the same crew as before?
“I'm happy to say the key crew were IZ veterans . Jason Shepherd, who did a few days as 2nd unit camera on IZ, came onboard as DP for Creatures. Tudor Davies retired from the set as sound recordist but still handled the sound mix. The rest of the crew came from various walks of life. They were a joy, and kept me going through the insanity of the shoot.”
Who created the make-up and effects? And how pleased are you with the result?
“Paul Hyett did the FX and I'm thrilled with the results. I love shooting fx, and Paul is a great collaborator. He doesn't just think about the FX, he also works out ways of shooting them. Everything relates to how it will look when seen from a particular angle. I wanted a few full on Romero/Fulci moments and Paul worked them out pretty well considering our budget. I, Zombie was Paul's first film as well as mine so it was good to get together and push the boundaries of taste once again. We've both moved on a little.”
Is there any reason why nearly all the lead characters this time round are female?
“Yes, after IZ which was about a single male, I wanted to do a film about a community of women. They are all strong characters who get on with life in spite of their condition. In fact all the male characters in the film are isolated and dysfunctional when compared to the women.“
For a significant part of the movie there are three unconnected strands, which only come together near the end: what problems does a structure like this present to a writer?
“The main problem is keeping the stories moving along at a similar pace and getting them all to come together at the end. So to an extent the film was written backwards from the end. As always, beginning and ends are easy, it's the middle hour that kills ya. Still, after the struggle with making IZ, I learned the importance of a re-re-re-written script the hard way.”
How has I, Zombie been received around the world? And how did US distribution on the Fangoria label help it?
“For such a small scale personal film it found a much wider audience than I ever imagined. Fortunately it found it's way through to Fangoria via film maker Kevin Lindenmuth at a time when they were looking at starting their label. So Fango meant we reached a huge audience, compared to the underground festival audience I originally anticipated. I have to say I was freaked out, but in a good way. It's also been to several major festivals and plays on TV in France.”
What did you learn from IZ that you were able to bring to DC?
“The most important lesson I learned was to get the script right before switching the camera on. There is no way of over-emphasising that enough for any new film makers out there. Also during a shoot, a huge amount of time and energy is spent setting up shots, then moving from location to location. So the other thing we did differently was to shoot for three weeks solidly inside the same location. Because the house was pretty big, we set up different rooms as different locations. Switching rooms was pretty easy, compared to loading the van, driving around, unloading the van, etc, etc.“
Tony Timpone at Fango considers your work a cross between George Romero and Ken Loach. What are your thoughts on that?
“Pretty close, although I've always enjoyed the Romero films more... I am really interested in films that combine horror film scenarios with social realism. Romero and Cronenberg are at the top of the tree, but there are many other interesting films out there such as Possession and Daughters of Darkness. Grim, realistic films that are not afraid to take their subject matter seriously. I'm great fun at parties.”
Of course, most Romero fans would have no interest in a movie by Loach, and vice versa - so who is your audience for a film like this?
“I don't think the audience for these films is massive, but there are enough people out there who are tired of horror comedies, and clever post-modern horror. They are looking for something a little different and willing to give it a go.”
“I still have the day job in TV post production, which I have to say I enjoy. My colleagues think I'm a little wierd, but you should meet them!”
Where will the movie be shown/distributed?
“As soon as the print is out of the lab, we are off to Fantasia for the world premiere, then it's a September video release with Fango in the States. After that it's off around the genre festivals, hopefully picking up releases and my sanity on the way.”
What are your plans for your next film?
“Once Dead Creatures is out of my hair, I'm looking forward to relaxing and kicking a few ideas around. I'll have to see how it goes from there really. I've written a couple of treatments for films that are so grotesque I'd be embarrassed filming them, so I'll have to see if I can make the ideas a little more palatable. Either that or a romantic comedy.”