Caught Dead-Handed: My Family’s Experience Portraying Zombies In A Movie
First of all, let me start off by saying that my lovely wife has a tendency of occasionally waking me up in the middle of the night while I’m in a deep slumber just to ask me the oddest of questions.
One night in particular, perhaps a few months ago, I was gettin’ it in good. I’m talkin’ slobbering, leg-kicking REM shutdown. Well, in the midst of my deep and demanding dormancy, Mrs. Ford kneed me in the kidneys and asked if I would like to be a zombie the next day.
This strange WTF moment instantly roused me, and wifey was quite fortunate that she wasn’t the recipient of an immediate protective kick to the midsection that would have been mere instinct as a result of being asked a question like that while being distracted by a very good snooze.
I managed to catch myself, realize where I was, and spared my wife’s abdomen from immediate divorce-inducing pain.
While attempting to clear the cobwebs from my head, but not yet processing any intelligent decision-making thoughts, I slurred “Yeah….sure” and promptly took my black @$$ back to The Land of Nod.
When I awoke the next morning (of my own volition this time), I saw that my wife was practically dressed in an outfit so battered and beaten that even your average homeless person would have reservations about being caught dead in.
I asked her what the deal was, and she reminded me that I had agreed to be a zombie that day.
After going through my morning ritual of the 3 S’s (S#!t, Shave, and Shower), the memory of our previous night’s conversation began to come back to me.
Generally, if I agree to something, you can usually depend on me to see it through. This time, however, I required a bit more of an explanation.
What it boiled down to was that my wife has a Facebook friend that she met while we were attending the Wizard World Comic Convention in Anaheim last year. This friend happens to be an actor/producer from this area who attended the convention in support of some of his friends who were actors in the movie Battle Los Angeles.
Anyway, he and my wife had been FB friends for a while and she had read one of his updates stating that he was producing a small internet-based horror film and that they needed volunteers to come play zombies in the background.
My wife knows that I have a small resume of thespian experience, so she replied back to him that me and my family would love to participate. He provided her with the address of the shoot location and said that he would see us bright and early the next day at 8am.
We were also instructed to wear clothing that we didn’t mind getting dirty, torn, or basically ruined. I hadn’t heard stipulations like that since I auditioned for this role in some guy’s basement who only had a Palmcorder and was wearing a smoking jacket, a class ring, and some galoshes. Even the 2nd Unit director (who happened to be a donkey with a bad coke habit) seemed sorta suspect.
However, my wife’s producer friend, Jerry Fortuna, is a top-notch guy who handles his business way better than that. Let me tell you what happened.
DAY OF THE SHOOT
So, that Saturday morning, my wife, son, and I set off on an excursion to West Covina, California to become zombies in some unknown horror film. I was excited as well as skeptical. After all, I had only met my wife’s FB producer friend (Jerry Fortuna) once, and I had no idea what this day was gonna be like.
Plus, it was gonna be a full day of me not being internet-accessible nor getting any comic strip drawing done. I get kinda grouchy and nervous when I’m deprived of my ADDANAC CITY responsibilities. Like I said, I was sorta suspicious, but I went along with the idea with a relatively open mind (for the moment).
We had the directions to the shoot all MapQuested, but even then we got a little bit lost trying to locate the exact spot where the filming would be held. After a few premature detours, we found it.
All of the shooting for that day would take place at the director’s home. Jason Forge, the man-with-the-plan, didn’t appear to be some kinda cinematic wunderkind from first glance. I was somewhat wary about whether this dude really knew what he was doing and if he was gonna end up wasting my (self-perceived) valuable time.
At first appearance, Jason Forge seemed to be just some regular SoCal dude whom you would lazily guess only wanted to say he made movies merely to impress whatever dumbfounded groupies he bumped into while playing Resident Evil in the middle of Starbucks.
However, I was pleased to discover that I couldn’t have been more wrong. Jason Forge was nothing like that.
This gentleman was well-read, knowledgeable, prepared, and had some of the best state-of-the-art equipment that someone who wasn’t firmly nuzzled against Steven Spielberg‘s sack could get their hands on. I was pretty impressed by his film-making arsenal.
I had taken a few classes in Final Cut Pro Video when I first arrived out here to California, so I kinda-sorta knew what was necessary in order to put something significant down on film. Jason had all of that and then some.
I whispered to my wife, “Okay, homeboy may be legit after all. Let’s see what happens next.”
A few more people arrived and apparently all were interested in receiving their opportunity to be on film as fearsome zombies. This isn’t an invitation that happens very often (at least not to me), so we were all a bit nervous and excited to be a part of this endeavor.
I will admit, nearly all of the folks who showed up were in the age range of late-teens to early 20′s. My wife and I were the only ones there who…ahem, had a few years under our belts, let’s just say. I was really beginning to feel the age difference.
However, after everyone started mingling together and trading war stories about this and that, we quickly began to relax, have fun, and enjoy ourselves.
I stopped feeling like Methusalah, and they stopped calling me Sir and trying to offer me Wurther’s Originals and a chair constantly (I’m just kidding. They made me stand for most of seven hours. Kids, eh?). I know, I’m doing a great deal of joking and exaggerating, but allow me to continue describing this unique experience.
I suppose there were about twelve of us “extras” who answered the call of duty. I think more of us showed up than were expected. The director knew he needed some background zombies, but I don’t think he was prepared for so many folks to arrive.
Even the makeup artist/visual effects coordinator, the exquisitely talented Brittney Korpal, was shocked to see the growing multitude that was congregating in her backyard. She was the one delegated to transform all of us from everyday citizens into a mob of walking dead and she certainly had her work cut out before her.
It took about a half hour to work her magic on each person, and shooting was due to begin in less than an hour. Brittney was a trooper and a consummate professional as she forged forth, bringing a horde of zombies to life (so to speak).
There were so many faces that needed “deteriorating” that one of our fellow zombies was inducted to help assist with makeup duties. A huge round of applause should be bestowed to Crystal Jane who pitched in with her face-rendering skills straight outta the blue. When the going got tough, she heard the call and answered soundly.
So, now we were ready. I was all zombified and was eager to make my film debut as a gruesome killing machine. Just point the camera at me and I’m bringing the Oscar home, baby! Easy, right?
Heh, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Whereas, I felt I was ready for my “close-up, Mr. DeMille”, our director had a couple more embellishments to add on. He was in the corner of the garage mixing up something. I thought maybe he was stirring up a pot of Ramen Noodles (we were promised lunch after all).
Upon further scrutiny, I saw that Jason was fixing a batch of fake blood. His intent was to indiscriminately douse us all in it, giving that flesh-eater look even more appeal.
Hmm…so that’s why we were told not to wear our “good clothes”. Okay.
ABOUT THE FILM
Admittedly, I am not a heavy-duty, hardcore gamer. As a matter of fact, the last time I was into video games, Tecmo Bowl and NBA Jams were the top choices at the arcade.
The film is based on the video game Left For Dead. From what I can surmise, it’s sorta similar to the vein of Resident Evil, Silent Hill and some of the other first-person horror/adventure deals.
Also, from what I can gather (while being an old, out-of-touch fogey), is that this game is immensely popular. Evidently, it’s so popular that several amateur creative types have paid homage to it with various stories, comics, and short films.
I will say, without a doubt, that the movie I participated in, Seriously Left 4 Dead, has to be the best one out there hands down. And I’m not just being biased mind you, lots of well-regarded folks have said so, including the knowledgeable peeps at Geeky Gadgets and G4TV.
Although I was only a lowly unnamed zombie, you know that every movie has to have its leading cast. This fan-film was no exception. The stars of this flick were no strangers to being on camera. The leading man, Derrick Oliver, is an up-and-coming actor from SoCal who is steadily making his mark in Hollywood. If you’d like to check out what he’s been up to cinematically in the past year, then watch this short reel on YouTube.
Another member of the starring cast is Chuey Martinez. I’ve only been a transplant to Southern California since 2009, so I wasn’t readily familiar with this gentelman’s impressive resume. Apparently, he’s quite a celebrity in his own right. Chuey is a mega-popular DJ personality on L.A.’s #1 Hit Music Station, 102.7 KIIS FM.
Chuey has also been dubbed “The Latino Ryan Seacrest” due to his many existing and soon-to-be-released television projects. Currently, he is the host of his own Travel Channel show, “All You Can Meat.”
Jose Luis Casillas is a relative newcomer to the wild n’ wacky world of Hollyweird, but his performance is excellent and he lends a freshness that is much-needed in this testosterone-fueled film of blood, guts, and glory. I have a very strong feeling that you will see lots more of Jose Luis in the future. Hopefully, he’s gotten a good bite of the acting bug that could translate into big things for this young actor.
Allow me to school you about a few things regarding the movie industry that you just may not be aware of. Most of the movies and films we watch run about 90 minutes or more in length. Most scenes in the movie last about five minutes at the most. Let me be the one to tell you that it takes waaaay longer to film a five minute scene than merely five minutes. Much, much longer. This film alone lasts almost five minutes and it took quite a long time to get from brain to film.
After getting all gussied up as a zombie, I figured that shooting would begin in a moment and it would take about…ohhhhh, thirty, forty-five minutes to complete. I mean, all I had to do was zombie shuffle around and then get executed by the film’s stars along with countless other doomed souls, right?
Heh. No, sweet innocent moviegoer, it doesn’t just happen that swift. Movie magic is for the viewer, not necessarily the participant.
The director had plenty of scenes to shoot with the leading cast, scenes that did not involve my particular crew of zombies at all.
So, what was there for a poor impatient “walker” like me to do? Partake in the extensive catered lunch provided by our esteemed Producer, Jerry Fortuna, that’s what.
Thusly, I waited with satiated patience for the Director to return to our set, all the while scarfing down pepperoni pizza, chips, cookies, and countless soft drinks which helped to battle the scorching heat of another brutal SoCal day.
Eventually (after two or three hours, that is), Jason Forge returned to where my squad was huddled up and informed us that our scene was to be shot next.
I was tired, hot, sedated by heavy food, and was becoming somewhat neglectful about remembering that I was wearing full-fledged monster makeup while profusely sweating, but I was still as excited as a kid on Groundhog’s Day, er… Christmas.
I was ready, yessir! Me and two of my fellow zombies were led out beyond the entrance gate to a mild-mannered home and were told that as soon as the lead men ran through we were to commence attacking them.
In turn, they were gonna simulate blasting us to Kingdom Come with their weapons. We were to scream in painful rage and collapse onto the ground, dead for the second time. Reeealll easy, huh?
Well, you see….
The first take went well. The guys clamored through the gate, ran into us and started buckin’ shots at us (Blanks, of course. For some reason, I couldn’t help thinking about Brando Lee‘s fate on the set of The Crow)).
We tried to make it totally believable as I threw myself in the dirt in anguish. I was proud of that scene and felt like we had certainly nailed it. Jason looked at the footage through his camera and told us what a great job we did. Yay!
“Now do it again. Take 2!”
WTF? Throwing myself on the ground isn’t my favorite sport and the only time I really like being in the dirt generally comes as a result of some kind of tripping accident, not on general purpose.
Buuuut, I consider myself to be a thorough per-fesh-in-uhl, so I knocked the dust off my pants-knees, poured on a lil’ more fake blood, and regrouped with my “walker” friends. Take 2 indeed.
Actually, it took about 9 takes, I $#!t you not. By the 4th take, I was walking like an actual zombie and that wasn’t acting, brotha. I didn’t require any more fake blood because I was now producing the real thing from cuts, scratches, and palm rips. I had grass in my mouth, hair, and makeup. Needless to say, I was really looking the part.
As exhausted as I was becoming, I couldn’t be angry with Jason. I understood totally where he was coming from. Me, I’m lazy enough to shoot one take, hope for the best, and call it a wrap once it’s complete. If the shot wasn’t perfect, oh well. Really. You wouldn’t be able to differentiate my intended movie results from the blooper reel. They’d both look a lot alike.
Jason Forge, however, is a filmmaker who will not settle for less. He will not settle for mediocrity or having to say “it came out okay”. He wants it to be perfect. Or at least as perfect as his personal vision allows.
You can tell while watching the film (yeah, yeah, I’m gonna show it to ya, just keep reading) that Jason Forge poured his heart and soul into this project and he inspired all of us in the cast to go the extra mile mile to create something special that we all could be proud of.
Basically, I learned a lot about zombies, moviemaking, professionalism, and patience that day. If you think you’re ready to turn Hollywood on its ear, then you’d better be prepared to earn those stripes. Success is not gonna come easy, but if you apply yourself and never give up, you’ve got a shot at making it. Bear in mind, though, lots of luck and the right connections doesn’t hurt either.
So here’s the moment you all have been waiting for, the culmination of months of planning, shooting, editing, and a few hours of my time. I had fun, although it’s hard to find me in the scene I’m in. I think I saw myself.
That’s one of the hazards of the movie industry. You can spend months memorizing lines, shooting under extreme conditions for long, grueling hours and still not make it into the final product. Them’s the breaks. I am included on the credit roll, so maybe I’ll have better luck next time.
Check out the results of everyone’s efforts right here below in this short, fan-film extravaganza, Seriously Left 4 Dead. Fair warning, though: It’s NSFW due to strong language and extreme violence. This is a horror film after all, whaddaya expect? Enjoy, and tell me what you think.