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“Why I Made A Zombie Movie”; An Open Letter From Filmmaker Harrison Smith

A LEGLESSCORPSE/THE CRYPT EXCLUSIVE–Writer/director Harrison Smith (Camp Dread) spoke with us about getting a letter out to horror fans regarding his most recent film, Zombie Killers.  We here at the ‘Corpse are happy to present this letter to you Fellow Fans in its unedited entirety, and hope that you will share it amongst your horror-minded friends!

 

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Harrison Smith (center), with Roy Knyrim of SOTA FX and actor Kane Hodder

When I was making my slasher film Camp Dread, my director of photography Charlie Anderson asked if I would ever make a zombie movie.  My answer was fast and sure: “Hell no.  When he asked why, the film snob in me replied that zombie movies were lazy, and aside from a handful of great ones, the subgenre was populated with junk.  Lazy filmmakers were attracted because the films required little effort and anyone with a digital camera and editing software thought they could get rich quick.

I felt zombie movies, overall, were the NASCAR of horror.  They go around and around…you know where they begin, you know where they end, and you hope for a few crashes in between.

A year later I was in Jeff Trainer’s office being pitched a zombie movie.  I spent an hour trying to talk him out of it.  A year later we have Zombie Killers.

Eli Roth once said in an interview that horror fans don’t want the same old same old, but then when they get something new they lament it’s not like this film or that franchise.  Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

What sold me on making a zombie film was Jeff Trainer.  He had a different vision, and it wasn’t the standard claustrophobic shoot ’em up brainsplatter gorefest that was the staple of the Netflix graveyard and dollar DVD bins.

Even the venerated The Walking Dead failed to inspire me.  While well made, well done, finely acted and produced, it had a simple formula: “people argue, zombies attack” which was every episode every week.

image12When I landed the job for Zombie Killers, I saw only season one of The Walking Dead.  I stopped there to avoid contamination of my script and the project.

No matter what we did, we would be compared to The Walking Dead even though some of those fans knew little of the subgenre’s history and what George Romero did to bring things to the point of a weekly undead series.  In other words, The Walking Dead was not nor is the be all to end all in zombie product.  The same for World War Z.

Downplay the zombies and you have a survival story.  Overplay the zombies and you have bad B movie fodder.  It’s a fine balance.

Jeff wanted to incorporate the sport of professional paintball.  It was a deal breaker.  His son is a world class player for the top ranked San Diego Team Dynasty.  They had just clobbered the undefeated Russians and players like Oliver Lang and Ryan Greenspan were legends in the paintball arena.

So how the hell do you make a good movie out of that?  Shooting zombies with paintball guns?  Do a paintball game invaded by zombies in the woods?  The bad possibilities were endless.  Jeff, however, gave me free reign to do what was needed to make a good film.

image5The theory I followed was this: Spielberg’s Jaws was not about the shark.  It was about the people, and a solid human drama played out with a shark causing mayhem in the background.  The sequels became about the shark and the series slid into steady decline ending with the insufferably horrible “Jaws the Revenge” (which gets my vote for worst movie of all time because it was made by people who knew better).

Cynicism destroys filmmaking.  I call it “Cynema.”  Yes, the goal is to make money and keep the lights on.  But there is a fine line between “so bad it’s good” and flat out cynicism and contempt for an audience.  Even the worst Godzilla movie, or the celluloid punching bag that is “Plan 9 From Outer Space” is not cynical, bankrupt claptrap like a lot of SyFy Channel product.

This also goes for fans and reviewers that are afforded too much technology and information on films and don’t know how to properly use it.  Half-baked online video reviews or snarky, bitchy, uneducated blog entries do not constitute critical thinking or informed assessments of film, music or any piece of art.  A computer and a blog do not make you a reviewer in the same respect as just watching lots of movies is not a single criteria that makes you able to weigh in on something officially.

See my thoughts about this here:

http://www.sixdegreesmovie.com/apps/blog

I wanted to breathe something fresh into a very worn out genre.  Unless it was zombies in space, we weren’t really going to do much different.  Veer too far from formula and fans will reject you; stay too on point, and it’s boring, flat and derivative.  You also run the risk of satire and spoof.  Aside from Shaun of the Dead, Return of the Living Dead, and Zombieland, humor and zombies (and horror in general) is an unsuccessful mix.

Harrison Smith (center)

I created the rural town of Elwood that could be any of those Wild West frontier towns.  Throw in some young guns called “Zombie Killers” who trained under a sheriff-type veteran named Seiler (Billy Zane) and a pallet of characters led by the fatalistic Doc (who may or may not be a black hat villain) and we got something cool…a modern day American Western with zombies.  Swap out horses for ATVs and oil wells for fracking wells, and you have a re-telling of two genres that ended up going together like chocolate and peanut butter.

If you’re looking for mindless brainsplatter, keep looking.  We went heavy on characterization without being boring and with a budget under one million, gave our audience some pretty wild things that make up this new world.  It’s not a “must survive” movie.

We created a world with zombies and while they are default horror, this is not a horror film.  This is zombie action with a bent on western science fiction.  While there is a market for blood and guts zombie product, Jeff Trainer was not going for that.  His marketing strategy was to cast a wider net and reach a whole demographic of video gamers, sports enthusiasts and fuse them with the zombie fan base.

We think we succeeded in realizing his plan.

image8But it is more than that.  We didn’t make a cynical film.  We made a fun one, a rich one, and a film that betrays its budget.  It’s a wide scope film, followed with aerial shots, sweeping landscapes and rolling hills.

We didn’t cash in with a cynical film. We are the first to use fracking as a zombie issue (sorry Z Nation, you stole from us as we wrote and wrapped long before you were a concept).

As a filmmaker, I love movies first.  I think movies are the closest things humans can get to making magic and having eternal life in this world.  They make us laugh, cringe, cry, dream and wonder.  They bind us culturally.  Art and athletics do more to unite a people than any form of politics.

 

So if I’m making a zombie movie or the next Oscar winner, I give it everything I got.  It’s simply how it has to be.

–Harrison Smith

 

Zombie Killers arrives Feb. 3rd from Anchor Bay Entertainment.

You can follow Zombie Killers on Facebook; just click here.

 

 

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Andrew Thompson

Editor-In-Chief at LeglessCorpse
The Mouse...Editor-In-Chief of LeglessCorpse.com, VP/co-owner of LC Films...just your average guy with what is most likely an unhealthy affinity for horror movies, sci-fi, superheroes, bacon, old cartoons and horror movies. Oh, I almost forgot, I really dig horror movies; new ones, old ones, it matters not; I love 'em. Husband, father, veteran and scribbler. I like bacon as well. The Mouse abides 😉

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