DL: Firstly, can you briefly describe your background and how you got into filmmaking?
AP: Well, I’m actually a reformed nerd. My background is in sound, but not the cool working-in-recording-studios type of sound, but the type with loads of hard sums. I started off screenwriting in 2002 as a way of dealing with the soul-crushing tedium of my day job, and got dragged into the whole production aspect that way; first through writing shorts, then acting in other people’s, and then eventually producing and directing them as well. That said, there’s not a lot you can do to prepare yourself for the full horror of directing a feature.
JH: I studied Screen Production at Winchester University which was largely documentary focused with a few shorts thrown in as well. I loved writing and producing and worked on a number of shorts after graduating. I remember attending Fright Fest for the first time in 2006 and saying to myself “one day, wouldn’t it be bloody awesome…” it’s still a dream but one day who knows.
DL: Without giving out too much in the way of spoilers, can you describe the premise of Zombie Resurrection?
AP: It’s about a group of survivors of the zombie apocalypse, travelling across the badlands. After a nasty “accident” they need to find somewhere to hide, and wind up in an old refuge.
JH: Unfortunately for them there’s also a mysterious zombie shut inside as well, with the power to bring the undead back to life. The fresh, fast and utterly terrifying flavour of undead.
DL: How did the idea for the film came about?
AP: The idea of the zombie Messiah came about in a bizarre chat I had with my son one dinner time. When Jake and I hooked up a couple of weeks later in the pub, the conversation turned to scary films (as it always does) and by the end of the evening we had got ourselves suitably excited about the basic skeleton of Zombie Resurrection that it seemed really stupid not to write the movie ourselves. Jake is the finest person I have ever met for riffing ideas with; if we hit a groove we suddenly become really dull company for anyone else in the room.
JH: That’s why we spent a lot of time riffing in the pub.
DL: Did you view a load of other zombie movies for inspiration? I would guess that the shadow of George Romero hangs over anyone embarking on a film about the living dead.
JH: We did research a lot of UK indie horror, but not specifically Zombie flicks; Johnannes Roberts’ F was a big inspiration in terms of look and David Schofield’s deep and layered middle aged protagonist was something we wanted to carry across in Zombie Resurrection.
AP: Well, it’s not like we suddenly needed to go and research other zombie movies – we were already massive fans of the genre, and gentleman George is clearly top of the pile. Zombie Resurrection draws fairly heavily on Day of the Dead for inspiration, with a group of completely eccentric survivors that are far more dangerous to each other than the zombie menace is; writing in interesting characters is something that lets down a lot of genre movies, and so it was one of the first things we tackled when we started to flesh out our ideas.
DL: Was it easy to get funding?
AP: It was probably the hardest part of the process so far. Getting what we had assumed were the traditional sources of funding to show any interest in a couple of first-time directors that want to do a zombie movie was a dead end, so we ended up writing to all the dentists and plastic surgeons in the region to try and drum up some interest. In the end we had to break the funding into two chunks – money to get through the shoot and then trying to deal with all the post-production later once we had something to show people.
JH: And we just about scraped enough together to get the film in the can. If any aspirant filmmaker has a rich uncle with a love of the undead, they’re 50% of the way there to getting their film made. In fact, if any aspirant filmmaker has a rich uncle with a love of the undead, please point them in our direction.
DL: For those of our readers who are not aware of IndieGoGo, could you briefly explain what it is about?
AP: It’s a website that deals with crowd funding for low-budget features like ours. You offer people an array of perks (like a signed DVD, posters, tee-shirts, etc.) in exchange for a contribution to the film. As the contributions get larger, so do the perks. Want a photo session done with you dressed and made-up as a zombie, with our set photographer and make-up supervisor? Want a personalised ring tone from Zombie Resurrection‘s one-man swearing masterclass Mac? We just might be able to do you a deal.
JH: We’ve had a massive amount of support already and it’s genuinely humbling to know that there are people out there who genuinely want to support independently produced UK horror. It’s a tough time for film makers and the support we’ve had has been overwhelming.
DL: How long roughly did Zombie Resurrection take to shoot?
AP: We shot for 24 days (and nights) over four weeks in August 2011. An insane time, but I can’t imagine that there’ll ever be another month of my life that will have such a profound life-changing effect on me.
JH: I never thought fun and stress could merge so perfectly. It was hands down the most amazing 24 days.
DL: Did elements of the script change throughout filming or did you decide to stick to it religiously?
JH: Nicely punned! We were shooting at a blisteringly fast pace (roughly four minutes of film a day, which is more than twice as quickly as most shoots), so there wasn’t too much time to play around with the script. If you don’t get it all shot in the time allotted, you don’t have a film at the end of it. Blood gags, stunts, working with non-actors, huge hordes; all the things you shouldn’t be doing on a fast paced shoot. The only thing missing was kids and animals and we’d have had a Film 101 of what not to do on a tight shooting schedule.
AP: It would have been nice to allow the cast some more opportunities for improvisation, but I can’t think of a single day in the shoot when we weren’t up against it. But inevitably you need to adapt the screenplay as you go along – once you get on set filmmaking is just a whole bunch of unforeseen problems to overcome, and quite often fixing them in the script is one of the easier options.
DL: It seems that you are not stinting on the gore in this movie. Did you go into this project with the attitude ‘anything goes’ gore- wise, or did you feel you had to hold yourselves back? I would imagine with a zombie picture the temptation is to just think of as many inventive ways to dispatch a zombie as possible!
AP: Hey – this is a zombie movie, so there is an expectation for gore and interesting take-downs amongst the massive zombie fan-base, and rest assured that the gore-hounds aren’t going to leave the cinema without having got their money’s worth. But if the only thing that people remember about a movie are a couple of entertaining kills, that’s not really the mark of a good movie (although, thinking about it, that’s exactly what the 14-year-old me used to look for). Coming from the 80’s school of horror, we tried to do as much of the gore in camera as we could, but working with blood gags is the single slowest thing we had to deal with on the shoot – they take so long to set up and reset.
DL: I’m going to admit something; I am also from Hampshire, and I live in Basingstoke. This question is really just for me, but are there any familiar Basingstoke locations that you shot in that I would recognise? I can’t get the wonderful thought of shambling flesh-eating ghouls rampaging through my home town out of my mind!
AP: We shot the whole film in Hampshire, and did two weeks in a 6th form college in Basingstoke (but I don’t think they want us letting on which one). So there’s a possibility you’ll recognise halls and corridors in the final movie if you did your A-levels in the city.
JH: Zombie Resurrection is set in a post-apocalyptic UK with a focus on the characters within that setting and their conflicts. The horror that unfolds could be taking place anywhere. Places and settings as we know them now are reduced to empty wastelands littered with the undead.
DL: Was it easy to obtain permission to film in said college?
AP: It took a while to find a school happy for us to come in and turn it post-apocalyptic during the summer holidays, but when we finally hooked up with our un-named college in Basingstoke they couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful. We even used some of their recent media graduates as production assistants, and they were all absolutely excellent people to have on set – really good attitudes and thoroughly nice guys.
JH: It was a great feeling to be working with young talents who were just filled with energy and enthusiasm for the film. We had a biology student working in the production design team who has gone on to develop her creative and artistic ambitions. And another bitten by the bug was our first ‘ripe’ zombie that the group encounter (the zombie in the trailer with his jaw shot off) who was a newbie on film sets and has since gone onto work as a stunt man on several films in London.
DL: So were there plenty of folk around willing to put on loads of gruesome makeup and maybe scare people on their way home?
AP: Oh yes. Just about everybody we’ve ever met wanted to come and join our various hordes. Most people had the good sense to get changed before heading back (the fake blood that everybody got covered in is extraordinary sticky), but a couple of my pals broke down on their way home and had to call the RAC out while still decked out in full zombie regalia. And apparently he didn’t even bat an eyelid.
DL: Do you have any interesting or amusing stories to tell us about things that happened during the making of the film?
AP: Oh, plenty of fun was had on set. Just never by us. When you’re stuck up at the sharp end of the production you’re normally too busy to get drawn into the shenanigans of the rest of the cast and crew; once you hit the shoot it is an industrial process and a long grind to get everything shot, and sets are never as much fun as people would imagine. That said, I’ve just had to digitise all the behind-the-scenes footage for the guy that’s editing our DVD extras, and it’s quite eye-opening to see everything that was going on that we had no idea about.
JH: Unblocking a drain that was flooding our crew area when we shot in the woods was a highlight for me. And successfully persuading one of our actors that getting shot in the face by a pango gun filled with maggots was a great idea by eating a load of them, was also a highlight for me.
DL: How have you approached the music?
AP: We’ve got an awesome Southampton composer that’s down to score the movie. I met him at the wedding of one our other zombies the week after the shoot, and he offered to do our trailer as a freebie. And then when we started working with him we found that we hit it off so well, and were so happy with the results, that it was (in zombie parlance) a no-brainer to see if he fancied doing the rest of the movie.
JH: We are also working with an awesome Southampton based band called Broken Links who are writing the exit music for the film and the rough demo we heard was epic beyond belief.
DL: I know that you are now in post-production. How long do you think it will be before we can see Zombie Resurrection on DVD or Blu Ray? Or even on a cinema screen?
AP: Our plans are to take the finished movie to Cannes in May this year, and secure as much worldwide distribution as we can from there. So I would hope that the DVD and BluRay will be out for Christmas.
JH: But before then we’re going to try and hit some of the more entertaining horror festivals across the world. The anticipation of watching other people reacting to your movie on the big screen is what drives us forward. Nervy but very exciting!
DL: What so far would you say has been the most enjoyable part of the production process? The dreaming everything up? The actual shooting? Or now, when you virtually have a film ‘in the can’ and are just tweaking, improving etc?
AP: The shoot itself is the thing that’s going to stay with me the longest, but you’re too stressed and knackered all the time to really enjoy it. Probably rehearsals was the most fun – after months of ploughing through the pre-production logistics, finally you’re free to chat over the character arcs and back-story again; the stuff that got you excited about making the movie in the first place. And the wrap party was great – thanks, Claire.
JH: The pre production process is peppered with highs and lows. Big wins like getting the money together, securing locations and finding the actors was great. Getting the legendary Jim Sweeney was a huge win for us as he is quite literally the character we wrote. He sent us his audition via Youtube, filmed from the set of a Ken Loach film he was working on. I think we must have watched that a dozen times with the biggest smiles on our faces.
DL: Zombie films seem to be constantly popular, especially at the moment. There are many people who will just go out and buy a DVD or Blu Ray if it has the word ‘zombie’ in the title. What do you think is the appeal of zombies?
AP: And we’re counting on them to do exactly that with Zombie Resurrection as well. Aside from all the obvious gore, there’s something perfectly nihilistic about a zombie film that taps into the why people react so strongly to horror. Like it’s not enough that the apocalypse has come and the world has completely turned to shit, but now everybody around you wants to kill you too. It’s a guy thing.
JH: There’s something hugely compelling about apocalyptic movies. This premise that the world as we know it has been thrown into disarray and mass carnage is a fantastic escape. Throw zombies in and it’s win, win, win.
DL: So if Zombie Resurrection is the success we all want it to be, can we expect more zombie adventures from Charmed Apocalypse? Or do you think you may do something else…..like maybe a slasher?
JH: Zombie films have so much mileage in terms of what you can do with the sub-text. I’m not saying I don’t like watching films that are just wall to wall zombie carnage with gorgeous people getting eaten along the way, but there’s definitely a wealth of scope available for telling compelling stories within the genre. That’s something that we’d like to pursue. Plus making a zombie film is a lot of fun and film making is a hard slog. If you can’t smash a pint at the end of the day with a big smile on your face, what’s the point?
AP: Making your first feature is all about opening the doors for number two, and if the movie is a success the chances are we’ll get pressed to stay within the genre (and hopefully we might even make some money out of the second movie). Thankfully there are still plenty of interesting zombie films yet to be made, and we’ve already been batting ideas about for what we’re going to do next. Plus I’m not a mad fan of slasher movies.
DL: I guess you’re both fans of the horror genre. Would you say the genre is a good place at the moment? Are there any filmmakers at the moment which inspire you?
AP: Oh yeah – we’re FrightFest regulars. Horror as a whole seems to be a perennially popular genre, and it’s just the sub-genres that move in and out of vogue. Zombies are hot right now, thanks to The Walking Dead and Brad Pitt’s coming foray into the genre in World War Z; a few years back torture porn was the thing to do, and in a couple of years it’ll be vampires again. And that’s why people like Darren Aronofsky are able to make films like Black Swan, which is as horrific a movie as one could ever hope to see, but decked out in smart trousers and a tie.
JH: As I mentioned one of the filmmakers that has inspired us enormously over the course of the production has been Johannes Roberts; when we saw F at FrightFest a couple of years back so many pieces fell into place about what we wanted Zombie Resurrection to look and feel like.
DL: Finally, can I ask both of you, two final questions. What is your favourite or best zombie movie, and why?
AP: I’ve already mentioned it – Day of the Dead. Just a delicious masterpiece. I’ve been gassing up the whirlybird ever since watching it as a 15 year-old.
JH: Dawn of the Dead has the most sublime sub-text for me and although not a film I think Dead Set is pretty much my dream concept for a zombie take over, and it is superbly done. The last shot of zombie Jamie Winstone staring back into the camera as it captures mindless zombies milling around the big brother house is exquisite.
DL: And, last of all, go on, what is the worst that you’ve seen? You have to admit, quite a few dogs get released too!
AP: There really are, and we’re going to run into trouble here if we’re too honest. Personally, I think Swamp Zombies takes some beating, safe in the knowledge that if there’s any justice all the filmmakers should be in prison by now.
JH: Our ‘research’ was littered with a few choice dogs. I couldn’t say which were the worst, but hey; if it’s in the can and it’s sold then it’s on to the next one.
The Doc and all of us at Horror Cult Films would like to thank Andy Phelps and Jake Hawkins for their time, and look forward to seeing Zombie Resurrection in the near future!
If this interview has whetted your appetite, check out the film’s trailer here!