Dead Air pits Female Punk Rockers against Creatures on a plane flying at 30,000 feet!
Peter Hearn [writer]: So Dead Air is about a group of female punk rockers who take a plane to their final gig, only to find dodgy crew have smuggled little creatures on board and the punks have to fight for their lives at 30,000 feet with only their instruments and a bottle of piss to protect them.
DL: How did the idea for this project came about?
Geoff Harmer [director]: I was shooting a teaser trailer for a film called Angel of Saigon on an air field that my friend works at. During that shoot he asked if i wanted to make a film in the biggest plane they had at the airfield. Of course i said yes and then came the proviso that it had to have zombies in it!
PH: Geoff came to me in early 2016 with an idea for a zombies on a plane movie. He had a plane and was able to use it on the understanding that zombies were involved and threw me an idea to see if I wanted to write it.
GH: My original idea was all about exploring people’s fears and paranoia on long haul flights, and then I threw in a zombie apocalypse for good measure.
PH: Of course, me being me, I asked how close he wanted me to stick to the idea he had pitched and I was told as long as it had a plane and zombies it was fine. Suffice to say, it doesn’t resemble that original idea one little bit, sorry Geoff, it doesn’t even have zombies – although it does have a plane! I kept one element intact.
GH: It did have zombies in it up to about the second draft, then we realised that what the world needs now – is not another zombie film.
DL: Was it always intended to be set mostly on a plane?
PH: Yes, It was originally to be set on an AN2 biplane, which would’ve been ridiculous based on what I wrote. Zero room to move let alone swing a monstrous punch! The structure hasn’t really changed since day one, just some of the crappy dialogue has been replaced with less crappy dialogue.
GH: Pete’s script was too ‘big’ for such a small plane. It would have been a very interesting shoot if we did use the AN-2!
DL: Was it always going to be a female band as opposed to a male one?
GH: No. We originally had a 50/50 mix. But like all the characters in the film, they went through a thorough a decision process on what was right/wrong for the film with regards to their gender. The dynamics in the band actually work better with them all being women.
PH: The original idea, which those that pledge on the Kickstarter will see is the original script had a mix of male and female band members. The drummer and singer were always female, the drummer was specifically written for one actress, Stacy Hart, who I have yet to meet – yet apparently I got her spot on. I saw her in the role from day one based on seeing the roles she’d played for Geoff’s earlier films as well as other roles I’d seen her play. I think she’s awesome and I hope I’ll get to meet her on set [haha]
PH: As mentioned earlier, some crappy dialogue has gone. The feel of the script hasn’t changed much, but it’s got leaner over time, in terms of plot and dialogue. When we moved to a bigger plane, for logistical as well as studio reasons, some bits expanded, but the overall story is pretty much what I envisaged from first draft.
DL: Geoff did you contribute a lot of ideas yourself to the script or did you pretty much leave Pete to get on with it?
GH: Initially, I gave Pete my idea for the story [which as we’ve said he pretty much threw out the window!] and from the first draft we have been meeting up regularly to go over what works or doesn’t work. It’s been very much a collaborative process, with Pete putting in all the hard graft.
PH: Geoff added loads, I had always written for myself before, I’d write a script and direct it myself, but I had always just wanted to be a writer. Directing was just a necessity for me, but having directed I feel I have a fairly big ego so this was a HUGE challenge to see whether I could let another director take control over my baby. Apart from a bit of dribbling and rocking in the corner, I think I’m doing okay. I really trust Geoff’s opinion and his notes have pretty much been the kind of notes that have challenged me to make the script better. Of course if he’s given me a note that I didn’t think worked, I’ve told him, but equally he’s not afraid to tell me when things don’t work for him in the script either.
DL: Did you look at other ‘in-flight’ horror movies, on what to do and what not to do?
GH: I certainly didn’t, don’t know if Pete did? For me, when we knew it was going to be a rock band on a plane and it was going to be rooted firmly in the ‘comedy horror’ genre, I did look to what films of that category I liked, Peter Jackson’s Braindead being the most obvious inspiration for me.
PH: Hmm? Not really, I looked initially to see what other ‘zombies on a plane’ films had been made, but then ignored all of that and just wrote the kind of film I’d want to see. Of course my tastes tend to be a bit quirky, a bit zany, and very influenced by 80’s/90s horror comedies so the only thing I made sure we didn’t do was to make the film dull.
DL: Off the top of my head there don’t seem to be any really good ones….
GH: Isn’t there a film called Flight of the Living Dead?
PH: There’s Snakes on a Plane? Erm, yeah you’re right, there are no good ones….
DL: Now I know that you Pete haven’t that long made another horror film [Scrawl] so I guess returning to this genre was quite comfortable for you? Though maybe it’s nice for you not to have to actually direct this time?
PH: Scrawl was donkeys years ago! I love genre stuff, it’s what I grew up on, even though I wasn’t a huge straight horror fan. I like the mix of dark and light humour so it really sits with my sensibilities to throw this into a horror film. Most people want to make worthy art, I’d love to just keep making fun, interesting genre movies. I am so glad that someone like Geoff likes my writing enough for me to not have to direct it. I’m sure there will come a time again where I’ll get itchy feet and want to direct but thankfully it’s not yet. I’m still traumatised by the years working on Scrawl and everything that has come with that film.
DL: Geoff, is this your first horror project?
GH: This is my first horror comedy. I would say my first attempt at horror was back in 1993 when I made the very first Hellraiser fan film called Hellbent: A Hellraiser Chronicle. Looking back on it, as fun as it was to make, it’s pretty terrible. More recently, in 2013 I released my first feature film Addict which was a psychological horror thriller, and then in 2015 I released Selfie which is probably my most successful film to date.
DL: Would you both consider yourselves to be horror fans?
GH: Hell Yeah! I used to get Fangoria and Gorezone reserved at the local newsagents. I also used to get a horror literature fanzine called Dementia 13. On top of which I was watching ‘banned’ horrors on pirated VHS tapes whilst bunking off school! I remember watching Zombie Flesh Eaters through a mountain of pillows whilst my folks were at work. I saw loads of dodgy horrors in those days like Xtro, The Warning, Cannibal Ferox, and Last House on the Left.
PH: Since making Scrawl, horror has become my genre of choice. It excites me whenever I see a good concept pulled off well. I’ve seen some great horrors recently, but I’m always drawn back to those I loved as a kid growing up such as Vamp, An American Werewolf in London, Critters, The Monster Squad, Braindead, The Evil Dead etc.
DL: You’ve called Dead Air “a horror comedy with added bite”. Horror comedies are very common but it’s often a hard balance to get right. Sometimes the laughs can cancel out the scares and vice versa. Did you watch any horror comedies for inspiration?
PH: The ones mentioned above are probably good examples, As well as Dead Snow 2 which was tons of silly fun, and Deathgasm. I love that Kiwi humour. As far as horror comedy goes, I also quite liked Cooties which I watched as I was formulating the feature idea for Dead Air, as well as Demon Knight, which for me is another huge influence, I love that movie! I think my approach to writing horror comedies is born out of the silliness of some concepts for films – like Critters – but the thing that I liked about that film – and its sequel – was that they didn’t goof off to the camera, the Crites were nasty and the family were scared for their lives. Humour happened because of the situation. The thing I cannot stand in comedy films [I say that loosely] these days is the nodding and winking to the audience. This is funny right? No, no it isn’t.
GH: For me, as soon as I read the first draft, I knew we were in late 80’s/early 90s homage territory. I didn’t need to watch anything for inspiration as most of those movies are imprinted on my brain! But I did rewatch a couple just for old time’s sake – like Braindead, Vamp, and Sundown.
DL: I guess finding the right tone is the hardest thing?
PH: Humour is so hard, you just have to be true to yourself and hope that some others like your sense of humour. Not everyone will, but hopefully those that do will be rewarded.
DL: One of the most interesting things about Dead Air to me is that your creatures will be realised largely by puppets. Was this always the idea?
PH: For me, in the initial writing stages when we were thinking it would be zombies on the plane. I didn’t want it to be a virus or some such thing that turned people into these zombie like creatures, I couldn’t stand that as an idea, so I thought what if we had some kind of creature or creatures on board like Critters or Boglins – which were 80’s toys – and when I first wrote it, all we saw of them were glowing eyes in a crate. It wasn’t until we realised that the creature element was gonna stay that I mentioned puppets to Geoff, but we still weren’t sure because we didn’t know if we could find anyone to build them. Fortunately we did in the form of students at Wimbledon College of Art, Lydia Smith, Anna Henderson, Sasha Fusini and Annie Pugh. In the early stages, they were keen on the Henson-style Labyrinth approach and came at us with ideas that weren’t too dissimilar to our own. It has been a fantastic experience, much like Scrawl was when working with students. These young ladies have fantastic careers ahead of them, and we hope we can repay their hard work with showing their amazing work off on the big screen. And now we also have Andrew James Spooner on board, he’s a puppeteer who has worked on Muppets Treasure Island, Muppets Most Wanted, Furchester Hotel, Gerry Anderson’s Firestorm etc – which is just great news for us!
GH: Boglins were definitely a huge influence in the early stages and still are to a certain extent. We still have the cage element in place. When designing the creatures, we initially were only going to have glowing eyes in boxes, but since the students came on board, it’s rocketed to a whole new level! We now have the creatures in three phases that are designed for different aspects of the film. From the cute cuddly “I want one for christmas” phase, to the nasty piece of shit that will kill you in a heartbeat phase.
DL: I’m kinda thinking Full Moon Puppet Master/Demonic Toys-type stuff here. Am I correct?
PH: More Gremlins, Critters, Labyrinth than Full Moon, no disrespect to them but ours are more Chiodo or Henson.
DL: Cool. These kind of hand-made special effects seem to have almost become a lost art.
PH: We adore practical effects. I guess for me knowing there is something physical in the room or on set with the actor makes it feel more real to me as an audience member. I’d rather have a ‘rough around the edges’ practical effect than a CGI effect that the actors clearly don’t know how to interact with.
GH: You can’t beat the work of people like Rob Bottin and Stan Winston. I just adore the work in movies like John Carpenter’s The Thing and Stan’s Pumpkinhead.
PH: Having said that, I’m not opposed to physical and CGI blending. In fact, my favourite of these is still Jurassic Park. I don’t feel this has been bettered in the past 23 years!
GH: Jurassic Park was the last film to ever blow an audience’s mind. The nearest we’ve got to that moment in recent years is Avatar, but even still – that jaw dropping moment we all saw dinosaurs for the first time will never be beaten.
DL: You also mention full sized monsters, how are you going to realise these?
PH: We have a SFX company on board called TankFall FX who are a young company that love prosthetic effects as well as animatronics. I’m looking forward to seeing what they can achieve with our full sized monster creations.
GH: Yeah TankFall FX are taking care of our human incantations of our little puppet monsters, as well as the other blood and gore FX.
PH: Scrawl had to me what I’d call a ‘good’ level of blood and gore: there was plenty of it but it never became sadistic and it had a slight tongue in cheek nature. Would you both say that Dead Air will have a similar approach?
PH: Haha, thanks. Always slight tongue in cheek with me. This is less somber though, a lot more fun and bloody. But also what will change the feel of it is having Geoff in the directors seat, hopefully he can make it better.
GH: Cheers Pete! Dead Air is fun, bloody, yet fun. We’re hoping you will have a laugh about the person that just died in the most horrible way.
DL: Has it been easy to cast the various roles?
PH: Some yes, others no. Getting the right group dynamic has been hard and we’ve had to shift people around within the band in our heads more than once in order to get the right mix, balance and the right people in the roles. For example, Dan Palmer, who is playing the Manager, we’d initially earmarked as the guitarist when the band was a mix of male/female. I adored Stalled and Freak Out, his films that he had written and starred in, so there was a tinge of sadness when we decided to go all female for the band, but thankfully he was able to play the manager so all is good in the world – plus it now means he can also sign my Stalled and Freak Out DVDs. Nice!
GH: The whole casting process has been a huge task! We’ve had lots of fun on the way, as well as disappointments and sadness. We’ve also had some moments of pure elation! Especially with our mystery Hollywood Genre Legend agreeing to be involved with our film. I really cannot wait to announce the involvement of this actor! But we have to keep quiet until we have finished the crowd funding.
DL: Can you tell us something about the music in the film? Was it always going to be punk rock?
PH: We went back and forth over the choice of music for the band. Initially they were a heavy metal band, like Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne or Iron Maiden, they also resembled Kiss in the first or second draft of the script, but soon I was asking Geoff the question about whether they should be a punk band, mainly because of their ‘attitude’ which I feel is a big part of punk. Bear in mind though – like heavy metal, there are various shades of punk – and when Erica Nockalls came on board to supply some music her style to me – especially with her EN2 album – is very industrial punky stuff. This solidified the deal over the music – although we do have Al B Damned involved too, don’t we Geoff and he’s more…
GH: Al B Damned are sort of ‘shock rock’. The lyrics are as much fun as the music they play. Getting back to Erica, I was at a Wonder Stuff gig in Minehead when I noticed Erica on stage wearing this amazing outfit. I remember thinking that I wanted that look for our band, so I contacted her. The rest is history I guess.
DL: So the plan is to eventually make a feature length version of Dead Air?
DL: Finally can I ask both you what you favourite comedy horror is and why?
PH: For me it’s got to be An American Werewolf in London. Perfect mix of horror/comedy and a smidge of sadness, something I tried to bring to Dead Air too.
GH: Wow – I’d have to say either Braindead, Evil Dead 2 or Shaun of the Dead. All are awesome.
DL: Horror Cult Films and I thank you both for your time and wish you the best of luck with Dead Air.
PH: Thanks chap, if anyone wants to help support Dead Air go to https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/Deadair/Dead-Air-1 , we need all the help we can get!