How To Make A Zombie Movie

Colin director Marc Price tells us how it's done

 

Zom-com Zombieland is released this week, and we thought this was an opportune time to make an addition to our 'How to' series of features, detailing the ways you might go about making a low-budget hack job with your camcorder.

In the past, you've only had the expertise of the totalfilm.com staff to guide you though the filmmaking process - those that can't, teach badly - but this time we're going to stand aside and let a real maestro give you the inside scoop.

Marc Price is the director of Colin, the low budget Zombie flick that took Cannes by storm this year, and was famously made on a budget of £45.

So grab your mates, read our guide and go and make your own Cannes beating film - here's how.

 

Stage a Zombie Apocalypse

The Cliché: The outbreak is pretty essential, really. It either takes place at the beginning of the film, or right before it starts.

Attributed to a variety of causes over the years, from crashed satellites spreading disease, to government experiments, toxic waste and sinister corporate experiments.

Seen In: 28 Days Later

Marc Price: "I kind of think it’s better to do what Romero does really, and not try to explain it, because the harsh reality of it is that Zombies don’t and never will exist, there’s no science, you’re never going to convince anyone, so just don’t try.

Just don’t bother, skip past it, people know what Zombies are, then at least you’ve got the mystery of what happened.

Never explain, cos it just ain’t gonna happen. Just get on with the chomping!"

Next: The Zombie Rules[page-break]

 

The Zombie Rules

The Cliché: Zombies can only by destroying the brain. An infected person will take x amount of time to turn etc.

The rules are established as soon as possible, so the audience knows whether they're dealing with slow zombies, fast zombies, or sexy naked zombies.

Seen In: Return of the Living Dead

Marc Price: "In Colin, we take a lot of liberties with the rules. If you die, the idea is that you come back fairly quickly, once you’re dead, it more depends where you were bitten. We were against setting up clear rules, and decided to just let it happen.

There are characters in our film that come back pretty quickly, and some that take a lot longer. Again, people know what’s going on, so it’s one of those things that’s good to avoid.

If everyone knows that you turn in an hour, then there’s no tension about when that person’s going to turn, what they’re going to be like while they’re turning.

The least amount of information the audience has, the more interested they’ll be.

As far as zombie deaths go, as long as the brain is mashed in good and proper – I think it’s best to try and take guns out of the equation because then you get to be a lot more creative with the kinds of objects you use.

I saw one of those heavy metal poles they use to hang the ropes between where they want queues to form, and I thought you could definitely use that to bludgeon a few zombies."

Next: Build Your Fortress[page-break]

 

Build Your Fortress

The Cliché: Instead of running like buggery, most movie types faced with a Zombie apocalypse will decide to stand and fight, taking precious time and resources to fortify a stronghold.

This fortress will no doubt have one point of weakness, which the Zombies will ultimately exploit to gain access anyway, making the whole endeavour seem a little futile.

Seen In:Night of the Living Dead

Marc Price: "I’d probably take full advantage of the apocalypse and run to the cinema. The dream for me is to be able to watch whatever films I want in my own cinema, though I’m pretty sure I’d get bored of eating hot dogs and popcorn and nachos.

Then I’d start envying the bastards who had the good sense to hideout in the Morrisons across the road, where they’d also be able to get DVDs and DVD players.

I’d definitely choose the cinema, then probably get turned trying to fight my way to the Morrisons later on."

 

Next: The Unassuming Hero

 

[page-break]


The Unassuming Hero

The Cliche: The world isn't full of bad-ass action heroes. In fact, they're surprisingly light on the ground. A good zombie flick will acknowledge that, making an average Joe or Jane the lead.

Seen In: Dawn Of The Dead

Marc Price: "Forget the hero, cowards are much more interesting. There aren’t enough films with a good coward these days, and they’re the most interesting characters.

I wish we’d done a scene in Colin showing a primary school teacher running away with a gaggle of kids, just tossing them in the direction of the zombies.

Of course the kids would trust the teacher, and they’d flock around him, and he’d just be using them to make his getaway. It’d be really horrible!

I’d be tempted to tether them with little release clips in case they get grabbed or tangled up in the cord, then you’d be able to cut that one loose.

Out of all my survival techniques this is the one I’ve thought about the most; how to sacrifice children so I can get away."

Next: Trip to the Butchers[page-break]

 

Trip to the Butchers

The Cliché: Zombies can be seen at various junctures chowing down on the flesh of the recently deceased.

A closer look reveals the living dead to simply be getting their teeth stuck into sausages, pork chops and other animal cuts, pilfered from the local meat monger.

Seen In:Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead

Marc Price: "On a certain day, butchers will get rid of offal, they tend not to keep it for too long, and if you can find out what day they get rid of that stuff they’ll give it to you.

They don’t really care if you get salmonella or e-coli or anything like that. I’d suggest using real human body parts, but with all my talk of luring kids to use as Zombie bait I think I should try to reign in my psychopathic tendencies a bit."

Next: Gather the Zombie Fodder[page-break]

 

Gather the Zombie Fodder


The Cliché: The rag tag group of survivors invariably contains a series of limited varations on several character clichés, - the wuss, the red neck, the hard man, the slut, the shy girl and the selfish one.

Seen In:Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later

Marc Price: "To be honest I’d just get The Breakfast Club, the actual Breakfast Club – I mean Bender fucking up zombies is just something everyone would want to see. Saying that, The Goonies would be awesome, I’d love to see The Goonies taking on zombies.

So The Breakfast Club and The Goonies vs. zombies, I haven’t thought about what happens after that, but that’s a brilliant set up.

Perhaps throw Back to the Future in there too, bringing the virus from a future zombie apocalypse back to the 1980s in the Delorean."

Next: Kick-Ass Heroine[page-break]

 

Kiss-Ass Heroine


The Cliché: Zombie movies retain the trait from parent genre Horror that they must contain a girl who goes from quiet to kick-ass in the blink of an eye.

After the transformation, they’ll generally wear much sexier clothing, because that makes it easier to kill zombies.

Seen In:Resident Evil

Marc Price: "Yeah, I'm all for a bit of girl power.

I'd use Molly Ringwald I suppose, that would be the hero’s journey for her – at the start she’s all scared and whiney, and by the end she’s all “get away from her, you bitch!”"

Next: The Final Destination[page-break]



The Final Destination

The Cliché: There is always a mythical haven, rumoured to be completely zombie free, which the central characters hear about, and then try to get to.

More often than not, this haven turns out to be just as zombie filled, if not more so, than the rest of the world.

Seen In:Dawn of the Dead

Marc Price: "I’m trying to think of somewhere that would be a haven, Jersey maybe, our Jersey, not New Jersey, don’t think that would ever be considered a safe haven – though you could take comfort in the fact that it would probably be much the same after a zombie apocalypse.

I’ve never been to New Jersey and I’m ripping it to pieces!

I read The Enemy by Charlie Higson, and they’re all trying to get to Buckingham Palace, because you’d only have to do away with a few zombies and you’d get this huge fortified palace with all this space.

Problem is so many people would be trying to get in there after reading Charlie Higson's book that probably would be a good option anymore."

Next: The Final Destination[page-break]

 

Something Borrowed, Something New

The Cliché: Most Zombie films share many similar ideas and central conceits, but with the plethora of films now on the market, filmmakers are striving for innovation.

Developments over the last decade have included Zombies that run, and Zombies that get smart.

Seen In:Dawn of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, 28 Days Later

Marc Price: "I’ve always wanted to make a Zombie movie but I couldn’t think of anything new, and it probably took me ten years to come up with the idea for Colin, in having a Zombie as our protagonist.

One of the fun things is to find a location where it hadn’t been done before. I read a script that’s set on the underground, which I thought was brilliant – the script was no good but it was a great idea."

Next: What's the point?[page-break]

 

What’s The Point?

The Cliché: Sure it’s a zombie movie about the dead returning to feast on the flesh of the living, but what’s it realy about?

From socio-political commentary to an exploration of the capitalist agenda, from communist treatise to big city rat race – zombie movies always have an underlying message.

Seen In: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Shaun of the Dead

Marc Price: "We decided with Colin to avoid social commentary, because Romero’s the master at that. We explored it on a more personal level, with more personal metaphors than social.

I suppose the global economic crisis would be the thing to look at but I’m not sure how you’d do that.

We already have people attacking zombies with pound coins in Colin, albeit pound coins with razorblades glued on – like money isn’t worth much anymore so you may as well use it to fight zombies.

Perhaps have ATMs turning people into zombies, or have a suicidal bankers coming back as zombies; if they can’t bleed you dry financially, then they’re literally trying to bleed you dry."

What zombie clichés would you add to your movie, and how would you recreate them? Leave us a comment!
 

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