Making a good short film with very little money is difficult but it rewards creative thinking. More importantly, by knowing your limitations, it’s possible to write a story that seems to have a higher budget than it actually does. This is a long standing tradition for independent film and video production. Robert Rodriguez got a lot of mileage for his first film, El Mariachi by creatively using what limited resources he had available to him. For Zombies of the World, I had to keep a few limitations in mind:
- Practically no money to shoot. This meant minimal props, costumes and makeup. I had some camera gear, lights and props left over from Motor Home from Hell. Most of the budget went to the great custom made robot costume and the rental of a costume for a Chinese Hopping Corpse.
- Limited locations. We could only shoot at places where I could gain access without having to deal with permits or extensive transportation time. This meant places in Springfield or near it. Fortunately, my former script writing teacher from Missouri State, Diana Botsford, had a farm nearby for the outdoor locations. The other locations were Springfield Blueprint and the Creamery Art Center. For both of these locations, I contacted people I knew that had access to them to negotiate usage.
- Volunteer actors and crew: Fortunately, Springfield has an active indie film scene and many aspiring actors so I was able to recruit some talented people for the project. Jason Brasier was invaluable in finding them.
Production was thankfully fairly uneventful. We shot on three separate days – one for each location. The shortest day was the warehouse where a Chinese Hopping Corpse attacks a worker while the longest was at the Creamery Art Center. We shot the interviews, the mummy sign language scenes in the main floor and the Aztec Mummy vs. Robot fight in the center’s basement.
The inclusion of robots into Zombies of the World was necessary so I could include a reference to the classic Mexican horror film The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy. I looked into the copyright status of the film in order to see if I include a clip into the web series. Sadly, it is not public domain so I could not use real footage, thus the recreation. Another reason I wrote the fight scene in the script was because I knew I had access to the Center’s basement, which is appropriately creepy, especially with the right lighting and visual effects. You’ll see the videos online in the next month.
In order to realize the documentary style, I commissioned Tom Rhodes and Bryant Koshu to create ‘artist’s recreations’ of key concepts in the series. These images would be panned across, like a Ken Burns’ documentary. After the production finished, I realized I had more ideas than I began with and I had a lot of great art from the series. With my background in writing and graphic design, I could create a book about zombies.
In the next post, I’ll talk about the process of writing Zombies of the World.
An idea for a story is not the same as an actual story. Stories need a form, a medium. These ideas of reversing and exploring common zombie tropes could be made into several types of stories, but picking the right one was a long process. Zombie stories are often told through film, novels or video games. Feature length movies still seem to dominate independent productions, especially zombie genre stories.
My previous experience in making a feature length film, Motor Home from Hell, dissuaded me from trying again. While making the movie was a challenging and interesting experience, trying to market and distribute it was even harder. It takes an entirely different skill set to sell a movie than it is to make one. Sinking that much time and money into a feature length Zombies of the World movie without having a solid plan to sell it wasn’t appealing.
Novels were far cheaper to produce than movies but my ideas were more suited for world building than a single narrative. I was more interested in describing a world with different rules for the undead than a single character’s life. Plus, the novel market is flooded and in turmoil. Traditional publishing companies are struggling to adapt as they can’t support successful midlist writers anymore. Video games are even more resource intensive than movies to make and I personally didn’t have any of the primary skills to make them – programming or artistic ability.
So, the first iteration of Zombies of the World was not a written text but a web video series. Unlike movies, a web video can provide immediate feedback and engagement. Most people think of memes such as Rebecca Black’s Friday but I was more inspired by the new wave of serials like Marble Hornets or The Guild. They developed dedicated fanbases that follow their work and tell their friends about it. Plus, as a new form, the rules and conventions are not firmly established. I wanted to focus on each idea without having to worry about writing episodes to a given length or story arc.
I outlined and wrote a zombie mockumentary thematically based around cable TV nature shows, like the type you would see on the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet. Each episode would be short and to the point, focusing on a topic such as migration or adaptation.
Next up: making the web series
An illustration from Zombies of the World - anti-zombie combat manual excerpt
Zombies of the World first began with a single observation about zombies – they never get tired. To me, that seemed more interesting than their resurrection or predilection for human flesh. Even the few zombies that manage to catch and eat a human never seem to digest the meat and true zombies never starve. They continue to burn energy without taking in fuel. This defies the laws of thermodynamics and makes the zombie a flesh eating perpetual motion machine. With that, I began to think of how that would affect the world so I could tell my own zombie story. The genre is dominated by survivalist themed works that can be fun or even great but I wanted to do something different with them.
While zombie apocalypses are fun for storytelling and gaming purposes, they tend to follow several rules:
- Zombie populations go from 0 to infinity within hours or days. Even if they are slow, shambling zombies, civilization breaks down very quickly after the initial outbreak because there are too many zombies to count.
- Survivors of an apocalypse do not act like survivors from any other type of major disaster. For example, after the recent earthquake in Japan, even the Yakuza helped their fellow citizens out. This would never happen in a zombie apocalypse apparently though. Survivors do not cooperate, help one another or usually even act with a modicum of rationality.
- Zombies have no ancestors or history – they spawn once and wipe out civilization.
- There is little or no speciation in zombies. All zombies worldwide are of one type. There might be a few differing types, especially in video game based zombie apocalypses (Left 4 Dead and Resident Evil come to mind).
With that in mind, I wanted to break these rules so I could see how a stable society would treat the undead. So you would get:
- Zombie populations grow slowly and migration takes time. There are limited numbers of them, so it is possible to contain the undead.
- People cooperate during a zombie attack, putting aside their differences and acting rationally. They learn from their mistakes and work together to fight the undead and protect each other.
- Zombies have been present throughout history so humanity has learned how to fight them.
- The undead evolved over time and there are multitudes of species throughout the world. Varying environmental conditions favored different traits.
There have been a few stories set in worlds where humanity and zombies have learned to co-exist but they tend to be post-apocalyptic – societies that rebuild after the zombies nearly wipe everything out. By breaking all of these rules, you get a world that has had to deal with the undead for thousands of years but has learned how to deal with them.
Furthermore, wouldn’t the scientists of that world study them and try to learn how they remain animate after death? So, I pictured a world much like our own. Zombies were contained by government agencies. Some species were endangered or even extinct. Scientists and environmentalists lobbied for laws to protect the undead, because they were part of the ecosystem and needed to be studied. That is how Zombies of the World began.
Next up: The Web Series
If you want Zombies of the World shipped overseas, preorder the book with the new option in our store.