Behind the Scenes: making the web series

Ross Payton and Jason Brasier on the set of Zombies of the WorldMaking 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.

The robot costume from Zombies of the WorldProduction 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.

The basement of the Creamery Art Center. Pretty creepy!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.

Behind the Scenes: The medium is the message (and zombies)

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.

Motor Home From Hell movie posterMy 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.

A hopping corpse from the Zombies of the World web seriesI 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