Check below for some new pics and a Q&A with writer/director Howard J. Ford on his upcoming zombie flick, The Dead. More pics, the trailer and additional info on the movie can be found here.
So how'd you and your bro come up with the idea behind THE DEAD?
The original concept for The Dead’ has been brewing for more than 20 years. Starting as teenagers when my brother and I was watched a lot of horror movies including George Romero’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’, Lucio Fulci’s ‘Zombie Flesh Eaters (‘Zombie 2’) and Sam Raimi’s ‘The Evil Dead’ in quick succession and they’d had incredible impact on us. We had started making short films on Super8mm learning as we were going and while we were honing our skills we firmly had in mind our goal: To make the perfect Zombie film that we would love to see!
Twenty odd years later we had never made ‘that zombie film’. The time hadn’t been right, if we were going to do it had to be really good and at that time we didn’t have the resources. We also didn’t want to add to the stacks of
seemingly endless rip off crap that was then being churned out following the classics. Our movie would have to stand shoulder to shoulder with the classic Zombie movies we loved... Also, by now I was running a successful commercials production company from which had directed, and Jon had been the Director of Photography on commercial after commercial, for every kind of product you could think of from Guinness to condoms to mobile phones... Suddenly we realized we had ‘sold out’ as we said we would never do!
Then Jon mentioned the zombie film again something clicked. So how about this we proposed: F**k the next soap commercial or whatever it would be, instead we were going to shut down the production company doors and resurrect our Zombies!
Why set it in Africa?
Firstly, we had shot a lot of commercials in Africa and were therefore ‘experienced in the field’. It seemed like most other zombie movies were set in LA, New York, London.. Very familiar locations... and always with the characters of the film stuck in some building somewhere, whereas we wanted to give audiences something different and make the ultimate zombie move that we’d always wanted to see.
Setting it in Africa and shooting it like a ‘Road Movie’ - an epic journey across stunning landscapes including the Sahara desert, allowed us to make a beautiful and artistic film that would have cinematic appeal in addition to great horror sequences. Like nothing that had ever been made before.... We have stuck to traditional zombie folklore and we honour the greats such as Romero and Fulci – no ridiculous running,
jumping, flying or walking-up-walls zombies. That someone else can do for the kiddies, ours is a hard, brutal film but with a good sense of reality.
It was very important to us that this film should have a unique and authentic look. So we didn’t take the easy route like other film makers who portray Africa and go to South Africa where it is very ‘civilized’ and they can stay in nice hotels with lovely facilities etc, we went into deepest, darkest West Africa shooting in some of the most dangerous and hostile environments. we wanted to show our audiences locations that had literally never been seen by anyone from the western world... and that’s exactly what we did. In fact some of the villages we filmed in, foreigners, let alone cameras had literally never been before... Not only that, but nearly all the guns and military equipment we used were genuine African army, fresh from a civil war in nearby Sierra Leone.
I can’t explain how tough it was to shoot this movie. It took 5 weeks just to get our equipment into the country even after the whole cast and crew arrived. We were constantly stopped by armed police for money and held up by so many things you could never plan for.
For a start I was mugged at knife point on the first day in the city of Ouagadougou and all my money, credit cards, driving license, EVERYTHING taken from me. Then I was nearly put in jail for driving without the license that had been stolen from me! It became clear that to the locals we looked like a moving cash machine with our cast/crew/equipment/generator etc.
Sometimes we literally would not make it to the location for the shoot as we would be stopped at gunpoint, for seemingly no reason... On top of this, when we did finally get to start shooting our fantastic lead Actor Rob
Freeman from Canada collapsed with full blown Malaria and very nearly died. He was a really tough guy, a fitness fanatic even, but this little Malaria bug put him in hospital on a drip for a total of 2 weeks... He was meant to be in every scene so you can imagine we were a little restricted at this point!
All of us became ill, which is perhaps not surprising when I think of some of the locations we had to film in, including real village huts some of which contained the remains of dead relatives that had been stored in pots. I remember shooting a low angle shot in a dark hut and having giant cockroaches crawling over my hands and up my trousers.... Jon and I would sometimes discuss shots and camera angles in-between bouts of projectile vomiting!
We also met some real cannibals who told us how they eat people but only if they are already dead and not decomposed. One of them stopped by the set and watched our white eyed zombies pretending to eat human flesh and they loved what we were doing! I asked my translator to find out if this cannibal had ever tried ‘white meat’, he said no but he would love to if he got the chance.. Then made a local joke whilst eyeing us up and down.... It was getting dark at this point and we were in the middle of nowhere. It was an ominous and uneasy feeling...
There was so much horror in making ‘The Dead’ that I am writing a book about it, documenting every single painful incident that happened. This will hopefully be released with the film.
You've been quoted to be aiming towards a more realistic take on a zombie movie -- can you elaborate on that for the readers?
Firstly, this is in the way the film has been shot. We have included real people in real villages – showing the suffering, the human consequences of a Zombie outbreak rather than just concentrating on straight action pieces.
We really wanted to ground the film in the ‘real world’ so to speak so the emotional aspect would have as much power as possible. Secondly, we didn’t want to falter from the path of realism – once your past the idea of the dead coming back to life everything has to be real – no guns with everlasting bullets or mags with endless rounds or characters diving through the air just to get some style (certainly not wearing long coats, dark glasses in slow-motion!) this stuff we find cheesy and unrealistic and as a result takes you out of reality.
Basically, if there was a Zombie outbreak you would surely do everything in your power to stay alive and un-injured and diving through the air firing guns would be a no go!! ‘The Dead’ is more the ‘Midnight Express’ of Zombie Movies….People have mentioned that ‘The Dead’ reminds them of Zombie 2 – we actually never wanted to compete with that – we also didn’t want to have 500 year old zombies coming back from the dead as we felt the brain and muscle tissue would be too decomposed and however much we would love the look, it was stretching believability just a bit too far - therefore the more recent dead returning to life seemed the logical approach and everything in the script was filtered through Jon and my ‘reality check’ and if we were on location and felt something was not logical or realistic, we would drop it.
Are you familiar with the game Resident Evil 5 and some of its similarities with The Dead?
We loved the early resident Evil Games but have never got past resident Evil 3! The strange thing is, we penned the original Idea for the film long before resident Evil was on the scene and we only uploaded the trailer on youtube
) when we heard about the game. We uploaded the trailer the same week the game was released to prove we didn’t get the idea afterwards. The truth is there is actually no link whatsoever between ‘The Dead’ and ‘Resident Evil 5’ apart from the fact that it’s Zombies and Africa….. Personally, I’ve never seen any of the resident Evil films, the trailers put me off and they didn’t seem to be true Zombie movies (monsters jumping around etc) it seemed to be more of a cash in a Computer Game, which didn’t seem the best reason to be making a movie.
What's going on with the film right now? Any idea when we can finally see it?
‘The Dead’ is pretty much ready to unleash on the public and we have currently had enquiries from nearly every single film festival around the world to show it. Many wanting ‘Premiere’s’ which is a tough call as you can only do that once in each country, but there has been a strange hold up for a couple of months on the final sound elements. Unbelievably, this is because the African lead (Co star Prince David Osei from Ghana) has been refused a visa several times by our lovely British government so we haven’t been able to record his ADR (Voice replacement needed on select scenes) everything else is ready to go, music, everything...Talking of supporting the British industry, it seems they are actively preventing our film making venture which makes us feel ready to leave the UK for other countries where our work might be appreciated, or even encouraged - I guess Gordon brown’s just not into Zombies!