Marty McFly and Doc Brown. Tango and Cash. Riggs and Murtaugh. Joe and Tutti Bomowski. The 80s were full of “dyno-mite” duos who brought the funny the only way they knew how- with style. The one things all of these classic mash-ups were missing, though? Zombies. Well, fear not fright fans. Thanks to two talented brothers (Brett and Drew Pierce) and the crew over at FroBro Films we may just have ourselves an 80s style zomcom yet, DEADHEADS. As the brothers feature length directorial debut, DEADHEADS stars Michael McKiddy, Ross Kidder as “two inexplicably coherent zombies awake amidst a zombie attack and decide to take a road trip to find the one’s lost love, unaware they are being chased by the agents of a ruthless company with it’s own agenda.” Interested yet? I thought you might be.
Please welcome today’s guest to Bloodsprayer pulpit, co-director Brett Pierce!
In your own words what is DEADHEADS about?
DEADHEADS is a zombie buddy picture about two undead slackers making there way across country in search of a lost love. In the story Mike wakes up amid a zombie outbreak to find himself surprisingly dead. He quickly meets Brent, a free spirited fella who died of auto-erotic asphyxiation, and they partner up and head east while being pursued by a squad of bounty hunters.
Call it nostalgia, but the film references a certain sense of 80s era comedy. What is the appeal of that era of film-making for you?
We miss the characters of the 80’s. There was a big focus on story and character back then. They had to really make the story work and it wasn’t so one-liner based. We love a good one-liner just like anyone but we need to feel involved with the characters to really love a movie. They mixed some crazy genres back then too with Back to the Future, The Goonies, and the comedy adventure films of that day. They also weren’t afraid to have poignant and emotional scenes amongst ridiculous situations and comedy. That’s a good contrast to have in a movie. That’s why we keep going back to them and we think other people do to.
Zombies seem to have become popular again in recent years with Resident Evil and The Walking Dead burning up box offices and television screens. What sets DEADHEADS apart from these other properties?
DEADHEADS is a buddy movie, an adventure movie, a horror/comedy, and we got romance in there too. It’s a huge mixed bag of fun. Our make-up artist described it as the Ferris Bueller of zombie flicks and we think that’s a good way to put it. We wanted to endear people to these two zombies, really make them the guys you root for, and thanks to Mike McKiddy and Ross Kidder’s amazing performances we think we did that.
Would you consider yourselves fans of the genre or is premise more of a vehicle for the story?
We’re fans. We read Walking Dead religiously and we can’t turn a zombie movie off. We get crap from our roomates for watching any crappy thing with zombie in the title.
So is this a film intended more for horror fans or does it have a wider appeal?
It’s intended for everybody. It’s definitely has it’s fun horror moments that wink to the diehard zombie fans out there but we really wanted to do something new with the genre. We were psyched to do a zombie/buddy/road trip flick because we wanted to see that movie.
What were a few zombie films that served as inspirations?
Night of the Living Dead was the biggest. It’s the big poppa of zombie flicks and we always described the first act of DEADHEADS as “We start in the middle Night of the Living Dead, there’s a cabin with survivors, rednecks, gore, and then these two zombies leave it and go on an adventure.” The other big influence was the Evil Dead movies. Some might say they’re not zombie movies but we disagree. The whole possession thing is very zombie-ish. We grew up amid the production of Evil Dead. Our father was the visual effects artist on the original and we loved the mix of comedy and horror in those flicks. And always, Shaun of the Dead– that movie is just pure entertainment and they killed it.
Anything with zombies is bound to get bloody. How did you decide to deal with the more gruesome parts of the film?
We just went for it. That’s part of the fun of making zombie movies, you get to make actors really uncomfortable by dumping fake blood and animal innards on them. The gore in our flick is definetely R rated but it’s portrayed in a comedic fashion so we think people shouldn’t be too worried and watch and have fun. Case in point: Many mothers of the production team have seen the movie, and we have some gory and raunchy stuff in there, but they genuinely love the movie to death.
What was your casting process like for the roles of Mike, Brent and Cheese?
It was a 2-year search. We just wanted to find the right people for all the parts but it was equally important to find people that would really believe in the movie because we knew we were in for a really tough shoot. We had written the part for Mike McKiddy because we had worked with him before and we just knew he was going to kill it. We didn’t tell him he had it. We made him audition multiple times and he really worked for it. Mike’s one of those guys you just want to write good stuff for so you can work with him again. With Ross Kidder (who plays Brent) we really lucked out. He was a recommendation from our assistant director. We grabbed some coffee with Ross one day and we we’re sold. If Ross was the leader of a cult we’d join. He’s just the warmest and most positive guy you’ll ever meet. He’s got this Jack Nicholson/Jack Sparrow vibe that just makes it hard not to enjoy him on screen. With Cheese we found Markus Taylor on one of our many auditions we held in LA. He came in and just looked like a lovable Frankenstein. We knew he was our Cheese. It was like we had three more brothers on set. They just never wavered on their devotion to the flick and their belief in us.
How much (if any) of the dialogue is improv between Michael and Ross?
Not a ton. The guys stuck to the script in most cases and just plussed dialogue bits here and there. Mike was the king of that. He added all these great snarky additions to his characters dialogue that just made his Mike kind of elitist, but it worked great against Ross’s devil may care zombie. We had one scene where the guys are all sitting around the campfire getting stoned that was completely rewritten the day of. We had written the scene months prior and when we read it on the car ride to set it just seemed like such a typical stoner scene. We quickly grabbed Mike and Ross and huddled up for two hours while the crew was setting up. We worked through it on the spot with all of us throwing in ideas. It’s one of the best bits in the movie now and it has as much Ross and Mike in there as us.
Cheese seems to be somewhat of a third wheel. As a character, what dynamic does he bring to the trio?
He’s Chewbacca. He’s the loyal lovable family dog. For us, he’s the heart of the movie. He was a late addition to the script and was only supposed to be in one scene, but we just loved him so much that we made it a trio of zombies. We can’t see the movie without him now. Markus was great. He had a character with no dialogue who can only moan and emote faces, but he’s consistently one of favorite parts of the film for people.
Are there any scenes that you’ve had to cut yet that you’d wish could have made it in?
We’re really happy with the edit. We originally had a 116 min cut, then cut to a 103min, then finally a 96min. We feel good about the flow but it took some painful sessions with our editor Kevin O’Brien to get it down to that. We screened for Scotty Spiegel (Writer, Evil Dead 2) and Boaz Yakin (Director, Remember the Titans) with the 103min. cut and it was an eye opener. They said cut, cut, cut all over the place and they we’re right. Really helped us in getting it to where it needed to be. The one scene we really miss is a small character bit between Mike and Brent in which Brent gives his reason for helping Mike on his journey to find his lost love. Had a great Top Gun reference where Brent said “I’m the Goose to your Maverick, boyo.” Ross just really killed it and it was hard to cut, but the flick works better without it.
Who did the special effects for the film, did you work with a specific studio or team?
Patrick Halpin who runs Dead Pretzel FX in Michigan. He recruited a buddy from makeup school, Jason “Chappy” Chapman, and they handled the entire flick. These guys we’re work horses and put up with a lot a crap from us. They did a fantastic job though. Everyday they would put Mike, Ross, and Markus in makeup and then move onto another practical effect, or a horde of zombies, or dismembered body parts. It was crazy but they hit a homerun every time.
Zombies are typically a metaphor for some larger social commentary. Is there a hidden message behind the film?
We think ours is “True love never dies… especially when you’re a zombie!”. Kind of crazy but it’s a crazy movie with a lot of original elements and genre mixtures.
You’re currently in post-production, are there any plans to shop the film around in festivals in 2011?
That’s exactly the plan. We’re just starting to submit for fests now and doing the big push to let people know the flick is out there. We love it, our crew and cast love it, and now we just want to show it. That’s the fun part.
Any plans yet for projects beyond DEADHEADS?
We’ve got three other scripts written in various stages. A nasty werewolf flick, a Halloween horror/comedy, and a nerdy adventure flick called DORKS & DICE we’ve been dying to do. The focus is DEADHEADS right now though. The movie is just a blast and we really look forward to showing what all of us we’re able to pull off. Everyone on this flick were dreamers and we went into it dreaming big.
All photos courtesy of FroBro Films © All rights reserved.