Monday, August 1, 2011

Interview: Nerd of the Living Dead director Stu Dodge Part 1.

Greetings freaks. Over the weekend I had a chance to sit down at a great restaurant called The 57th Fighter Group (check them out here) and talk to Stu Dodge (that's him surrounded by the ghouls), director of the new zom-edy Nerd of the Living Dead. He had a lot of interesting things to say about this unique project. Check out part one of the interview…

SOC: So, tell us about Nerd of the Living Dead.

SD: Nerd of the Living Dead is the most recent picture from myself and Big Pickle Media Group. I’ll go ahead and dismiss any rumors about Big Pickle Media Group having anything to do with the size of anyone’s pickle. “Big Pickle” is what they call my fiance’s over sized basset hound. So it’s based on a dog, not based on, you know...

SOC: So it’s not a porn company?

SD: No, not a porno. So, back to the picture. Nerd of the Living Dead is an 86 minute independent feature film, a zombie comedy, with about 49% of its running time made up of the original Night of the Living Dead, which is of course a public domain property because of the loss of the copyright when it was first released, bla bla bla… you probably know that whole story. It’s kind of experimental in nature because of the hybridization of old footage and new footage shot to match it where we’re actually playing off of the original actors, dialogue, and actions.

SOC: Where did you first get the inspiration for working with Night of the Living Dead as a component of the movie.

SD: I was looking at a screenplay I wrote called Redbush, and I was thinking “how am I going to do this” because it’s going to be expensive. It includes beach scenes and stuff that I really shouldn’t have written in because it means money, but I did anyway. It was getting into winter too, so it would be another half year before we could shoot it. As I was pondering that I got a facebook post from a friend suggesting that I listen to a 70s metal band called Leaf Hound. I watched the youtube video and, me being a metal fan, I loved it. So I horked it off of the web like everyone does, and I’m enjoying it still, sorry Leaf Hound guys. It got me thinking “This is copyright infringement on this song, but I bet there are old metal songs that are in public domain.” So I did a little bit of research, and decided to research public domain movies as well. Maybe I could get some establishing shots for Redbush out of a public domain movie, you know, get a little production value and save some time and money. As I was sifting through these public domain sites I downloaded a couple of movies, one was “The Brain from Mars” or something like that, and I happened upon Night of the Living Dead. I didn’t know at the time that it was public domain. I had heard some stories but I thought that had been settled. (Writer’s note: If you’re not familiar with the whole NOTLD copyright debacle, Dimension Extreme’s release of the flick has a great documentary called “One for the Fire” that goes into it in detail. Or just google it. Whatever.) So I said “this is a fantastic feature with a lot of history and a lot of fans.” When I downloaded it, put it in my editing system, and started playing with it and dissecting it, I realized that I could wrap in a couple of new characters if I moved a couple of the characters out of the way, so that’s what I did. I blew it up to match the resolution that my camera shoots, cut it into pieces, and removed some of the slower parts. This left me with basically a “Swiss cheese” version. That took about three months, then I took another three months developing a screenplay based on filling in those blanks with the stuff that we shot and playing off those original characters.

SOC: How hard was it to match the new footage to the original footage?

SD: It wasn’t hard but it was time consuming. Getting it to a format that would match the camera I have just as far as resolution goes was a time consuming deal. You know, this is a 1968 film shot 24 frames (per second) on black and white stock. The version that I downloaded from is about as clean as you’re going to get, but I was blowing it up so there were some concerns, but it did blow up beautifully. Then on set we had to shoot in black and white. Some people ask why we didn’t shoot in color and desaturate it, but I found out that it was a lot cleaner to shoot black and white in hi-def. Then you’ve got crisp new black and white and old, dirty, scratchy, kinda fuzzy film look, so I used an aged film filter. I had to play with the footage and try to match the same jiggle and shake, the amount of dirt, the amount of scratches, the amount of blurriness, and the tone as well. I had to color match the black and white. It involved a lot of testing. It gets so technical it gets boring, but yeah, I spent 1300 or 1400 hundred hours just in rendering time.

SOC: Horror fans can be fiercely loyal and protective of their favorite flicks as we can see with the backlash to some of the remakes. There are few movies held more sacred than Night of the Living Dead. Did you have any fears that people would feel like you shouldn’t be “f**king with a classic?”

SD: Absolutely, and it would be everybody’s right to feel like I was f**king with a classic, though I don’t feel like I was. Maybe I’m wrong about this, and maybe it’s big headed of me, but I sorta feel like we were giving it new life. The original is a wonderful film, and it was very frightening to people in ’68, but now the effects aren’t as frightening since everyone’s been exposed to vastly heavier gore over the last couple of decades and it’s got a very slow pace. We weren’t poking fun at the picture. The approach to it was to give new life to an old picture, and who am I to do that? So yeah, I expect some backlash. Hopefully the people who see it for what it is will understand. It’s more of an homage to the picture rather than just a straight satire or rip off. I spent so much time and tried to delicately intertwine the two to turn this strictly horror picture into a comedic, faster paced, more 21st century…kinda seems like any way I say that sounds big headed, huh? I completely understand if people say you shouldn’t mess with that classic. I’ve certainly heard from people who are very serious about the picture that I shouldn’t.

SOC: Do you want to mention who got pissed at you?

SD: Do you think I should?

SOC: Sure, go for it.

SD: I did try to do it in a respectful manner. I thought I should let those involved with the original picture know about this before the word gets out because they may either be pissed or they may be of the mind that it might be something fun to see. So I did get in touch through facebook with John Russo, who co wrote the original with George Romero. He also wrote Return of the Living Dead, which I certainly told him was one of my favorites and a brilliant movie. I contacted him and introduced myself and the picture. I said that we’d created this hybrid picture that was part new footage, part Night of the Living Dead but done in a light hearted, send up kind of way. I asked if he’d like a copy, and he essentially told me what to do with my copy and had no interest in hearing anything more about Nerd at all, which I totally understand from his viewpoint. Still though, huge respect for the man.

SOC: Speaking of co-writers, Nerd is co-written with Roy Wooley (who I know as the makeup wizard of Netherworld Haunted House). How did you end up working with him and how involved was he in the actual shooting?

SD: Roy and I did a picture a long time ago called Cheerleader Autopsy. He was the effects coordinator. I can’t remember where we first met, we were probably drinking at the time. We became friends and I knew he was skilled with special effects makeup, so we got him involved. He was only involved in the gags on Cheerleader. On Nerd, we had a smaller crew, and we needed an effects person on set every day, so Roy ended up being the effects guy, the first assistant director, and sort of a co-gaffer. He was very involved throughout the picture. When I had that Swiss cheese version I would bounce ideas off of Roy and he came up with a lot of key plot points.

SOC: Tell me about your casting process.

SD: Getting back to Roy, of course you’re a Netherwold person, and he’s a Netherworld person and when I first mentioned the concept to him, he immediately said “Sam.” Sam, of course, is Sam Ronick (another Netherworld person), who plays Elvin McBrant, the main character. He just knew that Sam would be the right look for Elvin. We talked to Sam and he was willing. Then we needed some other talent so we held a casting call at this very restaurant, the 57th Fighter Group (PLUG), who were nice enough to give us a banquet room. We found most of the rest of the cast from that. We picked up a lot of people through Roy’s work at Netherworld. When the call went out for ghouls, Roy’s friends, yourself included, were very willing and eager to get involved, and I’m glad they did, because the ghoul days of shooting were the most fun days of the whole picture. The Netherworld folks have experience with the genre, and they’re actors themselves, so using them as ghouls just made sense.

SOC: If you look at the imdb pages, only one cast member, Samantha Falk, has any other movie credits. What are the advantages and drawbacks of working with a “rookie cast?”

SD: The advantage is that in most cases they’re very eager to do whatever is asked of them. Not that anything terribly bad was asked of them, but we did have to shoot in the cold a lot and in some rather uncomfortable situations. The drawback is that, besides the ghouls, most of the cast that were hired that didn’t have experience, so there’s more than one or two takes with those folks. That’s inherent with people that haven’t been exposed to working in front of the camera. Overall, the way I see it is that you get a freshness from people who haven’t had a lot of experience. They’re fresh, they’re fun, and they’re willing.

SOC: For those who haven’t done any film work but have acted in other venues like haunts or on stage, how do you think that translates into film acting?

SD: Every bit of experience is great, whether they did stage work or haunts. The willingness to do zany things in front of the public certainly seemed to help my ghouls have very little fear of the camera and be willing to do things other people would think are silly. The main thing people can learn from stage acting is blocking, the motion of your body in and around the set. When you retake a scene from a different angle, it’s miserably hard on the editor if the blocking isn’t the same. If they don’t raise their arm the same way or raise a glass to the same level, it can make a lot of it unusable, though that’s the director’s fault too. Any experience is positive as long as they don’t have too much experience and get to be a pain in the ass.

SOC: How much of the dialog was scripted and how much was improvised?

SD: About 98% was scripted because we had to match the original dialog and footage. It was important when shooting our talent that they kept their eyelines where they needed to keep them and they delivered the lines almost exactly as scripted because a lot of times simple casual words were absolutely necessary to tie in to what the original Night of the Living Dead characters were saying. There is a little bit of ad libbing, like “suck my balls” on the part of Sam Ronick. He came up with that in lieu of saying “f**k me” or some other similar profanity.

SOC: Any interesting or funny stories from the shoot?

SD: We had a whole house full of ghouls in full makeup and bloody clothing and so on. It got to be lunch time, and we ordered a couple of pizzas. When the pizza guy came, all of the ghouls rushed out the front door into the parking lot and surrounded the guy. He was maybe in his 50’s, maybe not a great grasp of the language...he was very surprised, but he eventually smiled and laughed. Of course, when you have a bunch of people in makeup, especially ghoul makeup, almost anything they do that’s normal is funny. Whether it’s getting a cup of coffee or coming out of the bathroom or whatever, it just makes it a lot of fun.

Intrigued, aren’t you. Sounds like your kind of flick, huh? Well, you can check out the website here, follow the flick on facebook here, and come back tomorrow for part two of the interview, which will include all the info you need about how to get your grubby little hands on a copy. You know you want it, after all, it features a certain horror blogger you all know and love; this guy…


AhdBod said...

Yay!! On pins and used needles! Lol. But damn did that make me crave some 57thFG though! Btw, SOC dahling, as there are minimal updated pics of you flitting about this cyberplace, i will have to use the above as a reference and you look dashing as of late! :D

SonOfCelluloid said...

But, I thought I've always looked dashing. I just didn't look

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