ARROW NOTE: This set visit took place on December 2004, hence some of the information on hand might be dated.
I have purposely been avoiding anything that is Land of the Dead related online where I didn’t want any spoilers in my eventual “dead soup”. Alas when I was invited as part of JOBLO.COM to attend the set, I couldn’t pass it up and now know more than I wanted to know. Having said that; it’s not everyday that you get to bare witness to the Godfather of Zombies making his glorious return.
Tag to that the presence of another 70’s icon in the guise of Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider baby…Easy Rider…) and the chance to meet with Asia Argento once more (an Iconic figure in her own rights) and you get a very content horror fan. I should warn you that this report does sport some narrative “spoilers” about the story but hey, if I can live with so I can you. IT HAS BEGUN!
The Official Synopsis: George’s Romero’s Land of the Dead is the acclaimed director’s long awaited return to the horror genre he invented, beginning with the seminal Night of the Living Dead and continuing with Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead.In this tale, Romero creates a harrowing vision of modern day world where the walking dead roam an uninhabited wasteland and the living try to lead “normal” lives behind the walls of a fortified city.
A new society has been built by a handful of enterprising, ruthless opportunists, who live in the towers of a skyscraper, high above the hard-scrabble existence on the streets below. But outside the city walls, an army of the dead is evolving. Inside, anarchy is on the rise. With the very survival of the city at stake, a group of hardened mercenaries is called into action to protect the living from an army of the dead.
My on set lumbering and what I saw with my "dead eyes".
Mr. Rogers’ Post-Apocalyptic Neighborhood: The first set that we visited looked like an exterior, post apocalyptic garage sale. It had an American flag hung up and a slew of wooden tables, which sported various knick-knacks, and bottles of juice. A tall and thin George Romero was at a far away tent, watching the scene roll on at the monitor.
The scene itself had the leader of the humans, do his Braveheart like speech, trying to rally up his crew into a revolution against the rich-cats (led by Dennis Hopper) that live in a fancy high-rise, protected from the undead. I found the scene to be decent, nothing spectacular really.
Two things stayed with me after witnessing this bit in action. 1- The line “Do you like shining shoes” is now engraved in my noggin until the day I die (since I heard it so damn much through each takes). 2- There’s a little kid that coughs a lot during the sequence. Is he infected or does he simply have a case of the sniffles; I’ll have to see the film to find out.
Dead Reckoning: Yes I got to see the “Dead Reckoning “. What is the “Dead Reckoning”? Well it’s an anti-zombie rig used by the heroes to clean undead shop and what a glorious sight of man-made weaponry it was! Think a mix of a fire truck, the main vehicle in Jurassic Park, a Road Warrior vehicle and a tank. The metal beast was long in length, sported a multi missile rocket launcher on its roof and a crane with a hook in the back. I pity the poor undead that will run into this pinto from hell.
Extra Info Note: Robert Joy revealed that the Dead Reckoning also had tubes that shoot up fire works to distract the zombies. That aspect brings in some suspense when they malfunction and creates difficulty for the heroes.
Kaboom - Explosions: Well this was a first for me. I got to witness a horde of massive, exterior and live explosions. There was a large fence under a bridge and the explosions blew that fence to Kingdom Come. I assume that the capow was prompted by one of “Dead Reckonings” missiles where the rig was positioned right behind us off camera. When the first mammoth explosion erupted I jumped in the air like a scared little girl.
I jumped at the next one too. But after explosion number 5; I felt right at home within the chaos. One thing though’; as they conducted the fire works under the bridge, they didn’t block the busy highway on the bridge. Meaning that the drivers on top heard the explosions and were often engulfed in smoke. I’m surprised that no cars got scared and drove off the railing. I guess in Toronto, random explosions are as common as their crappy New York wannabee hot dogs.
I got to talk to lots of peeps within the productions. Here's the key info that I got off these fine gents
MARK CANTON (PRODUCER)
- He was at a lunch with David Gersh who is George’s Agent. He had been keeping tabs on George and even before the release of the new dawn of the Dead; horror had been going through resurgence. So David let loose that George had finished writing his next chapter of the “Dead” series so he said, “I’ll do it”.
- There were problems with the rights being tied to up to another Studio, the name and all. So he read the script, loved it and said I’ll do it, I’m going to pay or play George tonight (this was in June of 2004; yup it happened fast), lets go. He offered the North American rights to the other Studio that owned the film and sooner or later that was that on that.
- He feels that Universal are the best partners in terms of their marketing skills when it comes to genre pictures. He says they’re passionate about George and the project.
-The budget is between 15 to 17 Million Dollars and the shoot was 42 days.
- He felt that once again this Romero Dead movie was a reflection of the time; what’s going on today in our society.
- They wanted to do it in Pittsburgh but the budget said otherwise where it was more profitable to shoot in Toronto (the Canadian tax credits).
- He said his goal was to make a George Romero horror film that it would be more retro in a sense but at the same time have George use the technology that he didn’t have then.
- The film will be R Rated, then they’ll have an unrated version for the DVD and he then went on to say that they would have an unrated, unrated DGVD where it would be so gross that you’d buy but couldn’t watch it. It remains to be seen if he was kidding or not.
- Zach Snider who directed the Dawn of the Dead remake is doing his next film with him and it’s called “300” based on a graphic novel. They’re shooting a big test for it in LA in December.
- His 10-year-old son is playing the boy Zombie in the film.
- The film and the look of the flick is Road Warriors meets the Zombies.
- They already have the next sequel in mind where this one would be the end of one chapter and the next a new beginning. They’re hoping for a franchise.
- They are not holding back gore wise for the MPAA’s sakes, they’re going all out and we’ll see things that we’ve never seen before.
SIMON BAKER aka RILEY (LEAD ACTOR):
- Australian actor Simon Baker (who also just wrapped Ring 2) plays the layered hero Riley. Simon came across as an easygoing chap, the man was photogenic to say the least and although he had a knack at not answering our questions (was he trying to protect the script or was he just not used to doing interviews…who knows) I enjoyed my time with the lad nonetheless. Here are a couple of interesting tidbits of info I retained from the bla-bla session.
- George Romero is what appealed to him about the project.
- He was never into the zombie genre, he had lot of friends into it and got into films really late but as soon as he signed on to do it an enormous amount of people that he didn’t even know were into the genre came out of the woodworks and said: Oh My God you’re in a George Romero movie”.
- He loves George’s subversive comments on the state of society at the time of each film.
- When he sat down with George; he played everything down and was self-deprecating. George didn’t even try to convince him to do the movie, which he really loved.
- When asked about his character; this is what he repeated time and again; there’s good on one end, there’s evil on the other hand, his character threads the middle where he’s in between saying hold on, I don’t want to be put in this category or that category, he’s sort of trying to find somewhere in between. He’s the moral compass of the story; he doesn’t relate to the zombies in the same way as the others where he questions them “Do they feel” “Do they think”, his character pays attention to their evolution and doesn’t slap them all in the “bad” category.
- He compared the film’s social commentary top what is going right now in our society. Where you either believe in God or you’re evil.
- His character’s job is to get supplies with his little crew for the rich cats that live in the tower.
- The film for him is about the elimination of the middle class; you’re either poor and at risk or rich and sheltered from the undead. That’s his interpretation; he said we’ll get from it what we get from it.
- Initially he didn’t think he would be able to handle the violence and the gore. When it’s a George Romero Zombie all of the usual conventions are eliminated. The genre becomes borderless. You have license within the genre to do anything; it could be politically incorrect and that’s okay.
- There’s some tongue in cheek and circumstantial humor in the film. His character’s self doubt is at times conveyed through self-deprecating humor.
- George likes subtlety and gives him space as an actor; he says if he like sit or doesn’t but unlike some directors he doesn’t say things of the likes of “come over here; you’re a fucking tree” or “Do you feel me?”
- The evolution of the zombies continues in this film.
- The charm for him about George’s movies is the lack of slickness; where he never sets out to show off visually as opposed to a director like Zach Snyder, which he assumes (he hasn’t seen the Dawn remake) that it was all about “flash”.
- His character’s dream is to separate himself from the chaos and move to Canada. His character actually has a Canadian flag embroider on his clothes. Canada!
- He’s the gun taunting hero but tries to set him up as a pacifist.
- He watched Road Warrior to prepare for this role where both starred Aussies in a Post Apocalyptic setting.
ROBERT JOY aka
CHARLIE (SUPPORTING ACTOR)
- Riley rescued Charlie in a fire and that’s why Charlie is so loyal to him now.
- Charlie watches Riley’s back, he protects him throughout, he’s his watchdog. Sometimes he watches without Riley even knowing it.
- Charlie who’s a crack shot in the team of commandos, he uses old-fashioned weapons where he has a pair of six shooters and an old kind of Sergeant York style of rifle.
- Charlie is physically damaged and mentally backward a bit but he has high skill as a marksman.
- He did a day at a firing range to prepare for the role; that helped him a lot so that he wouldn’t wince when firing. He also thought he was a good shot too.
- He doesn’t just shoot Zombies in this but also shoot bad guys. One of which is Cho Lo (Leguizamo), who tries to kill Riley. They shoot him but since he’s wearing body armor he’s not dead. Therefore Charlie has to track him in a crowded arena throi8gh people and bleachers and he makes an amazing shot and that’s the first time the audience figures out that Charlie is a dead shot.
- It used to take 2 ½ hour to get into makeup now it takes 2 hours. It takes half an hour to take off which he find to be the most unpleasant part of the procedure.
- The flick is set in a city called UnionVille, which he thinks in Georges mind is Pittsburgh but if you look really closely at the graphics in the background of the film you’ll sometimes see Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh.
- The humans still use a form of currency, still using money, but the value of the money is set against like rare items like antibiotics and booze.
- Cho Lo, John Leguizamo's character is one of the Commando’s but the “bad guy” where he’s out for himself, ready to backstab in the name of his advancement.
- The scene in the arena reminds him of Post Apocalyptic movies like the Mad Max movies. The whole hierachrchy involves the buying and selling of humans.
- The character of Slack (Asia Argento) is thrown into an arena as food to have two zombies fight each other for it. Of course humans are putting down bets a stop whom will win. Both zombies are spray painted (one red, one black) to differentiate them. The humans exploit the zombie slick crazy throughout the film.
- He doesn’t like horror where he’s very sensitive. He played the killer in Resurrection and couldn’t watch the whole thing and shut it off once the Jesus popped up.
- Zombies are under the leadership of a Zombie named Big daddy. They start to learn about their state, they adapt. Their a Zombie butcher who has a cleaver in hands the whole time and he doesn’t know what its for until he cuts something and learns. Its kind of an extension of what the character Bub was going through in Day of the Dead.
- The Shaun of the Dead boys play Zombies in a booth that announces “take your pictures taken with Zombies”. Simon Pegg’s makeup is a Bub style makeup following with his semi imitation of Bub in Shaun of the Dead.
- George looks for ways to fit the actors many ideas in the film. There’s an interaction between actors and director. He takes what the actors brings in and gets excited about it. For an actor its great. After a take, he’ll laugh or give thumbs up. Getting a thumb up form George Romero is priceless.
- Kaufman turns the character of Cho Lo into a very unsavory and somewhat fascist character. Cho Lo is paid to get rid of unwanted characters.
I will say that my first day on the Land of the Dead set has made me even more excited about the picture. It seems that this will be a pure Romero Zombie movie, even with the bigger budget, Stars and the Studio presence in tow. Come on…who’s not happy?
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2 OF MY
LAND OF THE DEAD SET VISIT!
On the menu:
More on-set action and extensive
John Leguizamo, Greg Nicotero and Asia Argento.