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Set Visit: Jonathan Levine's Warm Bodies (Part 1)

Jan. 4, 2013by: Andre Manseau

When the opportunity came about for me to head to beautiful Montreal to be a part of Summit's "Zombie for a Day" set visit for the upcoming film Warm Bodies, I was all over that shite. It's always been a sick dream of mine to be professionally made into one of the undead, and this was a great way to see what 50/50 and All The Boys Love Mandy Lane director Jonathan Levine had in store for this upcoming zombie romance.

Here's what we know about this film, based on a book by Isaac Marion. R (Nicholas Hoult) is a young man with an existential crisis he is a zombie. He shuffles through an America destroyed by war, social collapse, and the mindless hunger of his undead comrades, but he craves something more than blood and brains. He can speak just a few grunted syllables, but his inner life is deep, full of wonder and longing. He has no memories, no identity, and no pulse, but he has dreams. After experiencing a teenage boys (Dave Franco) memories while consuming his brain, R makes an unexpected choice that begins a tense, awkward, and strangely sweet relationship with the victims human girlfriend. Julie (Teresa Palmer) is a blast of color in the dreary and gray landscape that surrounds R. His decision to protect her will transform not only R but also his fellow Dead like his pal M (Rob Cordry), and perhaps their whole lifeless world. Scary, funny, and surprisingly poignant, Warm Bodies is about being alive, being dead, and the blurry line in between.

As my fellow journalists and I climbed into our van late in the morning, we were informed that we'd be visiting the Olympic Stadium (or "The Big O" as it was affectionately known during its heyday), as that's where the film was shooting. This was pretty exciting; growing up, this stadium was home to the Montreal Expos, and my father grew up in the city so there was a lot of significance getting to check out the place.

Here's my hideous zombie mug shot..oh wait..this is just how I looked then..yeesh!

As soon as we walked in, we were whisked away by golf carts to various destinations. Riding these bad boys was always quite fun, I enjoyed sitting in the back and facing in the opposite direction. As I mentioned to a fellow writer, sitting on the the back and seeing zombies everywhere as we sped away made me feel like I should be packing heat, ready to blast away the undead at every given opportunity.

Yes folks, there were zombies everywhere we looked- hundreds of them. Unfortunately these zombies seemed more interested in eating pastries and reading books than eating brains, because they were simply regular folks just waiting for their chance to be called to set. I'm as disappointed as you are that Summit didn't hire actual zombies but I know that financial times are tough for everyone.

We hopped off our golf cart and signed our film releases and headed right over to wardrobe. Here, we were introduced to Producer Bruna Papandrea (the big sister of AITH regular Marcey), who was telling us how excited she was about this flick, as she discovered the book years ago and helped shepherd it to the big screen. We had been asked to send our measurements to the wardrobe department before we arrived, so they had outfits for us ready to go.

I watched the other folks step out from their all-too-revealing wardrobe "privacy" shields and then the experts would run over to them, tug on sleeves, look them up and down and immediately change something if they didn't like it. As for me, I was dolled up in some thin slacks, a dull gray t-shirt and a tattered purple dress shirt. The moment I started to change out of my "civilian" clothes, I could feel my undead excitement beginning to rise. My time was coming. Somewhere around this time, director Jonathan Levine popped by to greet us all and I can't say enough good things about him. He exudes a certain energy and is as down to earth as you might hope. He was jazzed about us checking everything out, and took time to just stop and shoot the sh*t with us, rapping about good movies we've seen and even hoping to hang out with us later that night, as game 7 of the World Series was to take place. Each encounter we had with this guy was great, I must say.

Once I was all fitted, I was directed to the makeup line. Here, there were about 20 makeup artists set up against a wall, diligently uglying people up to become members of the living dead. I didn't wait long, and before I knew it I plopped my awkward 6'5 frame precariously into a cloth makeup chair and the process was underway. I found out in conversation that my makeup artist (whose name I unfortunately never got) was a graphic designer who was skipping school to do this makeup gig. I respected the hell out of that. Anyway, she went to work and the process took about 20 minutes or so. I told her I wanted the full enchilada and to pull no punches, so she made sure I was fairly gory (sadly, once I got on set, someone saw the blood and had a little freakout, and immediately wiped it away). Apparently, there are three 'stages' of zombies in this film, each stage getting progressively worse. I was an "in between" zombie.


There must have been something really interesting on the ceiling..

As a note on the zombie transformation process, I will admit that I would still love the opportunity to become a true KNB zombie with prosthetics, open wounds and contact lenses- the whole shebang. This was more of a painted face affair, we looked great for sure but still resembled ourselves. But with that said, we weren't slighted on our set visit. The truth of the matter is that this film is a PG-13 effort and we looked as nasty as any of the other zombies did. I'm still incredibly thankful that I got to do it, it was a great gig.

Alas, the blood didn't last..

Anyway, I finished up with my makeup gal and posed for a few reference photos. From here, we grabbed a quick bite and I was then directed to head to the hair department. If you know me, I don't have a whole lot of hair- I keep it pretty short (what's left, anyway). Nevertheless, after about 5 minutes in the chair, the dude had me loaded down with crusty, hummus-looking goo and that was that. From here I went to the dirt department (how awesome would it be to work in the dirt department?), where another charming gal sprayed me down with filth for about 10 minutes, despite the fact that my clothes were gross to begin with. Either way, this all helped set the tone for truly being undead.

Getting Durr-tayyyy..

After a bit of waiting around, we travelled to the ticketing area, where our scenes would be taking place. I know that our scene takes place near the end of the film. From what were to understand, R and Julie are trying to escape from somewhere, while the super evil, no-hope-left-for-them zombies known as the Boneys show up to make things worse. They come into frame while a huge crowd of us zombies are standing there, while M, R's best pal breaks through us to speak with R and Julie. Cordry's character is dressed in a plain brown suit, and he's made up a zombie shade of grey. As for R, he's in skinny jeans, sneakers and a bright red hoodie over a white undershirt. Julie looks radiant and undoubtedly out of place in her brown sweater, leggings and boots.

In this scene, M speaks to R and Julie and asks them if they're ready for a fight. Julie replies that they are indeed, while R wants to keep her safe. It was tough to hear the dialogue, because it was almost whisper quiet. M warns that the fight is going to happen soon, as the Boneys are already there. At this point, the large glass ceiling will shatter, raining glass and a horde of boneys down on us zombies, who must fight them off.

The final product..not too shabby! No, wait- appropriately shabby!

In the first few takes, we simply stood there, staring at the characters and acting like zombies, looking up when we were told that the CGI boneys would appear above us in the window. After lunch, we did more coverage where we had to accommodate the actors running through the crowd and then looking up at the Boneys while the glass shattered above us and everything came raining down. The whole shooting process probably took 10 takes or so, and we kept getting little tweaks on our performance as we went along. We weren't given much specific instruction on how to actually be a zombie, but it wasn't hard after a little practice. For those of you wondering how I found my inner dead man, just focused on something far away, hunched the shoulders a bit and relaxed my face. Anyone can do it!

This was pretty exhilarating stuff and undoubtedly fun (and incredibly surreal) to be a zombie amongst a horde. Standing around between takes can be tiresome (although I felt like such a big deal when makeup artists would wander over to me throughout the day to touch me up and make changes to my wardrobe), but it was certainly more than worth it once the camera was rolling- I immediately begin to feel the movie magic. As for me, I'm sure that if the scene makes the movie I'll be visible, because I'm a pretty giant dude and am therefore quite visible.

Shortly after this wrapped up, we found out that they'd shot all they needed for the day. Removing the make-up wasn't as fun as putting it on, as we were basically given wet-naps and towels and shambled off to the bathroom to fend for ourselves. After getting enough of the stuff off to not horrify people, we were done for the day. All in all, this was a truly unique experience that I'm really thankful for. As for the flick, I can't make any judgments based on what I saw- but I can say I loved the book, and if Jonathan Levine can keep his streak of fantastic flicks going, this one is going to be a must see.

I'd like to extend a very special thanks to Puelo, Toni and Bruna and all of the Summit crew involved with this set visit for making it a memorable one.

Stay tuned to AITH for interviews with the cast and crew!

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