Set Visit: Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse (Part 1)!

It was a typical gloomy June day in Los Angeles. As the dense scrim of smog lifted around noon to reveal a rutilant sun, the sudden brightness would prove an absolute harbinger of how my day would unfold. You see, I had the great honor and privilege (and a whole lot of fun as you'll soon see) to make a set visit for Paramount's cool new coming of age genre mash-up: SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. Now, at the time, the film had simply been dubbed SCOUTS VS. ZOMBIES, which is about as on-the-nose a high concept descriptor as you can get. That said, am kinda digging the elongated title change, are you?

The assuredly R-rated horror-comedy - said to meld the family oriented 80s Amblin vibe of GREMLINS with the darker coming of age maturity of something like STAND BY ME (more modernly, think SUPERBAD meets ZOMBIELAND) - stars Tye Sheridan (MUD, JOE, THE TREE OF LIFE), Logan Miller (NIGHT MOVES, THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT) and newcomer funnyman Joey Morgan. Together the titular three scouts, on the eve of their last camp-out, discover the true meaning of friendship when they attempt to save their town from a zombie outbreak.

Rounding out the cast of the film are Halston Sage, David Koechner, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sara Malakul Lane, Elle Evans, Sarah Dumont, Niki Koss, Lukas Gage, Laurel Harris, Justin Philip, Tony Gardner, Jeremy Dunn, Hiram A. Murray and an ungodly addition of a whole host of young nubile hotties.

At the helm of SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE is director Christopher Landon (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES), who also co-wrote the film with Lona Williams, Carrie Evans and Emi Mochizuki. It's worth noting that Landon also wrote ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE (one of my favs), DISTURBIA, as well as PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2, 3, 4 & 5). Dude knows a thing or two about effective horror joints!

Anyway, back to that beauteous June afternoon. As I followed the directions of production liaison Gillian Smith - a cooler, professional and more accommodating person you will not find on a movie set - I dropped the top in my old convertible '88 and burned out towards downtown Los Angeles. My destination? A real-life location (not a movie studio set) with decades of rich municipal history: the famous Park Plaza Hotel in historic downtown Los Angeles. Built in 1923, the famed hotel has endured for many decades even after closing for commercial business, even remaining preserved during urban decay and demolition left many neighboring buildings flattened and bulldozed. Thankfully, the city has kept the gaudy high-rise open for film production.

Upon arrival, I was instantly struck by just how gorgeous the facade of the Park Plaza hotel is...still adorned with stone angels and antique regalia. Call time for us press members was 7:00 PM, at which time I was introduced to a handful of fellow journalists, as well as Ms. Smith. Below is a detailed account of my one-night set visit of SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, including actual scene footage I witnessed, as well as interviews with various aforementioned players and behind the scenes contributors. Namely, producers Sean Robins and Betsy Sullenger, as well as director Christopher Landon and lead actors Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller and Joseph Morgan. Enjoy!


The first thing that occurred once our small coterie of journalists arrived on set? We were carefully escorted down into the dark, dank, dusty, dingy Boiler Room of the famed Park Plaza Hotel...where the instant, real-life production value couldn't have been manufactured to much scarier effect. This is a film shot entirely on location throughout L.A., no artificial sets whatsoever. So there stood the real thing: giant old furnaces and antique dials, rusty pipes, the musty air of condemnation wafting about, atmosphere oozing, ominous warning signs of potential hazards strewn throughout. In fact, an expired inspection date actually read 1973! The place was intimidating to say the least - creepy to the core - yet an absolutely perfect set-piece for a horror film. Really, you couldn't recreate a better, more effective set on a studio back-lot. This is the genuine article!

And speaking of authenticity, it was here in the boiler room that we eventually got to meet Tony Gardner, a longtime venerated and Oscar nominated makeup artist (BAD GRANDPA) who has amassed well over 130 credits in his days dating all the way back to Michael Jackson's Thriller in 1983. Dude's kind of a legend. It's at this time we were informed that film will predominantly feature practical FX, with only small stints of CG augmentation. Badass! Even cooler, before we saw so much as a frame of footage, such practicality was proven when we learned that Tony gets to play a zombified doctor in this movie, call it a glorified cameo if you want, which was further substantiated when the man himself rolled into the boiler room to give an interview in full on decrepit zombie regalia...rotting skin, putrid flesh gouges, jaundiced eyes, bloodstains galore...everything you'd want in a from gruesomely odious undead ghoul!

Of course, even more amusing was just how cool, calm and casual Gardner was while describing his role on the film, both in front of and behind the camera. Take a listen to what Gardner had to say below!

Q: It seems like they're keeping you quite busy on set, no?

Tony: Yeah, there's a lot of things to do on this in capacities that we never were expecting we'd have to do, I guess including being directly, personally involved to this degree. So yeah.

Q: How much can you see through those (bloodshot) contacts?

Tony: Well I can see you guys pretty good, but there's nothing to this side because one of them is really fogged over and the other is only like halfway. But there's no depth perception at all. Oh and when the strobes are going on, literally it's like a whiteout. I can't see anything. So I'm dependent on Tye to puppeteer me, essentially.

Q: Does it help you sympathize for the people that sit in the (makeup) chair?

T: Yeah, I actually have to say I think it's really good for our makeup FX guys to go through this every once in awhile to understand the process and being on the other side. Because, we get so used to what we do, I think it's advantageous seeing it from the other side.

Q: Is there a particular reason you designed yours (makeup) this way?

T: I figured I wouldn't be able to talk anybody else into putting a big hook in their mouth and jacking (?) their lips out. And I would do it, you know, take one for the team (laughter). But I wouldn't ask anyone else to do it because it's really, really uncomfortable. So I just went for something that's really extreme and trying to take the approach that all the people that are zombies have been attacked by other zombies, so like their all an accident victim or an animal attack, that sort of thing. And it's like, you're doing so many, it's like where do we put the next one, what do we do here? Just trying to keep everything different. I would say keep everything fresh, but that's probably not good (laughter).

Q: Other than applying the makeup, what's been the most challenging part of this movie?

T: There have been a lot of challenges, to be honest with you. One has just been the time that we've had to get everything done and trying to have a very uniform look to the volume that we're doing. From a technical perspective, that's been the challenge. Then aesthetically, trying to do something that's new, that haven't seen before. That isn't just same old, same old. The idea was, if you had a flip book of zombie photos, it's like there's a Walking Dead zombie, okay, there's a ZOMBIELAND zombie, there's a SCOUTS VS. ZOMBIES zombies...it was like a very distinctive sort of look. That's been one of the challenges. And then, quite honestly, trying to make a deer look scary and evil and look like it's gonna attack you and you're not gonna laugh at it, that's a pretty large challenge. As is a big fluffy white cat! So, we got hit with things we weren't expecting but those were the really fun ones.

Q: Is it fun to be on a set where everything is practical from day one?

T: Yeah it's actually really refreshing to talk about doing an effect and actually doing stuff like this and then having Brian paint it off for the top of the shot. It's been really great. And doing this film and seeing them want to do practical has made it that much more obvious how much it's gone away. Because suddenly we're doing animatronic puppets and animals and heads that shoot off of bodies and thing like that are all really happening right in front of you...and nails going through hands. I mean, it's great!

Q: Where does the humor come into your job?

T: That's the tricky part, really, balancing the humor along with the scares. And I think you have to go back and forth between the two for each to have any value to the story. So, it's like trying to get a good scare in, and get really sort of visceral with it, but then knowing there's going to be a story beat that will be lighthearted and take you away from it...it sort of sets you up for the next scare really in a way. So it's not really as hard as it seems if the script's well done and this was really well written.

Q: Have you designed funny zombies and scary zombies?

T: It's interesting, the whole thing with being able to try to do everything practical has forced us to think and direct things that we haven't normally done because you get sort of complacent and used to, "Oh we can add that later." And adding things later digitally is great for things like blood splashing because you can control it for continuity. We'll do something small and they can make it bigger if they want but at least there's something there. But in designing some of this stuff, okay like we want a zombie whose back is broken and we want it to move really weird. And then we're trolling the internet looking for people who can do interesting movements...and they do these races in Japan where people run on all fours, and actually race. And there's this whole subculture and group of people who do this. It's like, why not take advantage of that, let's take advantage of a movement specialist for this other thing. It's really been fun trying to design based on new ideas. But again, the ideas come out of Chris Landon, they come out of the script, so everybody's very supportive of the whole story, so it's been easy in a weird way.

Q: How have the hardware store weapons influenced your work?

T: I think just reading the fact that everything is sort of homemade, gives you the sense of tone that the fights scenes are gonna have you know. When the doors open and they're revealed, it's like an intimidating pose, but then it's like three high-school guys in Scout uniforms and bandanas and these weapons that, when you get a little closer and look at them a little further, there's a sense of humor to what's been done, but then they go and use it, and it's doing something pretty extreme and really graphic. So again, it's that back and forth between the scary and the funny that makes it cool. (beat). Oh the boiler actually works! (laughter).


The scene that us journalists were invited to witness as it was filming, in my mind, couldn't have been more awesome. And if it's any indication of what to expect from the film as a whole, by god we're in for one gorily delectable treat this Halloween. Nearing end of production, on day 35 of a 38 day shoot, we were all corralled into the real-life Olympic Swimming Pool that was built as an original addendum to the 92 year old Hotel structure. We're talking a gargantuan indoor swimming hole festooned with ornate pillars, balcony walkways, and, since the pool was completely drained of water, a giant stairway from the lip of the pool to the bottom of the base. Damn impressive on its own...a piece of living history. It's here however that the pool will be restaged as a neon-lit nightclub or party setting for the Scouts to come a crashing!

As for the scene itself, it comes during the daring denouement of the film as our trio of hardened boy scouts - once the invisible laughing stocks of the school - earn major brownie points among their adolescent peers. You see, a huge high-school party among the cool kids is savagely interrupted by a relentless zombie scourge. As such, hundreds of young extras were on set, fit to be in the shot, milling about, dancing to music, etc. Then, as the director barks "Action"...we get to witness a melee between one fetid and disemboweled zombie and our trio of heroes. It's time for the heroes to not only earn the respect of their peers, the affection of Kendall the school hottie (Halston Sage), but they must save the world from being overrun by zombies as well. Scouts honor!

Ben (Tye Sheridan), Carter (Logan Miller) and Auggie (Joseph Morgan) - the shy stud, the smart-ass and the loveable funnyman who were not even invited to the party in the first place - must band together and ward off this most heinous of grave-walking infiltrators. A nasty, puss-ridden, somnambulant zombie comes face to face with Ben (Tye), who must fend the f*cker off with anything he can find. Remember now, these are young scouts, so an awkward scuffle ensues at the bottom of the drained pool in a way that feel germane to the age and experience of our heroes. A whole lot of flailing and awkward shuffling ensues, extras dizzily dancing around the fracas. The scene has a great frenetic energy and a manically pulsing pace that's sure to keep you entertained. And if this first portion of the scene doesn't convince you, the second part we witness most certainly will!

Really, this next part of filming had to be the highlight of the entire 6 hour evening. Once a different camera setup as adjusted, the lighting reworked to perfection...an even more harrowing part of the same pool-party zombie scene got rolling. This part depicts Kendall (Halston Sage) climbing out of the pool, up a 10-foot ladder...where a mouth-spuming, flesh-starved zombie awaits her atop the ladder, while a hungry horde hopes she falls off below. Poor girl's in a zombie-fuelled pickle! Luckily for her, the burgeoning badass Ben (Tye) interrupts the girl's attacker with, get this, a large weed-whacker that our man has modified with twin-knife blades dangling from the edge. So killer!

And just when you thought it couldn't get any more badass, Ben is forced to think on his feet when the weed-whacker device fails as the zombies close in on his cute new girlfriend-manqué. How, you may ask? How about cranking up a big-ass air compressor and rifling a solid croquet ball plum through a zombie-doctor's mutilated cranium. Boss! And in case you hadn't put two and two together, yup, said zombie-doc is none other than Mr. Tony Gardner, the man responsible for the overall makeup design of the flick. A cool little in-joke if nothing else, one you'll now know to look for when you finally see the film!

What struck me most about the scene we witnessed was just how practical, low-tech and analogue it felt. No green screen trickery, no phony artifice, no PG-13 punches pulled. This felt organic and in the moment, punctuated with real horrific and humorous hand-to-hand throw-downs. Of course, this jives beautifully with the DIY nature of Scouts in the first place, but to hear about it from the principals involved is one thing, seeing it in the flesh is another entirely. And after laying eyes on this gnarly swimming pool scene, I feel quite confident that this film will deliver on its promise of being a visceral R-rated coming of age mash-up!

Check out our exclusive Set Visit Featurette below!


Extra Tidbit: SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE camps out in theaters starting October 30th.
Source: AITH



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