August 3, 2009

Brain Picking: Interview with Steven Rumbelow

NOTE: I appear this week as a guest on episode #80 of MAIL ORDER ZOMBIE. I review AUTUMN with the hosts of MOZ, Brother D and Miss Bren. The episode goes live on Thursday, Aug 6th. Head on over to and subscribe to the show to ensure episode #80 of Mail Order Zombie is downloaded directly to your computer!

INTERVIEW with Steven Rumbelow
(director: AUTUMN)

Steven Rumbelow is the director of AUTUMN, the soon-t0-be-released film adaptation of David Moody's zombie novel of the same name. AUTUMN stars Dexter Fletcher and David Carradine in a story about the survivors of a virus that rapidly kills of the majority of the world's population. As the survivors attempt to cope with the devastation, things get worse as the dead begin to rise! Rumbelow and the whole team at Renegade Pictures are hard at work putting the final post-production touches on the film, but the director was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about creating the film, digital piracy, and working with the late, great David Carradine.

ZED WORD (ZW): AUTUMN is obviously based on David Moody's novel, but can you tell my readers how you and he came to be involved in the project? Why AUTUMN?

STEVEN RUMBELOW (SR): Rachel, the assistant, was in the cutting room with me on the Beyond series and she came across [AUTUMN] on the internet and downloaded it. As she was reading it, she was telling me about it and I started getting interested and making predictions about the story based on my knowledge of some British Sci-Fi writers who obviously had influenced David’s work. In fact, one of my 1st questions was “Is Moody English?” So I felt a connection to the David and the text and the story. Reminded me of Nigel Kneal and John Wyndham’s work

Part of the deal for acquiring the rights was that we did not make a Hollywood style film and that we preserve at least a British atmosphere. Both of which were real easy for me to comply to. David Moody was a co-writer on the film. I really wanted him on board as a co-writer to say what he felt were the main elements to be preserved from the book. My most successful adaptations in the past were for stage of Moby Dick, Ulysses and Solaris. In each case, I would speak with the authors over my shoulder and ask them questions to preserve the integrity of their work. In the case of Autumn, it was easy because David is alive and accessible. We invited David on set for a week during production and during that time he played a star among zombies.

: Given Moody's influence on the film, to what degree do the characters and the plot of AUTUMN the movie differ from the novel?

(SR): I created basically three characters to preserve North American interest and keep things focused. Most importantly are Kyle and the Clown. Kyle argues the more opportunistic point of view that I think Americans would find missing in the book whilst the clown added dashes of colour, pathos and fear.

The biggest challenge with Autumn is it’s a slow, quiet, still story. Zombie fans are used to violent hungry zombies that thrash around and bite anything and everything. The Autumn zombies start off slow and the silences and stillness are oppressive. That’s the very thing that distinguishes it from other zombie stories. Also in this story, the longer the zombies are alive the smarter they get, and they only start to get angry towards the end when their reactions to anything they don’t understand is primal.

: How did you prepare to adapt the slowness of the novel to the big screen?

(SR): I studied the great Bergman movies which are masters of “slow” and developed an Autumn style for dealing with the dead spots. When I deal with dead spots, I’m talking about how you dramatize the events of viewers at home on 9/11…. For the most part that sat on their couches for hours without moving, watching the buildings repeatedly fall. It was this approach of societal shock that I loved about the book. Traditionally, when there's not a lot happening, the German directors like Wenders, Fasbinder and Herzog and Polish great Wajda [roamed] with the camera in stagnant scenes, but Bergman adds intensity to the stillness by keeping the camera still and creating these moments of intense interest because there is such a great economy of movement or sound. Whether this will work or not for the public I'm not sure, but it works for me.

Now, having said that I don’t anticipate that this is a film that your average movie viewer will appreciate. At least I hope not. I prefer the idea that there will be a small and committed fan base of those people that "get it" and really like it because they do "get it". Just like the book, which when it first appeared was attacked by zombie purists because the zombies were not real zombies or whatever, but the more it was read the larger and more loyal that fan base became.

: AUTUMN had its Canadian premiere at the Roxy Theater in Saskatoon, SK on May 30th. In your opinion, how did the screening go?

(SR): I haven’t received the stats yet. I wasn’t able to make it because we are still putting the finishing touches on the movie, but there were a lot of great posts following the screening and the feedback we got back was great. Most of the negative comments were to do with it being slow. But even those people said they liked the film. There were some surprising screams where people found aspects of the film scary that impressed me I guess the proof of the pudding is that the Roxy have asked us for a second screening.

: Your movie stars Dexter Fletcher and also features a role for the late David Carradine. What was it like to work with both these men?

(SR): Working with both of them was highly creative and lots of fun. Actually, let me re-phrase that... it was a blast. David, Dexter and I are all theatre animals, so we have a deep commitment to our work whilst being very opportunistic about getting a good laugh out of things. I think you might get an impression of that from my little tribute to David with the behind the scenes shots in it. Between them, they have 80 years acting experience and they liked the fact that I’ve been directing for 40 years, makes them feel safer when they are on such a low budget set.

David Carradine would come up and beam at me and say “Okay in this next scene I’ll be doing a Wellsian Overlap” knowing full well that no one else there would understand what he just said. He got so excited and so did I planning all these future films we would be approaching together. Dexter can’t pass up a joke and, similarly, I’d have fun hiding lights from him that he and I both knew he loved and I made sure were always there. They were both awesome to work with.

I’m all over the place talking about David’s death… but I believe it was foul play… knowing him I can't figure either suicide or accident. He was a light. Dexter and I plotted the idea for my next film Over the Edge and then David contributed to that on a ton of regular phone calls. It’s almost impossible to replace David in that quirky role. It's a role that matches and tests both his skills and his anarchic qualities... think about it: a crime lord; demon master shaman; who is also a concert pianist; of Irish decent... in a film called Over the Edge.

: You already mentioned that David Moody's Autumn is not a typical zombie film. In making the film adaptation, what horror / zombie / or other cinematic influences helped shape your vision of the story?

(SR): I avoided going to Zombie and Horror sources for the film and went more to influences either surreal or unusual to create a different kind of fear. A sort of non-zombie zombie flick. We also had compelling budgetary limitations, and I refused to cheat on stunts or zombies. Randy Daudlin is one of Canada’s leading zombie make-up people, and a make-up [gag] he was working with on Dawn of the Dead sounded really exciting, but it was complex and would take a lot of time, which is why they didn't exploit it further on Dawn… it involves layers of rotting flesh floating on flesh... with puss between the layers. Sure was glad we had such devoted zombie players in the film. Those makeups were taking up to 6 hours and most of them were 2 or 3 hours. It hurt to wear it too because it pulled on the flesh. I wanted to keep a lively camera for the action sequences to contrast the Bergman stillnesses I previously mentioned.

: What's in the future for AUTUMN? Any future screenings lined up in the coming months? If my readers want to see AUTUMN what would be the best way to do so?

(SR): We have sold the film so far in 14 territories around the world which will be more like 30 by the end of the Fall. At the end of the summer, it should be coming out everywhere in the 14 territories sold so far. Since David’s death there have been a number of illegal rips uploaded. Every one of the copies were edits we would never have put out…with thumbnail effects, lousy sound, poor one-light copies that are hard to see, unfinished editing and certainly not color corrected. Now, I don’t have a problem with rips for people that can't afford it, but please guys rip the film when it comes out not BEFORE it’s even finished. At least rip the real movie.

David’s death has created this demand and it seems now that about 1,000,000 premature and illegal downloads have happened worldwide…. it's even showing up in shopping malls all over. It’s just a little indie… my advice to your readers is don't waste the 18 hrs of your time that it takes trying to download a shitty version of the film. Just wait a couple of months and watch the real and finished film when it's released in one of a gazillion countries throughout the world.

I want to extend a hearty and sincere thanks to Steven Rumbelow for spending some time with THE ZED WORD!