June 15, 2010

Brain Picking: Interview with Jim Townsend (dir. Attack of the Vegan Zombies)

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(director: Attack of the Vegan Zombies)
Written and directed by Jim Townsend, Attack of the Vegan Zombies (review), is an independent horror film about zombies that attack a group of students and farmers at a winery after witchcraft is used to enhance the crop. Like many independent film-makers, Townsend also stars in his film and staffed it with friends and family. Townsend stopped to answer a few questions from THE ZED WORD zombie blog about the struggles of independent film-making and the collaborative nature of the process in which actors often do double-duty as crew members.

ZED WORD: For an independent production, Attack of the Vegan Zombies looks very professional. Did you use any specific equipment to help you achieve the film's look?

JIM TOWNSEND: No special equipment; a lot of special people. Max Fischer (Director of Photography) shot it on a Panasonic DVX 100. There were a few scenes that required specific equipment. . . . The shot of the first zombie attack in the field required the camera to move at the character Fred involved a "zip-line." One end of the line is attached to a tree, the other end is attached to a pole mounted (higher than the tree) on the back of a truck about seventy five yards away. You attach the camera to the line at the truck end and let gravity bring it to the other side. I never thought it would work, but it did, thanks to Charlie Harris [key camera rigger and rigging grip]. Chris Jones recorded the sound on the set, and Tiki Barber was our Make Up Stylist. One of the actors, Wyatt Gunter, doubled as boom Op. Jimmy Ray was our Gaffer and the 2nd Unit Director of Photography. He designed some really interesting looks considering the budget and time constraints. Eric Weiss, the Production Designer, made great use of the location props that were on site. Finally, Jay Lee edited them all together.

ZW: I thought the most interesting part of Attack of the Vegan Zombies was the interplay between Dionne (Christine Egan) and her mother (H. Lynn Smith). How did these two actresses come to work on the film?
JT: Christine Egan is my sister-in-law, so I guilted her into playing the role of Dionne. However, it does make it tough to write a decent love scene when the actress playing the part is your wife's little sister. Knowing she was on board gave me a great deal of confidence in the project when several other key pieces were still up in the air. For the role of her mother, I hired Shannon Cain as Casting Director. She got two or three actors to audition for each of the seven or eight remaining, uncasted characters - pretty impressive for parts that don't pay up front. Lynn looked the part the moment she walked in the door and gave a perfect audition. In fact, I don't remember her missing a beat for the whole shoot.

ZW: In parts, it seems that the Evil Dead films were an influence on Attack of the Vegan Zombies. What other films influenced your vision for the movie?

JT: The Evil Dead homages were Max Fischer's idea. He's a much bigger horror fan than I. We met after he read the script, and he was interested and available. He asked if I had thought about camera movement, and I had to admit that I had not come up with any specific ideas. That's when he mentioned talking to Charlie Harris about the zip-line rig. I had never seen one before, but if Max wanted it and it wasn't to expensive or time consuming, I figured why not? It turned out much better than I had hoped. As far as my specific vision for the film, I was primarily concerned with writing something simple enough for me to produce for $30,000. I wound up spending about $35,000, so I came pretty close. There was one scene I wrote with a vine shooting up through a table that was an homage (codespeak for ripoff) of a scene from John Carpenter's The Thing. I spoke at length with my friends Angela Lee and Jay Lee about his ultra-low- budget horror film The Slaughter before I started the project. But it wasn't so much an artistic inspiration as it was a confidence builder to see that I could really do it for such a small amount of money and still have a viable product when it was all done.

ZW: Although independent filmmakers now have more freedom in distributing their work, they still face numerous challenges. What was the most challenging thing about making Attack of the Vegan Zombies? What was the most rewarding?
JT: I'll start this answer with the good news. The most rewarding thing about making Attack of the Vegan Zombies is that it is mine! All the years I spent working on other people's projects were devoted to executing someone else's ideas for a day's pay, and a low day's pay at that. Making my own movie means that it belongs to me. I wrote it, produced it, directed and starred in it. It's rewarding not having to check with anyone when making a creative decision. Acting in your own movie is fun, too. It's like hosting a party and having a great time when you are at the party. The bad news is that you are all alone when it's time to try and sell it. The biggest challenge isn't that Attack of the Vegan Zombies can't compete with other movies, it's that we don't get the opportunity to compete with other movies. I can't get into a festival. I've been to those festivals and most of the movies are not as good as Attack of the Vegan Zombies. They don't look and sound as good, they aren't as funny, the stories have gaping holes that lead me to believe they didn't shoot some required scenes or they did shoot them but they came out so badly that they were unusable. I didn't make it to Eerie Horror in 2009, but I reapplied last week for Eerie Horror 2010. This year I have a fancy DVD box with great art from Boo Smith, I have interviews like this one, Facebook, and Twitter. I have persistence and high hopes because my application is more complete and I think my product can compete if we get the chance to get up to bat. Wish me luck.

If you want a copy of  
Attack of the Vegan Zombies
you can purchase an affordable copy at www.attackoftheveganzombies.com 
or on Amazon.com for a few bucks more.