September 20, 2010

Brain Picking: Interview with Derek M. Koch (Mail Order Zombie)

When I recieved my first iPod, Mail Order Zombie was the first podcast I heard. I've been a devoted listener and minor contributor ever since. Since it launched over two years ago, host Derek M. Koch (aka. Brother D) and his co-host Miss Bren have turned Mail Order Zombie (MOZ) into a mammoth podcast touching on all zombie media. Bringing listeners interviews with celebrity and mainstream artists in the genre, MOZ has also cultivated a devoted community of listeners who actively participate in the show each week. I recently hit up Derek with some questions about the evolution of his show,the enduring popularity of zombies, and reviewing independent zombie films.

ZED WORD: For over two years, MOZ has been reviewing straight-to-DVD zombie movies as well as other zombie media each week. What keeps you motivated to find zombie content for the show on a weekly basis. Essentially, what is the Moby Dick to your Captain Ahab?

DEREK M. KOCH: The "show answer" is that SOMEBODY has to watch all these zombie movies (you and I both know there are over 500 zombie movies out there, and not all of them are good!), but the truth is, I'd be watching zombie movies on a regular basis even if I wasn't producing Mail Order Zombie. I've loved zombie movies ever since I stumbled across a VHS copy of Scream Greats, Vol. 1: Tom Savini, Master of Horror Effects while I was in junior high school. This documentary sent me back to the video store where I rented Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead (this was in the days before the remakes), and I was hooked. I've been watching zombie movies ever since. When I launched MOZ in January '08, the intention was to cover and spotlight the straight-to-DVD and independent movies in this sub-genre, but as we've evolved, we now cover all zombie movies (in addition to other zombie media), but despite the budget, the studio, the filmmakers involved, I'm always looking for the next great zombie movie for myself . . . that I get to talk about these movies on the show is a bonus! I also feel a bit like an archaeologist in that I really enjoy digging for the obscure zombie movies that may have slipped through the cracks and presenting them on the show. We'll be reviewing some titles like these during our Odd and Obscure October.

ZW: You've been a writer and a filmmaker, but what drew you to the world of podcasting?

DK: First off, I've not completely left the world of filmmaking. I imagine someday, I'll find myself behind a camera or covered with liquid latex and fake blood again. One of my favorite parts of filmmaking was editing, and podcast production has allowed me to scratch that particular itch. I enjoy assembling clips from movies, music, voice recordings, putting different audio elements together and mixing them into something new. But why did I dive into the world of podcasting to begin with? I've long been the kind of person who, when he finds something that he really enjoys, he wants to be part of whatever that thing is. It's been like that with filmmaking, rap music, comic books, horror fiction and now, podcasting. And as for my writing, I'm still writing, having had two short stories published in Dark: A Horror Anthology (one of them was zombie related) and currently working on a few other projects (some of them - surprise, surprise - are zombie related).

ZW: There's been an explosion in new podcasts in recent years, yet when you began MOZ there was already at least one high-profile podcast with a zombie focus. Did you start MOZ with any trepidation?

DK: There were actually two significant zombie-specific podcasts back when Mail Order Zombie launched - The Library of the Living Dead and The Midnight Podcast - and of course I was a little worried about infringing on anyone's turf. Dr. Pus' Library of the Living Dead was a zombie fiction podcast, and my focus wasn't going to crossover very much with what Pus was doing, but as Root Rot was already producing "the podcast dedicated to all things zombie," I knew that what Mail Order Zombie was bringing to the table wasn't entirely unique in terms of focus. I've long believed that "there's always room for one more good one," so I did my best to make sure MOZ was another "good one." Over the years, there have been comments made in the podosphere about Mail Order Zombie maybe being too aggresive in terms of advertising, taglines, etc., but the truth is, we're not here to compete with anyone directly. We never wanted to be the ONLY zombie movie podcast; we only wanted to be a GOOD zombie movie podcast.

ZW: Let's talk zombies! Many people claim that the popularity of zombies has run its course (we are, after all, in the age of Twilight). Do you agree?

DK: I don't agree. I feel that, like a lot of trends in the horror genre, the popularity of the zombie movie is cyclical, and we're in an upswing right now. Zombieland grossed over $75 million here in the states. There's a new Resident Evil movie that just dropped, at a bigger investment than one might expect for the fourth installment of a dwindling franchise since it's in James Cameron's 3D. World War Z is being adapted by Brad Pitt and company. The Walking Dead is about to hit television. I think we're in a good spot, and to have our favorite undead creatures get a little more attention, maybe taking some of the spotlight from the sparkling vampires, is a great thing. On the other side of this, there might be a LITTLE danger of zombie media becoming a bit more mainstream than some fans might like, but I'm comfortable with our favorite sub-genre getting all this extra attention. If nothing else, it's making me a bit more popular in my non-podcasting day-job life!

ZW: You review many independent films; do you feel that indie films better capture the spirit / potential of zombie films?

DK: Yes, I do. The "benchmark" zombie movies weren't studio pictures. White Zombie, Night of the Living Dead and even 28 Days Later weren't big studio pictures. I know I just answered your previous question excited that zombie movies are getting more and more mainstream attention, but I think the smaller productions really seem to "get it" a bit more. Once you start adding studio money to a project, you suddenly have more masters to answer to, whereas an independent project is less likely to have interference or direction from someone further up the financial food chain whose motivations are less artistic and more business. Movies like Deadgirl, The Zombie Diaries or Pontypool wouldn't have been made as they were if the big studios had anything to do with their actual production. Scratch that - they MIGHT have been made, but the end results wouldn't have been the same. I think it's okay to have a big budget zombie movie, but the smaller productions seem more able to get into the guts of what makes the best zombie stories - the story of the people dealing with the zombies as opposed to the zombies themselves. I know a lot of people like it a bit more than I do, but the Dawn of the Dead remake had studio money, and so much of that movie was more about the zombie money shots than what was really happening with the characters between zombie sequences. While Cousin Savini's effects were phenomenal, and he's long spoken about how Uncle Romero would ask him to design great kill scenes for the original Dawn of the Dead or Day of the Dead, the real strengths in these Romero-lensed movies are the characters and characterizations.

ZW: Who has been your favorite zombie movie personality to interview for the show?

DK: This is a tough one to answer as I've enjoyed almost all the interviews I've done for the show. The one that stands out for me right now, though, took place in Episode 123 when I spoke with Patrick Devaney, the man behind the Zombie Hunters: City of the Dead television series. I've been a fan of his work since the beginning of Mail Order Zombie, and it took us a long time to coordinate getting him on the show. He's busy producing his show and promoting it at all the East Coast cons, and the time zone difference has definitely been a hurdle, but when we finally made it work, it was less an interview and more just a couple of friends chatting it up! (That's not to downplay any of the other guests we've had on the show. I love interviewing folks, and I look forward to bringing even more interviews to the show in 2011.)

ZW: On MOZ, you actively involve your wife as a co-host, and you've built up quite the community of listeners who actively contribute to the show via voicemail or segments. Did you always hope this would happen?

DK: Not at all! It's been great having people want to contribute segments to the show on a regular or semi-regualr basis, and having the different personalities on Mail Order Zombie, I feel, gives the show a bit more depth than it would have if it was just me and a microphone. And having Bren join the show as a co-host was a happy accident! Also, at one point I was ready to can the Zombie Beat news segment, but Need-a-Nickname Scott approached me at HorrorHound Weekend Indy 2009 and said he'd like to take a crack at it, and he's been on-board ever since. I appreciate all the contributors, and while I'd still be producing MOZ on my own if everyone else had to take a break, I have more fun with everyone involved. I hope the listeners enjoy it, too!

ZW: The BIG question: How would your life be different if you were not producing MOZ?

DK: I'd be getting a lot more sleep! There are some Wednesday nights/Thursday mornings that the latest episode of Mail Order Zombie doesn't hit the listeners' podcatchers until 2 or 3 in the morning because I don't sleep until the latest episode is ready to roll out. Other aspects of my life that would be different would probably be my own writing output as a lot of the energy I give MOZ would have been shuffled into other creative projects. Also, I wouldn't have nearly as many friends; the relationships we've built thanks to Mail Order Zombie are something we cherish. One thing that wouldn't be different is the size of my zombie movie collection - I'd still be collecting them and watching them even if I didn't have a podcast to produce!

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