Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Interview with Andrew Merkelbach, director of "Dead Country"

From "Night of the Living Dead" to "Dead Alive" to "28 Days Later", the zombie genre keeps on going and going and going... and, quite frankly, that's cool with me. I love 'em. The original "Night of the Living Dead" probably gave the weakest, albeit coolest, explanation as to why the dead walk. Because when hell is full, the dead shall walk the earth. Since then, nuclear waste, radiation, a virus and aliens have all been responsible, as well.

For indie horror filmmakers, zombie films offer a fairly easy entry point into filmmaking. There are only so many plotlines (you're either involved in the spreading of the zombie crisis or you're trying to survive the zombie crisis) and it doesn't take much to create an army of zombies. Make-up is minimal, acting skills to play a zombie are even more minimal. However, the problem then becomes, how do you separate yourself from all these other zombie films? Well, by tweaking, changing and working with those two plotlines and/or by adding lots of gore, boobs and humor. "Dead Country" does all of that.

"Dead Country", written by Anthony Davis, Clifford Hoeft, Kaye Redhead and directed by Andrew Merkelbach is filled with the necessary guts and nudity, but also plays with the plot by adding a bit of a sci-fi twist. You see, a spaceship filled with hazardous material explodes over a small town, turning the townsfolk into zombies. Then, it's up to the alien responsible, plus a small group of survivors to stop the problem from spreading. It's a great new addition to the zombie genre and Brad had a chance to discuss the film with Andrew Merkelbach...

Describe your background and what got you into filmmaking

I made my first "home" movie at age 8 on a friends camcorder and before that time I used to direct and act out stories with action figures. He-man sure had some crazy adventures lol I've always had a fascination with movies. I've always been good at drawing, so I used to watch a movie a then draw my own version of the story. I can remember going to the video store every saturday with my parents and choosing a bunch of movies for the weekend. Even though I was like six or seven at the time, I couldn't resist secretly taking a peak at the horror section of the store. Some of those video covers used to freak me out, you know, but I kept coming back for more every weekend. It was like a forbidden taboo or something. I was lucky enough to sit through the second half of Return of the Living Dead and the first half of Evil Dead 2 thanks to my then teenage brother and sister. I can remember the folks not being too happy about it, but my siblings were cool, because they used to either fast forward or talk to me during the more horrific moments. It never bothered me though. I knew it wasn't real. That's what I often say to people now. Horror movies back in the old days were totally unbelievable and that what made them so fun. The old story of a monster under the bed or a zombie army outside is all OK. Although I think you have to be very careful with todays psychological / reality-based horror.

What are the directors and/or films that have inspired you the most and why?

There are so many great directors, stars and movies that has inspired me as a filmmaker. George Romero's Night of the Living Dead, Lloyd Kaufman's Toxic Avenger, Blake Edward's Shot In The Dark, Werner Herzog's Nosferatu, John Carpenters Halloween, Lew Landers The Boogie Man Will Get You, Bill Malone's House On Haunted Hill, Tod Browning's Dracula (1931), Sam Raimi's Evil Dead, Bruno Mattei's Hell of the Living Dead, Peter Rogers Carry On films and most of Steven Seagal's and Van Damme's action flicks. All of these movies and people have made me want to get out there and make my own horror opus.

Film school: yes or no?

Yeah, I've done a bit of film school. Haven't we all in this industry? lol Although the irony is that I was already practicing most of what I being taught. I've researched a lot on my own. And I've learnt a lot from first-hand experience too.

What was it that made you decide to add the sci-fi angle to, "Dead Country" and how did you accomplish the effects?

My previous films all had sci-fi connections, so I just thought I'd bring some techno-babble over to this project lol I've always liked the whole hazardous-waste-makes-zombie's scenario, but making the waste of an intergalactic nature just gave the story a different dimension.

What elements, do you believe combine to make a great movie?

A not too complicated story. Sex, violence and possibly gore, because all three of those things sell. Also, I think if your making a low budget horror, you really don't want to take yourself too seriously. Primarily it has to be fun for people to watch. Humor is always good. And I think you have to be aware of your target audience at all times. Don't try and make it in the image of Shakespeare lol

How did you go about securing financing and what was the budget?

The project was mostly self-financed, but I did have some help along the way.

What did you shoot on and how long was the shoot?

We used many different cameras for Dead Country. Although everything was shot on digital video. All up the shoot took us 10 months.

What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome to make, "Dead Country?"

The weather! lol Some of our shoots we're shot on incredibly cold winter weekends!

Film festivals: yes or no?

Dead Country hasn't been screened at a film festival because we wanted to release the film straight to DVD. However, I've had three previous shorts screened at RadCon.

How's the disribution going? any tips you can give for people looking to get their movie out there?


Dead Country's on shiny DVD thanks to Midnight Releasing and it's doing swell. It sounds kind of corny, but my advice is never give up. Be persistent and never stop giving your all in whatever you do.

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Oh Andrew.... just read the imdb.com forums to find out more about Andrew, but he does use certain pen names when he writes his scripts and then passes them off as other writers. His stories haven't changed much since back in 2000, cliched, plot holes all hallmarks of Andrews hackneyed unoriginal style.

Andrew also made claims that Dead Country had a $1,000,000 dollar budget, lol.

And as for his "Film School" credentials, yes well a call to Andrew, please show proof because last I heard you don't have any real film school credentials beside some summer course.

BTW Dead Country has done quite poorly and wasn't helped by a nasty review on JoBlo, go check JoBlo if you don't believe me.

This guy is a lot of hot air and an insult to real film makers.

Anonymous said...

Hey Andrew you still working for "Not Just Fruit" ? which is *cough* your parents fruit shop in Anglesea? hahahha, according to old Jack you haven't worked there in years.

Anonymous said...

He doesn't need to work at his daddy's fruity shop.
He can go raising $1,000,000 bucks making movie blockbusters, why would he weigh in fruit all day? (lol)

Anonymous said...

Who said anything about weighing fruit?

Cucumbers can be used for anal insertions, you know?

Nick Markovsky said...

OH my GOD!

I came across Dead Country a few days ago and I have to say that it IS THE MOST PATHETIC PIECE OF SHIT I have EVER seen and i've seen Gigi, Plan 9 and many others.

I dont know where to begin but its a part of my life I really want back and to forget forever.

Andrew, give up you have ABSOLUTELY NO TALENT WHAT-SO-EVER!

Anonymous said...

I'd like to think that Merkelbach will get better with practice, but, well, he actually gets worse.

No, really.

I've been tracking his, umm, "career" as far back as Time Waits For No Man, a Doctor Who fan film he shot around 1999 and which was finally edited in 2003. (Not completed – story gaps were filled in by on-screen narration.) For an unfinished fan film with at least three actors playing one of the characters, it was okay.

Next was Vortech: The Traveller, which deserves a new life as an instructional video for how not to make an SF film. Passable, mildly amusing, salvageable if hacked down from its 45 minutes to around 7. Still not too painful to watch.

I haven't seen Curse of the Del Garria or Red, but all indicators (and I've studied a lot of them) suggest they represent a steady decline in quality and ability – even though they're less ambitious than their predecessor.

Now there's Dead Country. At least Vortech's countless disparate subplots all held some vague connection to the over-complicated core narrative. This, however... It's roughly 65 minutes of random zombie antics (replete with boobs, sex-with-pants-on, a goth rock band and 100% CGI blood), 3 minutes of interviews of what looks like attendees at a horror con (!), plus another 3 of plot tagged on as an afterthought even to the convention footage! Never mind that maybe a good 10 minutes of this thing represents material produced by other hands for Merkelbach, of which only the Ted V Mikels footage is (arguably) necessary to the story. Or, more to the point, couldn't exist in any other zombie flick.

Roll on Deader Country, I suppose. Given that this first foray of Merk's into genuine zombie territory (there was some undead action in at least one of his earlier works, apparently) is without doubt the worst film I've seen in my life, I can't wait to see how bad the next one is...

Anonymous said...

WTF is wrong with this interview:
(And I'm overlooking sloppy grammar, of which there is quite a bit, since this is the Net, where everyone's illiterate, don't ya know.)

I've always been good at drawingI'm going to play Wikipedia and ask for an impartial source on this!

It was like a forbidden taboo or something.As opposed to what other kind of taboo?

Horror movies back in the old days were totally unbelievable and that what made them so fun.This from someone who's made a zombie film with '80s quality CGI blood all the way through it and at least one zombie that looks like a fake head on a stick!

There are so many great directors, stars and movies that has inspired me as a filmmaker."Especially when I read up on them on IMDb and got recommendations from friends who couldn't believe I'd never heard of some of these titles & directors." I'm sorry, but someone so obviously cinematically illiterate having heard of Lew Landers? Someone so obsessed with making his movies deliberately cheesy and silly having the patience to sit through a Herzog film? (Never mind that he refers to Mattei's Zombie Creeping Flesh – its Australian release title – as Hell of the Living Dead, an obvious giveaway!)

Tod Browning's Dracula (1931)As opposed to all the other films called Dracula Browning made in all those other years... (No, London After Midnight doesn't count, not least because Merkelbach can't have seen it!) Surely this is proof enough that Merk has copied and pasted this list from somewhere else.

Peter Rogers Carry On films and most of Steven Seagal's and Van Damme's action flicks. All of these movies and people have made me want to get out there and make my own horror opus.Insert you own comment here. Come on, it's obvious!

Yeah, I've done a bit of film school. Haven't we all in this industry?I don't believe Quentin Tarantino (to choose someone relevant) has. Can't imagine the likes of Robert Wise, Sam Peckinpah, George Stevens, Elia Kazan, et al, have either!

(Never mind that for Merkelbach to qualify as part of an "industry", doesn't he first have to be, well, industrious? You know, moreso than making what amounts to a short feature-length home movie every couple of years.)

Although the irony is that I was already practicing most of what I being taught.Yes, but really, really poorly.

And I've learnt a lot from first-hand experience too.Mmm hmm. Like how to ignore good filmmaking advice from people he's worked with who have more filmmaking experience than he's got. Which is something I've heard direct from some of said people, for those of you keeping track of the use of impartial sources! :)

What was it that made you decide to add the sci-fi angle to, "Dead Country" and how did you accomplish the effects?I don't plan to include too many of the questions from this interview as they're actually pretty good, but I mention this one only because Merkelbach doesn't in fact answer the second half of it. Pity, too, since I'd like to have seen him talk his way around the godawful CGI blood and the stolen video game footage.

My previous films all had sci-fi connections, so I just thought I'd bring some techno-babble over to this project lolAnyone else notice that "lol" is his favourite word? I hope it's sincere, too, since this strikes me as a pretty weak justification for throwing some SF into the flick. Better would've been to say that he wanted to inject something new into what could've become a tired sub-genre.

I've always liked the whole hazardous-waste-makes-zombie's scenario"Well, at least since I saw Zombie Flesh Eaters and pretended not to look at the title on the case."

but making the waste of an intergalactic nature just gave the story a different dimension."And allowed me to steal a bunch of outer space CG footage from an old computer game I had lying around."

And I think you have to be aware of your target audience at all times. Don't try and make it in the image of ShakespeareUnless your audience is interested in something Shakespearean.

Incidentally, do you think Merkelbach realises that Shakespeare wasn't a filmmaker?

How did you go about securing financing and what was the budget?Again, a fine question. Again, followed by a dodgy answer. (What's that budget again?)

We used many different cameras for Dead Country.Yes, his one camera, and those used by the people who shot extra scenes for him in the States.

Although everything was shot on digital video.Standard Definition digital video, most of it 4:3 aspect ratio on a 1-CCD domestic video camera.

Dead Country hasn't been screened at a film festival because we wanted to release the film straight to DVD."That and we realised it'd cost money. And that no festival would accept it."

However, I've had three previous shorts screened at RadCon.As a favour, I can only assume, since only two previous shorts that Merkelbach hasn't decided to scrap half the footage from have not been fan films.

How's the disribution going? any tips you can give for people looking to get their movie out there?Make something that more than one distributor on the face of the planet is prepared to touch? (Midnight Releasing, according to their web site, aren't too choosey about the content they release.)

Dead Country's on shiny DVD thanks to Midnight Releasing and it's doing swell.If it's sold three copies, it's probably doing better than any of his other films – of which only one has ever been made available for sale anyway.

It sounds kind of corny, but my advice is never give up. Be persistent and never stop giving your all in whatever you do.Yep, very specifically related back to the question about film distribution.

StarVo^ said...

DREWWWWWWW!

How about taking down that unauthorised video of me from that embarassing Dr Who movie?

StarVo^ said...

I just want everyone to know that when Drew was 18 his dad rang all of his former friends who were like 15 16 and 17 and threatened to get the mafia onto them hahahahaahahah

Anonymous said...

Sticks and stones may break my bones but harsh words will never hurt me.
You're all a bunch of dumb illiterate c**ts and that's because I'm better than you all.
It must hurt to be a nobody.
What have you all got to show is the real question?

The Fruit Picker said...

Drew's mum must of really spat the dummy (LOL)

Noodle-man said...

Biggest garbage buster I have ever viewed in my entire life, and I have viewed some doozers over my life time.
Does this guy seriously think he has talent?
Zombie movies from down under, twats next?

The Fruit Picker said...

Hey Drew,
You're beautiful when you're angry sweetheart, ha!ha!ha!ha!ha!ha!...

Anonymous said...

Dear Andrew, you never finished high school, you dont have a real job, you dont even have your own licence to drive and you still live with Mummy & Daddy.

What pretel have you achieved?

The Fruit Picker said...

Drew,
You're such a tosser.
Sticks and stones wouldn't break your bones anyway.
They'd just bounce off all that lard. ha..ha..ha......

Z Bubic said...

Andrew Merkelbach is a fat wanker, a liar and an untalented hack!

Anonymous said...

I'm remaining anon for my safety..

I've seen his Doctor Who fanfilms (what a load of crap), Curse of the ... and Red.

Red is an example of what NOT to do - you don't rely on the built in microphone on the video camera which picks up overhead aircraft.

You don't spend all the money on location and then not put any by for ADR which was obviously needed.

You don't send your editor the raw footage on DVDR which can't be read by most players.

I was the original editor of Red and I did what I could with it, including enhancing the audio affected by the aforementioned aircraft.

He told me he worked around the place to raise the finance for his films.

He knew I hadn't done anything like this before, but still hired me.

I did the best I could with the footage, I made what special effects I could, I used every trick I could to extend the film to the length he wanted, even to the point where I added a title sequence feature a montage of space photos and a 'Top Gun' style closing title sequence.

I sent him the DRAFT edit and he told me he hated it so we were going to work together (via e-mail) to refine it and the next thing I know, I get a DVD of it from him with the editing done by someone more local to him.

I wouldn't have minded him finding someone more local to do the edit but it would have been nice to have been told.

BTW - I discovered the music which featured at the beginning of Red and secured the rights to use it.

He was also going to publish a regular newsletter about his film work plus a book, both of which I produced and the next thing I know, neither are being made. I no longer have copies of these works but I consider the book to be one of my best pieces of work.

Then he just drops contact just like that...

Sorry for my ranting.

Anonymous said...

Someone in the Merkelbach camp said:
Sticks and stones may break my bones but harsh words will never hurt me.
A sentence later, they added:
You're all a bunch of dumb illiterate c**ts
Are we supposed to be hurt by these harsh words?

Amusingly, a passage a mere two sentences later reads: What have you all got to show is the real question?
Now if that's not borderline illiteracy, then I don't know what is.

Incidentally, what I've got to show for myself is a Masters Degree in film production, plaudits for my writing work from two very experienced and successful playwrights/script editors, around a decade of webcast radio plays & short films that have been held in high esteem by a regular and faithful audience of several hundred, a published non-fiction book, two independently published short story anthologies, stories in two other independently published anthologies, a Young Adult novel in the works, a shot-on-HD short SF feature set to receive webcast release in the coming months, a permanent teaching position at a private school, a wife, my own house, a year spent travelling around Europe...

Yes, so much less than Merk, with his unfinished fan films, unfinished shot-on-DV short feature, two shot-on-DV short films and one shot-on-DV feature-length string of unrelated zombie attack scenes featuring stolen copyrighted computer game footage.

Anonymous said...

And qualifications as an English teacher, so enough barbs about illiteracy please, Andrew.

ChickenEater said...

In response to sid_amy, as I suspect this person is known on other boards...

Red is an example of what NOT to do - you don't rely on the built in microphone on the video camera which picks up overhead aircraft.
I recall reading a review of Merk's previous film Curse... which was published on his mailing list before Red went into production. It noted that dialogue spoken by actors with their backs to camera was inaudible, but such were the problems associated with no-budget filmmaking. I think I responded at the time with a few (free) solutions that could be employed in future to overcome this limitation of the on-board camera mike. Evidently none were considered on the second attempt.

You don't spend all the money on location and then not put any by for ADR which was obviously needed.
Or just put in a couple of hundred bucks to hire a boom mike for the duration of the shoot. OpenChannel in Melbourne would've been within reach had Merk been able to borrow a car for a day trip, and they offer such equipment at indie-friendly rates.

You don't send your editor the raw footage on DVDR which can't be read by most players.
And which severely degrades the quality of your master.

I guess Merk started to get paranoid after I had the camera tapes for Vortech while he was in the process of irrationally falling out with me for no professional reason. It must've touched a nerve when I explained that I'd return them as soon as I could next conveniently reach a post office, and not before.

Mind you, I edited Time Waits For No Man (admittedly as a bit of fun) from a VHS dupe, and he was happy to run with whatever master I had instead of sending me the camera tapes to conform to my cut.

I was the original editor of Red and I did what I could with it, including enhancing the audio affected by the aforementioned aircraft.
Merk really never learns when it comes to audio. He actually looped great swathes of Vortech in post-production when large passages came out barely audible – sometimes doing the looping himself for other actors he'd already sacked – before abandoning the entire production and apparently wiping several of the camera tapes for a reason so petty I won't even bother to repeat it. That was in 2003, so for him to be making the same mistakes in 2006 makes a strange sort of sense.

He knew I hadn't done anything like this before, but still hired me.
I recall something along those lines from following the story on his Yahoo list at the time. Wasn't your background in graphic design or something like that?

ChickenEater said...

Yes, it's me responding to "disgruntled former editor" again!

I used every trick I could to extend the film to the length he wanted
On Vortech, Merk told me – and I'm very close to giving an exact quote from memory here – "I don't care how crap it gets, just make it as long as you can." So about 5 of the original cut's 44 minutes were credits, establishing shots went on so long they established the migratory patterns of local snails, and characters tended to just sort of stand around and size each other up a hell of a lot, having already spent an age walking towards each other.

Ultimately, Andrew, if you want to make sure your movie's going to be long enough, try doing at least a timed table reading of the thing. Don't rely on the page count of a poorly-formatted script and then add the number 10 to that. When I reformatted the Vortech script to standard industry format (as an exercise), it came to something like 42 pages. Which, given my rough cut was 40 minutes, seems about right. The format Merk was using was 70 pages, hence his delusions of running time grandeur.

To this day, I wonder what would've happened had I followed the cut list (timecoded to the frame) that Merk actually sent me with the raw footage! Actually, I know: we'd have seen snippets of his birthday party randomly thrown into the movie, as some of the timecodes pointed to footage of that on one of the tapes. (That's right, folks: the lad's making what he thinks is his first feature film, and he does so by recycling old home movie tapes.)

I sent him the DRAFT edit and he told me he hated it
Even though you were applying his instructions to his footage. Why doesn't this surprise me?

the next thing I know, I get a DVD of it from him with the editing done by someone more local to him.
Honestly, be glad he showed you the courtesy of sending you a copy at all. That's a surprising change for Merk.

BTW - I discovered the music which featured at the beginning of Red and secured the rights to use it.
I'm inclined to believe you, as Merk tends not to worry about silly things like securing rights, getting actors to sign release forms, etc.

He was also going to publish a regular newsletter about his film work plus a book, both of which I produced and the next thing I know, neither are being made.
Last I'd heard, the first issue of the newsletter actually had a print run. Was that the case after all?

I made enquiries about the book at the itme, as I was curious to read it. When Merk's mum told me that it was going to cost something like $120 for a leather-bound hardcover of a coffee table book with (according to Merk) something like 1500 words of text in it, I naturally balked. Then, without warning, it was going to be a paperback at an undecided but much lower price. Then I heard nothing at all. (In fact, I've just checked for the first time in years the email account I used to contact Mrs Merkelbach, and it's still empty.)

Then he just drops contact just like that...
Again, you were lucky. Simply losing contact is much easier on the ear than getting abused for no purposeful reason and being told to shove it.

Sorry for my ranting.
Not at all. I think there are a lot of us who have a lot we want to get off our chests!

Martha Merkelbach aka Martha Ter'Horst said...

Please leave my sweet genius director boy alone!

He is so very talented and the greatest horror film director that Australia has ever seen.

He gets very sad and upset when nasty jealous people like you all pick on him, do you know he is very sensitive? he use to get picked on by all the jealous kids at school. Thats why I pulled him out of that evil place and home schooled my big strong smart boy to make him the genius director that he is today.

Myself and Jack are very proud of our son, he isn't fat and he is very smart.

And he is very busy making million dollar budget horror movies.

So instead of you all picking on him why not come and visit us at Paraparap or stop in at Not Just Fruit in Anglesea and buy a top selling Merkelbach Films DVD like Dead Country.

Love Martha

P.S I love my Andrew, he's my cuddly strong teddybear, mummy loves him alot.

Anonymous said...

If only it was that easy to buy a copy of the lesser seen of his movies.

I've visited Not Just Fruit. Nice fruit/deli place. No DVDs in sight though. :)

Andrew Merkelbach said...

Can everyone please stop making fun of me!!!!!

It's really counterproductive to my directing career and doesn't help me at all.

I don't need this shit from all of you jealous people!

All my supporters know how good my movies are as can be witnessed by the number of friends I have on myspace and those friends and supporters far out number you jealous detractors.

I am better than all of YOU!!!!!

So back off and leave me alone or the next thing you will be getting from me is a law suit.

Anonymous said...

Jealous? About the only thing I'm jealous of is that you stumbled on to a DVD distributor that literally says "We'll take anything that resembles a horror movie" on its web site before I did.

Really, there's nothing else to be jealous about.

But what's really counterproductive to your directing career is that you never listen to sound advice when it's proferred by people who've done this sort of thing before you and learned from their own mistakes. You're unwilling to learn from theirs and evidently unable to learn from (or even identify) your own.

In short, you show actual negative growth as an artist, a storyteller and even as a technician. Is that likely to be healthy to your career?

(Not that any professional filmmaker worth their salt would even waste their time scouring online message boards to see what people think of them. They'd say, "I'm beyond that," and be done with it. I may still be at the level of highly skilled amateur myself, but even I've learned that lesson.)

Incidentally, you can scream about MySpace friends all you like, but here are some questions. How many DVDs have you sold of your film? How many of your films have you been wise enough to actually release to the public so that anyone outside your circle of friends can even see them? What kind of reviews have you garnered? What (known) critics have even heard of you? What film competitions or award has any of your work ever won?

(I know you're on IMDb, which I realise you're very proud of, but if you're such a successful filmmaker why have entries on you and your work been booted off Wikipedia several times as not qualifying as sufficiently notable?)

In short, by the usual critical, competitive and commercial standards of filmmaking, where might your output be placed?

Then, based on the answers to those questions – and answer them realistically for a change – ask yourself genuinely and honestly how you think your career is really going. Without delusion, without your mum whispering in your ear. As a professional filmmaker, are you getting anywhere?

All this assuming it's really Andrew we're listening to on here whenever someone using his name has a whinge. 99.99% of my fibre knows it's not, but that 0.01% really hopes it is, that he reads this, and that for once in his filmmaking existence he actually has a hard think and stops lying to himself.

Anyway, sue all you want – not that I've said a thing that's defamatory. But have fun with the case: "Next docket, your Honour: Merkelbach vs many clients all known as Anonymous." Hey, there might be a movie in that. A farce.

Mandy Kane said...

Im so embarassed by all of this!

Anonymous said...

next thing I know, I get a DVD of it from him with the editing done by someone more local to him.
Just noticed this comment from the original editor of Red. For what it's worth, Merkelbach's idea of a "more local" editor is still someone who lives over 1000km from him (in Sydney, compared to Merk who's in rural Victoria), and who spends half his year in the United States! I suspect the "more local" line might have been just that: a line.

Andrew Merkelbach said...

I admit I'm a hack your all right!

Martha Ter'Horst said...

Now now baby, mummy still loves you, please come back to bed!

Martha Ter'Horst said...

Now now baby, mummy still loves you! your the most talented director in the world!

Please come back to bed it's so cold and lonely!