Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Interview with David Francis, writer/director of "Awakening"

I don't know if I've just been watching a lot of zombie movies lately or if there's just more of them out there, but I've gotta say... I've been very impressed with what I've been seeing. I watched a couple of indie zombie flicks, back to back, a week or so ago. First, I checked out "Zombie Diaries", which was a great, tension building flick (we hope to have an interview with those guys soon), then I checked out the lesser publicized "Awakening", originally titled "Zombie Night II: Awakening". I was blown away by both. Honestly, they were two of the best indie horror zombie films that I've seen in a long, long while and, the best thing was, they were distinctly different.

Where "Zombie Diaries" did a great job of building tension and really creating the world in which it lived, "Awakening" accomplished something that you almost never see in a low-budget horror film... it's a balls-to-the-wall, all out gore-fest with piles of action, including car crashes and explosions. I mean, it starts off like most low-budget indie's, but builds to a bloody, fiery conclusion that will leave you wanting to go grab your camera and just blow shit up. It's a true accomplishment, as far as action/horror on an indie level is concerned, and we had the pleasure of discussing the film with writer/director David J Francis.

Tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences and what brought you into the world of indie horror filmmaking?

Desperation? Nah, it's just fun. I've always loved horror movies, the way they made you feel more alive through fear. It's like that feeling you have when coming up from the basement that there is something just behind you and you practically kill yourself getting to the top of the stairs before the "monster" gets you. That actually happened last week again. Damn it's fun. That's what brought me to this world, I want everyone to know and enjoy (and fear) that feeling.

Film School: Yes or No?

No, college and university for theatre though, great base for where I am now.

Where did the idea for “Awakening” come from and what made you get off your ass and go make it?

Awakening is actually Zombie Night 2. Zombie Night, as Mike Masters would say (probably rightfully so), is one of the worst movies ever made but it was a blast and we had an opportunity to do something new several years later so we decided to take what we had learned in the interim period and apply it to a sequel!

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

The budget was under $100K, business loans, credit cards, credit cards, lines of credit and more credit cards plus a very supportive producer kept that particular dream alive!

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

We shot on the Panasonic 100a and we shot over a two week period. 14-15 hour days but we got it done.

There’s a lot of tired and redundant zombie films coming out… talk about the zombie genre and how to keep it fresh.

It's tough keeping it fresh. Awakening is a throwback in many ways but we tried to make that interesting and compelling with the zombies only emerging during the night. With the emergence of "fast" zombies traditional living dead flicks have had to adapt to stay alive. This, I believe, is causing film makers to rely more heavily on story and acting to the benefit of us all. To me the fast zombies should not be considered living dead but instead be victims of a plague or biotoxin as will be seen in my feature Primal scheduled to be shot in late 2010. Fast or slow, I love 'em.

No question, the effects were unreal. Talk about doing effects and making them believable on a low budget.

That's the easiest part, you just need a group of extremely talented and dedicated people. We had a wonderful FX team that went above and beyond to ensure we had the best effects possible. only about 25% of the coolness they created is visible on screen, the cost of a low budget movie, we didn't have enough lights to see them! They went so far as to collect road kill and leave it out overnight in order to harvest life maggots in the morning. One of our feature zombies would spit them out in different scenes. Disgusting and barely visible on camera but tremendously cool. All of that is available on the feature film "Good, Fast and Cheap, The Making of Zombie Night 2; Awakening" to be released through our website Primalfilms.com in early 2009.

Tell us a bit about some of your favorite effects in the film.

By far my fav is the maggot zombie, he was done as a surprise for me. twelve hours in the makeup chair to do it. absolutely fantastic, it blew everyone away. He only got a few seconds on camera for the final cut but it was worth it. He actually spat out live maggots and worms!

Now, Awakening is actually Zombie Night 2. Why change the title and is there a third? How do they all fit together?

The title is actually supposed to be Zombie Night 2; Awakening but it got changed with the US release. There's actually a flow between parts 1 and 2 however the third movie is called Reel Zombies (Reelzombies.com) and it follows Mike Masters, myself and our cast and crew as we embark on our third feature Zombie Night 3 but after zombies actually take over the world. It just started the festival circuit and is blowing everyone away. The trailer is up on youtube.com.

Tell us about some of the hurdles you overcame to get the film done. Any advice you can pass on to other indie filmmakers who might be just setting out to make a film?

Sometimes the hurdles seem to be insurmountable but anything can be accomplished with hard work and great people beside you. As with any indie film, cash is always a problem but we were lucky enough to have large lines of credit. The next tough thing is getting people. For Zombie Night 2 we had over 600 volunteer cast and crew come out! What fantastic folks. The town of Deseronto, Ontario, Canada opened their doors and hearts and made this movie happen. If we needed anything they would do whatever they could to ensure those needs were met. The lesson from that is never EVER burn a location, keep the locals happy and treat them the way you would want to be treated. With respect. When we finished shooting the mayor presented Mike and I with the key to the city. When we needed to shoot some scenes there for Reel Zombies we were welcomed back. Keep up those contacts and relationships, you'll need them. From time to time the people that have helped you out will ask for a favor, honor that. They gave you their time (the most valuable commodity there is), give it back!

Have a SOLID script and plan of execution but be willing to flow with any changes or challenges that come up. You'll need to.

Next tip. Contract EVERYONE and make sure your contracts are legit and solid. Trust me, you'll need them.

I'd continue but there would be a book (at least a novelette) for your readers. No-one wants to read about me waxing eloquent like that!

To summarize, have good people watching your back and watch theirs in return.

Did you enter festivals? If so, how did it do? Talk about the festival circuit… is it something that every indie horror filmmaker should consider doing?

We didn't bother doing the festival circuit with Zombie Night 2 although Mike Masters and I travelled to the Berlin Film Festival where we rented an office at the film market there to attempt to sell it ourselves (once had an extremely bad experience with a sales agent). What an eye opening experience to discover the process of selling a feature film. If I had done that seven years ago before shooting the first movie...

I'd highly recommend doing the circuit provided your project has a chance. It's tremendously expensive simply submitting to them let alone traveling the globe following your movie. Research the festivals you are submitting to and ensure that there is a category for you. If you have a slasher flick don't submit to a Christian Values festival!

Tell us about the process of finding distribution. How did that go and what insight could you pass on to other filmmakers who are looking for distribution?

That's about the toughest part. We went to Berlin to the film market there. Learned a ton and made some contacts. through that we got a German and US release then hunted for sales elsewhere but ended up having to bring on a sales agent to find those buyers. Be very very careful and do a background check on any agent, distributor or wholesaler that offers you a deal. There are wonderful people out there that will act honorably and work with you and others that might go so far as to forge your signature on a contract and sell your movie from under you! It could happen so watch your ass.

Where can people find out more about “Awakening” or, better yet, buy a copy?

There is info on the movie on our company website Primalfilms.com. Copies are available on Amazon.com and in select stores in the US and again, the making of... feature length documentary (the birth of Reel Zombies!) will be available on our website in early 2009 as well.

Talk about the indie horror genre. Where do you feel it is now and where do you see it going?

It's tough to say. To me, an Indie movie is one that should have a cap on the budget. When an extremely wealthy individual puts, say, 1,000,000 into a production and has star friends appear in it with great media coverage (because of those involved) and is called an "indie" movie simply because it doesn't have studio backing, I cringe. How can people like us compete with that? Don't get me wrong, I have absolutely nothing against a movie made in a scenario like that, I just don't want to have to compete against them on equal ground as if all our resources were the same. Independent (Indie) movies are just that. They are made independently of studios or mainstream cinema. We operate outside of that. We want in but live on the fringe until we get there or die trying!

What’s next for you? Do you have any projects in the works?

For now am just following Reel Zombies through the festival circuit and spending time with my daughter, she put up with a lot during her six years. I did the rough edit for Zombie Night 1 when she was only a few months old and sitting on my lap, then I took off to make ZN2 and finally a full summer shooting Reel Zombies then almost 2,000 hours editing it over a winter. She needs some quality time... I'm all she has, so it's important to be there for her. But...

once the festival circuit is over....

to be continued!

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