As the undead enjoy a healthy pop-culture fervor, "Dead Season" co-writer and producer Loren Semmens sees his upcoming horror movie on track, if not a bit ahead of the times, with the future of zombie filmmaking.
Directed by Adam Deyoe, who co-wrote the film with Semmens and Josh Klausner, "Dead Season" is an independent production shot for three weeks during November 2009 on Vieques Island off the coast of Puerto Rico.
The film follows two survivors in a post-apocalyptic world as they flee Miami by boat to find refuge from unrelenting zombie hordes. Despite the fact that over a year has passed since the dead rose, relief has yet to come. The open water seems like their best haven, and it's not long before the discovery of an idyllic island and a small commune of survivors brightens their hopes. But this seemingly safe community actually harbors shocking secrets, forcing them to stage a final desperate escape.
Semmens and Deyoe helped finance the film with private investors for under $350,000, and they are currently seeking a distributor.
"This movie has zombies in it, but this is not a tradition zombie movie by any means," Semmens said in an interview with Rabid Doll. "In fact, I cannot think of one zombie movie out there that deals with the issues that we address. And because of that it makes it much more realistic. We get way more into the personal decisions and how your morals are tested in a post-apocalyptic society and what you have to do to survive.
"It has more of a story element than most zombie films. For that reason, I think it's one that people can relate to more. It's more exciting to put yourself in these 'what if' scenarios. There are always a place for the shoot-them-up, kill-a-million-zombies movies in this world, but we think audiences will enjoy saying 'Wow, if I was in this person's shoes would I be doing the exact same thing just to survive?'"
Therefore, suspense and the psychological aftershocks of a zombie outbreak take center stage in "Dead Season."
"I think it has reached a point where the audiences need more," he explained. "Like anything else, we need character development, interesting stories.
"However, there is definitely is a substantial amount of action in it still."
The genesis of "Dead Season" occurred in September 2009 as Deyoe, Semmens and producer Carly Bodmer arrived on Vieques Island to scout locations for a completely different script. The Los Angeles trio, who had worked independently of each other in the feature world, had always wanted to collaborate on a film together.
But as they scouted locations on Vieques, a new concept quickly captured their imagination.
The U.S. Navy had used the island as a base for military exercises and as a firing range for years. In 2003, the Navy left Vieques, but the years of occupation had transformed the lush landscape, dotting it with an abundance of shacks and military bunkers. It was a seemingly modern third-world island, an ideal candidate for an apocalyptic tale involving zombies.
"There are these great declassified areas that have never been shot," Semmens said. "In addition to that, because it is a tropical island, you also had the beauty of the Caribbean. So we were like 'this is the perfect location to do something horror related.'"
Shifting their focus to a horror production, they returned home with the concept of "Dead Season." However, they had to fast-track the script to beat the start of the island's tourist season, which started on Thanksgiving. The shooting script was completed in just six weeks.
"Myself and Adam have always been really big horror fans," Semmens said. "Especially the more classic Romero zombie movies. We wanted to kinda update it a little bit, because there has been a lot of weird things going on with zombie movies lately. People really haven't been following the traditional rules. We decided we wanted to make a movie that bridged that gap. So our movie is kinda a hybrid old-school-zombie movie plus a newer one. That is something that we always talked about doing."
Their script developed through numerous drafts, and with the rushed production schedule they decided the best option was to keep tweaking it during filming.
"We gave the actors free rein to completely alter their dialogue and make it sound more realistic," he said. "And to add to their characters. It was really fun, because every night and every morning we would sit down with them."
Consequently, the creative flexibility on set had a significant impact.
"There were a lot of things we didn't anticipate putting into the story that came about because of this collaborative method," he explained. "So many times in traditional Hollywood moviemaking you are not allowed to do that. People have their designated roles. And you can't stray from that, and a lot of that is because of union rules.
"But the glory of working on independent stuff is you can incorporate more creative minds than you would be able to normally, and ultimately you end up with a movie that I feel is more realistic because of that."
Another significant impact on the project was the use of Canon 7D and 5D DSLR cameras, which offered a film-like picture and made effect shots a bit easier to manage. "Dead Season" was the first full-length feature to shoot entirely on the 7D.
"Back then the 7D was the only SLR in the Canon lineup that could shoot at 24 frames per second," he said. "It was great. Because the camera is very tiny, it's very versatile. You have the entire Canon lens library that you can utilize."
With shooting wrapped, the final edit is now being polished, and they are looking to tweak it based on audience reactions.
As a result, a number of promotional events are planned for "Dead Season," including the film's first screening Oct. 28, 7:30 p.m., at the Muvico Centro Ybor in Tampa, Fla., and a presentation for The University of Tampa about the perils of independent filmmaking.
The filmmakers will also join Rabid Doll for a "Dead Season" panel and preview at Necronomicon -- a science fiction, fantasy and horror convention -- Oct. 23, noon, at the Hilton Bayfront in St Petersburg, Fla. That night the film will also preview during Creative Loafing's "Reel Terror 2010," a one-day film festival at historic Ybor Square in Tampa.
Finally, a Los Angeles premiere is in the works too.
"Dead Season" stars Scott Peat, Marissa Merrill, James C. Burns ("Call of Duty: Black Ops"), Corsica Wilson.
See the trailer here.
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