Monday, 19 September 2011

The Origin of a Project - The Producer's Perspective

The creative origin of 'Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection' was the first 10 pages of a zombie script I later abandoned. As a lifelong horror fan I've long admired the Romero zombie films and other great genre offerings like 'Return of the Living Dead', so I've always wanted to write a zombie flick. I came up with an idea that had legs but after the first 10 pages I just didn't have the passion to finish it. But the first 10 pages definitely had something worth exploring further.
I've spent the last couple of years associate producing on other people's projects, gaining experience of pursuing finance and also taking on writing commissions. I've missed the buzz of being on location shooting a movie. Having been trying to raise money for bigger budget productions with an international flavour I felt I was moving away from my production company's original intention, which was to produce films in Wales with new and fresh talent. So I made it my priority to get something low budget off the ground, set in Wales utilizing the local talent. It was important to keep the budget to a level where investors were not going to insist upon "name" actors to sell the film, something that is a requirement over a certain budget level. Given the internationally renowned brand name of 'Night of the Living Dead', and it's public domain status, a zombie film using this title would allow me to raise a modest budget quickly and be able to use new talent because the title sells itself. 

So moving forward with this idea I knew I wanted to work with a new young director and give them the same opportunity I had years previously directing a financed feature. I had previously met James Plumb a couple of years earlier and we'd discussed collaborating on other projects. Those collaborations never came to fruition but when it came to this project I didn't even consider any other directors. James has a tremendous ability to get the best out of very limited resources and his innovation and enthusiasm always inspires those he works with. His short films have been progressively more ambitious and he was clearly ready to make his feature film debut.

After James and I met to discuss the script, his terrific ideas inspired me to write a basic first draft in just 5 days. I included the first 10 pages from my previous idea. The first draft had the core structure we discussed, with a reversal of some of the zombie movie conventions and realistic characters at the heart of the story . For me, horror films have often suffered from a lack of engaging characters so I was happy we were addressing that. After writing the first draft I turned the script over to James with the instruction to put his own unique stamp on it. 

I feel the only way you can get the best out of a director is to allow them to run with their personal vision. As long as a director remains within the budgetary constraints, I don't feel a producer should stick their ore into the creative side of things too much. I'm available for creative discussion and feedback but if I hire a director then that means I should have enough faith in them to let them do their job. My job is organizing, liaising and setting up the logistics of the project. I try to get the director what he needs. I think a producer who vomits their ego all over a director and tries to undermine them creatively is sending their project straight into the shitter. Too many cooks ALWAYS spoil the broth. You just have to make sure you are 100% certain you have the right director to begin with. James Plumb is the perfect director to work with because he sees budget constraints as an opportunity for innovation rather than a restriction and he never brings any ego to the collaborative process. In the two subsequent drafts James added socially relevant elements, plus some gory set pieces and scares that the horror fan in me was thrilled with. The script has ultimately evolved into a story that marries elements of the original 1968 Romero classic with more contemporary, and distinctly British, concepts.

Once the script had James' stamp on it I approached Independent Moving Pictures with our business plan. After considering the script, business plan and compiling sales estimates, the finance deal came together within a couple of weeks. The title 'Night of the Living Dead' really does sell itself and being able to produce a film with such sales potential on a modest budget made this the smoothest finance deal I've ever experienced. Our Executive Producer has been truly wonderful in the whole process of setting up the project and I'll forever be grateful for the faith he has shown in us.

When it came to casting, our main cast came together over a few months. We viewed countless showreels and previous Film/TV work of local actors and James and I met with those who impressed us the most. It was so important to find actors who were not only talented and suitable for each role, but who had the right attitude and were willing to work with our modest budget. Low budget film making means a group of people working hard, with their main motive being creative satisfaction and long term career aims rather than short term financial rewards. We've been very fortunate to find a core cast who believe in James' vision and recognize that this project could be something very special. The recent read through confirmed we have a very talented ensemble cast with a great understanding of the material.  

We went through the more traditional audition process with the supporting cast, holding auditions at the Dylan Thomas Theatre in Swansea. We invited new, young actors from across South Wales. The most wonderful part of that process was finding undiscovered talent. There's nothing better than when a youngster with no previous acting experience walks into an audition room and is incredibly natural and compelling. A number of young actors did that at the Swansea audition and it's a great thrill to be able to give them their first feature film experience. For me, it was also wonderful to see James work with the actors. He is a dynamic, natural director and it makes my job so much easier having total confidence in someone to steer the creative ship. After that audition I felt like this is what I got into this business to do.

In terms of crew James and I have been able to draw on people we have previously worked with on other projects, and we have some extraordinary talent behind the camera who will all play a massive role in getting this story from page to screen.

Going into shooting, I take great inspiration from the original 'Night of the Living Dead'. A group of young filmmakers with limited resources but bags of ambition and talent producing a film that went onto launch many careers. I also look at Wes Craven's 1977 cult classic 'The Hills Have Eyes' and see some comparisons to our project- taking a talented hard working group of people into an isolated location, on a low budget, but with the ambition to produce something unique and effective.

If we put as much heart and passion into 'Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection' as they did on those projects then we can't go far wrong. And why not allow ourselves to dream of just a tiny bit of their success? With talent and hard work, ANYTHING and EVERYTHING is possible.

Shooting begins in 4 days.


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