There is a lot of work that goes into being undead. Of course, before obtaining this status you have to die first; no small feat in and of itself, but that’s the price that needs to be paid if you want to be a zombie. Earlier this year I got the chance to scratch off one more thing on my bucket list when I got the call to be an extra in a friend’s zombie movie.
Actually, it was a text message.
I’ve always wanted to see my name rolling in the credits on the big screen. I’ve also wanted to spend a day as a zombie and live to tell about it (I mean, who hasn’t?), so when director Nathan Blackwell contacted me about helping him out on his next project, I immediately started getting giddy at the idea. But I wasn’t entirely beside myself until I found out I would be a zombie.
“Sure, but I don’t have any acting experience,” I remember saying. None was needed.
The movie is called “Zombie Team Building” and was made for the 2010 Almost Famous 48 Hour Film Challenge, in which directors and their teams were given 48 hours to write, shoot and edit a five-minute film that needed to include the theme of a white lie, a mirror as a prop and the line of dialogue, “What just happened?” The movie revolved around a group of co-workers sent by their employer to the “ultimate corporate team-building experience,” in which they must ward off an onslaught of zombies. I was a part of the zombie horde.
While I didn’t actually have to die to become one of the undead, I did have to endure an hour of makeup. There were 14 zombie extras in all and no two zombies looked the same. I showed up on set around noon to allow for ample time to get into character and find my motivation. My artist started by giving me a nice gray base with hints of yellow and red for that freshly dead look. Then came three bloody claw marks across the right side of my face followed by a bloody nose and tears to give me that recently mauled effect. I was initially concerned that the hardest part of the whole process would be remaining still during the makeup process, but fighting the urge to scratch any itch on my face turned out to be the most challenging thing. Eating also proved troubling, but when you have to crack through skulls to get to brains, you can expect some level of difficulty. OK, fine, we ate Taco Bell, but I think some of that “meat” could contain brain at some point.
And then I waited.
I didn’t actually start shooting a scene until about 8 p.m. Shooting called for zombies sparingly throughout the day, but we got a lot more action during the evening. Some of the time waiting was used to practice various guttural grunts and snarls as well as walking with stiff joints and constantly reminding myself, “I want brains, I want brains, I want brains.” When you dig on zombie movies like I do, acting like a zombie ends up being a little easier.
My very first scene tested my acting prowess. The zombie horde gathered to film the opening shot of the movie, where all 14 zombies converge on the heroes only to be gunned down one-by-one. Now dying isn’t as easy as you might think. First we had to make sure we actually dropped at the end of a gunshot. After all, it would look kind of silly if a zombie dropped dead while no one was aiming at them. Secondly, these shots were not caught in one take, so we had to make sure we fell in the same manner and position as in the previous takes. Lastly, you have to make sure you don’t mangle anyone else on your way down because, contrary to popular belief, zombies have feelings too.
I must have died at least 30 times that night and I enjoyed it every single time. I have about eight seconds of actual screen time in all, but I think I made the most of it. Not only had I made my celluloid debut, but I did it as a mohawked zombie. I also made a point to stay in my makeup for as long as possible.
We wrapped up shooting close to midnight that night when I got a call from a friend to grab a drink at the local watering hole. On my way to the bar, one of Phoenix’s finest pulled me over for driving with two different plates showing. (At the time my tags had expired and I was driving around with one of those 3-day passes.) I couldn’t wait for the officer to ask me, “Where are you coming from?”
“Oh, I was just filming a zombie movie,” I said. The officer shined his bright Maglite in my face and said, “Neat makeup.” Since I had my temporary pass I was free to go without a citation.
I continued my shenanigans once I got into the bar. After incessantly being called a dork by my friend for not going home to wash the makeup off first, I told various stories about how I got my injuries. The bartender asked me, “What happened?”
“I fell off my bike, does it look bad?”
“Zombie Team Building” went on to win first place comedy at the film challenge. Since then the movie has been made into a 10-minute film and was played at the International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Tempe on Saturday, Oct. 16.
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