Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - August 2, 2007
A few months ago my buddy John Bowker told me he was planning to shoot a zombie movie later in the year called PLATOON OF THE DEAD. He sent me the script to check out while he was working on arranging the financing. The script was cool, contained a few neat plot twists and was mostly in the woods or at a single house and had a small cast, both of which boded well for our usual very low budgets and 10-day shoots.
The zombies, fog and other effects concerned me a little only because I knew they would take time, which we usually don't have enough of. He wanted me to handle shooting/lights/sound. He asked if I would be interested in coordinating food and I said I would, for the selfish reason of making sure we had some good food on set and weren't having baloney sandwiches for 9 days.
John reminded me that it has been five years since he made a movie. I was excited to be a part of this new one.
I worked with an actor named Tom Stedham two summers ago when he flew out from Alabama to be in a thriller I shot called DEADLY PREMONITIONS. I couldn't recommend Tom more highly to John - he was a great actor, knew his lines, helped out on set any way he could, is a great photographer and a really funny guy. Not only that, but he would add some "beefcake" to the project and had military background that would make portraying the commanding officer that much more authentic and his wrestling background gave him a lot of fight choreography skills. John agreed he would be great for the role and plans to contact Tom once financing is in place.
John was at a loss on a location for the main house and initially I said I was as well. Then I remembered a picnic we had at my high school reunion at a funky old house in a small town about 9 miles from town. The house is owned by a guy I went to high school with named Joe. I mentioned it to him and he and his girlfriend are psyched about the movie shooting there and are even more psyched about the possibility of getting to play zombies.
John plans to visit town in a few weeks so we can all meet, chat and check out the location. If it works out, it will be nice to be able to go home after shoots and sleep in my own bed. Plus we'll know where to eat, where to buy stuff in a pinch and John can line up all kinds of friends and family as extras and helpers as needed.
So right now, I'm just waiting. John is still working on a revision of the script based on some producer notes, so I'll wait until I get that to start with any storyboards. Once the schedule is locked-down, I can work on a plan and budget for food. John wants to shoot this "all in a row," that is, all at one time, rather than splitting shoots up over multiple weekends. He's hoping to have shooting dates picked out in the next few weeks, which is good so I can make sure I can take that time off of work.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - August 9, 2007
Spoke with John last night. He was hoping to work with an actress from L.A. that the producer had suggested, but there just isn't money in the budget for it so we will be looking at all local casting, aside from Tom Stedham if John can work out a deal with him. I suggested an ad on Craigslist as well as the local college paper.
John has written some fog scenes that happen out in the woods, which will be a problem if we shoot out in a local park or something: no electricity. If we can find woodsy areas near houses we know the owners of, we can string extension cords out. John and I will both be on vacation for the next couple of weeks, so after that we are going to touch base and start some serious planning. Included will be John coming to town to check out the main house location and see what kinds of wooded areas might be nearby.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - August 22, 2007
Got an e-mail and a phone call from Tom Stedham thanking me for recommending him to John. John had e-mailed him the script and Tom "took the gig." It will be great to work with him again. John wondered if I could put up Tom at my house to save on hotel expenses. Not sure yet as I know we will have friends from out of town staying over part of the time for a visit. Waiting to hear confirmed shooting dates and when John will be in town to check out locations.
I told John one thought on casting - if he's hoping to get some college students from the local university, we may have trouble getting them to take a whole week off from classes. Might have to work around some school schedules. We'll see how it goes.
John asked me to contact an actress I worked with a few years back about playing a role, but turns out she can't take the needed time off of work for the shoot. I also asked Joe's girlfriend Marie to take photos of the house and surrounding area and send them to John as he can't make it over to see the place in person for a few weeks. This will help him make the revisions he needs to make for the producer. I also gave John the contact info for a couple of actors we've both worked with in the past, as he's going to see if they are up for this new project. John has also hired me to design a logo for the movie. Sweet!
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - August 28, 2007
Hung out with Rob Merickel Friday night and he told me all about his involvement with a stage version of Night of the Living Dead in early October. John has been trying to keep Platoon of the Dead top secret, so as soon as I got home I dropped John a note that he should really contact Rob right away. For one thing, maybe Rob could get some zombie prosthetics together for the movie when he was making ones for the play. John e-mailed Rob and Rob said that he is going to be busy with the play and then off to Disneyland so will be worn out and out of vacation when he returns. It might work to squish all the zombie scenes into one weekend, plus a pick-up day after the main shooting, but Rob said he needs more time to think about it.
Marie e-mailed photos of her house to John and I and John was initially scared off by the wild art inside the house. He called me and we chatted about it. I said that if John doesn't want to shoot there I'm totally fine with it - after all, it's his movie. However, I didn't know of any other place we could take over for so many days in a row, so it would fall to him to find a better location. I said that perhaps the fact that the house had so much character would work in the movie's favor and be better than a bunch of plain white walls. John said he felt better about using the place. He is going to drive over this Thursday and the plan is to go and check out the house in person late in the evening as my son has TaeKwonDo testing earlier in the evening.
I drew up four rough concepts for the Platoon of the Dead logo today and e-mailed them to John. His plan is to put up a MySpace page for the movie and use that for casting and communication.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - September 1, 2007
John liked the Platoon of the Dead concept that was my favorite as well. Used my webcam to grab a shot of myself making a zombie face, then pulled that into Photoshop, overlaid a skull on half my face and made myself up as a zombie. Used that behind the main logo and sent it off to John. He dug it, as did the producer, which was way cool to hear.
The house visit didn't happen as Marie and Joe were heading out of town that afternoon. Plan to try again in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I'm going to e-mail John a rough layout of the house so he can use that and the photos for reference when he works on his rewrite.
Had dinner with Rob the other night and he'd decided that he couldn't do the movie project as it was currently scheduled. Too close to his finishing up two weeks of play production plus a Disneyland trip, catching up at work and being out of vacation. He said that if the shoot could be moved out even just two weeks he could probably do a weekend of effects work (he'd still be out of vacation days).
John had previously said that's the only time he had to shoot it, but I wasn't sure what the reason was. I e-mailed John and told him what Rob had said, adding that I could probably change my vacation at this point. John called me and said that he could probably push the shoot out two weeks. The key was finding out if Tom Stedham had bought his plane tickets yet. If he hadn't, or could change his dates without too much hassle, the plan would work. Otherwise John would be faced with finding another effects person. He'd talked about us trying to do it ourselves but my concern is not only the quality but having the time to do make-up on top of all the other stuff we'll need to be doing.
I've e-mailed Tom about it.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - September 5, 2007
Tom Stedham e-mailed back and said that the new dates were fine. Then my wife asked me what the new shooting schedule was. Turns out it was scheduled right over days my son has off from school and parent/teacher conferences! Changing the schedule again in less than 24 hours might make John, Rob and Tom mad at me, but I don't have to live with them! So I talked to Rob and called John and called Tom and luckily everyone was able to make it work for the week in between the original shooting schedule and the first revised shooting schedule.
As long as the house is available then, we're good to go. So now we are looking at shooting October 27 - November 4. Halloween is smack dab in the middle, so we'll need to take that night off to take our kids trick or treating, but can shoot during the day. I'll also miss my sister's birthday, but will just have to have a belated celebration for her.
Rob skimmed through the script the other night when he was over, looking for effects he needed to do. He seemed to get excited about the project, despite the busy schedule he has leading up to it.
We received an Oriental Trading Company catalog in the mail the other day and my wife pointed out a "bag of bones" that looked pretty realistic and was only about $30. I suggested it to John for the "pile of bones" outside of the house in the script. He said he'd take a look when he was in town next week. Hoping to check out the house that night, but waiting to get an OK from Joe and Marie.
John is working on the script revisions and hopes to have them done by the end of the week.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - September 6, 2007
I stopped by and saw Marie after work last night - gave her a couple of my movies and one of John's so she could get the feel for the kind of stuff we make. She was jazzed about watching them right away. I also got a tour of the house with an eye towards the shoot. I was just trying to get a sense of where I could position myself for shots and what angles would look good, where I could plug in and place lights, etc.
Their trap door leads to a crawlspace that is big enough for two people to hide in, so that will make that scene even creepier. The upstairs is one big room but I think I can shoot specific angles to make one area look like another room. The workshop is a separate building but very close to the house. Also they have a few large trees next to their house, which when framed right, will give the illusion that they are at the edge of a forest.
John called this morning to tell me he was almost done with the rewrite on the script. He said he is planning on us shooting additional rooms at other locations, pretending they are all in the same house.
Right now the plan is for me to meet John at the house after work next Thursday so he can check it out in person.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - September 14, 2007
John e-mailed me his revised script the other day and I finished going through it yesterday at lunch. Had a bunch of questions which I asked John about when we met at Marie's house last night. Flashbacks are zombie vs. soldier and feature characters from the movie, so not something we can shoot before or after the main shoot. We toured the house and agreed that we will have to cheat the two bedrooms and the garage somewhere else. We will either shoot the bathroom stuff elsewhere as well or John will rewrite the fight scene so it spills out into the entryway.
I commented that it will be great to have Tom Stedham here as his experience as a touring wrestler bodes well for fight choreography.
John said we can probably use the garage and one bedroom at his place. We'll cheat "under the bed" and "in the crawlspace" somewhere else, too - perhaps on the floor of a garage with dim lighting and a tight frame. John loved the house and was actually digging the artwork quite a bit in person - he said he feared it would be distracting when he saw the photos of the house but now feels it will be an asset to the flick. He's even planning to move a few of the kitchen conversation scenes into the office to be able to shoot in there as it's filled with cool artwork and sculpture. Marie seems quite excited about having the movie shoot at her place. John kept warning her about the long hours, but she seemed unphased.
I suggested to John that he develop an effects list to give to Rob as soon as possible, even offering to do it myself this weekend. With Rob's schedule as busy as it is, it will do the production well to give him a lot of time to mull the effects list over in his head. As it is, we are only 6 weeks away from shooting. Lots of work remains to be done including additional location scouting, all the remaining casting (only one part is cast right now!), finalizing the shooting schedule, working out the food budget/plan, buying or creating props and costumes and equipment, planning and building effects, storyboarding, etc. Wow! Anyhow, John said I didn't have to do the effects list, but I might if I have time on Saturday just to have it get to Rob that much sooner.
John is almost done with the MySpace page - he has the logo I did up there as well as a post listing the major parts and what each entails.
The producer is sending out his camera and other equipment for us to use, so I'm hoping it comes a week or two ahead of time so I have time to get the hang of it before we have to start shooting.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - September 17, 2007
I couldn't help myself and went through the script and made the list of special effects and e-mailed it to John on Saturday. I'm hoping he goes through it and sends it on to Rob soon. We're just 40 days from the first day of shooting.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - September 21, 2007
John called the other day and said he went over the effects list I made for him and passed it on to Rob. I got the updated shooting schedule today with actual dates attached as well as scenes pasted in so it will be easier for me to decide if it's too packed or needs to be rearranged to maximize efficiency. We are 36 days from shooting and we only have one person cast! John has pulled projects together down to the wire in the past, so all of the pieces may fall into place at the last minute.
Marie e-mailed us last night to say she wanted to be gone to a conference with Joe the first few days of the planned shoot. John has the first few days scheduled for other locations, but one day that she said she'd be gone is set to shoot in the house, so I'm not sure what's going to happen with all of that.
John is planning to run a classified ad in the OSU Daily Barometer next week when fall term at the university starts up. He asked if I would put up a flier at work and I told him that if he sent me the text of what he wants it to say, I'd put something together and get it up on some bulletin boards.
Up next for me, after going over the shooting schedule, is working on storyboards. Also, now that the shooting schedule has some dates and times attached I am tempted to work up a meal plan/budget for the food. However, there is a distinct possibility John will have to change the schedule to accommodate the actors not yet cast, so I'm going to hold off until we get closer to the shoot.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - September 25
I started working through the shooting schedule in earnest yesterday on my lunch hour. Afterwards, I sent John an e-mail that started with, "I have three words for you: Holy Crap! Brutal!" This is going to be a killer shoot with most days being scheduled for 12 hours and even a couple of 13-hour days - and most of John's projects have gone over schedule.
My main concern is staying healthy through the shoot. Nine days in a row of this is going to really wear me down - I need to make sure I am diligent on getting as much sleep as possible as well as eating a well as possible. When the pressure is on, there will be the temptation to eat anything I can grab at the moment and take in a steady flow of caffinated soda - it might keep me going for the first few days, but after that it's not going to help prop me up. I also worry about John as I know we've had some bleary-eyed all-night shoots and a few times he's gotten pretty fuzzy at 4 a.m. - as have all of us!
John is coming to town Thursday night and we are going to go to his house to block out scenes for bedroom one, bedroom two and the garage. I'm planning to draw out some plans and take lots of notes so that when we are in the thick of things, we can just refer to them and plow through.
John said the classified ad in the OSU Barometer is to start today.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - September 28
John was in town last night and we went to John's house to block out scenes for the first couple days of shooting. Thankfully, the set-up of the room is different than I remembered from shooting there before so there are a couple of perfect spots for me to plant the camera and get all the needed elements in (doorway, bed, closet, window) without breaking the line. We also decided that instead of cheating the two people under the bed with a set-up in the garage, we would just set them on the the floor and use an extreme close-up shot. We blocked out stuff in the other bedroom and hallway and then into the garage. That's going to be tight because there are scenes where there are about 10 people in there including zombie soldiers. We pretty much decided that we'll shoot everything looking in from the garage door.
John has gotten a lot of response to the OSU Barometer ad - unfortunately it's all people wanting to be zombies, not the main characters. John said he's going to let it go another week and if he can't get any hot college co-eds to cast, he'll start talking to some of the people we've worked with in the past. He'll basically be asking people to take an entire week off of work with only three weeks notice, so it may be pretty rough. As I said before, though, somehow these things tend to come together at the last minute.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - October 2
John called me last night and told me he had two women and a guy interested in playing main parts in the movie. He planned to be in town next Tuesday and was hoping to meet them all with me and have them do some readings. This morning, I got an e-mail from Tom asking me for the specific dates so he could get his place tickets. I guess maybe he couldn't get a hold of John. I e-mailed him the dates and then dropped John a note to let him know what I'd told Tom. After lunch, I got a voicemail from John asking me to tell Tom to hold off on getting tickets as John said there may be a problem with him getting the time off of work for the shoot!!! He said he'd call me tonight and sounded really upset. I'll be at a shoot for DEADLY PREMONITIONS for much of the night, so might not hear until tomorrow. One thing is for sure, these movie projects never seem to come together smoothly!
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - October 4
I shot scenes for DEADLY PREMONITIONS with a friend of a friend, Morgan Mayhem, at Marie's house on Tuesday night. She was a real trooper and is totally interested in maybe being a part of PLATOON OF THE DEAD as she loves zombies and horror movies. It was also cool to shoot at her house as kind of a trial run before PLATOON.
John called and the sang is that he's not going to be able to take that many days off in a row. So believe it or not, John has to leave in the middle of the shoot, make the three-plus hour drive with snow in the pass back home, work for one lousy day, then drive back over for the rest of the shoot.
He offered two solutions: give everyone else the day off from the shoot and combine those scenes on to other days, or make me director for that day.
Since we already have 12 and 13-hour days scheduled, I told John there was just no way to get the whole movie done taking that day off without chopping things out of the script. So I agreed to direct the day that he is gone. Luckily it will be only the third day of the 9-day stretch, but there is a lot of scenes to cover, it's all outside and I bet it will be raining. It will be a challenge but I'm looking forward to that challenge.
Meanwhile John is coming to town next Tuesday and is setting up a face-to-face meeting with some of the people who've responded to the newspaper ad about playing some of the major roles.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - October 8
Well, the shoot begins in just 19 days. I'm going to buy a new microphone I'd been looking at and will get some extra cable and rig up a boom pole for it. Last night John asked if I could take the shooting schedule he put together and re-do it, rearranging scenes within each day in an efficient shooting order rather than just numerical order. I started last night and it's going to be a lot of work. The nice thing is that there may be a few days where some of the girls aren't needed for the entire day, perhaps making the time commitment less severe and therefore casting easier. I have a meeting tonight but afterwards am going to try and get through as much of it as I can. It would be great to be able to hand off a finished version to John tomorrow night when he is in town to meet some potential casting choices.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - October 12
15 Days Until the Shoot - John came to town on Tuesday night and we went to the Old World Deli. One guy, Johnathan, showed up who was interested in the role of Smith, which John gave him, but also said he would be up for playing EMS and zombies and helping PA as his schedule allowed. When we get closer to the shoot and John sends out the final schedule, Johnathan will better know his school schedule as well. We all chatted about horror movies for a bit and Johnathan is certainly our type of guy and excited as all get out to be involved.
Everyone else who was scheduled to show up flaked on us! We waited almost an hour and we finally gave up. The next day he heard from the girl that at the last minute her boss wouldn't let her leave work and John had neglected to give her his cell phone number. He's planning on coming to town again this next Tuesday to meet with a few more people who are interested.
Last night I finally finished going through the shooting schedule and rearranging it for the most economical shoot in terms of minimum of set-ups and bunching the scenes with the female characters together as much as possible. The first result was a list of days and times that each female role is actually needed. I figured that if a prospective actress knew that she didn't have to be there 12 to 13 hours a day for 9 days straight as had been described, it might be easier to cast. There are two days that the female roles are not needed at all, and several where it's only noon to 5 or so. I sent the list to John and he added it to the MySpace page. I also e-mailed everyone I could think of last night in an attempt to help John. He was holding out hope that Erin Arbogast would be interested, but he just heard from her and she can't commit to it. Even Shannon, whom John and I have worked with on countless projects e-mailed him today to say she couldn't do it.
John e-mailed the producer lamenting the fact that it was too bad that Ariana Albright couldn't be a part of it as John had once hoped. The producer told him that conveniently Ariana just quit a job so she might have time. Interesting...
I asked John last night if he had worked up an actual budget for movie and he said that he hadn't really as he needed to get out and price props and such. I asked specifically about food since I need to start planning as the shoot begins soon. He gave me a figure for food to start working with. Once I have the shooting schedule updated, I'll break it down as far as how many meals and how many people to feed at each meal. So much to do!
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - October 15
We start shooting in 12 days! John told me last night that his work scheduled him for 8 days in a row leading up to the time he has off for the shoot. It's going to be rough on him trying to get everything ready! By the way, we decided that logistically we are not going to be able to pull off the fog effects in the script - too any variables such as wind not to mention the fact that our two forest locations are miles away from electricity.
The NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD play I've been involved with (Rob Merickel and I in make-up by Rob for the play) is finally over - it was fun, but a real time drain. I worked yesterday on modifying the file John had sent over with his shooting schedule. Should be able to finish all of the rearranging tonight and send him a copy. He is also coming out Tuesday to meet with more potential cast members.
He did get the part of Jill cast with Michelle "Ame" Mahoney, and has another actress who is interested. John also has one guy interested in being a PA who has a bunch of experience from working on projects in L.A.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - October 17
Ten Days Until the Shoot! Well John drove over the pass on Tuesday and we went down to the Old World Deli and once again were stood up by a potential female actress! What's up with that?
The guy due at 7:30 p.m. showed up and was very enthusiastic. Tyler David sounds very excited and already arranged the week off from work! He has a couple of mid-terms we have to work around but sounds open other than that. John cast him as Dillon. We waited around for another hour and finally gave up and went to my house.
John e-mailed Michelle (just cast as Jill) and asked her if she would play Stacy. She got back to him the next day and said she would love to and that she actually liked the part better, I think because there is a little more "meat" to it. John e-mailed me tonight and said he has a couple of leads on women to play Jill. John has to work every day from now until the shoot so he asked if I would be willing to meet with any more potential actresses by myself - I said I would.
Ariana Albright is locked in for the project! She's going to fly up and has to stay at John's place for the first night as it's a giant football game weekend at the University and everything is booked up at this late date. She will be playing Heather and since she'll have to fly back at the end of the main shoot, she won't be available for the pick-up weekend in which we will shoot the end of the movie. John is working on a rewrite in which Heather doesn't survive to the end of the movie to accommodate this scheduling issue.
I worked on storyboarding at lunch today and just sent out an e-mail to the cast asking about food allergies, vegetarians, etc. so I can start meal planning. I made a list of things to do before the shoot the other day and it took up a whole damn page! Only 10 days until the shoot! Excited and nervous at the same time.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - October 22
Five Days Until the Shoot - Holy crap. Things are getting ridiculously busy as I try and get things ready for the shoot at home and have a major project due at work the day before I leave for the week off. Have tested the camera and microphone and everything seems fine. Still working on getting a boom fixed up. Put a new bulb in my broken light and repaired some connectors on the light kit poles. Planning to buy a new set of worklights as my old set are broken. Started gathering stuff for my "box" - flashlight, towels, gaffers and duct tape, etc. Going to use a toolbox to carry it all in. Need to set that up, clean up/out my car, get the cooler down from the loft, and a zillion other things!
I worked most of Sunday getting the food plan together. Once I did the math, the amount John hoped it would cost for food averaged about a buck a person per meal. Hmmm... My wife helped with suggesting some cheap meals to make for big groups - chili, sloppy joes, spaghetti, lasagna, etc.
We went shopping at Winco and I bought a ton of stuff and only spent $108. Plan to buy lunchmeat, bread, fruit, and other stuff that doesn't keep too long right before the first day of shooting...which is this Saturday! John is picking up bottled water, soda, paper plates, cups and plasticware at Costco. Tonight my wife and I cooked 12 pounds of ground turkey! I originally volunteered to plan and handle the food to make sure we didn't eat bologna every day. Note to self: never do this again! It's going to be way more work than I had thought about. Plus, John didn't get the money when he thought he would so I'm having to front all the money to buy the food. John said should be able to reimburse me the first day of shooting.
John said that the hotel refused to take his reservation for Ariauna's room over the phone - they said he had to come do it in person. Bizarre! He said he considered asking me if I would do it for him, but didn't want to impose. I told him since I was already fronting the money for the food, I just couldn't front the money for the hotel room as well. He understood and just plans to go to the hotel when he gets to town on Friday.
Had dinner with Rob last night and he asked me to bring over that effects list I'd put together. He asked me a ton of questions about the effects - but I mostly had to tell him I didn't know exactly what John had in mind and that the two of them should try and talk about it before the shoot. With his limited time, Rob's not going to read the script - just wants to know what the effect is and when he needs to do it. After I got home, I e-mailed John to tell him to call Rob right away to get all of those details worked out. Sounds like most of the make-ups and effects planned during weekday shoots will fall to me as Rob can't get any time off.
Talked to John several times on the phone and a flurry of e-mails have been going back and forth, working out small details. John is having trouble getting extras to commit to certain days to play zombies and zombie soldiers. He may cut a few scenes down from several zombie soldiers (living room full of them, several trying to get in bedroom window, etc.) to just one, depending on who he can get to show up on those days.
John picked up three toy guns this week for the soldiers. I asked about what we were going to do about the big zombie war scenes and John just said the gun budget is spent, so we'll just have to pass the guns around to whomever is in the shot.
John cast Morgan Mayhem (whom I worked with recently with on DEADLY PREMONITIONS) and her kids as a victim and zombies respectively on the Monday that I will be directing. They are thrilled to death so it should be a fun time.
I'm set to meet potential actresses for the part of Jill tomorrow night after work. I was going to meet three but one has had to cancel before I even met her! The track record of meeting actresses down at the deli is awful - all have been no-shows thus far. I hope someone shows up as we shoot in five days and this major part is still open!
Well, it's after midnight again - need to take a shower and get to bed. Had cub scouts den meeting tonight, meet with actresses tomorrow night after work, scouts pack meeting on Wednesday night, then shopping and cooking meals on Thursday and Friday nights. Also on Friday our friends from Seattle arrive. Since I'll be shooting the movie the rest of the time they are here, I blocked out Friday to see them. Call time is 7-freaking-thirty in the morning on Saturday!
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - October 25
2 Days Until the Shoot - I met with two potential actresses on Tuesday. The first was fine enough, but had some conflicts with the schedule. The second actress, Amanda Bounds, had read the whole script, had no conflicts with the schedule, has done zombie make-up before and did fantastic on the tiny bit of a scene I had her do. I recommended her to John and said the first girl may work well as a zombie, which she said she was also interested in.
I was assembling my boom pole last night and broke the extension mechanism and the top where the adapter screwed on. Great. So picking up another pole tonight to work with. Stopped at Bi-Mart on my lunch hour and picked up a few things and will probably go shopping tonight for lunchmeat, bread and fruit. Was up until 2 a.m. the other night making a huge pot of chili. Going to make a gigantic batch of minestrone soup tonight.
Last night there was a horrendous wind storm that cracked two enormous branches off of a 100-or-so-year-old tree in my back yard, taking out 2 of my apple trees and part of a pear tree. Luckily it just barely reached the fence and didn't hit my nor any neighbors' houses. The breaks revealed a lot of rot inside though, so we're going to have to have it removed so that the next storm doesn't take out anything! Crap!
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - October 26
Day Before Shoot - I spent the today visiting with our out-of-town friends. John picked up Tom Stedham and Ariauna Albright at the airport and met everyone at a coffee shop tonight.
Afterwards, they all headed over to a nearby office for a read-through. John decided to just have Ariauna and Tom sleep at his house instead of getting hotel rooms.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - October 27
First Day of Shooting - We shot at a house in Corvallis today and it was a looooooong day.
I brought our visiting friends' teenage son with me today to shoot behind-the-scenes video.
Since we were pretending that this house was a part of Joe and Marie's house, I brought a few pieces of artwork that I'd commissioned from Marie a while back to dress the set. Hopefully it will be enough to keep the audience thinking it's all the same house.
John wasn't able to get any extras cast to play zombie soldiers, so Rob had to make up Tom as one and we had to shoot creatively a bit.
Tom the zombie attacks Ariauna then Tom the soldier shoots Tom the zombie. Got it? Trust me, it all works in the final movie.
The severed arm effect was today and took a lot of set-up time and trial runs, but the result was fantastic.
Tom had to stand on a stack of firewood outside the window to be high enough for the shot.
The rest of the cast had a lot of waiting around during make-up and effects, which was nice to build a bit of comradery and shoot some cast interviews in the kitchen. It also allowed for a fair amount of snoozing in the living room. Call time was 7:30 a.m. and we shot until sometime around 1:30 a.m. the next morning, and still had to push some scenes off to another day. Ugh.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - October 28
Everyone hangs out on the deck on a rare break.
Second Day of Shooting - Second day at the Corvallis house. Today Ariauna had to stand in as a dead zombie soldier and to save make-up time I had to shoot her scenes such that you didn't see her face as Tom dragged her around. It was a little tricky, but it all worked out OK.
A few weeks back John asked me if I could connect him with any National Guard folks in town in hopes that they could come to the set to play zombies and bring all of their own outfits and gear. I connected him with a coworker of mine and it turns out that John knew Lewis from years ago. Small world.
Lewis joined us today, but none of his buddies who said they could make it ended up showing, so we scrambled to rethink some of the shots. Our garage full of zombie soldiers turned into just one. A few other shots were done just showing boots so the good guy soldiers could stand in (literally) for the zombie ones. Lewis pitched in with behind-the-scenes shooting and other tasks and Ariauna and Amanda were recruited for boom work.
One fun scene today was Tom getting splattered with zombie goo, aka butterscotch pudding.
Ready for the pudding shot - Rob is on the floor ready with the giant syringe of butterscotch while Lewis gets some behind the scenes shots. It was messy but a great-looking effect!
The aftermath. Note the plastic grocery bag protecting the camera on the left.
We all scatter, leaving John with clean-up duty!
We shot several scenes late tonight in the garage which required a lot of make-up effects. Boy howdy was it cold.
Wee hours of the morning...
What scene are we doing again? What time is it? Who am I?
Poor Tom had to spend most of the night with his shirt off. Here he tries to keep warm by cozying up to a halogen lamp.
We took care of Ariauna's death scene tonight, so her character wasn't needed for the December weekend shoot where we'd shoot the very end of the movie. Another very late night (I'm not even sure how late - it's all a blur) but we got some amazing things on camera.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - October 29
Third Day of Shooting - Today we were out at Marie's house and John had to drive back over to Bend to work, so I had quite a full plate - directing, shooting, special effects, make-up, food, etc. Thanks goodness for Ariauna - she worked the boom mike, held an umbrella over my head and countless other things to help me through the day. Actually everyone was really a trooper today as we ran into all kinds of problems.
Even though the house is way out in the country it is on a busy road so traffic noise was constantly causing us to stop (since in the movie the house was isolated in the middle of the woods). Add to that the sound of a table saw and tractor at a nearby farm plus airplanes flying overhead and it was just crazy! After trying for close to an hour, we finally gave up on the 'pile of bones' outdoor scene and decided to try and pick it up later.
I made up the two female zombies, Lisa and Marie, based on Rob's instructions.
I love this picture!
We took care of an outdoor fight scene and then it started to rain. I called John in a panic and told him about having to scrap one morning scene already. I suggested that I move one big scene with all of the characters from the back yard to inside the shop to avoid some noise and stay out of the rain. John said he could make that work.
Once inside the shop, the rain poured down on the metal roof. DOH! We added a few lines here and there about the rain coming down and even a throw away line where Tom comments on an airplane flying overhead, in hopes that they could somehow cover plotwise for all of the noise!
The big scene in the shop involved a rotting zombie soldier and I'd made a paper mache' skeleton head and torso for it. I dressed it in fatigues and borrowed Tyler's hat and covered the face in pudding. It was gross enough already but then someone brought in a big fat worm from the yard so I was able to shoot it squirming out of the zombie's eye socket. It was a fabulous happenstance in a day full of snags. Tom built a fire in the wood stove to we could all keep warm in the shop.
Morgan showed up around dusk and thankfully Rob was able to come out after work to do zombie make-up on her kids. The shoot went well and they sure had a good time fighting over their mom's fake bloody guts! John would eventually tell me I missed a few shots he'd wanted and boy did I feel bad. We ended a little late, but I felt like such a failure having run into all of those problems. I know I did the best I could, but just had hoped it was going to go so much more smoothly.
With John out of town, and my out-of-town guests gone, Tom slept in my kid's playroom and Ariauna slept in my kid's room. I think the stuffed Creature From the Black Lagoon made her feel right at home.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - October 30
Fourth Day of Shooting - John got up at the crack of dawn (or probably before dawn) and made the 3+ hour drive over the pass to meet us at Marie's house early this morning. Incredible.
Tom was instrumental in choreographing a couple of cool fight scenes today in tight quarters in an entryway and a bit of the kitchen.
We shot the severed hand on the counter scene today and it is amazing what a little foam rubber, some red paint and butterscotch pudding can do to gross people out!
Amanda stretching her face as she puts on her make-up.
John, captured through a window, taking an important phone call outside.
You gotta catch some sleep when you have the chance with a shooting schedule like this.
Setting up a shot on the stairs.
John directing from the crawlspace access.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - October 31
Fifth Day of Shooting - Since it's Halloween, John set up today as a half-day shoot so Rob and I can take our kids trick-or-treating.
We met at my house and since Rob was working, I made up Lilith as the zombie bride - cool that she could bring her own bridal gown for us to get all bloody.
Here John gets a bunch of karo syrup blood poured on him after we cut his shirt open and stuffed some foam latex guts into the hole. We shot the scene in my back yard with the enormous fallen tree limbs making a nice background of foliage.
Tyler got to skip the fatigues today.
After that, we drove up to Avery Park to shoot a bunch of chase scenes. Once again, we had no extras, so Tyler had to play the zombie soldier this time. There was a lot of running and jumping and then more running! The last bit was a ground fight between Tom and the zombie soldier on the leaf-covered forest floor.
After the shoot, we enjoyed some mid-afternoon Taco Bell after all that running around in the woods. Then we split up for the evening. As I recall, John said that he, Tom and Ariauna just stayed up all night talking.
Here is my son's cool bug-eyed brain alien Halloween costume! That's an old sci-fi gun prop I made out of cardboard and foamcore for my MONSTER IN THE GARAGE movie back in about 1997.
It wasn't until later than I discovered that at the park shoot that afternoon, I'd lost my Philadelphia Eagles knit cap that I'd had since I was growing up in New Jersey.
It was never to be found.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - November 1
Sixth Day of Shooting - In a word, today started out terrible. As I was driving out on the bit of highway on the way to Marie's house, a giant white cloud started coming out of the back of my car, the temperature gauge went crazy and I couldn't get any decent power. I couldn't believe it! I pulled into the nearby minimart to discover that my cellphone battery was dead! Luckily (in this day and age!) they still had a pay phone so I started making calls. John said he would drive the 10 or so miles from the house to the minimart to get the equipment.
Shortly thereafter, Chris and his family pulled up beside me in the minimart parking lot. Chris was willing to take a bunch of my equipment out to the shoot and was a real lifesaver. John showed up not too long afterwards and took the last few things. I had my car towed into town then my wife picked me up and drove me out to Marie's house.
We were already behind schedule when I arrived and then John hit me with another bomb - one of the three toy guns was missing! We really needed to have it otherwise it would be a crazy game of trying to shoot things oddly to hide the fact that one soldier didn't have a gun, or try and pass them around during panning shots, battle scenes, etc. John hit the road back to town to search the park on the small chance that the gun was still there, directing me to shoot a few scenes while he was gone. The sequence of the soldiers first entering the house, required some careful planning and framing, because we only had two guns for the three solders! It all turned out well and likely no viewers will think anything of it.
When he returned a while later, John told me that once he got to the park and stepped to the edge of the vast carpet of fallen leaves, he felt a strange calm come over him and somehow knew that the gun was there. He walked towards where we'd shot the ground fight the day before and the tip of the gun was poking out of the leaves! Amazing! I had good news as well - the shop had called and my car had blown an engine seal and it was pretty minor to fix. Whew!
It was a packed house today as Chris had to bring along his wife and 2 kids.
We plowed right back into shooting. Ariauna ran boom when she wasn't in the scene. Amanda and Michelle were both snapping photos to accentuate the promo shots I was getting.
A sampling of the eclectic outdoor art at the zombie house location.
We are not fooling around with our soda - Tom Stedham: Armed Pepsi Guard.
Between cars and planes, we managed to shoot the outdoor stuff that we couldn't get on Monday. The day ended a zillion times better than it had began.
While I was shooting today, they came and took the gigantic rotted tree out of my back yard. Now it looks so bare. Very sad.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - November 2
Seventh Day of Shooting - Another day of shooting at Marie's house and we are starting to get loopy. The long days and lack of sleep are catching up with all of us.
A few of the cast members are dealing with college finals this week, and some are catching cat naps on the floor between set-ups (like Amanda, above). John and I have started laughing a few times over tiny things and have not been able to stop for a while.
The worst was that I ended up shooting for a good 45 minutes on a big scene in the living room with the wrong lighting set-up (day vs. night). I flipped out when I realized it and felt horrible about it but we had so few people trying to do so many things a slip up was bound to happen. John chatted with me outside and I convinced him to let me re-light and start over, noting that since we'd already run through it, we'd worked the kinks out and could catch up to get back on schedule. And that is just what we did.
Earlier we shot Ariauna's barfing scene. John made up a mix of graham crackers and water and boy did it look gross!
Ariauna made a special point that she would do the scene but didn't want to see it! Obviously, everyone else did!
Michelle, Tom and Jesus.
Tom Stedham wonders to himself, "Why the hell am I here?"
Tom makes fire to keep us warm in the shop.
Ariauna loves a man with a cup full of pudding.
My wife drove out to put the lasagna in the oven for dinner and boy was it good!
Afterwards, Tom had to be made up as a zombie soldier again, and boy did he not like getting made-up again!
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - November 3
Eighth Day of Shooting - We met up at my house (and Tyler took a snooze on my couch while we waiting for everyone) and then bundled up and headed out to Macdonald Forest for a bunch of outdoor shooting.
Johnathan Jacoby joined us and came with his own set of fatigues! Rob set up a gag with a tree branch sticking though the middle of Johnathan and when he started screaming for the scene I would've thought that branch really WAS stuck through the middle of him!
Next up we shot a bunch of scenes with Tyler and Tom in the woods and then Chris met up with us for some more woods scenes. We were scheduled to shoot until dusk but since we had no zombie extras show up, we had shot everything we could by the mid-afternoon.
We headed back over to the Corvallis house to pick-up some scenes with Chris and Ariauna that we ran out of time for on the first weekend.
Then I headed home to get some rest and warm up!
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - November 4
Ninth Day of Shooting - Today was the last day of the all-in-a-row part of the shoot, and the last day for Ariauna and Tom. It's a good thing because Ariauna is ready to get out of this place!
Everyone was getting a bit crazy on this last day of the main part of the shoot.
Amanda and Tom are getting ready to declare a thumb war!
What the hell kind of movie is this?!!
We shot scenes in the bathroom (like Tom getting all creepy, above) and some fighting in the kitchen area and got a whole bunch of cast photos.
Ladies and gentlemen, the cast and crew of Platoon of the Dead!
Michelle shows off her tattoo!
Tyler really loved being a part of the movie, but I don't think John quite understood his idea of "love."
Tyler and Tom are very supportive of Michelle's acting career.
I asked and I asked, but I only got Tom to go topless for this shot.
Michelle spent all day burning CDs of photos from the shoot for all of us to take home. Amazingly sweet. There were a lot of laughs and a lot of hugs today.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - November 5
Tom and Ariauna slept at my house again last night. This morning my wife snapped this shot before I left for work of me, Tom, Ariauna and John. John made the trip to the airport to saw Tom and Ariauna off.
As always, it's bittersweet - fast friendships are made on movie sets and it all seems to end before you want it to. Both Tom and Ariauna were fantastic actors and real troopers when it came to pitching in and working those long, cold hours, even while being away from the comfort and safety zone of home. I'd work with either of them again in a heartbeat.
So it is back to the grind for me until December when we shoot a weekend of pick-ups out in the woods. I'm shivering just thinking about it!
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - December 8
Tenth Day of Shooting - John, Rob, Chris, Amanda and Tyler met over at my house in the morning. Lewis had a bunch of guys from his National Guard unit scheduled to show up to play zombies, but once again, he was the only one that showed up!
A few phone calls and trips later, we had one of Chris' friends, Joe and Marie, Lewis' son and two of his friends on board. Luckily Lewis had a bunch of fatigues and gear, so everyone was outfitted and made-up as the zombie army!
'Tis the season for zombie joy.
Three hours behind schedule, we headed out to a place called Bald Hill Park and marched all of our stuff in.
There is an open barn at the top of the hill that we used as our base. The fact that it had no walls didn't help much with the freezing wind!
Though it was windy and freezing, we managed to get what we needed shot and finally wrapped it up as it started getting dark. One more day left...
Joe and Marie enjoyed a moment of zombie love in the parking lot.
Joe went shopping at Safeway in his zombie make-up. He was looking in the meat section for brains.
Sadly they didn't have any.
Platoon of the Dead Production Diary - December 9
Eleventh and Final Day of Shooting - We were able to get all but one of our zombie army from yesterday for today. Again we met at my house for make-up. Check out the holiday hardware!!
We took care of this shot on the floor of my living room.
Then we headed back up to Macdonald Forest.
It was COLD! At one point, we were hiding out in the cars waiting for the hail to subside! It rained off and on and at one point actually started to snow. Snow! How cool (pun intended) but not good for matching footage to stuff shot yesterday, not to mention a couple of months ago. John and I wracked our brains trying to figure out a way to make it work. We ended up having someone say a line about it being ash coming from the cities when they burn them out to get rid of the zombie army. Pretty clever, I thought. Not sure John will need it though, as it turned out it only snowed for a little while. Joe slipped coming down a hill and messed up his back, but I think that was the only injury we had.
Rob was the smart one, having brought his own chair to sit in, blanket, umbrella, and handheld game system to play as he waited for the next needed fx shot.
Lewis puts the squeeze on Tyler.
Chris is ready to blast some zombies!
Marie, Lewis and Joe are ready to attack! As our fingers and toes went beyond numb, we wound down the shoot, getting the last shots on the list.
It's crazy eye Rob!
Marie apparently loves guns. And was cold.
We said our goodbyes, but it wasn't quite the same as the last day at Marie's house. Tom, Ariauna and Michelle were missing and frankly the bitter cold made us all just want to go home and get warm! It was both thrilling and a relief to be done with the shoot.
As it turns out, I've been lucky enough to work with John, Rob, Michelle, Amanda, Ariauna, Joe and Marie on small and large projects since we wrapped PLATOON.
Once again, my buddy John was able to work his magic to somehow pull together a cast, locations, props, effects and equipment to create both a movie and a movie-making experience I'll never forget. The dedication and heart that everyone put into this thing was amazing. As it turned out, there would be a long post-production road ahead, full of technical problems and delays.
John was kind enough to let me work on editing DVD extras including cast & crew interviews, behind-the-scenes segment, blooper reel and a tour of the "zombie house."
John also put together a hilarious extra called Tough Tom's Movie Boot Camp - I had a good time putting together this title card!
Here is the final sleeve that Tempe Video put together! PLATOON OF THE DEAD is scheduled for release by Tempe Video in June of 2009, about a year-and-a-half since we finished those last shots in the woods. It's going to rock! Thanks to everyone for reading! Now go buy a copy so we can make another one!
Platoon of the Dead World Premiere - May 29, 2009
Wow! The world premiere of PLATOON OF THE DEAD Friday, May 29, 2009 at 9:15 p.m. at the Northern Lights Theater Pub, 3893 Commercial St. SE, Salem, Oregon sold out! The management finally decided to add a second show on another screen beginning about 40 minutes after the original show. Supercool! Everyone got grossed out at the right parts, laughed at the few funny lines and seemed to dig the flick. John and I did a Q and A afterwards and then additional cast & crew in attendance came up for a few more questions.
DVD menu up on the big screen as John and I take some questions from the audience.
John and I doing Q and A
The PLATOON OF THE DEAD cast and crew take some questions. Chris Keown, Tyler David, Michelle 'Ame' Mahoney, John Bowker, Morgan Mayhem, Rob Merickel and me!
Me and Brother D from the Mail Order Zombie podcast. He interviewed John and I so I'll let you know when the podcast we're in is posted!
Brother D chatting with make-up man Rob Merickel.
Me and Tyler David after the premiere.
Michelle, me and Brent after the premiere.
I am such a ham.
My sister lines up a shot in a game she and I played at Sharky's after the premiere.
Amanda Bounds got all zombified for the screening!
Me with Robert J. Olin and Dori Schwartz, who both appeared in THE SEEKERS
Me with Marie, who seemed to be a prom queen zombie and was showing off her dvd!
Rob checks out Amanda's homemade rotting zombie flesh!