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The Origins Of Zombieland

With a couple of breezy yet bloody trailers helping to generate some excellent buzz ahead of its US release date on 2 October, ShockTillYouDrop have been yakking with the screenwriting duo behind forthcoming Woody Harrelson-starrer Zombieland. Amongst other things, scribes Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese discuss the movie’s small-screen genesis, sequel ideas, and their sadly thwarted plans for a certain big name cameo.

A light-hearted take on the undead apocalypse scenario, Zombieland sees an odd couple pairing of Harrelson’s slow-witted but hard-as-nails Tallahassee and wimpy Columbus (played by Jesse Eisenberg, whose casting as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in David Fincher’s The Social Network suggests his career is just on the verge of going stratospheric). The survivor duo also team up with Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin respectively), with the collective working hard to forestall being feasted upon by the cadaverous hordes.

Zombieland was originally proposed as a television series, and scripters Reese and Wernick are candid as to why their project was initially set to miss out on the full silver screen treatment, with the former noting that completely original movie properties are becoming an increasingly rare beast.

“The toughest reason was that so many movies are based on IP, other properties. Whether it be a remake, a reboot, a sequel, a toy they want to turn into a movie… a graphic novel. And it’s tragic, really, that so few movies these days originate from screenwriters. Television is the opposite. Every show is created by a writer, basically. So when we originally sold it, it was very much the model. Then it came back to us after we sold it to CBS and they didn’t make it. It was only by virtue of the passion and vision of a handful of people at Sony. It was their passion to say, this is an original idea that should break through in the movies. No, it’s not original in that it’s a zombie movie. But, it’s a movie that’s not based on anything else.”

Wernick also suggests the glut of entries into the zombie movie genre contributed to their decision to seek a home for their creation with one of the television networks.

“Interestingly, it became a TV pilot because we looked at the landscape and said “These are such huge hits on the feature side. Let’s make a zombie TV show.” Ultimately, the irony is that it became a movie but maintained its originality.”

It is a genre Wernick admits to possessing little knowledge of, but Reese confesses to some preferred corpse-shuffling shockers;

“I wouldn’t call myself a zombie junkie, but I do have favourites. One of them is 28 Days Later. It reinvigorates the genre as opposed to disrespecting it. I feel there’s room for zombies of all speeds and colours. I say 28 Days Later, old Dawn of the Dead, new Dawn of the Dead, Army of Darkness, 28 Weeks Later, Shaun of the Dead. To be honest, I still haven’t seen the seminal ones and I’ll get to them. I’m respectful of the fact that we’re in the zombie club.”

The scriptwriter also believes that the plethora of prior zombie movies actually benefitted Zombieland, as it means the audience require less in the way of basic story explanations.

“And that’s because everyone knows the zombie genre so well. We don’t have to do any exposition. We were adamant about not starting at the beginning and having a General come on and tell everyone to stay in their homes. We didn’t want to do that, we wanted to start in the middle. People can fill in the gaps. They know the zombie rules. So, now you get to start with character and action and get right into it. That was a joy.”

This sense of expediency is reflected in the movie’s brief running time of 83 minutes. But despite some tight cutting from director Ruben Fleischer (“As a writer it’s tough because those are your babies” admits Reese), both scribes unite in their praise for the helmer’s efforts behind the camera.

“He was so fantastic, inclusive and collaborative.” notes Wernick, “He brought the world that was on the page to life and it’s so rare for our creation and the characters you birth four years ago.”

It is an assessment with which Reese heartily concurs;

“He’s got a great visual eye. He sees things cinematically so the picture looks great. We’re very happy.”

And with Sony holding out high hopes for a big box-office return from Zombieland, there is already talk of a possible sequel, with Wernick saying the duo have some thoughts on where their creation could go next.

“Because we love the world so much and because it began as a TV project, we started to think long-term and how to sustain the world. The first 45 to 50 minutes of the movie are the pilot and the last half of the movie is essentially episode two. We have a brainstorming document we open often and we have some fun ideas for a sequel.”

But there was one cameo planned by the duo which, due to tragic real-life events, never made it to the shooting stage, as Reese recounts;

“We originally wrote the part for Patrick Swayze. That was many years ago, before he got sick. It was [going to be] a Patrick Swayze zombie. They got attacked by him zombified and we had these wonderful moments where they found a potter’s wheel and there’s Columbus on the wheel and these other hands come up behind him and it’s Patrick Swayze the zombie. Ultimately, they fight and Patrick bull rushes Tallahassee who grabs him and lifts him into the air, a la Jennifer Grey, and smashes him into a pillar. We specified it to Patrick Swayze and then he tragically got sick.”

Zombie cameo roles were also offered to Joe Pesci, Mark Hamill, The Rock, Kevin Bacon, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Matthew McConaughey, but it is strongly rumoured Bill Murray did don undead make-up and will appear in the finished movie as one of the brain-chomping throng.

Shorn of the densely layered expectations which accompany a graphic novel adaptation or a remake of a cult classic, Zombieland can boast of having been able to foster its positive pre-release impression pretty much solely on the quality of the footage glimpsed to date. My feeling is that it probably will do enough at the box-office to allow Reese and Wernick the opportunity to break the seal on their box of sequel ideas, but I’m hoping the movie will enough of a blast to make any follow-up a prospect to look forward to.

Sources: ShockTillYouDrop, Coming Soon

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  • Sheridan Passell said
    Sheridan Passell

    That Patrick Swayze idea is hilarious.

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  • Thom said

    It is just a Shaun of the Dead rip-off though, isn’t it?

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  • Jennifer said

    No, Thom, it’s nothing like Shaun of the Dead, to be honest. This movie is set post-zombie outbreak and survivors are the vast minority. I’d explain more, but it’d give away major plot points and ruin the movie. It’s definitely worth seeing!

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  • Matt said

    Doubtful, Thom. Whereas Shaun of the Dead was based around a hapless loser accompanied by his slacker best friend trying to win back his girlfriend then being attacked by a zombie horde and trying to survive that, Zombieland seems to be more about just survival with some comedic moments thrown in to lighten it up.

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  • Sheridan Passell said
    Sheridan Passell

    To be fair, this is very much in the spirit of Shaun Of The Dead, there are obvious tonal similarities.

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  • Thom said

    Well I’m glad to hear it is different. I doubt I’ll see it at the cinema though. I always think zombie films work better in a small dark front room (with the exception of the Resident Evil series [if you can class that as a zombie film{which I think you can}])
    Hope I get extra cred for my use of brackets 😉

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  • g d smith said

    The best thing about zombieland is the opening credits. It’s not bad after that, but it suffers from the fact that there are so many light hearted zombie movies these days that they have become the norm. I want slow moving disgusting corpses not extra’s charging about with some fake blood spattered here and there.
    Zombie movies should be about death and morbid fears not just action.

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  • Maddie said

    Very worth seeing! Rule # 1: cardio.
    Night of the Living Dead/ Return of the Living Dead anyone?
    Now thats a classic! Zombieland is definatly a funnier version with a more relatable plot and shows that we humans are not weaker than those brainless braineaters!

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