And Then What?

November 11th, 2014

I wanted to not be a grenade, to not be a malevolent force in the lives of people I loved.

In May of 2012, my mate est passed on a new book he’d just read called “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green.

So I read it.

When I read a book, I often tear off pieces of the library receipt to use as markers for quotes or ideas within a book that I feel are worth writing down or investigating further.  There are usually three or four good quotes or ideas that make an impact on me when reading a book and often lead to me reading other books or novels that develop an idea further or build on something that caught my attention.

My copy of The Fault in Our Stars looked like this:

TFIOS The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenTFIOS quotes

I passed the book on to Byrd, and it quickly became her favorite book of all time.

Then they made the book into a movie.  And now the movie is out on DVD.

I still haven’t seen it.  Byrd says when she watches it, she just cries and cries.  Not the best endorsement in my opinion.

The book centers around two people and the impact cancer has on their lives.  Hazel Grace Lancaster, a terminally diagnosed cancer patient wanting to minimize the impact her eventual death will have on those around her, and Augustus Waters, a cancer survivor embracing every new moment he’s been given.  And while there are many other characters and themes throughout the book, and countless websites and forums that centre around John Green’s works (proof of the impact his writing has on his readers), these two themes are the ones that resonate with me most when I read The Fault in Our Stars.

Hazel, while trying to minimize the impact her death will have on her family and friends, still battles with the human desire to be of worth and valued and to be more than just a footnote:

Much of my life had been devoted to trying not to cry in front of people who loved me… You tell yourself that if they see you cry, it will hurt them, and you will be nothing but A Sadness in their lives, and you must not become a mere sadness, so you will not cry, and you say all of this to yourself while looking up at the ceiling, and then you swallow even though your throat does not want to close, and you look at the person who loves you and smile.

But what we want is to be noticed by the universe, to have the universe give a shit what happens to us – not the collective idea of sentient life but each of us, as individuals.

…it occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again.

…depression is not a side effect of cancer.  Depression is a side effect of dying.

Sometimes people don’t understand the promises they’re making when they make them.

What I like about Augustus’ character is his realization that our individual impact on the world, or the universe for that matter, might be absolutely unnoticeable in the eternal scheme of things, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to make SOME impact, or that our impact on individuals during our time here isn’t minimal:

I fear oblivion.

We’re as likely to hurt the universe as we are to help it, and we’re not likely to do either.

You realize that trying to keep your distance from me will not lessen my affection for you… All efforts to save me from you will fail…

All salvation is temporary…I bought them a minute.  Maybe that’s the minute that buys them an hour, which is the hour that buys them a year.  No one’s gonna buy them forever… but my life bought them a minute.  And that’s not nothing.

You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you.

The general underlying theme that I took from the book is the understanding of the impact we have on others regardless of whether or not that impact affects the world – it affects someone’s world:

There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything… we will not survive forever… And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it.

I’ve lost friends and family in the six years since I started this blog.  According to world statistics, someone dies every 12 seconds – 5 people a minute; 30 people in the time it takes you to read this blog post.

But harsh as it may seem, we don’t mourn every death, only those that relate to us.  A day of remembrance for those who have died, but it is emotionally impossible to grieve for every death in the world as it occurs.  But then, it’s the lives that have impact on OUR lives that result in such loss and grief when they’re gone.  We are generally a narcissistic people in our grief.

Eat Your Face

My father’s death was pretty sudden – diagnosed with Lymphoma in March, he was gone six weeks later.  But it wasn’t until I walked in to his house prior to the funeral that it really hit me that I would no longer be greeted by the smells of his cooking in the kitchen, nor would I find him reading a book in the living room.  I still see or hear or read things that I immediately think of passing on to him, and then realize he’s no longer there to share those moments.  A friend of mine who had recently been through a similar loss, losing a friend to cancer within a week of losing her grandmother, summed it up perfectly – one moment you’re singing and dancing with them to Abba in the lounge room, and the next moment they’re gone.

Hazel’s reaction is to minimize her impact on those around her.  Augustus’ is to grow his.

We plug through work and jobs and responsibilities to family that are a necessary part of life.  I get that.  But to say that that’s ALL there is…

To say that I should be happy that I have a paycheque and accept my lot…

Why not shoot for bigger things?  Why not try new adventures and experiences?  What’s so wrong about stepping outside my comfort zones with acting or building or creating?  Why not me?  Why not you?  Why not any of us?

Why not me?  Why not us?
~ Russell Wilson

And WHEN you try, don’t let anyone try and beat down your attempts!  All the Pinterest adages that are so popular exist because of exactly that – those around you who don’t (for whatever reason) want to see you succeed in changing.  It’s difficult not to drown in the daily status quo.

If I could make a living being an extra in television and movies that made an impact on people’s views, and still do so without giving up the current responsibilities in my life, I’d do it.  Not born from any incredibly desperate need for attention or accolades, but for the purely narcissistic reason that I LIKE being part of building impactful moments in people’s lives.  I want to make and create and build things that leave people feeling “That was pretty cool!” regardless of whether or not they associate that moment specifically with me.

I’d rather be an Augustus than a Hazel, even if I end up being a grenade in the lives of people I love as a result of creating moments that they miss when I’m gone.

jimmy Johns has the best motivational quotes

Behind The Scenes Of A Z Nation Zunami

November 9th, 2014

This post contains spoilers for the Z Nation TV series.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Mark Carr and Doug Dawson make a reappearance in episode 7 (“Welcome to the Fu-Bar”) as their Sketchy and Skeezy characters!  I was really impressed with what the two local actors did with their characters in episode 1 that it was cool to see the writers decide to improve their characters’ fortunes and use them again!

Episode 8 (“Zunami”), which is supposed to take place in Nebraska, was actually filmed in Sprague, about a half hour west of Spokane.  I “discovered” Sprague on an earlier shoot due to bad planning.  I had intended to stop for petrol before leaving Spokane, but the shoot went late, and I forgot.  By the time I noticed I was on empty, I was half way past nowhere, and the only place to get petrol was Sprague.

the Viking burger with chips fries burger Seth Brittany the Viking

Sprague has a population of 350 people in a town with one school, one post office, and no stop lights.  I was filling up my car at the only gas station in town when the distinct smell of bacon wafted by, and I realized how hungry I was!  Seth and Brittany who run The Viking, a small burger joint across the street from the gas station, were just closing up for the night, but turned the grill back on to make me an excellent burger with bacon, egg, and grilled onions, and a side order of hot chips (beautifully done!), to eat on my drive home.  Awesome!  So I was a bit biased in favour of Sprague by the time I showed up there to shoot episode 8.

60 zombie extras show up for the zunami episode, and Jen Gatts, our usual Zombie Wrangler, not only knows every one of us by name and face, but she also knows who’s been on set before, and which episodes they’ve been in!  Pretty amazing!  30 zombies including half a dozen teenage ones pile onto a bus as I arrive, and within an hour, the remaining herd has arrived for makeup and costume.

Tess Fowler

Tess Garcia (who constantly sings “Everything Is Awesome” from the Lego Movie) does my makeup, minimizing the blood and lightly dusting me down in a coating of red dirt.  Neither of us is aware of the actual storyline except that it takes place in one of the Corn Belt States of the mid-West, hence the dirt.

zombie Herd

We take a bus to Sprague where all the zombies gather in the Town Hall to receive directions from Vanessa Driveness, one of the Assistant Directors and onsite Z Wrangler:  “Most of you have done this before, so be nice; be quiet when you’re not on set; and most importantly, don’t be dicks!”  The day is heating up quickly, and the Town Hall doesn’t have air conditioning, so we’re happy to only be there for half an hour before we walk the three blocks to Downtown.

zunami z nation

They decide to film the fast zombie scenes first, before the day gets too hot, and spread us down the street for a block before the intersection where the cameras are setup.  A lot of time is spent looking from the camera vantage point and arranging us to vary height, look, etc.  On “Action!” we run down the street, past the camera intersection, and continue on for half a block before slowing.

Reset to start.
Do it again.

And again.

And again.

We get rearranged a couple times – faster zombies in the back, slower zombies in the front.  Each time we reset to our starting positions there is always waiting, and we slowly migrate to any available shade on the street.  Zombies are pressed up against walls, hang out in doorways, and some of us sit in the “abandoned” cars used in the scene until “Places!” is called.

Damon Vanhee Z Nation shade

Ricky Giles, the onsite EMT, walks around passing out bottles of water to everyone (“Everyone’s hydrated, right?  Drink some water, people!  It’s free!”), while Damon Vanhee heads up the onsite makeup team who touch up blood effects, darken teeth, and dust everyone down in yet another layer of red dust that we all come to despise by the end of the day.  Damon’s pretty funny with some sharp insights into people and the filming process that he delivers deadpan and does a great job of keeping everyone chuckling and motivated throughout the hot day.  They have a much thinner version of the mouth blood now – instead of a rootbeer syrup flavored mouthful from a squirt bottle, it’s now a minty fresh spritz sprayed onto your teeth.  MUCH better after multiple takes!

oil Change

The first commercial for Z Nation aired the night before during Sharknado 2, so we’re all a bit pumped about the series finally coming to air soon!  Zombies start comparing what episodes they’ve appeared in, whether or not they’ve had the chance to kill or eat someone, and whether or not they’ve died on screen.  Turns out that the majority of us haven’t died or eaten actors, so those that have gain instant “celebrity” status.  The Oily Zombies, and the ones that spent time lying in a swamp, or were shoved up under the hood of a truck, enter an elite level of Zombie Extra stardom.

Destiny Mitchell Patrick Arkangelo Z Nation zombies Z Nation Patrick Arkangelo Z Nation Destiny Mitchell Z Nation

Most of the morning, I’ve been hanging out with Patrick Arkangelo, Destiny Mitchell, and E.  Patrick has been in multiple shoots for Z Nation and is funny and laughs a lot.  He’s outgoing and confident, and models clothes and appears in fashion shoots – he is probably the best looking zombie in the entire series!  Destiny is a bit more reserved and cynical.  It’s her first day on a Z Nation shoot, but her dad has been on multiple ones.  He spends the day as the red shirted zombie that Murphy finds “guarding” the apartment.  We spend some time watching him and Keith Allan work out their “dance” as Murphy figures out how to get past him and up the staircase.  He’s been trying to get Destiny on site for weeks now, but she’s put it off until today when they needed as many extras as they could get.  She’s still not sure being a zombie is better than spending the day in an air conditioned house watching TV, but she warms up as the day progresses and starts to come up with her own jokes and comebacks – Patrick’s grin and sense of humour are pretty contagious.

e Z Nation


E tells me he’s homeless, usually sleeping on the streets during warmer weather and moving to a shelter in town when it gets cold.  He ran into the Z Nation crew when they were filming in Downtown Spokane for episode 3 and convinced them to hire him as a zombie.  “I walk around those streets every day, so getting paid cash and a free lunch to do it was a no brainer!”  Yes – E made a zombie pun.  E is always the last zombie to shuffle past the camera no matter where they put him in the herd:  the herd rushes past the camera… pause… E shambles past to end the shoot.  Patrick and I would grin and quietly play the “Yakety Sax” song as he would shuffle in.  If The Asylum ever puts a Z Nation gag or blooper reel together, I totally want to see the full unedited scene in there!

downtown Z Nation Zunami episode 8

Vanessa picks out a dozen zombies from those used in the early morning shoots, and sets them up at the front of the herd, just behind a group of actors who are about to be Z Chow.  On “Action!” we give the actors two seconds before taking off down the street again, but this time, the actors and chosen zombies turn left down the street towards the camera while the rest of us continue along our usual path.  They film it a couple more times before giving the rest of us a break while setting up the cameras for close-ups of the actors getting tackled to the ground by zombies and eaten.


In the episode, you see this group of survivors running towards a morgue where our main characters are hiding.  Only one guy makes it, while the rest are taken to the ground and eaten by zombies.  There are two things to note from behind the scenes.  First, the door to the morgue actually opens to a set of stairs that lead to the apartments above the street where we’ve been filming.  The interior morgue shots aren’t even filmed in Sprague.  Second, it’s pretty cool to realize how many people are “behind” the camera during a scene.  As I said, only a dozen zombies are used to attack the group, so the rest of us are either looking for shade, or standing just off camera, watching with envy as the chosen ones elevate their zombie-cred by taking out this group on camera.

lunch cassie z nation

By now it’s about 3 o’clock and the hottest part of the day, so we head back to the Town Hall for lunch.  The zombies that were on the early crew are released for the day, and the rest of us head back into town to film the tractor scene with Keith Allan.  Andrew and Cassie play the farmer and waitress Hero Zombies in this scene – I recognize Andrew from previous episode shoots we’ve been in.

keith Allen Murphy keith Allen 

Originally, this scene is shot with Murphy walking among the zombie herd before ascending the tractor.  The scene is shot multiple times from multiple camera angles before they decide to shoot it with Murphy walking AGAINST the crowd.  To give the illusion of an unending zombie horde, an AD is stationed just beyond the camera frame to the left and another to the far right.  As extras pass the “end”, we run around behind the camera to the “beginning” of the zombie herd and shuffle past the camera again.  In a typical take, we pass the camera two or three times.  Keith is pretty cool, joking and chatting with extras in between takes while cameras are being reset.  At one point, he takes out his own camera for a group selfie, and everyone goes nuts!

black Dot black Dot Resident wrap

Our final scene for the day is the footage that will be used for the long shot of the approaching zunami.  We’re arranged into three different groups, and “fast zombie” around the corner of a building, through an empty dirt-filled lot, kicking up mountains of dust, and running towards the camera.  We wait 10 minutes between shots for the dust to settle, but it’s still pretty hazy to breathe through it all.  At 8:45, they finally call it a wrap for the day, and after allowing all the extras to view the on-camera shot, we pile back onto the buses, tired and caked in dirt, and head back to base to change and clean up – the end of a long hot day in Sprague, but totally worth it.

z nation zunami zombie cast and crew

Most of us know that we might not make it on screen after the episode is edited.  We know that main characters are the true actors in the series and carry the plot and storyline.  And we know that the only people other than us who are going to recognize us as we flash past the camera, or search for a glimpse of our zombified face on screen, are family or friends or other zombie extras.  But none of that really matters.  It’s been so cool to be a part of the total experience!  And even Destiny finally agreed that it was pretty awesome to be a part of this and know that we were there!


Turn Up The Lights

November 5th, 2014

Turn up the lights.
Turn off the noise.
Remove all the people, and this place is no longer an event.
It’s just a moment in the past.

haunted Workshop

Regular nightly attendance this year was our lowest ever, except for on Kid Friendly nights and Halloween itself where we broke all attendance records for the night from previous years.  Maybe it was the construction.  Maybe the weather dampened people’s desire to be out.  Maybe we’ve just cycled through the latest generation of High School kids and are working on a new one.  Whatever the reasons, overall attendance was just short of last year’s but we still had a steady stream of customers through the house most nights.

parachute Walls

In previous years, we have tried to create a confining/claustrophobic feeling in many of our hallways by making them narrow or leaning the tops of the wall panels inward like a collapsing building.  I wanted to make a 20” wide hallway this year (our typical hallway width is 44”, and our narrow hallways are 36”) that customers would have to turn sideways to press their way through, but we get enough variance in people sizes that we figured someone would eventually get stuck.  Instead, we took the parachutes used in last year’s Big Top and draped them from the ceiling and walls to drastically alter the shape and volume of one of our hallways.  Add a fogger machine and minimal lighting, and you get a very weird hallway that “breathed” and left natural folds for hiding characters or props.  Still didn’t get the claustrophobic effect I was hoping for, as the parachute “walls” are thin and moveable, but it created some good effects.

voodoo Jungle voodoo Woman halloween makeup ideas

We built a Voodoo Jungle using the tree we built a few years back and the camo netting from the Haunted Bayou.  Nice to have accumulated so many good props over the years.  Our Voodoo Woman volunteer went all out with some amazing makeup effects and was great at reading groups as they came through – hiding behind the tree until customers passed her before startling them and jumping into action.

skeleton Room

Similar to the Dead Room, we had an interior room draped with heavy black curtains and blacklights, and our girls that worked last year’s drop panels ran around inside dressed as skeletons.  The back of their costumes were completely black, so they would melt and blend into the walls anytime they stopped moving and turned their backs.  Then a quick spin, and VOILA!  They “magically” appeared in front of people, running through crowds, and basically scaring the hell out of everyone!  One of them would occasionally follow at the back of a crowd since it was so easy to appear and disappear whenever the last person in the group would glance back.  It was such an effective room that, depending on the response of the particular group, we would often close the exit and send  them through the room a second time.

torture Chamber torture Chamber

We built a torture chamber, complete with a stretching rack and characters playing both victims and torturers.  Three or four characters, dressed as zombies, would sneak up behind the customers if they stopped to watch the scene play out, and then chase them off to the next room in the house.  Lots of work and dressing with hit and miss on the reactions.

psycho Path leads to the Cemetary zombie graveyard cemetary Night

The zombie graveyard this year was moved out back of the building due to the road construction.  Customers follow the Psycho Path up a short hill to the cemetery which ringed a MASSIVE tree.  Other than hanging things from the branches, we never got around to fixing things to drop from above which was a bit disappointing to have missed such an opportunity.  Once the house gets started, I get caught up in the nights running it rather than changing or improving things.  Lots of rain made the Psycho Path slippery, so we had a couple of mishaps as customers were walking down from the cemetery and would get charged by a zombie or a chainsaw wielding groundskeeper.

ebola Lab

The Toxic Waste room was converted into an Ebola Lab this year (#currentEvents).  We have a couple that sets this room up and works it every year, and they are fantastic!  A lot of the extra props and effects are all theirs that they bring and improve upon each year.  My favorite part had to be that they clad the hallways in and out of the room with thin, white plastic, similar to what you see in movies when the CDC sets up a quarantine area.  But since the plastic was so thin, it would give you glimpses through it of moving “creatures”, and would whip around in the wind.  The rain would stream and drip down it, adding its own effect and causing it to stick to customers if they brushed against it in passing.

And then there was our final room.
It MUST make a BIG impact, and there MUST be chainsaws.
We want people to run screaming from the house as new customers are walking in.

facade Modified

Our first step, due to the narrowness of the house, was to alter the front façade so customers exit THRU the façade, rather than into the waiting area behind the front doors.  In order to ensure entering customers could still see them, we removed four wall panels from the exit hallway and replaced them with a 16’ section of chainlink fence.  So customers in the waiting area could see the customers running out, but they didn’t collide with one another or get in the way.

meat Bags blood Paint

We decided to make the final room into a Butcher Shop, but we didn’t want people stopping to look at tables of body parts and characters being cut up.  We want them to exit, running and screaming.  So we took all our prop bodies and body parts, and stuffed them into white, 45 gallon trash bags; splattered them in “blood”; and hung them from crossbeams in the final room, positioning the top of the bags at about 6’ to block the view of our typical customer as they moved throughout the Butcher Shop.

butcher Shop of horror

The maze had two exits which dropped customers into two different sides of the Butcher Shop – you could see your friends entering, but you couldn’t see the exit, and you couldn’t see what else was in the room with you (unless you dropped to the ground to look under the meat bags which no one did).  Customers had to push the bags out of their way as they moved through the room in order to search for the exit, but our Butcher Shop Clown didn’t have that problem.  He not only knew the room layout, but also could tell by the sounds once the majority of the group had entered, and that’s when he fired up his chainsaw, and started to pursue customers throughout the room until they found the exit!

It worked beautifully!

butcher Clown butcher Clown horror exit

We splattered acrylic paint on the bags for the blood effect, and although they were dry by the time we hung them in the room, the rain made them wet to the touch, which added to one’s reluctance to move them out of the way to pass through the room.  Add foggers and strobe lights to the room, and we had a lovely nightmare for customers to end their tour.  Many times, as the chainsaws started up, customers would frantically push their way through the meat bags only to find another wall where they expected to find the exit!  The chainlink fence lined exit worked wonderfully to allow entering customers to see them running out without anyone getting in the way of their terrorized departure.



Our 24 volunteers did a wonderful job with their own makeup and costumes, and the new shape of the house this year really worked out well!  There are always things, post Halloween, that I think of doing better, but the house really had a great feel to it this year, and although attendance was low, I thought it was easily our best design yet!

greeters zombie screwdriver zombie butcher Clown butcherzipper golem Witch kid Friendly Night host tour Guides butcher ghouls zombies goblins

It took us only a day to take everything down and pack it up – a new record for us.  Don’t know if we’ll have another house next year, but if not, this was an awesome way to end our run of Haunted Houses!  One group of kids that came through on Halloween night is graduating from High School this year and off to college – they have attended every year as a group since year 9.  So awesome!  So much fun!  So cool to have been a part of that!

So depressed to walk into work knowing this event is over…

…what’s next??

Happy Halloween!

October 31st, 2014

happy Halloween hitchiking clown with chainsaw blistered Pumpkin jack o lantern cannibal Pumpkin jack o lantern halloween


You Have Got To Be Kidding Me…

October 27th, 2014

And so on my first day back at work after posting about the Dead Room, I happen to be walking past a construction site when I see this:


Yes… they were filling a truck with 4’x8′ panels of  1″ foam to be thrown away…

A whole


truck full…

The job of the guy on the top of the truck is to smash the panels into smaller pieces so they can fit more of them into the truck…

…to throw away…


I guess that when you see time in such cosmic terms as the universe has, missing the alignment of two random events into an epic moment by only a few days is really pretty damn close.

Dead Room

October 23rd, 2014

Soundproofing a hallway is not as cheap as I’d originally thought.  Even the online “cheap” options aren’t really cheap when you’re looking at a LARGE space like our Dead Room, and you’re not wanting to spend more than $30 bucks.

Green glue?  $17 a tube is considered cheap!
Acoustic panels?  You’re kidding, right?
Rigid foam panels or soft foam underlay?  $6 for 2’x2’ panels or $30 for the 4’x8’ panels.  Two wall panels make up a hallway, and half of one for the roof, so you’re looking at $75 for 4ft of hallway.

No cheap options.

entrance to the dead room; cheap ways to soundproof a room

First step: double-layer the walls, using two wall panels on each side instead of the typical single layer.

Next: put a roof on the entire structure, then clad it in plastic.

This is going to shut out most of the noise of our haunted house, but it doesn’t give customers that uneasy feeling you get when the pressure changes in a room where the walls are specifically clad in soundproofing.

Collect egg cartons to tack to the walls?  Nice idea, but 4ft of hallway requires 96 cartons (and that’s with spacing).
Quilt batting?  $12/yard at its cheapest (0.5” thick) = $84/4ft of hallway.
Egg crate foam mattress covers?  $50 for a queen size (4’6”x 6’6”)
Old mattresses would be great, but you can no longer buy those from Goodwill or other OpShops, and we’d need about 20 of them.

See the problem?  So while we were totally excited about the concept of the Dead Room, we were suddenly realizing it might be nothing more than just a very dark room.

We started asking for donations of old curtains, sheets, blankets – and then we hit the motherload!  One of the guys knew someone who was replacing the carpeting in their home.

The day we installed it was a nightmare as it dumped rain and we hauled all our carpet inside the hallway to keep it dry while we measured it, cut it, and tacked it to the walls and ceiling.

That sucked.

Maze entrance

But the result was as close to what we wanted as we felt we were going to get.  The roof above the entrance to the Dead Room slopes downward, forcing customers to duck and look into the first dark hallway.  A strobe pointing at you from above the entrance kills any night vision you’ve acquired, and just inside, the light quickly fades as you see the hallway turn to the left.  And once inside, you get the slightly oppressive feeling from the sound dampening, and have to feel your way along the walls to find your way around the corners and back out into the light.

We do get a lot of traffic that slows through this area, and some people have crashed into walls when they moved too quickly, but it’s been great to slow everyone down just before the maze and the final exit.

On our budget, I couldn’t have asked for better!

Z Nation Second Season Announced

October 20th, 2014

z nation season two tweet retweet

SO awesome!
Luckily, I happen to know a few people that are able to help out as zombie extras.

z nation zombies extras #znation homeless Zombie will work for brains brainz



October 14th, 2014

tree frog

Due to the recent destruction of our donated parking lot, our Haunted House design this year is much narrower than in previous years.  We kicked out the façade a ways and are utilizing areas behind the church to give us the same square footage in the floorplan, but as a result, the layout is very different from previous years.  We wanted to build on the confining feeling created by a narrower house, and really work to emphasize the additional length of the layout.  So while a customer may walk the same number of steps as they would have in a previous house, the lack of front-to-back switch backs or the long hallways that reverse on themselves, combined with the emphasis on keeping the traffic always moving towards the front of the house really messes with your head and gives you the feeling that this one just goes on and on and on.

Haunted House floorplan layout

The first problem was how to create the boundary that was previously created naturally by the zombie cemetery and corner building.  Luckily, our experience in building long, narrow hallways provided us with a solution, so it was back to Home Depot for a couple dozen nine inch nails so we could build a bunch of wall anchors.

nine Inch Nails

Originally, we thought we could build out to the temporary construction fence, but the road graders and dump trucks drive through it quite often, so we decided to give it lots of room!  We placed the wall anchors about 30’ back from the fence.

long view

Although I always refer to this portion of the house as “the maze”, there’s never really been more than one path through it.  A couple of dead ends have allowed us to place characters or maze runners with chainsaws, but there was only one successful path through the house.  This year, we put in an actual maze, with four paths through the house as long as customers continue to move forward.  We’ll see how it all works out as customers now have the ability to double back into the house rather than move out which may create some traffic bottlenecks, but then, that’s why we have maze runners.

the Maze

Another area I’m excited about is The Dark Room.  Our house tends to be very noisy – strobe lights, stereos blasting loud music and sound effects, smoke machines, and black lights.  The Dark Room is a section of covered switchbacks with no interior lights and walls clad in sound proofed material.  Customers enter via a low entryway, and their ability to see ends after the first turn.  From there, they will need to feel their way through the room until they are led to the exit, all the while unable to see anyone that follows them through the room, or what else might be hiding in there with them.  The sound proofing should also induce a slightly claustrophobic feeling as the pressure in the room will feel different without the hard walls to bounce sound back to customers.

We moved the zombie cemetery to a space up a small hill behind the church.  While we just started building the “Psycho Path” that leads to it, we’re investigating what we can do with the overhead space now that we have trees and mount points above an area in the maze.  As in all things, time and money will determine what we finally do when we open.

psycho Path

It’s dumped rain on and off as we’ve been building, so it’s really starting to feel like Haunted House season!  I really like the completely different feel to the house this year, and while I’m sad at the prospect of this final year, I’m excited by the new design that resulted from the changes to our parking lot!  With the maze built, the focus now turns to running powerlines, dressing out rooms and scenes, and finishing up the house before opening night!

Probably the most pleasure I get is the designing phase.  I think that’s the fun part where you can see how you expect it’s going to work, and you can kind of have a giggle sometimes if it looks good.  And then you have that horrible phase where you have to make it.
~ Blair Somerville

You always have to keep pushing to innovate.
~ Steve Jobs

Haunted House Final Year

October 6th, 2014

The congregation and clergy of the church whose parking lot we have been using for our Haunted House for the past four years do not actually own the church, nor the parking lot.  So we were sad to receive notice last April that the owner of the building had sold off half the parking lot and thru-way rights to a development company who are building a housing complex behind the current location of the church.  The plan, we’ve been told, is to sell off the church and the remainder of the property next year to be developed into a second housing community depending on the success of the first one.  With that in mind, I am sad to say that this is most likely the last year of our Haunted House.

dismantling the Mausoleum Haunted House

We showed up at the church, soon after receiving notice, to dismantle the cemetery mausoleum.  We built it our first year in the church playground, which ran parallel to the parking lot and had long before been overrun by berry bushes.   After reclaiming much of the playground, we built the mausoleum and converted the playground into our zombie cemetery.  It’s been standing alongside the parking lot ever since, so the congregation was probably happy to see it go after all these years.

first Pass cleared

Two weeks later, the building we’d used for Zombie Saloon and Haunted Bayou was torn down along with the picket fence and what was left behind of the playground.  A storage building at the far end of the lot along with our shipping container storage bins were moved via bulldozer around the back of the church.  And before the month was over, what was once a major piece of our Haunted House was bulldozed and cleared.

tree Removal road

In late July, they started clearing trees, and by September, the new road had been cleared, graded, and compacted.  No evidence remained that the area had once been inhabited by spooks and zombies.

road View

The single advantage to this whole thing is that the Haunted House is visible from the main road for the first time ever.  We decided to capitalize on this, and build our façade 30 feet forward from where we have built it in the past.  This also allows us to use one of the few remaining trees as an anchor point for the opposite end of the façade since we no longer have the bayou building for this purpose.

Haunted House facade

Now we’ve got to figure out a decent design.  We’ve lost 20 feet of width along the length of the parking lot but gained an extra 30 feet up front, so the house this year is going to be longer and narrower than ever before.  We’re talking about using some of the space out behind the church, so we’ll have to see if that’s available or not, and if so, what we could do with it to affect the design.

Our fifth year of building the house may be our last, but it’s gotten bigger and better each year, and I expect the same this year!  We’ve acquired quite a lot of really cool stuff over the years, so I’m not sure what we’re going to do with it all after this year, and I’m not sure how this change to our Haunt Space will affect the layout and design of this year’s house.  But I do know that we’re not holding back, especially if this is to be our last year!

A side effect of doing challenging work is that you’re pulled by excitement and pushed by confusion at the same time… You’re bound to feel uncertain, unprepared, and unqualified. But let me assure you of this: what you have right now is enough. You can plan, delay, and revise all you want, but trust me, what you have now is enough to start. It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to start a business, lose weight, write a book, or achieve any number of goals… who you are, what you have, and what you know right now is good enough to get going.

~ James Clear

Z Nation – Tom Everett Scott

October 2nd, 2014

Spoiler alert:  This post contains spoilers for the Z Nation Season 1 Episode 03, “Philly Feast”, which aired Friday, Sept 26th on the SyFy Channel.  No Liberty Bells were harmed in the making of this episode.

Philly Feast was filmed in downtown Spokane the week of June 6th.  After the Governor stopped by Spokane to visit the set, pose for photos with zombies, and talk to the cast and production crew, the media started publishing stories and photos online.  With such an accessible shoot site and publicity of the filming being what it was, plenty of tourists and locals flocked downtown to catch glimpses of filming from a distance or as close as they could get.

Governor Jay Inslee speaks with zombie extra Susan Cleveland and Brie Edwards, Z Nation

As for the episode itself, things start to turn a bit dark in episode 3 as we learn more about Cassandra’s past and her ties with “The Family”.

Call time for me is 2:30pm, but I get a call at 10am to ask if I can show up as early as possible – the production company has sections of 1st Ave blocked off to traffic, but their time is limited, so they’re shuffling shooting schedules to try and film as many downtown Philly scenes as they can before they have to open the road again.  I go straight to wardrobe after checking in with the zombie wrangler at base camp, and 10 minutes later I’m in makeup.

Directors and producers had reviewed footage from the first episode and wanted the zombie makeup to be more prominent and noticeable.  So this time I get several layers of green, brown, and yellow, applied with a large porous sponge, sealed, then another layer of green with blue accents, and more sealant.  Then the blood.  Lots and LOTS of blood this time!  More sealant.

zombie0301 zombie0302 zombie0303

new Zombie Makeup Z Nation

There’s a scene where our heroes find the Liberty Bell, sitting on a flatbed truck, and decide to liberate it from the zombie hordes, only to crash the truck and send the bell hurtling and clanging down the street where it smashes and destroys zombies in their tracks.  Zs are completely obliterated except for their legs below the knee as they walk down the road in one of the funniest, dark-humour scenes of the series so far, and others are smashed to a pulp as they munch on the slowly cooling corpse.  I reckon the zombies seen in closeup in this scene must’ve been absolutely stunned and excited to watch this episode as none of us had any idea at the time of filming that such a gruesome end was in store for them!  We tramp up and down the street for five or six takes, and some time after we have moved on to another location, the empty street is filmed with prop zombie legs, standing alone in the road, post CGI-bell destruction.  EPIC ZOMBIE DEATH ABOVE ANY OTHER ON THE SERIES SO FAR!

The Liberty Bell on set is a big, green garbage bin that we shuffle around, bang against, pound on, and generally ignore in multiple scene takes.  At one point, we’re told that 10K takes a shot at the bell, and the sound of it attracts us where we mindlessly attack the bell, allowing our heroes to escape.  When the zombies finally grow bored of trying to eat a large metal object and shuffle off, a woman climbs out from under it and runs away.  I didn’t see that scene in the episode, and given how the bell was finally used, it made sense to cut it completely – bummer for the extra playing the girl though.  You do see 10K take a final, parting shot at the Liberty Bell as they leave Philly at the end of episode, and the zombies shuffle towards it for a brief second before the scene cuts.


Eventually, we complete shooting and meet up with the Second Unit at a previously scouted back alley for more filler footage.  Second Unit’s purpose is pretty much all the cut scenes you see of zombies running, shuffling, and stumbling around throughout the series.  If it doesn’t involve any of the main actors, it’s probably filmed by Second Unit, and I spend most of my time on the series with them.

The alley is your typical little-used, narrow road that runs along the back of the shops that face the railroad tracks and 2nd Ave.  Six of us shuffle up and down the alley, then reset, change clothes, sometimes adding a hat or cap or wig to change hair colour.  Makeup crew touches up blood and squirts thinner versions of blood into lower lips to colour teeth – still tastes like overly sweet rootbeer.  Swish and drool.  Reshoot the scene to create footage of “completely different” zombies to be used to digitally create zombie herds.  First Unit radios us on two occasions to tell us to halt filming and move out of a scene they’re shooting four blocks away in the same alley.

dead Alley graffiti zombies

At one point, one of the film crew attempts to move a shopping cart out of the scene only to find that the pile of blankets and clothes at the base are actually a guy that’s been sleeping there throughout the afternoon shoot.  He’s a bit freaked out to be woken, and moreso to have half a dozen zombies staring at him!  But once they explain what’s going on, he wraps himself up in his blankets again and goes back to sleep.  The shopping cart stays where it is, and the film crew works around it.

We’re told to meet up with the First Unit back at the primary shoot, so we walk the couple of blocks down to where they’re shooting – six zombies winding our way down back alleys, past the homeless kitchen, under the train tracks, and waiting to cross streets draw a lot stares and a small crowd of curious followers.  We meet up with another group of zombies that have been shooting with the First Unit, and we all follow the camera and lighting crews out to the new site.

First Unit Spokane downtown Z Nation

As I’m waiting to cross Madison St, one of the grips walks up next to me, a claw hammer hanging from his toolbelt, and gives me a quick one-over, checking out my zombie makeup and blood effects.  “You look amazing!” he tells me.  I glance to my left; give him an exaggerated coy look and tell him, “Well, I did this just for you ya’ know.  I don’t go through all this trouble for just anyone!”  He pretends to physically brush off my compliment and turns away.  “Oh stop!” he says.  We cross the street, chuckling and chatting, and then he goes off with the lighting and camera crew, and I follow the other zombies.

It’s not until later when he shoots me in the head that I realize he’s one of the actors, not a grip.  I realize, driving home, that I’ve seen him in That Thing You Do, and a week and a half later, SyFy releases the name of the major actors for Z Nation, confirming my “flirty” conversation with Tom Everett Scott.  Pretty cool.  Also slightly sad that his character, Garnett, doesn’t have more humour in Z Nation since he’s got such a good natural ability towards it.

pigeon Alley Z Nation

Pigeon Alley hides down a flight of stairs behind a green, iron door on Railroad Alley just off Madison.  It’s wedged between two 4 story buildings, and is filled with pigeon crap, rat droppings, and smells of sewage.   The camera and lighting crews all wear ninja masks.  The actors and extras don’t.  The assistant director, Esther Johnson, verbally walks thru the scene with the actors and stunt team while we listen from the edges.  Alex calls us all down into Pigeon Alley and starts walking us thru his version of the shoot, placing zombies at various places and areas throughout the alley from the bottom of the stairs to the end and up the fire escape.

The scene calls for Cassandra to run down the alley, trying to escape our heroes, only to find it a literal dead end – two zombies are chewing on the remains of a corpse at the alley’s end.  As she turns to backtrack, zombies slowly emerge from the shadows and converge on her.  Just as all seems lost, our heroes appear at the top of the stairs and start sniping the zombies, and then grab Cassandra, demanding answers about “the family”.

It’s the first time some of us have seen any of those who will become the main cast, and one of the girl zombies recognizes Michael Welch from Twilight and fills in the rest of us in a quiet, animated whisper as to who he is and other movies in which he’s appeared.

Director Luis Prieto Z Nation

Luis Prieto (another Director) and Esther and the rest of the film and lighting crews come down into the alley to physically walk the various camera and actor paths with Alex, moving zombies about, staging various actions, and making suggestions with the lighting crew.  It gets pretty crowded.  The Fx team brings in two partially eaten bodies and starts throwing blood around – one team gets to eat the guy at the end of the alley, and another team gets to eat a guy lying on top of an air conditioner unit.  Pads and mats are brought in to keep us extras from getting hurt when we crash to the ground as our heroes open fire from the top of the stairs.

Once we’ve walked through it all slowly, with actors and camera crews, we run it once at full speed without film.  Then comes take after take after take – cameras follow Cassandra down the alley; cameras follow her back out the alley; cameras lead her down the alley; cameras filming from the whole scene from the top of the stairs and from the back of the alley; close ups on Cassandra, on zombies, on the various actors as they stand at the top of the stairs and as they charge down the stairs to grab Cassandra and push her up against the wall for her interrogation.  LOTS of filming and reviewing the filmed scene on camera and suggestions for lighting and angles, and more filming.  It’s a LONG process, but pretty fun to watch the directors and assistant directors talk through various scenes and options and then get input from the camera and lighting and stunt crews.  One big collaboration.  And through it all, we fall to the ground from head shots, again and again, and Cassandra gets grabbed, chased, tripped, thrown against walls, and pushes her way through zombies again and again and again.

Pisay Pao Cassandra Z Nation

We finally run out of “enough” natural light shining down the alley, and First Unit wraps the shoot.  Zombie girl introduces herself to Michael Welch who has a quick conversation with her before the zombie wrangler can pull her aside and tell her “don’t talk to the talent”.  She’s pretty happy, and Michael comes around later, looking for her so she can snap a photo with him which is a pretty cool thing to do.  Pisay Pao, who plays Cassandra, comes by the zombie camp to thank everyone for all their hard work throughout the day and to pose for photos with zombies.  Again – pretty cool thing for a lead to do, especially since she’s been on site for the day longer than any of us.

The chase scene in Philly Feast gets edited down to Cassandra running down the stairs into Pigeon Alley and immediately getting caught by our heroes – the entire zombie attack and sniping gets left on the editing floor.  As you watch the scene where she explains Tobias and The Family to Warren, I’m on the ground just behind and to the left of the camera.  Lying in a pool of blood on the floor of Pigeon Alley.