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Behind The Scenes Of A Z Nation Zunami

Sunday, 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

tuneup

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.

morgue

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!

 

Z Nation Second Season Announced

Monday, 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

 

Z Nation – Tom Everett Scott

Thursday, 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.

alley

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.

The Maze Runner

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

The Maze Runner promo poster

The Maze Runner is the movie The Hunger Games wanted to be.  Not that I didn’t enjoy the film adaption of The Hunger Games, but the movie rarely had me on the edge of my seat the way the novel did.  Watching The Maze Runner, I was rarely sitting elsewhere.

Having said that, I’ve never read any of the Maze Runner novels, so that precedent of comparison hadn’t been set when I walked into the theatre.  I have no idea how closely the movie follows the original novel and was able to enjoy it on its own merits rather than the preexisting judgment of The Hunger Games.

The Lost Boys which inhabit the Glade in this updated retelling of Greek Labyrinth mythology are part Goliath Awaits, part Logan’s Run – reluctantly pulled from their “happy” dystopian society by events set into motion by the appearance of (their Theseus) Thomas.  Braving the Wachowski styled Maze that surrounds their village, they attempt to defeat the cyborg Grievers and escape.

I thought all the main cast gave strong performances which is difficult to do with so many characters sharing the centre stage.  I especially liked the characterizations brought to screen by Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, and Thomas Brodie-Sangster.

While the movie is weakened by an ending that specifically sets up the sequel (and the list of movies that have tried this and failed is extensive), The Maze Runner still manages a twist or two at its conclusion to draw along those who haven’t read the book.

Definitely worth a watch on the big screen!

Z Nation – Fracking Zombies

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Spoiler alert:  This post contains spoilers for the Z Nation Season 1 Episode 02, “Fracking Zombies”, which aired Friday, Sept 19th on the SyFy Channel. It also feeds my deeply seated narcissistic personality.

The acting for the second episode of Z Nation, “Fracking Zombies” is better than the first episode as Kellita Smith and Tom Everett Scott get more comfortable with their characters and the cast.  There are moments in the middle of the episode where they seem to revert to the “stiff” acting from the first episode, but that’s because these scenes were shot first, with the opening episode scenes shot a bit later on.

Doc, Mack, 10k, Addy, Warren, Garnett, and Cassandra - Z Nation

Russell Hodgkinson and Michael Welch continue to bring some quality acting, showing that their characterizations in episode 1 were not a fluke.

“if we film a credited actor in episode 1, and then reuse that footage in episode 2, we have to pay them twice.  But with extras, you signed away all your rights, so we can film you and then use you for commercials, opening or closing credits, digitally put you into a scene that needs more zombies, or whatever, and we only have to pay you one time!” –Juan Mas (2nd Unit Director)

I didn’t get a call for the second episode, much to my disappointment.  The call sheet specifically said “slow, skinny zombies” which fits in well with the whole idea in episode 2 of zombies who have been hanging around the oil refinery for years or trapped in the oil tank.  Having said that, the reality is three casting agencies trying to get hundreds of extras on set, and a production team trying to be diverse in their choices (so it’s not too obvious which zombies have been onscreen already), which means I’m not going to get a call back for every episode.  Honestly, getting ANY callback was awesome!  So it was cool to catch glimpses of me and the other Zs from episode 1 running up stairs and down halls, invading Mount Wilson on Citizen Z’s monitors.

Z Nation Oily Fracking Zombies

14 extras were used as zombies at the Jersey Devil Oil Refinery – 8 of them running around the tower and 6 of them slathered in oil.  Kevin was one of the Oily Zombies, and told me this story about episode 2:

Call time was 6:30 in the morning.  We did the usual wardrobe and full zombie makeup, and then they drove us on site where we were met by the fx team.  “The good news is that you’re all going to get some closeup time on camera!  The bad news is we’re going to cover you in this fake oil.”  {I never asked him what the oil was made of}  They then proceeded to smear big handfuls of the oil all over our costumes, hair, face, and hands.  It was pretty chilly.  Initially, we all dipped our hands into the buckets of ‘oil’ to apply it to our butt and groin area, but after the third re-shoot and touch-up, no one cared anymore who walked up and drenched you in oil or where they put it.

The ‘nice’ thing about it all was that the day ended up around 92 degrees by lunch when we finished shooting, but we were all pretty cool and insulated from the heat under all that oil.  The other 8 zombies that ran around the refinery’s metal platforms for the rest of the day had some pretty horrid temperatures to deal with!

The oil pit filled with zombies was CGI.  The zombie hound was played partially by a puppeteer dog and partially by a CGI altered actor dog.  Funny enough, the zombie shoved up in the tire well of the truck was an extra (not a puppet!) who was wedged up under there for almost an hour’s worth of shooting time!

wheel well Zombie incident Z Nation dezi fuggetta

One of my mates was annoyed with the way Travis (played by new comer Ryan Higgins) talked.  I thought his slow delivery and lilt did well to belie his quick violence and cast him in a character reminiscent of “Deliverance” or “Justified”.  He was annoyed that everyone in the Zombacalypse suddenly turned into swamp people once civilization evaporated.

Rating numbers from episode 2 were higher than those for episode 1 while piracy numbers for the series continue to climb.

First Glimpse Of Z Nation Ep101

Tuesday, September 16th, 2014

Spoiler alert:  This post contains spoilers for the Z Nation Season 1 Episode 01, “Puppies and Kittens”, which aired Friday, Sept 12th on the SyFy Channel.  As a second disclaimer, I am somewhat biased to the Z Nation franchise having spent my time as a Zombie in the tv series, however, I like to think that doesn’t overly affect my opinions expressed below.

To set the mood, I liked this first glimpse of Z Nation.  While it didn’t contain top notch writing or acting, it was fun and enjoyable and of a higher standard than we’ve come to expect from The Asylum.  Closer to The Last Ship and The Strain than Sharknado 2.  It may have had its plot holes, and its moments of being “over the top”, but it wasn’t camp, and they didn’t jump the shark.

Murphy, Cassandra, Addy, Garnett, 10k, Warren, Mack, and Doc - Z Nation

I really enjoyed Michael Welch’s Mack and Russell Hodgkinson’s Doc – not only great characters, but backed up by some really solid acting.  Both actors felt like they already had a handle on their character, and brought that out.  Anastasia Baranova’s Addy has potential, but I feel a lot of that is the ability to play off Welch’s character.  Sketchy and Skeezy, played by locals Mark Carr and Doug Dawson, made an all too quick appearance, and I hope to see more of them as secondary characters, but given the storyline of travelling across the US, I doubt they will reappear.

Sketchy, Skeezy, and Doc - Z Nation

On a behind the scenes side of things, I’m partial to Nat Zang’s 10K even though there isn’t enough exposure for the character in the first episode to validate this opinion – not only is he a nice guy on set the couple of times I’ve run into him, but also the character development that occurs in future episodes really fleshes out his character into a great member of the group puzzle.  I thought it was also a bit early to really make a call on Pisay Pao’s character given this appearance, but as an actress, she did a good job in her first television appearance.

Nat Zang as 10K - Z Nation  Pisay Pao as Cassandra - Z Nation

I think I was hoping for more from the veterans – Kellita Smith, Tom Everett Scott, and Harold Perrineau.  I felt their characters were over-dramatic, but then, that may stem from the expectations I put on them as actors.  Harold would jump in place for about 10 seconds prior to each scene to get pumped up, so his breathy, hurried delivery was a definite decision either on his or the director’s part.

The special effects weren’t over the top, but had a nice level of zombie gore without appearing cheap.  Zombie extras in episode 1 agreed to possibly wearing contacts, but the episode was filmed without them, and all our eyes were CGI enhanced in post-production.  Same with the blood splatters from gunfire, truck collisions, claw hammers, and the infamous Z Whacker!  I say infamous, because having died by Z Whacker is one of the things that is well known among the Zombie extras on set.  As far as status goes, death by Z Whacker or Claw Hammer ranks WELL above gunfire, yet it’s still a gruesome possible ending obtainable by Zombie extras as opposed to something like Death by Automobile which was reserved solely for the series’ stunt team.

Z Whacker - Z Nation

You’re going to hear about the plot holes (What made the baby suddenly turn zombie?  Why did turning zombie instantly dislocate and shred the inmate’s jaw?), but the plot holes in movies such as X-Men 3 weren’t enough to keep me from seeing future X-Men movies, nor keep those films from being better.  Similarly, I enjoyed the first episode of Z Nation enough to continue watching to see how the characters and storyline play out.

Bleachers – I Wanna Get Better

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

This one’s about to explode.

Fun’s lead guitarist Jack Antonoff has a lot going for him:

His band, Fun, won the 2013 Grammys for Best New Artist and Song of the Year
His girlfriend, Lena Dunham, is a famous actor and television writer
His new side project band, Bleachers, has attracted some famous and massive social media fans such as Taylor Swift

Not bad.

Bleachers’ first release, I Wanna Get Better, debuted last week and is slowly gaining momentum.  Although the recently released lyric (and official video) version of their song on YouTube is currently hovering at just over 6,000 hits, I expect to see this song scream up the charts within the next two weeks.

Fast paced, driving tempo mixed with off-beat, slightly-retro sounding lead vocals will suck you in until the anthem chorus hooks you, and drags you from the edges of the crowd, headlong into the fist-pumping, head-bopping fanbase and singing along.
Then you’ll press repeat.
And then you’ll do it again.

Antonoff has found the perfect progression from Fun’s music style, evolving it and adding his own touch with Bleachers.  And while “I Wanna Get Better” didn’t scream onto the chart scene, it’s quickly gaining fans and momentum.  The album is scheduled for release this spring, and Antonoff will kick off his concert tours in April after making an appearance at SXSW in March.  While the currently announced venues and ticket prices are still small and affordable, I expect that to change quickly as their fame grows.  Grab yours now while you still can!

So I put a bullet where I should have put a helmet, and I crash my car ’cause I wanna’ get carried away… I didn’t know I was broken till I wanted to change.  I wanna’ get better!
~ I Wanna Get Better, Bleachers

Weighted Companion Cube Christmas Lights Released!

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Valve software weighted companion cube

For those of you who emailed us, asking how you could purchase our Portal Companion Cube Christmas Tree lights, they are now available via the Valve Software online store!! (SO awesome, right??!)

1.5" portal weighted companion cube of clear plastic

After some minor changes to our original 3D printed model, these plastic lights are cast to be lighter-weight and cheaper to mass produce for retail sale.  And even as I type, they are on sale at a 20% discount for the upcoming Christmas holiday!  You still have time to have them delivered (in the US) prior to Christmas!

Portal weighted companion cube Christmas tree lights – for those Christmases when you want to remind yourself of that time you escaped the Aperture Science Enrichment Center after it was taken over by a narcissistic and passive-aggressive Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System that tried to kill you give you cake.

I don’t see there really being a big enough market for this particular product to justify mass production, but it was totally cool to build and print and watch it come together!
~bighairmonkey

Speaker For The Sleep Deprived

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

I should be updating you on the build of the Train or The Big Top, but I haven’t, and I’m not doing so now… not yet, although I should.  It would fit in with the cadence and tempo of the events at this time, but instead, I wanted to read Orson Scott Card’s “Speaker for the Dead”.

Zombie Circus Big Top

I wanted to read it a while ago, but since Summit Entertainment started making their movie adaption of Ender’s Game (causing them to have my Valentine design pulled from Red Bubble – which reminds me that I need to repost thatonce again available on RedBubble), the Ender’s novels have had hold lists a mile long at the library, and I was 32nd in line when I put in the request for Speaker.  I was in the middle of Matt Mason’s “The Pirate’s Dilemma” (a good novel, but it felt slightly dated despite being published 5 years ago – some good insights but slow reading for me), and book two of Brent Weeks’ “Lightbringer” series had arrived a week earlier, but I hadn’t yet started to read it, when Speaker suddenly showed up for pickup.  I had to grab it or lose it back to the shuffle.

rainbow paint colours

And then I got involved in the Haunted House, and in general, I’m not a fast reader, so once the book came due to be returned, and then a week later I still had it, I thought it was pretty rude of me to be holding on to a book I wasn’t even reading, for which a long line of others were waiting, so I stayed up to read Speaker, start to finish, which is usually a pretty massive effort on my part, but happened quickly and easily once I got drawn back into Ender’s world.  Funny that… my apparent lack of setting priorities or organizing dates and events: I am the mechanic with the cars that don’t work; the gardener with the overgrown lawn; the project manager who realizes that often, the only control I have in my life is the ability to let a date or event slip by its scheduled time.

So now it’s four am’ish, and in another hour, I need to “get up” and start my work day, as training is in full swing and Gregory hasn’t replied to my offers of Little Burgers, leaving me still to battle on that front with a monolithically ponderous Training department, and it will be a hellish day.  But for just *one* little moment, I control my time and my life and my events, and I thoroughly enjoyed Speaker for the Dead, and I stretch out these last few moments of imaginary control by typing this entry which I will no doubt regret upon reading at some future time when my thoughts are more coherent and my body less prone to sleep-deprived activities.

weenis or weenus depending on your version of spelling

It makes me better understand why some people clean their houses while the world spins madly on…

Card’s ability to write relationships is still phenomenal, and I liked getting back to the brusque connections he made in Ender’s Game.  All the novels he wrote between Ender’s and Speaker were written years later in his career, and while their tone and story move along better, the back-and-forth quick-patter conversations almost drown out the characters he crafts so well, which is why it was nice to get back to the style of his originals.

Such great characters.
So well written.

I need sleep…  But this was worth it.

No human being, when you understand his desires, is worthless.  No one’s life is nothing.  Even the most evil of men and women, if you understand their hearts, had some generous act that redeems them, at least a little, from their sins.
~ Andrew “Ender” Wiggin (“Speaker for the Dead” by Orson Scott Card)

Twenty One Pilots

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

No matter how much I try to bury it, Car Radio by Twenty One Pilots sticks in my head like a thorn that lodges itself between the webbing of my toes.

 

Every time Car Radio comes up on my playlist, I find myself moving and motivated and thinking and doing and wondering “Why aren’t these guys bigger?”  Then Guns for Hands comes up and nails it to the wall – Tyler Joseph and Josh Dunn are here to entertain!

…you get yourself in front of five people and you make sure that those five people won’t forget your show. It’s all about the live show. Throw in a freakin’ cover every once in a while so they can kind of understand what’s going on, but you better figure out something that’s going to get their attention.
~Tyler Joseph

Even their name speaks to me.  Based on Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons”, about a man who commits suicide after causing the death of 21 pilots in World War II as a result of supporting his company by continuing to use faulty parts at a savings to the company, the idea of our moral battle surrounding who we work for while still trying to make a living is a recurring theme in a lot of my posts that centre around employment and companies.

I feel like we are all constantly encountering moral crossroads where the decisions that benefit the “now” will have consequences down the road; but the decision that might seem tough and tolling right away will ultimately be more rewarding.  What is our purpose for playing music? We are constantly asking ourselves that question. The answer can change all the time, but for right now we are just going to stick with something as simple as “we want to make people think.”
~ Tyler Joseph

While they have been selling out shows in Ohio for years, their recent signing to record label Fueled by Ramen has led to much larger exposure: opening for Neon Trees, the ever-epic Walk the MoonFall Out Boy on their recent “Save Rock and Roll” tour, and announced to open for Paramore’s Australian tour in January.  Their recent album, Vessel, is free for listening via their website or the Fueled by Ramen soundcloud.

 

To lock Twenty One Pilots into one particular genre, would be a mistake.  At a recent concert in which we were able to score some free tickets (Yea!!  Free tickets!!!), their live performance was *massively* energetic and reminded me of early punk and ska band performances in which moshing and pogoing first emerged.  But then you hear Ode to Sleep, and Tyler Joseph’s rap style is reminiscent of early Slim Shady.  And before you can lock them in as a new rap artist, the tempo slows to a swing vibe before returning to its rap roots.

Twenty One Pilots recently returned from across the pond touring the UK and Europe, but will be back in the US to tour with Fall Out Boy for a few months before heading to Australia to open for Paramore in January.  Take the opportunity to catch them performing in your area!