Posts Tagged ‘#ZNation’

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.

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.

Z Nation – First Day Of Shooting

Thursday, September 18th, 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.  It’s also a very long, and probably very boring blog post.

For starters, Z Nation ep101 didn’t contain a single puppy or kitten – it’s just a term used by Kellita Smith’s character, Warren, to describe zombies.

The coolest thing for me about watching the episode (other than catching glimpses of me and other extras I got to know on set) is to finally see everything coming together!  As an extra on the set, we don’t get copies of the script, the shooting schedule, or the call sheet – we just show up when and where they say and do as we’re told.  And since an episode is shot in parts and pieces by multiple camera units and put together into the final episode in post production and editing, we’re really in the dark as much as first time viewers (except for the occasional spoiler in which you’re involved as shooting for the series progresses).

The casting agency calls, emails, or texts (usually all three) about four days before you’re wanted on site to ensure you’re available.  But you don’t find out what time you are to be on set or where shooting is to occur until about 10:30pm the night before.

ep101BaseCamp

The first day of shooting for Z Nation ep101 was Monday, May 19th in Medical Lake, just west of Spokane.  My call time was 7:45am, and when I wander in at 7:30, there’re already three guys done up in full zombie makeup: massive head wounds and facial damage, and latex buildup/prosthetics.  I later learn these guys (Ron Starlynn, Brandon Arleon, and Kevin) are “Hero Zombies” – zombies who get closeups, or their heads blown apart, or something equally gruesome.  Regular zombie extras come to covet a Hero Zombie role ‘cause it not only means some possible prime air time, but more importantly, that you get to either eat someone or be killed in a gruesome manner – the pinnacle opportunity for a zombie extra (I mean, why else would you want to be a zombie in a zombie film if not to eat someone or die horribly??!)!

Ron Starlynn Hero Zombie First Glimpse

I check in with Jennifer Gatts, the Zombie Wrangler (the onsite person responsible for all the extras), fill out a bunch of forms (“Are you allergic to corn syrup?  Are you willing to wear contacts or full eye covers?” – Yes!), and then wait while others trickle in to the gymnasium where we’re all hanging out.

Lots of waiting.

Brandon Arleon

Throughout the morning, extras are called out to wardrobe and makeup, and reappear in full zombie gear.  The excitement and buzz slowly builds.

dan

At 9:40, I get called to wardrobe (shirt, pants, and shoes), change, and go back to waiting.

An hour later, I get called to makeup.  There’s a long, air conditioned trailer that seats four or five people while makeup artists work on each one.  Corinne Foster (“It’s pronounced ‘Corinn’ – Don’t call me Coreen or I’ll punch you in the dick!”) of Synapse Fx is the lead makeup artists and starts applying makeup with a giant porous sponge in layers of green, blue, yellow, and brown – layer after layer across the face, neck, hands and arms.  Once she’s got the overall effect, they take me outside and spray me down with a sealant, so the makeup doesn’t rub or wear off during the day.  Then it’s back inside, and over to Shawn Shelton for battle scars!

“Your hair is too nice!” he tells me, “Too fine and short which makes it hard to muck up!”  He decides to hide it all with a massive head wound that drips down the front of my face.

Awesome!

The blood is a red dye mixed with corn syrup and something to help it set yet still remain flexible.  Shawn applies it with a tongue depressor and slathers it over my head, down my face, dripping from my ears, and mouth.  Throughout the day, the makeup crew runs around with squirt bottles filled with a thinner version of the stuff that they use for touch ups and to darken your teeth before a scene.

Z Nation ep101 first day of shooting

By 11:30, I’m done and back in the gym in time for lunch.  Zombies that had been out filming earlier that morning arrive on a bus – there are about 14 of us in all.  The catering crew puts out sandwiches and salad and a MASSIVE plate of brownies which never seems to run out.  The brownies are AWESOME!  Chocolatey chocolate fudge brownies with chunks of chocolate… I eat two, and when it’s apparent no one else is having any more, I makes a move on them and eat another dozen.

Z Nation second unit

Half an hour for lunch.  Those that were filming prior to lunch hop back on their bus, and the rest of us jump on a second bus and drive out to a site with the 2nd camera unit directed by Juan Mas and Jade Warpenburg.

first Location

For the next 2 ½ hours, we march, shuffle, run, trample, moan, groan, and pace zombie-like up and down fields, through courtyards, across playgrounds, and over dirt mounds.  Juan runs us through a shot, and then immediately resets us and runs it again because the sun has suddenly ducked behind a cloud to give the scene different lighting or a long shadow is now cast across a piece of playground equipment that he thinks would give a cool effect.  He mixes up the order in which we are arranged, and takes close ups of feet and hands and bodies passing close by the camera.  “You see,” Juan explains with a grin when one of the extras asks what it is we’re doing, “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!”

While you might feel ripped off to hear this in a normal job, as zombie extras, we all pick up on the word “commercials” and brighten up a bit with hope!  One of the guys among us is the only one wearing the bright orange jumpsuit of a convicted criminal, and he is ecstatic when Juan points out that “pretty much every time you see a zombie horde marching through a field, you’ll know that the one wearing orange is you!”

Alex Terzieff Z Nation

This idea of reusing zombies occurs a LOT in Z Nation.  If you look carefully you see Alex Terzieff and his stunt crew reappearing all throughout episode 1 – he’s the zombie in a yellow shirt that sticks his head out of the bus as it passes, and then chases Addy, Mack, and Doc up the hill.  He’s then fourth zombie on the right, waiting for them at the top of the hill, who then gets hit by the truck.  And he’s the second zombie into the room after the zombie soldier attacks the doctors.

truck

Around 2:30 Juan gets a call to bring us all over to the main site, and the excitement levels climb.  We drive to an old psychiatric hospital and march up three flights of stairs and pause at the top to wait while they film Harold Perrineau hunting around the floor and kicking through trash.  You can see these scenes at the end of the episode when Harold’s character, Hammond, is hunting down the zombie baby.  At the time, we had no idea what he was looking for.  That sequence was filmed at two locations – one with patchy walls, and ours with the green striped walls.

second Location

Harold retires to the temporary “Green Room” ahead of us, and as we file past, he nods to one or two of the zombie extras who shout out to him and wave.  An assistant director (AD) tells us “don’t talk to the talent!” and directs us into a room further down the hall that is stacked full of industrial office furniture.  As we are shuffling in, someone walks up and says, “I need 6 zombies”, and then grabs the last six guys in line (Ron, Brandon, Sean Dunn, Donald, and 2 guys whose names I don’t know ) before anyone can volunteer.

The rest of us join the zombie crew that had been out that morning, and we start comparing notes:  “What did you guys film?” they ask us, and we fill them in on our marching.  Most of them say they’ve just been “standing around all morning”, except for one of the guys that was strapped to a hospital gurney.  I realize that the opportunity to get on camera just left with the six other zombies, and I slowly wander out of the room and back down the hallway where we entered.

I can see the other guys down the hall, getting directions, and I have it in my mind to casually wander down and join in the group when a voice to my left asks, “How’s it going?”  I hadn’t noticed the guy standing there, so I’m a bit startled and say, “Hey…  What’s your role in all this?”

“I’m an Assistant Director.” He says.
“That sounds cool – what do you get to do?”
“Mostly, I just keep zombie extras from wandering into shots they aren’t supposed to be in.”

Bummer.

“Sounds like a pretty boring job.” I tell him with a grin, and he allows me to stand next to him while they film the scene off in the distance.

anthony

Watching the episode, I realize this is the scene where Murphy, played by Keith Allen, is strapped to a gurney and can’t escape as the zombies flood into the room and start to eat him alive!  “DON’T LEAVE ME TO THE ZOMBIES!” we hear him scream from down the hall.  “PIKE ME!  PIKE ME OR I WILL HUNT YOU DOWN AND EAT YOUR BRAINS MOTHER FUAAAAAAUGH!!”  And then the zombies push into the room.

Murphy

They reshoot this scene thirteen times.  Around the sixth retake, the AD comments, “You can hear his voice fading – they should have gone with one of the first three takes, but they will probably grab sound bites of his voice from the first couple takes, and edit it along with the shots they want for the final scene.”  He’s right.  By the final take, Murphy is only screaming obscenities much quieter than the original take, and the zombies burst into the room almost immediately.

With that, the zombies file down the hall, and I join them back in the room with everyone else where we wait for an hour, doing nothing.  Most of us catch quick naps while we can.

Around 3:30, they wake us all up and take us down the hall to walk thru the next scene.  This turns out to be the opening scene of the episode where Hammond and Valdez are chased down a hallway by fast zombies, and slam a prison gate shut, firing into the horde and keeping the zombies at bay.  First Unit shoots Hammond and Valdez a dozen times – camera following them, camera leading them, still camera that they run towards.  Then, Alex (who is not only the stunt coordinator for Z Nation but also one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet) walks us through our scene – hero zombies (Ron, Kevin, and Brandon) are put at the front of the horde, and then they arrange the rest of us in two lines to the right and left of the camera.  “Let me get the two tall zombies up front as well – you, and head wound.”  We film the same scene a couple more times, the zombie horde flowing around the camera in pursuit of the actors, before they change camera angles, and film us a couple of times running into the gate and smashing/pressing against it to get through to the actors on the other side.

Z Nation jail

Prior to each “ACTION!” call, the makeup crew walks around with squirt bottles of “blood”.  You pull out your lower lip; they squirt some in; you swish it around like mouthwash, and then burble it over your bottom lip to let it drool down your chin, your neck, and onto your shirt.  The syrup is rootbeer flavored which is okay with the first couple takes, but by the 50th or 60th shot, we all get really sick of it.

We film a front-on shot of the zombies trying to get through the gate for 15-20 minutes solid, no break.  My jaw is sore from growling, and my arm that reaches through the gate no longer has any feeling in my fingers ‘cause everyone(understandably) wants to get on camera, so those in the back push forward, mashing those of us in front against the bars.  It makes for an awesome visual effect of zombies wanting to get their potential victims, but it gets a bit claustrophobic.

Still, we keep growling and reaching and gnashing our teeth.

The camera zooms in for close-ups, and as it pans away from each of us, we take a second to stretch our faces and hands and arms to get blood flowing again before it pans back on us, and we kick back into zombie mode.

Ron as the hero zombie in this scene drops to his knees when he gets shot.  The special fx team replaces him with a mannequin that has a head painted to match his makeup.  One fx guy holds up the head and works the jaw from behind while a second fx guy sits behind him, working a tank of blood that flows through pipes into the dummy’s head.  They smear Vaseline on the bars, and as the camera rolls, push the zombie head through the bars, the skin peeling away from the skull like split citrus skin while blood drenches what’s left of the head as it pushes forward and continues to gnash it’s teeth and growl at the camera.  The shot doesn’t make it into the final episode, and instead, Ron dies by headshot and is edited out of the remainder of the scene.

Ron Starlynn

Finally, Alex turns the door hinge pin upside down, showing us how shaking the door will cause the pin to slowly fall out, to show the door slowly giving way to the zombie horde.  Of course, all the shaking in the world isn’t enough to get it to repeat the process once the camera starts to roll, and they finally move everyone out of the shot except for three of us to shake the door loose from its hinges.  After three more shots, they finally decide to slide the pin 3/4 of the way out and film the scene from there.  Alex rattles the door from just off camera, while we shake it from the far side, and the pin slides the rest of the way out for the shot.

Just after 5pm they call it a wrap and send us back to the waiting room while they replay everything and decide on whether or not they need more footage.  An hour later they decide they’ve got all they need, and they send us back to base camp to turn in wardrobe and get cleaned up.

First day of shooting done.
Z Nation has begun!

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.

Z Nation – Diary Of A Zombie Extra

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

It’s early April, and I’m talking to the Building Manager, Tony, about the 12th man prank and whether or not we want to build another Christmas Elevator this year.  We start discussing my plans for this year’s Haunted House when Tony asks, “Are you going to try out for the new zombie movie they’re filming in Spokane?”

“Wait… What zombie movie??!”

“It’s called ‘Z Nation’ or something.  Like ‘World War Z’ or ‘The Walking Dead’.  Google it – someone’ll have all the details on the web.”

Z Nation promo teaser poster

Sure enough, The Asylum, the film studio that produced such B-Grade movie classics as Mega Piranha, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, and Sharknado (surprisingly, NOT called Mega Shark Hurricane), is looking for extras to be zombies in their upcoming TV series, Z Nation for the SyFy Channel.

Awesome!

Multiple websites have published the same press release and links to Casting Agencies being used to supply extras for the series.  There are three of them that show up again and again.  I apply to all of them, and start texting and emailing local friends to see who’s interested in coming along.

 

It’s late April, and one of the casting agencies emails me about their upcoming “Zombie Camp”.  They have different sign-up times for fast and slow zombies, and to come out and meet with the series’ various directors, producers, and casting director.  There aren’t any other details than location, dates, and times.

I start checking to see who else has gotten a notice, and forwarding it to anyone that hasn’t.  Turns out that while many of my mates are interested in the idea, no one is really interested in making the trip to Spokane except Wren.  We book a fast zombie time slot in the afternoon.

Lincoln Center Spokane

 

It’s early May, and Zombie Camp actually turns out to be tryouts.  Every 45 minutes, from 8am until 5pm with a half hour break for lunch, the production team from The Asylum takes a group of approximately 70 zombie hopefuls and puts them through their zombie paces, looking for that undead “something” that catches the director’s eye and sky rockets the potential undead poster child into fame and stardom.

zombie extras wannabes hopefuls

Wren and I show up at The Lincoln Center in Spokane soon after lunch where we write down our contact details, receive a number, pose for a photo, and wait as other potential extras wander in.  You can hear muffled groans and noises coming from behind the closed double doors behind the sign-up table, and while no one explicitly says we aren’t allowed in to watch the other tryouts, no one attempts to open the doors and watch the competition.  Wren wanders through the building and finds a back stair case to an upper level that oversees the auditorium where the tryouts are being held, and we quietly find a place to sit and watch the other candidates.

Tryouts are “simple”:  After everyone files in and takes a seat, the first five applicants line up perpendicular to a table where the directors and production team sit.  30 feet in front of them stands a woman with a tambourine while a guy with a bodhrán stands immediately behind them.  The woman shakes the tambourine, and the zombie wannabes shuffle towards her in their best, slow zombie impersonation.  As the closest one gets near her, the guy with the bodhrán starts tapping out a beat.  Extras are to stop; look towards the new sound, and when the director shouts “NOW!”, ‘fast zombie’ towards the guy until he stops banging his drum.  The process repeats, and the next five applicants have their turn.

zombie tryouts for Z Nation SyFy channel

Here’s the problem – if you have a higher number, you’re able to sit and watch everyone else, gauge the responses of the production team, and get a better idea of what may work to get you in as a zombie for the Z Nation series.  Lower numbers don’t have that luxury, so they’ve got to go “all in” from the start and hope for the best.

zTryouts

My slow zombie sucks.

I’m kind of a moderate shamble (more like “Warm Bodies” than “Walking Dead”), and I reach the tambourine lady WAY before everyone else.

As the casting director shouts “NOW!” for fast zombie, I dead sprint at the drummer, screeching and passing everyone else which has him suddenly screaming, “DON’T TOUCH THE CAMERAMAN!!  DON’T TOUCH THE CAMERAMAN!!”  I reckon the poor guy got tackled by some overzealous zombie wannabe in at least one of the previous auditions.

And then that’s it.
3 minutes, and you’re done.
“Thanks for coming!  We’ll be in touch.”

No coaching or even suggestion of what they’re looking for in their zombies other than the reactions you can glean from the casting group if you happen to have a later number.  Hope you left your best on the floor.

We watch higher numbers shamble and screech and moan and run across the auditorium floor, and I think of so many things I could have done different… better…  I drive home in a mild state of depression.

So it’s surprising to receive a call-back on Monday.

The casting agency asks about “any skills you may have, any previous acting you may have done, your measurements (height, weight, shoe size, shirt size, etc)”, and whether or not I’m available in two weeks time to come back and “do your zombie” in wardrobe in front of the production team again.  Heck yeah!!

I send in my measurements.  Fill out some paperwork.  And the day before I’m to appear on set, I get a call from the agency.  “You’re really this tall?  These are your actual measurements?”  I’m not THAT tall, but it seems there aren’t a lot of extras over 6’ that tried out.  So when I confirm my measurements they simply ask, “Can you just show up on Monday instead for the first day of shooting for episode 1?”

And I have a slight break-down and go nuts!
AWESOME!!
I’M GONNA’ BE A ZOMBIE ON TV!!

And the reality is, the only people that pay attention to the extras in a film are the extras themselves, their friends and family, and the directors who don’t want them to screw up the actual talent being filmed.

(“See that arm hanging out from behind the tree that just flashed past?  THAT WAS MY ARM!!”)

But it’s cool!  And you can’t have a zombie apocalypse film without lots of zombies, so I’m more than happy to be one of them!  And this takes my desire to build and be a part of something big that entertains others to a whole new level and audience!

In 1996, I sat on the roof of the Regent Theatre during my lunch break, watching Jackie Chan film Mr. Nice Guy.  They reshot the same scene over and over and over, trying to get it just right; changing choreography and camera angles.  I thought then that the reality of filming was much more boring than I had imagined, and throughout the 2014 summer, I learn first hand that there is a LOT of standing around, doing nothing on the set of a TV series.

But it’s all worth it.

The first Z Nation TV commercial airs on July 30th during the premiere of Sharknado 2.  It’s the first glimpse I have of the finished production of the show, and it looks MUCH less campy or B-Grade than I had expected it to be – it actually looks GOOD!  A TV series that I’d like to watch!

I catch a flashing glimpse of ME on screen, and have to grab the remote to rewind it and watch it again… and then freak out a little bit when we confirm it is me.  On screen.  As a zombie!

Yes.  One of dozens of zombies that only flash across the screen in the time it takes you to blink.  But there I am!  And for one, brief moment, I think “life doesn’t get much better than THIS!”

 What we all want is to be valued members of a winning team on an inspiring mission.
~ Graham Weston