Exclusive Chat w/Diary Effects Man!

News about Romero’s new zombie mini-opus Diary of the Dead has been slowly trickling in. We know that it’s a cinema vérité style Blair Witch “kids in the woods with a camera” deal; that it functions as a sort of prequel to Night of the Living Dead; that it contains overly pretty teens; and that it’s a “rejigging” of Romero’s zombie mythos in which we may learn more about how the zombie apocalypse began and why.

One thing we don’t know about is the zombies themselves. Creature and gore effects maestro Greg Nicotero is coaching from the sidelines on Diary, which begs the concerned question from genre fans “Who’s doing the FX then!?” Given that even Nicotero had to contend with cries of “If it’s not Savini it’s crap!” on Land of the Dead, one can only admire the guts it must take for makeup effects head Chris Bridges and his team at Gaslight Studio to be taking on the zombie and splatter duties this time around.

Luckily for all involved, Chris and his team are no newcomers to the world of George Romero, having already worked on Land of the Dead. In addition, KNB’s Greg Nicotero will be on hand. “Greg’s role is Special Effects Makeup Consultant,” Bridges informed us. “He designed the contact lens and did some makeup tests for us to base our designs off of.”

That’s not to say that Gaslight Studio isn’t bringing something new to the zombie carnage though. “The zombies are definitely old-school so the fans should be pleased,” Bridges continued. “George was cool because he encouraged any input for new ways to kill zombies. Let’s just say we found something other than a bullet to the head to kill a zombie!”

In addition to thinking up original gags, the team was also challenged by the shooting conditions. While Chris didn’t say it explicitly, it sounds like we can expect the actors to be running around with the cameras themselves. Seems like Diary might be another shaky-cam upchucker. “Because of the way the film was shot, there were very few cuts and no set-ups, meaning if there was an effect in the middle of the shot, that effect was never specifically set up to be shot on another unit. Everything was main unit. Gags had to be not only self-contained but occasionally actor motivated – no tubes running off screen.” Even better, we’re told that there’s “nothing major” in terms of CGI, so we’re talking real live self-sustaining zombie mayhem!

George mentioned to us previously that he wants to answer some of the questions about that “first night” of the zombie infestation, including things like whether animals can “turn” as well. We asked Chris specifically if his duties included any animal zombification. His response may have been coy, but it appears as if flesheating squirrels are not part of the reimagined zombie mythology of Diary. “My personal theory is that an animal becoming a zombie would be like your dog/cat catching your cold; it’s a species thing and would not happen.” I’m not sure I buy the cold analogy. Last time I checked my runny nose and sniffles didn’t come with a raging hunger for human flesh…

One thing’s for sure though, we will have human zombies and splatter. When asked about the amount of gore, Chris told us that “Diary approximates the original Night of the Living Dead.” Given that Night is the least gory of the series, this could mean that Diary’s a dry film. On the other hand, Night was pretty damn gory for its time, and if Diary is updated to keep pace with the currently accepted levels of splatter, then we could be in for a gooey downpour…

Speaking of which, we drilled Chris for details about the look of the zombies as well. He had this to say: “The zombies are like a cross between Night and Day, with a touch of Dawn and hint of Land.” Um … what? I’m just hoping they won’t be all blue…

Thanks to Chris and his crew at Gaslight Studio for taking the time to answer our inquires, even if their answers were a bit on the vague side. If nothing else we’re now even more intrigued to see what Romero has to offer us in the new year with Diary of the Dead! Be sure to make the film a friend on its MySpace page and look for more info very soon!

Andy Mauro

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