Exclusive: Michael Bartlett Talks The Zombie Diaries 2

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This week World of the Dead: The Zombie Diaries 2 was given a DVD release in the UK (for our US readers the flick is getting a home release on October 11, 2011). In anticipation of its release, we recently caught up with director Michael Bartlett to talk about the project and get the lowdown on what’s next for him and Zombie Diaries writer Kevin Gates.

Check out our Q&A with Bartlett below, and look for more on World of the Dead: The Zombie Diaries 2 (review here) soon!

Dread Central: Let’s go back to the beginning. How did you and writer Kevin Gates team up to create the original Zombie Diaries in 2006?

Michael Bartlett: I first met Kevin Gates in 2002, when he found my filmmaking blog, MakingTheFilm.Com, whilst searching for locations for his first feature. Kevin invited me to come along for a day to his shoot, and we hit it off – both growing up hugely influenced by horror movies and having the same taste in genre cinema.

I then found out Kevin lived across the street from me. Kevin came to work as a camera operator on my short film, Mnemosyne, in 2003, and the working relationship we had was great. I always knew we’d end up working together on a feature; and as fate had it, that feature was the first Zombie Diaries.

DC: Can you talk about where the initial story inspiration came from for the original Zombie Diaries (review here)?

MB: I saw a film entitled “Ever Since The World Ended”, which can be best described as a ‘Post-Apocalyptic Documentary’ – I really wanted to improve upon this film and make something that explored the world after a post-apocalyptic event. However, I did not feel it was very commercial. I thus thought it made sense to introduce zombies into the equation. I pitched the idea to Kevin as “Night of the Living Dead” meets “Blair Witch”, and he immediately responded.

I thought the idea would work better as a short, as I wasn’t convinced it would work as a feature, but Kevin recommended making the film as a feature split up into three parts – so it was almost like three separate shorts that were inter-related. I think some people found this a little confusing with the first film, but overall I think the film still stands as a very original and ‘thinking man’s’ horror film about survival in a post-apocalyptic world. The zombies are just part of the setting – it was never about them.

DC: How did you guys mix things up for the sequel in order to keep things feeling fresh for the genre fans out there?

MB: We chose to tell the story in a single narrative as opposed to a non-linear, fragmented style as per the first film. We also were able to elevate the casting due to having a budget this time around.

I made my top two selections for each role and then organized group casting for the callbacks. This way we were able to see how the potential cast interacted with each other and choose the best group as a whole. Phil Brodie took charge of his group – he was a natural leader, and as such he was the perfect choice for Maddox. We were very lucky with the actors we got, and keep an eye on Phil. He’s going to go places. I think he’d make a perfect James Bond, actually.

DC: After you and Kevin finished the first Zombie Diaries, had you given any thought to making plans for a sequel?

MB: It became very apparent from critical reviews (audiences were split) that there was an appetite for a second Zombie Diaries film. If truth be told, I really did not want to do a second film so soon. I said to Kevin that we would be better off making another film first. I was scared that narrow-minded industry folk might start thinking Kevin and I were only capable of directing “shaky cam zombie movies” so I did everything in my power to get something else off the ground first.

Kevin and I even had an offer on the table to make another film, but I stupidly talked Kevin out of it as I felt it wasn’t very commercial. I have always been the kind of filmmaker who is wary about making films that don’t make a profit. In retrospect I wish we’d taken this opportunity. However, after many false starts on our other projects, and numerous kaleidoscopic encounters with time-wasters, we ended up in a position where we had no choice but to make Zombie Diaries 2. Kevin had a nice script that had been doing the rounds, and soon a bidding war broke out between two UK distributors.

We decided to shoot the end of the film in a conventional style, just to prove we actually can make films outside the cinema-verite way of filming.

DC: Since you mention the ending, can you talk more about what your approach was to creating that part of the World of the Dead film and the overall tone of the story?

MB: If you lived in a post-apocalyptic world, one thing I am certain that would not happen is people walking around making wisecracks. My disclaimer to anyone who wants to see this film is this: It is bleak. And we have tried to be as realistic as possible with the violence and acts committed by some survivors. Likewise, the ending is really dark. It turns the whole film on its head and pays homage to Planet of the Apes and The Road.

Kevin and I also decided to shoot it conventionally to open the door to a third film, which could be shot predominantly like a regular movie but integrate ‘diary’ elements throughout sporadically. Sadly, the “powers-that-be” have decided they want to film the third part video diary style. These are the kind of people who make the decisions to create ludicrous artwork showing burning skyscrapers that angers fans. They are out of touch with reality and clearly haven’t read the reviews of World of the Dead, which clearly state that the shaky-cam genre is starting to get a bit old; I couldn’t agree more.

DC: Does that mean you and Kevin won’t be involved with the third Zombie Diaries film then?

MB: No. Kevin and I have already said that unless we are allowed to make the film properly, aligned with our vision, we do not want to be involved. Sadly, no matter how hard you try, there’s always an old fool somewhere who has the money and calls the shots. Thus, Kevin and I have decided to go in two directions with the franchise. The first idea is a big budget reboot. This was not our idea – we were approached by a large company who are big enough to reboot the genre and young enough to understand that the video diary element must go. The second option is to bow down to the powers-that-be, hire a young and exciting director, and do a full on, visceral third film in first-person style.

We have begun exploring both options. Whatever happens, we’ll take a back seat and executive produce.

DC: So then, what are you and Kevin planning for your next collaboration?

MB: I plan to move as far away from zombies as physically possible. I grew up on zombie movies, and they’ll always have a special place in my heart. But the genre’s been done to death. That said, I am very excited about World War Z.

I am in pre-production on a road movie I plan to shoot in 2012. I can’t say too much about the film, but James Purefoy and his father-in-law, Bradley Adams, actually made me an offer to write the film for them in late 2010 with James as the lead. I decided not to take the offer; as you probably have guessed, I don’t like selling out unless it becomes the only option on the table. Another investor approached me shortly afterward, and at least this way I can stay on as the director.

Kevin and I are also plugging away at trying to get our time travel film called Timeless made. It could have been in cinemas now had I sold out a few years ago – but had I done so, it would just be another “pointless and vapid big budget waste of space” addition to an already saturated market of unnecessary 3D movies. I’m in no rush to make this film. I’ve always said I would rather not make it than make it badly. I’ve been through the mill a bit with this project.

The last producer I had on board was a huge, successful Hollywood producer who was fired up and ready to get it made. Then suddenly, when push came to shove, he wanted to turn my protagonist from an interesting anti-hero into a “real nice guy who happens to kill people for a living.” Laughable. The script rewrites got so bad, my lead actor, Robert Kazinsky, walked off the project.

In the end I had to wrestle back control of the film and slowly but surely rebuild the original vision. It is a completely unique film with an original take on the time travel genre. Rob Kazinsky is now seriously going places. I have stuck by him for years as my lead, and I hope that when he has made a name for himself, he will stick by me and we can get this flick made. Looper (by Ryan Johnson) looks really good, but most of the genre films coming out these days lack originality (yes, even World of the Dead!), and I just want to give cinema lovers something to be excited about.

Industry folk have described Timeless as 12 Monkeys meets Memento. That’s one reason why I really liked Adam Green’s film Frozen – it is nice to see a fresh idea and fresh direction, even if it isn’t perfect.

Big thanks to Michael for taking the time to speak with us here at Dread Central.

Exclusive: Michael Bartlett Talks The Zombie Diaries 2

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