The upcoming British indie zombie feature The Dead Inside is fresh off filming and ankle-deep in post-production. Taking a break from putting the finishing touches on the film, writer/director Andrew Gilbert and actor Simon Mathews gave Dread Central an exclusive interview as to just what goes into making a zombie film on a shoestring budget.
Dread Central: Zombie films and television programs have exploded in popularity recently; what makes The Dead Inside stand out from other works in the zombie sub-genre of horror?
Andrew Gilbert: Being huge fans of the genre, we (with co-writer Julian Hundy) set out to make the zombie film that we wanted to see. Obviously, working on a micro budget, this wasn’t entirely possible, but we wanted to include all our favorite aspects and explore the popular and recurring themes that run through the genre like the first encounter, surviving the initial outbreak, the role of the military/police, etc. There are so many areas to explore within zombie films that give them such mass appeal and really capture your imagination. I think the sign of a good zombie film is one that makes you think afterwards, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if the zombies attacked right now?’ and I hope we achieved that with The Dead Inside.
Simon Mathews: The Dead Inside stands out because of what it has achieved. By that I mean the production values, the finished look of the film. I hope what we have is something that looks like it was made on a far bigger budget by a far more experienced production team. I don’t think it could have been made without so many of us pulling together. I think if you compare it to other films of its type (and there have been quite a few), it will stand out.
DC: You mentioned you were working on a very small budget. How small are we talking…and what was the filming schedule for The Dead Inside?
AG: The budget was around 15 thousand pounds (about $23,000 US). A lot of it came from our student loans, and all the money was raised by myself and Julian. Originally we planned to shoot every weekend over the first summer after we finished university, but this proved to be overly optimistic. In the end we ran out of time and money, but we picked up where we left off in the spring of 2011 and finished shooting this summer. We just had to spread our shoot across a year as everyone was working for free and had other commitments, but we got the job done!
DC: What about the script for The Dead Inside do you feel is particularly intriguing?
AG: We tried to make the script feel as realistic as possible. It took us over a year to write, and we were constantly asking ourselves how the characters would respond to the events unfolding around them. We started with a large group of characters and opted for a multi-strand approach when it came to the initial outbreak, following the story of multiple characters as they struggled to survive the first day or so. I think this gives the film an extra element as a lot of zombie films have a single lead character from beginning to end. We also wanted to get away from the Hollywood over-the-top approach when it came to writing the dialogue and the overall story structure. We didn’t want any larger than life characters, no heroes, no villains, no clichés. Just an ordinary group of believable characters subjected to extraordinary circumstances, and I hope we achieved this.
SM: As an actor, when you first read a script, it should grab your imagination like a good book. This script did that. The characters are well crafted, and I was impressed as it comes from two young guys as their first feature script. For me, even now that I know the story frontward and backward, it is still a page-turner.
DC: Speaking of make-up, zombie films obviously require a lot of F/X. How was this handled on a limited budget?
AG: We made some big mistakes early on and learned some valuable lessons. We set aside a huge portion of our budget for F/X and didn’t see a great return on our investment. I think it’s a VERY steep learning curve at this stage of our career, and the one lesson I had to learn the hardest way is always get contracts signed before anyone steps foot on set. Although saying that, we made some great contacts whilst filming, and luckily for us our part-time DOP had a lot of experience in F/X make-up, as did one of the lead actors, which saved us on more than one occasion!
SM: Everyone on the film basically did it for expenses (another example of what a good script can get you to do!), and so there was money for make-up, but a lot of it was just ingenuity in creating what we needed. Once you know a few tricks, it’s amazing what you can create! I stepped in on FX and make-up. At one point on a major zombie scene, one of our zombie volunteers actually stepped up as she was a make-up artist with a passion for things undead and had her kit in her car with her!
DC: There is a strong military presence in the trailers for the film. This certainly brings to mind 28 Days/Weeks Later, in which the brute force of the military becomes as menacing to the survivors as the zombies themselves. Is this also the case in The Dead Inside? Is the military more of a threat than the zombies or more of a friendly presence?
AG: I think the military’s role in the event of a zombie outbreak is almost always portrayed in a bad light. Whether they have sinister intentions from the outset or whether they go rogue at the first sign of trouble, they always seem to be the bad guys. I’ve always thought that in the wake of the inevitable zombie apocalypse when the shackles of society are removed, the military would be the last people to lose their composure given all the training they have been through and the discipline that’s instilled in them. So they are definitely more of a force for good in The Dead Inside, although saying that, accidents can happen!
SM: The military presence is just one strand to the story, and this, along with the others, knits together to form the film as a whole. While we were filming, I certainly never thought of their presence in an oppressive way. In fact it’s more about the people than what they do as a job.
A crap night out just got a fair bit worse: It’s the end of the world! The undead are out in force, roaming the streets and devouring all who get in their way. Shot in a realistic style, The Dead Inside looks at a very human reaction to a barely human enemy. A group of soldiers, civilians and (holy crap!) teenagers hole up in a local school for protection from the undead hordes outside. Food is running low, morale doubly so. Tensions are high and things are looking bad when a stranger arrives outside the gate… then they get a whole lot worse.
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