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Arriving to a postcard perfect California bungalow in West Hollywood this past Monday, April 16th, I was already privy to the undead horrors I’d find inside, although I doubt the surrounding neighbors were aware that courtesy of filmmaker Joseph Weisman a Zombie Family had moved in.
Shooting day four of six of the intended horror/comedy web series Zombie Family, writer and director Weisman took time between filming a scene (in which a pubescent zombie finds some ‘alone time’ in the home’s bathroom to peruse the ‘Kill of the Month’ centerfold in Homicide Girl Magazine) to chat with us regarding the project, as did associate producer and makeup effects lead Frank Ippolito, actress Cerina Vincent, and more.
“I wrote a feature screenplay called Zombie Family about seven years ago,” filmmaker Weisman stated of the evolution of the project, which would go on to attract the talents of producers Justin Kommann and Brian Rowe and director of photography Brian Mulchy, “and in 2008 it placed in the Horror Screenplay contest and received ‘Honorable Mention.’ I guess it made the judges’ table there, which I thought was funny because it’s a comedy and not a scary movie, although it does have gore and zombies.”
“I kind of saw an opportunity once web entities like FEARnet started producing their own content to take the material that I really loved and wanted to make, and to do it in a format that could really exploit it the most,” he continued. “I want to give an audience the most comedy for the concept.”
Zombie Family features Mike Apple as ‘Bill’ (the zombie patriarch), actress Laura Napoli as ‘Betty’ (the unit’s undead matriarch) and Chuck Lines as ‘Erwin’ and Allison Sharpe as ‘Amanda’ as the pair’s teenage, zombie offspring. Actors Kerry O’Quinn, Doug Jones, Reggie Bannister (Phantasm), Tony Todd (Candyman) and Cerina Vincent (Cabin Fever) round out the cast.
Chatting with Apple, who at the time was in full zombie regalia, the actor stated of the lure of Zombie Family, “Combining the genres of science fiction, horror and comedy appealed to me. So did the concept of having a family of zombies trying to co-exist in the normal world with normal people, people who seemingly don’t notice that they are zombies, which is just a very funny concept, and it’s been fun to play around with.”
“I’ve definitely been a fan of the zombie genre,” Napoli chimed in. “I actually did a zombie video game before, so I have had the opportunity to be zombiefied, but not with full-on makeup, which has been absolutely awesome. To have the fuzzy contacts and the prosthetics, it’s a whole other experience, and that’s been fun to add that dynamic to it. The whole effects team has been awesome.”
Of the effects, we took a moment to speak with Ippolito, whose practical work has been seen in the short films Dracula’s Daughter vs. Space Brains and The Night of the Little Dead (both of which he directed), among others, as they were in season one of the Syfy reality series “Face Off”.
“A friend of mine (Komman) and I worked on The ABC’s of Death, where we did (the segment) ‘T is for Tranny’, and I did his makeup for it,” said Ippolito of how he became involved with Zombie Family. “We ended up getting along really well, and he was like, ‘Hey, I might be working on this web series. Want to come meet the director?’ So I met Joseph at Screamfest and we hit it off, and he asked me to do the makeup effects. Before you knew it, I was also an associate producer because I pulled in most of the rest of the crew: the vanity department, the line producer, etc. So I became a little bit pivotal on this one, and it worked out really nice.”
In creating the character make-ups for the titular family, “I brought in Ian Cromer from the second season of ‘Face Off’ and his girlfriend Alana Schiro to help with the builds,” continued Ippolito, “and they worked with me pretty much for about a month working on all of the sculptures and molds and everything, and here we are.”
Of the look of his zombies, “I don’t view it as redefining anything, just more what the zombie needs to be in this story,” Ippolito offered. “I didn’t want to make them too gory because they are supposed to be a family, and I made the prosthetics really thin so that they can still emote through them, and I gave each of the sculptures a little bit of a character. I made the mom and the son look a little similar, and the same with the dad and the daughter. The daughter’s makeup is the most subtle. We wanted to keep her cute and attractive and her little ‘punk rock’ self. So it was about doing it well because there are a lot of bad zombie make-ups out there, and I wanted to do it competently.”
Art Director Mike Cavanaugh joined the fold at that moment and offered us a look at not only the previously mentioned Homicide Girl Magazine, which he’d created with Nick Bonamy, but also at ‘Scrahhhhble,’ the board game he’d commissioned artist Dave Leamon to create, which the zombie family plays in a scene or two in the series.
“He’s been pulling it off!” gushed Ippolito of Cavanaugh’s art direction. “He came up with the concept of that game, where all of the letters are r’s and a’s, as in, ‘Aaarrr’!’ The zombies also had to fry up some brains in the kitchen so I made a silicone brain, and we covered it with slime and stuff and they put it in the pan, and then Mike got tripe and cut it up, and we were cooking it in soy so they could actually eat it.”
Catching up with actress Sharpe, who had nabbed the role following a traditional audition, she stated of her character in Zombie Family, “Amanda is a little lost. She’s trying to blend in with the rest of the non-zombie world the best she possibly can, which, to be honest, isn’t very good. She’s a punk rock princess just trying to be cute, and she’s dying literally to fit in at school. She’s just kid a kid though, you know? Acting out, making friends, being a little rebel. But she’s also a big family girl.”
“At home they’re just like any ordinary family,” Sharpe stated of the family’s dynamic. “They sit down at the dinner table together, get into little riffs and play board games together. We’re all on the same page and we know that we have to protect our identity as zombies so we support each other on that.”
Does Sharpe find it difficult balancing the comedy and horror of Zombie Family?
“Not at all, actually,” she replied. “I’m a huge fan of dark comedy and of slapstick comedy, and this whole series is basically a chaotic mixture of the two. Comedy and horror are such opposites when it comes to genre, that when one moment of horror is altered with a comedic intention, it can make practically anything transform from scary to silly.”
A zombie needs a foil, however, and in this case they come in the form of actors Todd (who portrays ‘Principal McGuffy), Bannister (the neighborhood cop), Jones (the unlucky salesman) and Vincent, who appears as ‘Cindy Apple,’ the annoying next-door neighbor.
“Think saccharin-sweet Stepford wife meets a nosy neighbor,” said actress Vincent of her character. “It’s a really funny role, and I’m really getting into it.”
Complimenting Vincent on her knack for comedy (her turns in that genre include roles in the series “Mike & Molly” and the feature Not Another Teen Movie, among others), she said humbly, “Thank you! Yes, I do feel like comedy is my strength, and I’m absolutely using that in Zombie Family. I’ve had a blast being over-the-top and annoying. I gave Cindy Apple a really obnoxious voice and mannerisms, and Joey wrote a great role and it’s a joy to play. I’m looking forward to doing more with this crazy character, that is, if Cindy Apple doesn’t end up dinner for the zombie family. She’s so annoying, if I were a zombie, I’d eat me too.”
So when can we expect to see Zombie Family?
“We are looking at probably two to three weeks to edit and to do sound,” concluded director Weisman of post-production, “so we should have everything together by the end of May, hopefully. It’s exciting. And we are in negotiations right now for distribution.”
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