Indie Horror Month Interview & Short Film Debut: Ashleigh Nichols and Eddie Beasley Talk Summer of the Zombies
With zombies being everywhere this day, it's pretty hard to do something clever with the subgenre, especially in short films where budgets and time can be ambition's biggest enemies.
Apparently no one told filmmaking couple Ashleigh Nichols and Eddie Beasley that because the pair's latest short film - Summer of the Zombies - manages to deliver a charming and clever look at the zombie apocalypse through the eyes of a Vegetarian zombie named Summer, whose veggie-loving tendencies are so deep-rooted, they stick with the ghoul even as she wanders the streets as an aimless ghoul in search of food.
Dread Central recently caught up with Beasley and Nichols and heard more from the duo about their experiences making Summer of the Zombies and what's up next for the filmmaking couple. We also heard more from Nichols about her experiences producing the 2011 horror comedy The Last Lovecraft: The Relic of Cthulhu and the challenges of independent filmmaking.
After reading our interview with Nichols and Beasley, make sure to check out the official online debut of Summer of the Zombies below as well!
Dread Central: Tell us more about your career before Summer of the Zombies, and being a fan of The Last Lovecraft, I would love to hear more about your experiences working on it, Ashleigh.
Eddie Beasley: After moving to Los Angeles, I mainly kicked around different areas of production for a long time. I knew I wanted to make films, but I wasn’t really sure how to go about it yet. Ashleigh and I both worked our day jobs for a while and then decided it was time to make something that was ours.
Ashleigh Nichols: It was around 2005 when I started working as a set PA, and shortly after that I became an assistant to a fabulous producer named Anne Clements. From there, I worked really hard and PA’d both on set and in the office, tried my hand as a costume assistant and as an art assistant, too. Then I found that I was quickly moving up from PA to Assistant Coordinating to Production Coordinating and Production Managing.
It was at this point that my dear friend Henry Saine asked me to come on board as his producer for our film The Last Lovecraft: The Relic of Cthulhu. That movie was a lot of fun to work on, but it was also a lot of work at the same time. I think we all learned a lot about making movies and ourselves and just how much we could push through when we needed to. When you have a limited budget and a lot of locations, set dressing and creature effects, you learn how to get creative and get it done.
DC: What initially inspired you both to get into filmmaking? Have you both always loved genre films?
Eddie Beasley: I was inspired by the large number of movies I watched as a kid (especially horror movies). My dad and I watched all the horror movies we could find at the video store. He introduced me to filmmakers like John Carpenter and Wes Craven, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Ashleigh Nichols: I didn’t think I ever would get into filmmaking. I was obsessed with acting in high school and was a theater major in college. I did a couple student films but then decided that it was not for me. So while I was trying to figure out my life, my then boyfriend, now husband, Eddie, got me some day-playing gigs at Nickelodeon.
I won’t lie- I hated the 12-plus hour days on my feet, but there was also something intriguing about everyone sucking it up to make television happen; I loved how there were so many people working to make something. But then I fell into indie films and knew that was where I wanted to be; I so badly wanted to be behind the camera on interesting films.
But I haven't always been into genre films so I give my husband credit for that because I grew up watching family films and chick flicks. Eddie started introducing me to the horror genre and proved to me that there are great scripts here, and to me that is the most important aspect: a great story.
DC: Ashleigh, how did your experience on The Last Lovecraft help prepare you to venture off into directing?
Ashleigh Nichols: Henry Saine was amazing to work with. Working with him gave me the opportunity to watch him work and I love how he dealt with the pressure. He's always so calm and makes incredibly smart choices so I hope that some of that rubbed off on me because the last thing a set needs is a crazy director. Things are going to go wrong on set…it is a given and I believe what matters most as a director is how you handle them.
I've also learned that there are people who believe in what I do, and that support really helped me get motivated to shoot this short film.
DC: So where did the idea for Summer of the Zombies come from?
Ashleigh Nichols: Eddie and I were having drinks at a friend's place and the idea was said as a part of a joke. We looked at each other and knew that when we got home that night we had to write the script and then shoot it as soon as we could get the funds together.
We also thought it would be a great story told from a zombie's perspective because in zombie movies, we never get the villain’s perspective. And even though Summer isn't really a classic 'villain', we leave that decision up to the viewer. By telling her story as a zombie, we thought that we would be able to almost make the music composition a character as well and we definitely feel as if we lucked out because our composer is genius and we love the work he (Brock Frye) did.
DC: Can you guys talk a bit about your experiences making the short (your effects budget had to be killer- so many zombies!).
Eddie Beasley: SOTZ was a lot of fun because I got work closely with Ashleigh and so many of our friends who generously gave their time and expertise. We called in a lot of favors to have people come in and play zombies and thankfully, our close friend and very talented makeup effects artist Valerie Pensky came on board with her team to sell the look of the zombies. We shot the bulk of our film at a former correctional facility outside of Los Angeles. I’m definitely glad most of our shooting was during the day because you definitely didn’t want to be there at night.
The casting process was a lot of fun because most of it consisted of having actors do their best 'zombie.' It was a very movement based-audition process and Casey (who plays Summer) came in and wowed us with her ability to find humor in the simplest of zombie movements; she took to it so naturally.
Ashleigh Nichols: I loved, loved, loved how we wrote the scene where the group of zombies see Summer and they turn and head away from her; I thought it was really good writing on our part. But while we were shooting it, dogs were barking, crews were building a set next to us and airplanes were flying overhead. I just was not happy with how this was turning out so we tried several different ways of shooting and slowed things down, sped things up- you name it. So finally Eddie was like 'we have enough!' and I had to go with his instinct. As it turns out, I really was not happy with it and during editing, I realized just how much I loved what we got; I was so surprised and that made me realize that as a team we CAN do this.
Also, my mom is in that scene and I love her so much for it.
DC: Where can genre fans see Summer of the Zombies on the big screen in the future? Any more festival plans after such a successful 2011 run?
Eddie Beasley: We’ve been lucky enough to be in a variety of festivals over the last year including LA Comedy Fest, Shriekfest Film Festival, LA Fringe Fest, Big Bear Horror-Fi Festival and now we’ve got Rincon in Puerto Rico coming up soon and POW Fest in Portland. We’ve been receiving invites to other festivals as well and those will be announced soon on our Facebook page.
DC: Can you tell us more about the upcoming horror comedy feature you want to make together next?
Ashleigh Nichols: Oh, I think I will let Eddie handle that one but what I can say we have several things up in the air right now, including a couple of horror comedy features and a web series as well.
Eddie Beasley: It’s in the early stages at the moment, but it’s set in the South and we would like to shoot it in Mississippi (that's where I’m from). But we are definitely now ready to move into feature territory with our style of filmmaking.
DC: What would you say are the biggest challenges and advantages to being an indie filmmaker have been so far?
Ashleigh Nichols: Money! I think that is every filmmaker's problem because unfortunately, it really does make the world- and the filmmaking world- go round. Without money, it's nearly impossible to even get locations, actors, equipment- you name it.
DC: It's pretty cool to see spouses working so well together; I'd love to hear more about how it feels to collaborate with your spouse and how that dynamic works too.
Ashleigh Nichols: I loved working with Eddie; he has my back and I have his. We are honest and up front with each other and I know he will tell me the truth and we balance each other out. Sure it can be hard but we make it work; we do not always agree but that is the case with any kind of 'co-workers.' You'll disagree with others no matter how close you are. Plus, it’s already a difficult thing- mixing business and creativity- but because I know I am allowed to have an opinion and say what I mean to him, I know that our product will be that much better for it. We are a confident and hardworking team.
Eddie Beasley: Working with Ashleigh has been the most rewarding part of this experience. I trust her more than anyone and that’s a comforting feeling in this industry. We can bounce ideas of each other really well (we’ve spent many road trips work-shopping films). I enjoy collaborating with her and I’m looking forward to our first feature together.
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