Interview with the Makers of The Hell Patrol
New Zombie Film, "The Hell Patrol" To Be Released Spring 2009
13th Generation Productions has begun post production on "The Hell Patrol", a short subject film dealing with the zombocalypse and its survivors. It is to be released in Spring 2009. The film is produced by Steve Romanko for 13th Generation Productions and directed by Turner Van Ryn.
The film stars Pisha Warden as Lt. Sandy Fletcher, Scott Levy as Sgt. Mark Daniels, Kurt Yaeger as Private Steven McWatt, Tony Grat as Cpl. Chopper, and James Hiser as Major Karl Brickhaus.
Heavily influenced by George Romero, the novel "World War Z" and "The Walking Dead" graphic novel series, director Van Ryn and producer Romanko weave a tale of defeat and redemption in the face of an enemy that will never stop.
Lt. Sandy Fletcher leads her squad of beat up "Hell Patrollers" across a post-zombalyptic California, wading through their own failures and the unstoppable waves of the undead, trying to get back to the safe city of San Francisco.
I had a chance to interview Steve and Turner, and here's what they had to say.
Me: Why a zombie film?
Turner: The first reason is simply that I like zombie films. We decided to try to go against type and expectations and make an action picture that is set 'over the hill' if you will; somewhere outside of our everyday experience and comfort zone.
Steve: There wasn't much question of our love of the genre. It can really be a campy awful experience or something where the undead point to or represent greater aspects of larger stories.
Me: I noticed that the influences you list for this film all feature
Romero-esque zombies. What do you think about new-age zombies, with human
speed and coordination, but more pissed-off?
Steve: Even though we love Danny Boyle's take on the subject matter, 28 Days [Later] and 28 Weeks [Later] really are plague movies. Romero's zombies are really ghouls, and as such there really isn't much to thier psyche. They're friggin dead. We wanted the zombies to be part of the landscape, to be wild animals, something to be avoided.
Turner: If you're referring specifically to the 'remake' pictures; Dawn of the Dead, etc., I'd have to say that I'm not really a fan. To me it makes no sense that an undead corpse should move with any sort of speed or serious coordination. Also, to assign any complex emotions to the zombies, malice or anger for instance, seems strange to me, as a zombie is entirely egoless and single-minded with only one purpose, to feed on human flesh. It should also be remembered that the zombies themselves are never really the antagonists in these films, and don't really need any emotions to be dangerous.
Me: Where did the idea for "The Hell Patrol" come from?
Turner: The idea for the story was organic in its conception. That is to say, there was no one single moment when the idea for the story came into being. We knew we wanted to do a zombie picture. We picked a farmhouse because it's a classic setting, and I figured it would be easier to shoot there than in an urban setting. And then once we got our central theme realized, the rest just sort of fell slowly into place. It should be said that the script went through a number of revisions, twelve to be exact, and that characters and motivations were swapped around until we found the balance that we liked. As for the title, that came from the Judas Priest tune.
Steve: A little cut here, paste there. Some of the dialog ended up being rewritten as we were setting up lighting for a shot. Turner and the actors really worked on some of the parts when we were on breaks or at lunch or dinner. A real collaborative effort.
Me: At what stage of the 'zombocalypse' does the movie take place?
Turner: This story takes place about four months after the fall of civilization. We wanted to set the story in the near future, so as to seem plausible, but soon enough after the 'zombocalypse' so that the characters are still off balance and trying to find their way through this world.
Steve: It needs to be something that you and I and everyone else can relate to, time-wise. Those connections make it all that more scary.
Me: How would you classify the movie? Horror? Camp? Action? A combination?
Steve: It's a war movie to be honest. A war movie with zombies in it.
Turner: We've never really seen a combination of those two genres, and so we wanted to give it a whirl. Visually we borrowed from films like Saving Private Ryan, and from Shawn Ryan's television show The Shield, of which Steve and I are both enormous fans.
Steve: We just wanted to make sure that it didn't come off hokey. There is definitely some humor in it—I don't think human beings could survive this kind of situation without being able to laugh at something—but it's a gorey, bloody mess of a drama.
Me: Did you find the movie evolving at all while you were making it?
Turner: Unless you're Stanley Kubrick, I don't think there's any way to avoid that. And, in fact, I think that you should embrace that evolution when it comes, as long as it's in the vein of the film's theme, that is. That's what makes the film experience seem real; the ad-libbing and the creativity that gets flowing when you're on set.
Steve: A lot of situations that happen on set, or the schedule or just the failure of something (equipment, props, general logistical stuff), go into this stew that seems to keep everyone sharp and frosty, and as long as you have some really good creative people around you, you adapt.
Turner: Personally, I don't believe that a director's vision is strong enough that it can't take creative suggestions and ideas from the cast and crew. Not all the ideas get used, of course, but it's great to have everyone participating like that. Film is a collaborative medium, after all.
Me: Were most people involved in making "The Hell Patrol" zombie fans?
Steve: Not everyone. A love of film. A love of just working toward a really cool end product. Also, as our AC put it, "It's Summer camp for chain smokers".
Turner: I'd have to say that it was about 50/50. But I really wanted people who were not necessarily even horror fans to help me with my film. I really feel that their collaboration with us zombie fans lent the film an air of authenticity and reality that might otherwise have been lacking. I wanted a world that seemed tangible, concrete, and not too much like a comic book.
Me: How did you and Turner end up working together?
Turner: I first met my producer Steve at the Academy of Art University. In fact, his class was the first one I ever took there. And frankly, I can't even say why we started working together. It just happened, and then it was done. No going back now.
Steve also introduced me to Carolina Monteiro, our production manager, as well as many other people on the crew. I really feel that every person involved on this movie is the cream of the crop: the best. And I don't mean that with any sort of hollow 'go team' bravado. This film would simply not have gotten made without the sacrifice that every single person on the crew put forward. They are the best crew ever, and I would very much want to work with all the exact same people for the rest of my career.
Steve: Yeah, some things just fall into place. I really enjoy Turner's story-telling ability, and we write really well together. I think it's a good match because I have no need to direct anything, and Turner doesn't want any part of producing. Carolina is also someone who deserves special credit for getting this film to even this point. She's the straw that stirs the drink, so to speak.
We are way lucky to have the best cast and crew I have ever seen. That is said by a lot of producers or directors, but the people who've made this ship run cannot be beat. Bar-none.
Me: What moment stands out for you in the making of this film?
Turner: There are many, but one that stands out was the first time 'McWatt' (Kurt Yeager) gets pulled through a window by zombies. It was 3:00 AM, the second night of three night shoots in a row, and it was still 90 degrees and humid. Miserable. The shoot had been pretty grueling up to that point, and so far we had shot mostly dialogue sequences; not much action. In the script, it says something like "Several powerful zombie arms drag McWatt backwards, kicking and screaming through the window and into the waiting horde." Or something to that effect. One thing to write, quite another to shoot with no stunt people. But Kurt was really excited to do it. So I told the extras to really haul him out the window, and I told Kurt to really fight them. So we lined it up and did it. At that point everyone was running on fumes, and the energy on set was pretty low, but we had to keep moving forward. The cameras rolled, and we called "action" and Kurt let out a blood-curdling scream as he got pulled through. It was disturbing and awesome. I yelled "cut", and everyone was quiet for a moment, and then burst into spontaneous applause and hooting. Kurt bounced up with a huge grin on his face, and the moment was great. It was such a simple thing, but it worked great, and it was a big boost that everyone needed.
Steve: Our FX actually working (well a majority of the time); Pisha (Lt. Fletcher) making me tear up during one of the scenes—I mean maybe it was the four o'clock in the morning, hallucinatory tireds kicking in, but that woman can turn on the water works and make you want to just run up to her and say "I'll kill whoever you want, just please stop your cryin'"; my DP and first camera having an argument about sunset versus magic hour. It's the small things, the personal things.
Me: What was your biggest obstacle?
Steve: There was no obstacle that couldn't have been knocked down with more money. But that's pretty much any big project. We certainly had all the right puzzle pieces to effectively make the budget something that wasn't thought about too much. I think the greater challenges are ahead. Coming from a post-production backgorund, I know that when production is done, it's done. But there is always a chance in post that some people can get caught in a trap of nitpicking a piece to death.
Turner: There were many. But, them's the breaks when trying to produce something of this scale with next to no budget. One was simply trying to find the location that we could shoot in and around: much more difficult then I anticipated. But, I'd have to say the biggest obstacle was rounding up enough zombie extras for the big night scenes. We went into the shoot with no real line on where to get as many as we needed, so we just crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. Luckily, Kurt Yeager and Melinda Cook (our costumer) were in town one day and recruited everyone who worked at the local Starbucks to come out. That's the kind of thing that happens, by the way, when everyone is really on board with the project. Long story short, all the locals showed up, and we got the big shots that we needed to really sell the scene. But I was really sweating it there for a while.
Me: Where will the movie be showing?
Turner: Our ultimate aim for the film is to take it on the horror festival circuit, with the goal of interesting low–budget producers in our company and skills. However, I would really like to rent out a theater in San Francisco for the premiere. It's one thing to show everyone involved in the project the finished film on a TV; quite another to see it projected on the big screen. That's everyone's ultimate goal anyway, and this crew deserves that grandiose of a treatment.
Steve: Yeah, the premiere on a big screen is important. And San Francisco is our home base, so we need to start there. Carolina and I are already compiling and targeting festivals. It's a never-ending cycle, but that's what you hope for in this business.
Me: Will the movie be available for order?
Turner: If events develop that way, I'd be more than happy to let the film go that direction.
Steve: There is that possibility. We're currently in development of the feature and trying to think about business plans that make sense so that investors see how profitable a cool zombie adventure can be. We really want to be rolling with festivals and buzz by the time WORLD WAR Z comes out in 2010.
To find out more about the film, you can check them out on Facebook: The Hell Patrol Movie.
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