It was July of 2009 (maybe June?). I’d been in New York City less than a year, having gotten briefly acquainted with the city beginning in late 2008 before starting my Screenwriting Conservatory program at the New York Film Academy in January of 2009. It was hot. Not ridiculously so, not yet, but a much hotter summer than I was used to having lived mostly in Southeast Alaska for the previous 26 years.
By that time I had shot a few fun things with friends. They are terrible things and they shouldn’t be mentioned again. Then, in the first month or two of classes at New York Film Academy we pitched ideas to Producing students to produce. I was one of the people picked and they made a short film based on the idea I had, which, again, I don’t feel like needs mentioning again. So, Living wasn’t going to be my first film but it was going to be the first one with me in charge and with a few months worth of film school in me.
We had a directing class and some brief tutorials on different aspects of filmmaking like how to run the camera (the DVX100) and basic lighting setup. We were divided into groups and I was working with my favorite batch of folks from my classes: Joao (who I’d go on to make more projects with), Keith, and Christine. We were to shoot one project each over a 4 day period (Thursday – Sunday).
I loved zombie films and horror and I had just recently watched Michel Haneke’s first feature, The Seventh Continent, and so I decided to combine the ideas. I wrote a short, dialogueless, script about a young woman who had locked herself in during the zombie apocalypse and when she ran out of food finally gave in and let herself get consumed by the zombies who had been waiting outside her door.
Does Living actually resemble The Seventh Continent? Not really, but that’s where the inspiration came from.
Having this story in mind and knowing when I’d be shooting and where (my apartment, because I could, and I have done so again many many times since) I decided to recruit some help in the production. I convinced Barbara, one of the producing students who’d done that short that I wrote at the beginning of school, to help me fill in my knowledge gaps and in particular to help with casting. Then, I talked to Joao’s girlfriend, Mafalda, about the project, because she was also a big fan of zombies and horror and she became our lead zombie and she and my wife, Jessica, who has some experience with stage make-up, were tasked with doing the make-up for our zombies.
Barbara posted a casting website for the project and we got a lot of responses. So, we booked a room at the school for an evening where I could audition actresses for our lead and Jessica helped to wrangle them (I think Barbara and Joao were also on hand but this was nearly five years ago, so I might be missing someone or otherwise making a mistake). This was my first time auditioning actors for a role. It was fun. I think we saw maybe 20 or 30 people.
The first person who came in, though, was who we went with, Miranda Childs. As I recall she was early and the person who was supposed to go first was late. So, I sat down with Miranda. I don’t remember exactly how the audition went but I do remember that at the end of it she told me how excited she was to audition because she just loves zombies and she should have brought a pair of shoes she had that a friend had painted a bunch of zombies on.
For our zombies we recruited a bunch of friends and classmates to get painted up and come growl and eat Miranda.
The day went pretty quick and there’s not much to tell about it other than a few fun highlights:
- I made the fake blood myself. It’s a mix of Karo syrup, red food coloring, cocoa powder, and a bit of water.
- Joao acted as cinematographer for the film but couldn’t really watch the mouth close-ups for the zombies eating Miranda or when Miranda is eating the beans, because he was just grossed out by it. I didn’t think to take a second look at those shots on the camera since he was bothered. So, they came out a little blurry.
- The meat the zombies are eating in the close-up shots is ham. Ham covered in chocolatey fake blood.
- My wife, Jessica, wouldn’t let me make it more clear that the woman in the film eats her cat. Just the idea of it upset her. So, she wouldn’t let me put in something that made it more clear that that is what happens. I think it comes across but a visual with the woman eating meat after her fight with the cat I think would have fit well with the end and hammered home that idea.
- Jessica still wears that green dress from time to time.
Take a look at the film. It is a bit rough and is definitely a very early effort that sometimes I’d like to redo or make changes to but generally I feel like it turned out okay.
Next time I’ll talk about making the improvised film Pregnant Pause.