Zombie Hood – An interview with Steve Best
Zombie Hood – The undead come to Nottingham!
It is clearly a fact that Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe failed in their take on Nottinghamshire residents rallying against those in power by their films excluding the most important characters and plot devices known to man – zombies! However, British writer/director Steve Best has finally perfected the story of a rag tag band of survivors doing their best surviving around Sherwood. Although while Nottingham’s most famous resident Robin only had the Sheriff to worry about, our group have not only zombies but also each other to fear.
Zombipedia caught up with Steve Best, to talk about his debut feature and learn more about what inspired him.
● How did you come up with the premise of the film and did you always plan for it to be a feature-length?
SB: The plan was always to produce a feature length film. I’ve always been a fan of horror, especially George Romero, so it seemed natural to go with a zombie theme. I wanted to create a narrative for the film that showed how people from all walks of life would react in this situation, which in itself involved some guess work.
● What was your writing process and key influences behind this? Were there any particular connotations or comparisons that you consciously wanted to avoid?
SB: I really wanted to avoid copying anything else that had been done previously. I hate and detest remakes so Zombie Hood had to be as original as possible, however with originality comes the added problem of ‘will it work’? I really wanted the characters to be believable, likeable or hated and I think I went some way to achieving this. The zombies were always going to be a side issue for the survivor’s, concentrating on the problems they were facing dealing with each other’s personalities as the priority when writing the script.
I wanted to create scenes that didn’t copy other similar films, so we tried to come up with scenarios that hadn’t been used before. No one, to my recollection, had put a burning zombie in a bath with a naked girl or created a scene with a campsite full of zombie children eating their parents.
● How long did the film take to write and being the director and having the freedom, did you find yourself changing scenes as you filmed?
SB: The concept took a number months and the script itself was put together over a 12 week period. Being a micro budget film, I always knew that I would have to compromise and make numerous changes throughout the production. I changed quite a few of the scenes, sometimes due to character unavailability, sometimes due to locations and mainly because of the English weather. You can get four seasons a day in England! I had the freedom to do whatever I felt was best for the film as it wasn’t funded and I didn’t have to answer to anyone or meet milestones or strict deadlines.
● As a result what is written isn’t necessarily what gets filmed, were they any compromises that need to be made and how close is the film to your final script?
SB: It’s fairly close to the original script, although we did end up on version 43 I believe, so you can imagine that there were quite a few changes over the production period. One of the end scenes with the 180 zombies was completely re-written as we couldn’t use the location we wanted!
● Often smaller, independent filmmakers have trouble with locations, councils and permits but I believe that Nottingham council were very supportive, what did you have to do to convince them and how helpful did this prove to be?
SB: No one said no to us and everything was basically free. Nottingham is a great place to make films, as long as you’re professional and can convince people you know what you’re doing.
● The film also features some iconic areas of Nottingham, was this intentional to show off the city or just because they were there?
SB: Yes and no, we wanted to show parts of the city like the castle and the Robin Hood statue, but as the film was aimed at a worldwide audience, we didn’t worry too much about certain landmarks.
● Shot on a small budget, community support is often crucial to low budget film makers, how did you find the reaction from the local community and how did you go about your casting of the actors and extras?
SB: The local community were very supportive. I think everyone wants to be involved in a zombie film, so shop, pub and bar owners all said yes to us. Our cast and crew came from advertising on StarNow and the zombies either came from our ‘Zombie School’ or from our Facebook page. Zombie School was created so we could train our zombies how to walk and move, preparing them for their scenes before a shoot. For the pub scenes, the owner would often open his doors at the crack of dawn in his pyjamas and just hand us the keys before heading back to bed.
● Being Nottingham based, and with a title like Zombie Hood it is inevitable that everyone’s initial thoughts would race towards the story of Robin Hood, so what elements of that story, if any, did you weave into the story?
SB: We didn’t include anything from the legend of Robin Hood except the ‘Hood’ part in the title of the film, although the legend and characters are very much linked to our next project.
● Could you introduce us to the key characters in the film and any interesting facts or thoughts about them?
SB: The story revolves around seven main characters, Candi and Kelly, two young girls who are best friends, Rik, a young guy who is fairly oblivious to everything that’s happening around him, Dermott, a police officer who has a history with Sam, a young mixed up kid with numerous issues. Then there’s Bill, an older member of the group who feels he needs to protect the youngest member of the group, Melanie. It’s a fairly good mix of characters, all of whom have various issues that tend to supersede the main problem they’re facing with the undead.
● What does Zombie Hood bring to the genre and what can zombie fans expect to see in it?
SB: I think it adds a more human element to the genre, keeping with the whole zombie apocalypse scenario, but also trying to create a realistic story with a touch of dark humour thrown in for good measure. We’ve got fast and slow zombies, but feel that we’ve explained this quite well in the storyline.
● The film is being shown at the UK Festival of Zombie Culture in Leicester on Saturday 16 November, has the film been shown anywhere else?
SB: Yes, we had a première in Nottingham where it was shown to the cast, crew and their family and friends. We also invited the media as well and it was well received. This is the first UK festival for Zombie Hood though.
● If people can’t wait or make that festival, can they now purchase the film or stream it off the official website?
SB: It’s available as a downloadable or steaming from the official website, but we’ve currently sold out of DVD’s. An International distribution company has just picked it up though, so it should be more widely available soon.
● What reaction has the film had so far from any critic reviews or performances?
SB: It’s all been really positive. We’ve had some critics explain what they don’t like about it, but no one has told us anything we didn’t already know. We went for high production values on a micro-budget film and feel we managed to produce something that we can be proud of. The majority of excellent comments have been about the great make-up from Jayne Hyman and her team, Steve Askey’s CGI effects, but also about Richard Lee O’Donnell’s performance as Rik.
● Have you got any other films in the pipeline either as a writer or director or will you now spend your time promoting Zombie Hood?
SB: I’ve been working on a few shorts and have just finishing producing and editing a shorter feature film for the Pauline Quirke Academy, however I’m now very much into pre-production for Survivors, a TV pilot featuring, guess what, zombies!
● Finally as someone who has gone out there and done it, what advice would you give any aspiring low budget film makers about your experience?
SB: Preparation, adaptability, communication, professionalism and more preparation. Planning is important, building a great crew and a cast that get on will really help as well. Don’t rush things, take your time, get the lighting right and improvise when you can’t afford equipment or locations aren’t available. Ensure audio is a priority and not something that you’ll fix in post. Make people believe in the project and be prepared to make changes that you don’t want to make, but will be required to make it all work. Cast good actors and don’t let friends convince you they’ll be right for a role in your film as the chances are, they’re not good actors and although they’ll love you for giving them a part, it will lower the quality of the production. Get a good Producer who will keep you grounded, but won’t remove the creativity and make sure you enjoy the experience, even when things aren’t going as planned. Film making is all about problem solving and not a day will go by without you learning something new.
You can visit the official Zombie Hood website here for more information, or if you live in the UK don’t forget to check it out at the UK Fesitval of Zombie Culture in Leicester on November 16th.