part I

In recent years, it seems to have been the Brits responsible for bringing back the zombie film
with a vengeance, as illustrated in 28 DAYS LATER, SHAUN OF THE DEAD,
and now, the thrifty but fantastic COLIN - making its African debut at the
South African HORRORFEST

an exclusive interview Marc Price
writer / producer / director / editor of the highly original and accomplished UK zombie movie COLIN

(Marc Price image credit: Damon Webster)

Colin is made from the zombie's perspective, how did this idea come about, and were you yourself surprised at the fact that no-one has explored this avenue within the genre's extended life-span?
When I first moved to London I lived with a make-up effects artist and in a desperate bid to make friends invited anyone and everyone I'd met up to that point for a pleasant Sunday in Bermondsey, South London, to fill a room with zombies. The idea was to create an action sequence that I could turn into a fake movie trailer for my showreel.
That was a great day and really got me excited about doing something with zombies but I couldn't come up with anything that felt original. A few years later the idea of doing a movie from the perspective of the undead cropped up and we were able to look at it practically, realizing it was entirely possible.
I've always been a fan of zombie movies and after that fake-movie trailer thought it would be great to make a zombie movie, but it was really important to do something that was different. The idea of telling a story entirely from the perspective of a zombie was something that I was convinced had been done before. But we couldn't find anything that had been done in the way we wanted to do it so we felt there was something original enough to make it worth making.We first looked at what we had available to us (namely actors and excellent locations) and built our story taking this into account. There were also a few technical advantages... the idea of ditching all of the sound and re-building an essentially dialogue-free movie in post allowed us to shoot scenes with much more freedom without having to worry about background noise.
The most important creative choice, as it always should be, was to tell an engaging story with a solid emotional core and create a character the audience would willingly go on this journey with.
That was our plan, at least!

How did you pull it all off and how long did it take from pre-production to final cut?
I spent 3 months writing the script whilst working out what was achievable with head make-up artist Michelle Webb. It took 3 months because I'd only allow myself to write whilst at my regular day job. Deciding to write it that way kept me fairly disciplined and eager to write every time I started a shift.
We shot and edited the film simultaneously over an 18 month period. The bulk of the shoot was done during the first 9-10 months and the rest of the time was spent editing the rest of the movie, shooting pick ups and working on the sound design in my bedroom.

Being involved in every aspect of making this movie, did you ever get precious or obsessive about any aspect?
I knew specifically what story I wanted to tell and how I wanted the film to work structurally. But I was very open to any ideas that would help bring depth and a sense of, hopefully, realism to the movie.
I was very much obsessed with every aspect of the production needing to feel like a real movie and not like something some friends had made during their spare time. It was important for the audience to connect on an emotional level with Colin. This just meant taking time to create as believable a world as possible. Not just visually but the sound design also needed to feel very sincere.

If no-one contributed their time, efforts and talents for free, what would the budget have been?
If that would have been the case our budget would have been irrelevant... I never would have been able to make the film without the help of everyone involved. No-one (with the exception of the actors and make-up guys) took on a single, specific role. People just showed up to help out and eventually fell into areas of responsibility.
For example Justin Hayles ended up becoming a fantastic make-up artist just by asking lead make-up artist, Michelle Webb, a lot of questions. She'd give us precious make-up materials that she'd acquired from other film productions and show us how to make our own zombies for the days when she couldn't be around to help.

How did you manage to shoot the exterior city scenes?
We just did on "Colin" what we did for our short films. We looked at what story we wanted to tell, then looked at what we had available to us (namely some professional actors and a familiarity with our locations that we'd need to feel quite desolate) and I wrote the script taking advantage of this.
We didn't have any permits, we just went to a location and shot our scenes. The only time this became a concern was when we shot the street skirmish sequence between a group of angry humans and some cornered zombies. With all the screaming and body parts strewn around the street it was only a matter of time before the police arrived to see what was going on.
Luckily I was shooting the film using a domestic camcorder so, aside from the chaos, we didn't look like a professional film shoot. The policeman simply chuckled to himself and took a few pictures on his mobile phone to show friends and left us to shoot the rest of the sequence!

Was the name “Colin” always the first choice, or were there others?
Yeah, Colin is my father's name and always seemed to fit quite well to me. Colin is a relatively gentle name. Very British. I thought it would help make the character that little bit more endearing (so we could have him chew someone's face off, dig into intestines and rip off people's ears and still have the audience like him)

What are your favourite zombie movies and why?
I'm very fond of Day of the Dead, specifically because of Bub. We pay homage to the great Howard Sherman by naming a coffee shop after him in "Colin".
Dawn of the Dead is probably my favourite zombie movie but Shaun of the Dead has managed to achieve something that not even Romero could pull off... a zombie movie that can appeal to everyone.
If you'd never seen another zombie movie, you can still love Shaun of the Dead as much as a hardcore zombie fan because there's plenty in there for everyone to appreciate.

What are your favourite movies in general?
I'm a fan of all film. I try to watch as many as possible. I don't dislike a particular kind of film and one of the things I love most about living in London is that I can see the latest Hollywood blockbuster in the same day as the smallest independent film and enjoy them as much as the other.

Why a zombie theme and not something like vampires, ghosts or a masked killer?
I guess I didn't have anything I felt I could contribute to vampire or masked killer movies. I like vampire movies, "Let the Right One In" is one of the best films I've seen this year and I even liked what Rob Zombie did with the "Halloween" remake insofar as creating a masked killer with more of a motive.
Maybe there's room for a new werewolf movie...

I know I personally prefer the look of film, but often the video look adds to a movie's character - do you think Colin would've had the same effect had it not been shot on video?
I think that some audiences may be more patient with the structure of the film if we'd shot it on 35mm. The nature of shooting on Mini DV unfortunately lends itself to something initially assumed to be quite amateurish. When Michael Mann chooses to shoot a film on this format the audience accepts that he is an accomplished film maker and trusts that he can tell his story well. No-one really knows who we are, so the fact that our movie appears to be quite loose structurally (until you get to our final scene) does run the risk of losing their interest if they aren't entertained. But I feel strongly that an audience want to be challenged which is why we chose to tell the story the way we did.
The look of the film only became a problem when looking for a distributor. At market screenings a distributor will generally give a film between 10-15 minutes of viewing time and decide whether it can fit into a marketing strategy.
"Too low budget" is something we'd hear a lot. Pretty heartbreaking stuff to hear for anyone who's labored over their project.

We felt so much more emotionally involved with this movie - was it difficult extracting sympathy for Colin, where usually zombies get 5 second screen time before their heads are blown off by the human heroes?
As an audience it's interesting how we put anthropomorphic traits on animals and objects, so I definitely felt it was possible to create a character that an audience would willingly connect with. I'm a huge fan of King Kong and always found it particularly interesting that none of the characters from the '30s version connect with Kong. Only the audience feel something for him as he lets go of the Empire State Building.
Colin was our guide through the apocalypse. We didn't want him to be anything other than a normal zombie, we just get to spend more time with him.
I liked the idea of seeing a zombie away from the single-minded horde with that goal to just feed. Of course we wanted to have scenes like that in "Colin" (it would have been irresponsible as a zombie fan to not have the cool stuff in there!) but it was important to see what objects and places affect him and in what way.

How did you prepare Alastair Kirton for his role?
Alastair was great. He was the first person I had in mind when the idea for "Colin" came up and I wrote the part very much with Alastair in mind. I'd worked with him as an actor and we always had a good time exploring performances and knew he'd bring a lot to the character.
I always had this view of Colin as something of an infant. As we discussed his physical limitations one of the ideas I had was that our zombies would have limited visual perception... like a baby. They'd only be able to focus on something if it was within a few feet. Sound would do the rest in regards to capturing their attention.

Was there anything you would've loved to do, but simple couldn't pull of be it for budgetary reason, logistics or time-constraints?
Not really... It was more important to create a sense of realism and make sure that emotional core was working for the story and character more than anything else. There are a few things scripted that may have seemed like we were over-reaching for a film of our meager scale but that's essentially what film making is: problem solving.
It wouldn't have done anyone any favours if I'd stomped my feet and had a director's tantrum... mainly because no-one would have been around to care because for the most part of the shoot it was just me, Alastair Kirton (as Colin) and my camcorder in a quiet location.

Do you think big budget American films are side-lining good, small to modestly budgeted British movies by overwhelming them with their multi-million dollar marketing campaigns?
I think it has less to do with the major studios and more to do with distributors. It was small distribution companies who told us our film was too low budget. They are the ones insisting on picking up movies only if there's a star or known actor in a lead role.
It's more to do with marketing. If a film can comfortably fit into a pre-existing marketing strategy the distributors will give it a good chance regardless of whether the film is any good or not. It leaves low budget film makers with a genuine skill for storytelling at something of a disadvantage.
The only reason we were given any time with UK distributors was because of the press we were lucky enough to generate when we were in Cannes.

Have you had the big studio offer to remake Colin with a serious budget yet?
Some have made queries regarding the remake rights, but we haven't had a serious offer made. It's interesting because there can be a lot of benefit to a studio remake. Even if the film is remade as a terrible movie, the multi-million dollar marketing campaign can draw attention back to the original and bring in a new audience to discover these classic movies.
A remake couldn't possibly take anything away from an already great film... however I'm as insecure as the next film maker so I'd be terrified that in this case the remake would end up infinitely superior to our cheap-ass original!

Have you resigned your day job to make movies full-time, and if so, what's next on your slate?
Unfortunately not. I'm lucky in that I have a nice job with some fantastic people. I was able to write and edit Colin at the office (I'm even typing up this interview at work). So it's not torture waiting for the next film job to come in.
I have also written the script for the next film project here. The plan for our next film is to hang onto our low budget ethics. Not for any reason other than we'd like to have as much creative control as we did on COLIN and the best way to achieve this is to keep costs low.
With that in mind it will be a bigger movie, just not irresponsibly bigger. We will be paying everyone this time round and we'll certainly be feeding people... I just won't be promising much more than a vat of pasta, maybe with some crusty bread.

Besides making its African premiere at the 2009 South African HORRORFEST, Flamedrop Productions are looking at both a theatrical and DVD release of COLIN in S.A.

click here for an interview with COLIN star Alastair Kirton



- Paul Blom

© 2009 - Flamedrop Productions