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I Was A Middle-Aged Zombie [7/28/2007 04:06:00 PM]:
Me doing my best vacant zombie stare So, a while back indie-emo solo guy (and perennial SCR favorite) Jonah Matranga came to town to do one of those stop-by-on-the-way-to-SXSW shows. I caught his show up at Super Happy Fun Land and then hung out for a bit in the wee hours of the morn with Jonah and show organizer, temp Jonah bassist, SCR writer, and horror filmmaker Mel House at House of Pies. In the midst of devouring his key lime pie, Jonah started talking about how he really wanted Mel to do his next video, to which Mel warily responded (I'm paraphrasing, but I'm pretty sure it's close): "Um...are you sure about that? You know what kind of stuff I do, man..."

It turned out, though, that Jonah knew exactly what he was looking for. He declared that he wanted the video to be gory and violent, with rampaging zombies and limbs getting hacked off and people being bludgeoned, and the more he talked about it, the more excited he got. Laughing and shaking his head, Mel happily agreed to do it, and then Jonah said it'd be really cool if in the video he could dismember a music critic...like, say, me. Riding high on a wave of chocolate & sugar, I agreed: "Yeah, yeah, sure. If you guys make the video, I'll be a zombie, I promise." And then I promptly forgot about it completely for five months.

Pre-emptive moral of this story? Be careful what you agree to under the influence of chocolate cream pie, friends. Against all odds, I got the email week before last from Mel, asking if I still wanted to be a zombie in Jonah's video, and...well, I figured I pretty much had to show up. I'm sure as hell no actor -- the last dramatic thing I was in was a half-assed play we did in high school French, something to do with a guy getting a haircut that my friends and I faked our way through just so we could tag along on an out-of-town school trip -- but I figured I could be a freakin' zombie, right? I loved 28 Days Later, have seen bits & pieces of the Day of/Night of/etc. the Dead franchise, finally caught Shaun of the Dead the other day, and read the excellent, awesome World War Z not too long ago, so I'm not totally ignorant of the way zombies are supposed to act. How hard could it be?

I'll get back to that, but the upshot is that I spent two nights (Fri. & Sat., 6/7PM-1:30AM) having my face covered (mostly) in latex and greasepaint, perfecting my zombie lurch, being splattered/slathered with fake blood, getting whacked in the head with a severed arm (which I'm glad was fake, 'cause Jonah nailed me good a couple of times), drooling a lot of "mouth blood," and being devoured alive by mosquitoes. (Check out some really bizarre pics here, if you're curious.)

I even got to do what Mel called his "Spike Lee shot", where they stuck me on a dolly with a camera in my face and rolled the dolly slowly down a hallway. I think the effect was supposed to make it look like I was floating along down a darkened hallway while I groaned zombie-like and clawed the air, but I was mostly attempting to not break down laughing hysterically. I have to say that it ranks up there as one of the silliest moments of my life, but I still can't wait to see how it turns out.

And thanks to my brief foray into the music video world, I've come to the conclusion that I'm a horrible actor -- I figure that if you have trouble convincingly portraying a mindless, reanimated corpse, then you're probably not cut out for the acting biz. I also learned that while latex peels off relatively easily, you have to scour your skin with dish soap to get the damn paint off (I wised up the second night and asked one of the FX guys). I probably still look like that My Chemical Romance guy around the eyes, even a week or so after the fact. And creature slime is really gross, especially when it's dripping off the side of your head. Yum.

Weirdly, I think the whole crew of us must've been the quietest, most reserved zombies I've ever seen (stealth zombies?). We mostly just grunted or went "uhhhh" really softly, almost under our breath. Which was okay, 'cause it's a music video, and the song'll be playing over the whole thing anyway; there was no dialogue to speak of, really, just Jonah singing the lyrics. I think the idea was to make it sort of a combination of Nosferatu and George Romero '70s-style horror flick. At one point Mel told us we could make zombie noises, if we wanted to or if we thought it'd help, but when we did we all agreed that it felt totally silly. Plus, people kept breaking into Thriller when we did the noises, so we mostly ended up just going back to the quiet grunting.

The coolest part of the whole thing, actually, was how friendly and nice everybody was. A lot of the actors and crew knew one another beforehand, but nobody made my random zombie shmuck self feel like a dumbass or an outcast. Everybody was cool, from Jonah and his beautiful and talented co-star Heather Westwood to the FX guys to my fellow members of the undead to the guys moving the lights and props around. Y'all rock, seriously.

The FX people did an amazing job, in particular -- the lead guy, Marcus Koch, of FX house Oddtopsy Productions, had been flown all the way from Tampa for the job (he also did the effects on at least one of Mel's movies, which I'll get to in a sec, and has his own out now, a creepy killer-clown thing called 100 Tears, the trailer for which scares the shit out of my clown-phobic ass), and he and local makeup folks Gilbert, Kristi, Patrick, and Mary from Rancid House managed to pull off some ridiculously gory shots without the benefit of a warehouse full of rubber masks or fancy gadgets. I'd never realized how low-tech some of the neatest-looking special effects stuff really was 'til I saw 'em in action.

I should mention, by the way, that I dunno how many, if any, of the folks on the shoot got paid to work on the music video; it was all about The Love, baby. I know us zombie extras were all volunteers -- some were friends of Mel's, some were local horror-flick lovers eager to dress up like the living dead, and some were fans of Jonah's who were happy to have anything to do with a video for one of his songs. On the first night I was there, all the members of local indie-rock/post-punk band Radio Pioneer (ex-The Tie That Binds/Eye Against/Cedar of Lebanon/Badger/etc.) were in attendance, duly dressed up in full zombie makeup. It helped, somewhat, that Mel's now playing bass in the band & is good pals with Dwayne, who I think was there all four days of the filming and got "killed" in an especially gruesome way. (Oh, and at least two of the guys in the band served as Jonah's backing band on last year's "mini-tour" of Texas.)

Then, on Saturday night three of the "cast" drove all the way in from fucking Bridge City, Texas (sister town to infamous Vidor, TX), just for the chance to get made up as shambling creatures of the netherworld and then get axed by Heather in the zombie-killing portion of the video. And yep, when filming wound down at 1:30AM or so, they all wiped/peeled off the makeup & piled back into the truck to drive back to Bridge City, about two hours from H-town. Now, that's dedication, people. Horror fans are truly a whole other breed, I swear...

It was also a treat to finally get to see Mel in action in his filmmaker mode -- I've known the guy for probably close to a decade now (IWB in tha house?), and I've seen the fruits of his labors (the latest of which, Closet Space, looks damn creepy -- it'll be premiering in August, so I'll post more details on that soon) several times, but I've never actually seen him do the director thing 'til now. Always interesting to see a different side to a friend...and luckily, he didn't smack me around when I kept snickering and walking into the wrong part of his shots. (It's wife/hostess/actress/zombie wrangler Melanie who's the real enforcer, anyway.)

In the end, I had a blast. By the second night I was a teeny bit more comfortable with my zombie-ness and at least knew a few folks' names, so it felt like I was hanging out with a bunch of laid-back, friendly acquaintances, albeit those slathered in green and white makeup. One of the most surreal bits of the night was when I came out of the bathroom in Mel & Melanie's house (their carport doubled as the "studio") to find their living room filled with zombies, all lounging around and silently, seemingly seriously watching a CSI marathon.

For those who're bound to ask, no, I've got no clue when/if the video'll be on MTV (or Fuse, or whatever). Jonah's still a fairly underground guy, so big-time TV airplay might be a bit of a stretch. But hell, I'd expect it'll be up on YouTube at some point (along with the other three videos he and Mel apparently shot during the course of the zombie-filming days; not sure when they fit all the rest in, but supposedly they did) -- keep an eye there for a video for "Not About A Girl Or A Place", which'll be on Jonah's new album, ...And. It should be entertaining, at least, even if you're not a Jonah fan like I am (the song, by the way, was pretty good, with a chorus that's a little reminiscent of "Mother Mary," from his Far days).

If you do manage to catch it, yours truly will (hopefully) be the first zombie to get clubbed with the severed arm and/or the confused-looking zombie "floating" down the hallway to menace the protagonists. Feel free to laugh yourself silly; I can pretty much guarantee I'll be doing the same...

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