If zombies are your thing, then prepare yourself for a feature-length adaptation of the cult British "zom-com" web series that follows the adventures of three inept survivors who vlog their way through a zombie apocalypse to ease their boredom.
Written and directed by Hannah Bungard, Tony Hipwell, and Miles Watts, Zomblogalypse is a charming parody of budget filmmaking – of which the trio will be all too familiar with – as well as a comedy about zombies, and thankfully the slow-shuffling kind (at least, initially). You could say it's a glorious mishmash of Shaun of the Dead with a note of excruciating mockumentaries like Borat and What We Do in the Shadows. It's the ideal mix for this side of horror, one that has a legion of loyal fans worldwide.
Scheduled for release next year, it's just the kind of silly madness we need after nearly two whole years of lockdowns and restrictions. We sat down with Miles to ask all those burning questions we zombie-mad fans have about this lovable, often gory style of horror.
How does one go about reinventing this popular genre, one many of us are so fond of?
I think it comes from having a deep, deep obsession with Romero's Dawn of the Dead! And I was so happy when Edgar Wright's seminal TV series Spaced had the zombie episode because that show completely highlighted the obsessive effect films, TV, and games have had on our generation. So we couldn't help imagining what kind of apocalypse scenarios we, ourselves, could survive and what we'd do in those circumstances. And then Shaun of the Dead came out and nailed it: I was 29, the same age as Shaun when it came out, and it hit me hard. And that's what made me start to make movies.
It started as a series and gained a cult following?
I made some no-budget films with friends (including Tony, who I met while we worked at the cinema in York), and we started talking about our love of zombie films. We went to see things like Rec and Cloverfield and talked about how much we love The Blair Witch Project and other terrific found footage films, and so the web series idea started brewing.
We were among the first wave of UK web series to really take off: we were taking our cue from our US heroes like Felicia Day and Sandeep Parikh, who are fans of Zomblog, which is something we've always been very grateful for. Their shows The Guild and Legend of Neil are not just funny and ingenious, but they were made on shoestring budgets with their mates, and that led us to say hang on, we can do that too! We started putting out episodes on YouTube monthly, and it built from there. Our friends would say how much they were enjoying it, and then it started to get the attention of the internet at large. By season three, it was getting thousands of views per episode.
And now it's a movie attracting a lot of attention and love – was it challenging following on from the web series?
It was always going to be a movie, but we learned the hard way about the long transition from homemade web series to homemade movie. It's all very well raising some money to shoot the film, and we had some great interest from investors, but you have to put up with a lot of unsolicited opinions about the film industry when you set out to make a movie.
For years, we were told that "comedy horror doesn't work" and things like "avoid found footage, avoid zombies…" which is insane because that's just not right. And then a big-budget zombie movie like Zombieland comes out, and suddenly everyone goes, "zombies are IN", and we're like, "that's nice: they never went away!"
You've probably ticked off a few "firsts" – I wasn't expecting to see a zombie penis!
Haha! Yes, that was Tony's idea, I think. He said, "You know the stripper zombie in Zombieland? Where you're wondering what happened minutes earlier? Why don't we do that but with a male stripper who's had his nob bitten off at a hen party or something? It made us laugh, so it instantly went in. I mean, as I say in the movie, it makes you wonder how it happened! Plus, it makes a lovely squeaky noise as he waggles it against the car window.
What other groundbreaking highlights are there? (Walking Dead and Zombieland were the first to show zombie kids!)
In the web series, we had a pregnant zombie woman with a zombie baby that skittered across the floor, and Tony had to face-plant it roughly against the wall. I'd never seen that before! I know the Snyder Dawn of the Dead had a pregnant woman who got bitten, but we took that to the extreme as we often do. We kill off YouTube megastar Captain Disillusion at the start of the movie, and we set fire to York Minster (thankfully, both of these events were done with CG). We tried to show a wide range of zombies, so we have a roller derby zombie with an accompanying referee, construction worker zombies, nurse zombies, clown zombies, a nun zombie – these were supposed to be regular people after all!
Was it easy getting the extras? Who doesn't want to be a zombie?
It was actually fairly straightforward for the movie: because of the scale of the production and the accompanying buzz, people wanted to show up. For the web series, we started big, and gradually people grew tired of turning up at 8am on a cold Sunday to get plastered in blood (we had to shoot in the city centre at unsociable hours, so the streets were empty.) But for the movie, we have lots of notice as to when and where we'd need people, and they could sign up for whichever dates they wanted to do. The most we had for one day was about sixty, and they ended up in the finale and on the movie poster.
I love that you went for slow, stupid and shuffling, rather than fast and frantic
We're old school Romero zombie fans: they're so terrifying! I mean, fast zombies are terrifying, but the slow ones just sort of look at you funny and start shuffling towards you, and then while you're laughing at that one, another one attacks from the back and bites your shoulder off. There's a sort of sad naffness to the slow ones.
We eventually have fast zombies in the film, but only because they made a good punchline for an earlier comment, which we also do in the web series. The saddest zombie ever is Lennie James' fallen wife in the first episode of The Walking Dead. She walks up to their house every night, and he just can't bring himself to shoot her, even though she's technically gone. She just looks sad and like she doesn't understand why she's there, and he just breaks down and can't pull the trigger. That's an indelible image.
Do you have a fave zombie film or series, despite your own?
I have enjoyed The Walking Dead comics and TV show for over a decade, and you have to acknowledge that it contains some of the very best zombie scenes and stories ever. But then it's derived directly from Romero's original Of The Dead trilogy, so they drank from the right well. Night of the Living Dead is an astonishing film, not just because of the style and visuals but because of the ending and the way Romero parodies hicks with guns deciding that a zombie apocalypse is a perfect opportunity to empty their guns on the rest of humanity, whether they're dead or not.
For Zomblog, we wanted our main characters to fall somewhere between heroes and anti-heroes: they're not completely callous or awful. They're just trying to survive but in a kind of semi-polite, hand-washing way. Like, sorry you're dead, but these things happen.
What was the most challenging aspect of filming this?
The time it took to build up to actual production was lengthy, and for a couple of years, we wondered if and how the hell we were going to do it. We'd tried a few 'official' channels, but in the end, we decided to make it the way we wanted and then try and sell it, rather than the other way round. This is tough because a producer might say, well if you'd come to me before you made it, we could have developed it along certain mutually agreed lines.
Thankfully the response has been super positive, and the movie now has its own fans, some of whom I'm sure haven't even seen the web series. So yeah, the toughest thing was the project's longevity and then the pulling together of resources on a very small budget.
And the most fun? Any moments you can share?
The most fun for me was, as always, with Zomblog, the free exchange of ideas that happens on set. We had a script, but the web series was completely improvised, and the main reason we wrote a movie script, other than to ferment ideas, was because you can't just expect a producer or cast to get behind something with no script. But then, when we made ourselves the producers and hired a bunch of actor friends who are amazing at improv, we were able to create a hybrid of scripted dialogue and improv.
We all just fit into this mad family unit where everyone totally knew their character, and they knew what egregious fools the Zombloggers are. We had some big laughs on set – that is, of course, when we weren't worried about the production 24/7, which comes with the territory. My favourite day on set was the final pickup day at the cinema, where we had that room full of zombies, and we photographed the poster: that felt like not just a wrap but a proper day at the movies. Because we were literally in a cinema, filming a cinema scene, making the poster. Those days are quite rare.
What is it do you think we find so interesting about zombies?
I think zombies are really just fodder for the story. At least that's how I see them. I'm not interested in them per se, but it's a great way of making an apocalypse fantasy scenario - I'm sure we all have those - into less of a bore and more of a danger. There's that awful moment when a loved one gets bitten, and we release that we're all going to die one day. It's just that your mate is going to die in about an hour! And do you shoot them or leave them? It's the whole human tragedy wrapped up in a monstrous, salivating, flesh-chewing parody of a person. What's not to love?
What's been the key takeaway?
I think I've learned to regroup and hang in there when an epic project like this stalls. And not rely too much on one person or one thing; not to listen to people who say, "this can't be done this way, or at all," because it can, and we did. And because we did it in such a small, personal, careful way, the finished film is so wonderfully satisfying to us. Like, talking to you about it is a pleasure because I could talk all year about how proud I am that we did it. True, there were compromises, but we threw our hearts and souls into this production, so the way people are responding to it is utterly gratifying.
Finally, I have to ask, what's the plan?
We're now talking to distributors for the film because we aim to get the film out on streaming and physical outlets in 2022 so everyone can see it. I'd LOVE to do a sequel or series if we can get sponsorship, as we won't be making another shoestring film. Hopefully, we're expanding the franchise into other areas because it's all about franchising these days, isn't it?
If you mean what's my apocalypse plan, I'm living it: my partner and I (and dog) moved to the country just before the pandemic, and that turned out to be a clever bit of timing.
And who's on your team?
My aforementioned partner Vicky and dog Edgar, because otherwise what's the point in living?! But also because Edgar can warn me of impending danger and growl at it (he's tiny), and Vicky is a resourceful cook and very practical, unlike me. I suppose Hannah and Tony could live nearby so we can exchange notes. Maybe Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer could catch fish and make us laugh. I don't think I'd want any angry, macho army types around, though. Or people who moaned a lot. There'd be enough moaning from the zombies.