The Ford Brothers, directors of hit zombie movie The Dead and it’s sequel, recently sat down with the Horror Channel to discuss the perils of making the movie. The Dead gets its UK TV premier on September 27th at 22:50. Take a read of their interview below:
How do you two write? For example, does one pace the floor whilst the other types?
Jon: Ha that’s funny! You hit the nail on the head! Normally you will find Howard frantically writing away while I pace the room acting out the scenarios and shouting the lines like some demented theatre actor on steroids. The writing stage is one phase of the project where we work together very well. We are almost never in conflict with each other, each jumping in where the other got to in a particular scene but also bringing together our differing perspectives and weaving them together. We can’t always say the same for the actual shoot, but on The Dead there was normally some life threatening situation taking place, which does tend to add a bit of additional pressure.
Where did the idea for The Dead come from and why set it in a foreign location?
Howard: Jon had started writing script for The Dead, in the mid to late 1980s but we didn’t really push forward and finish the script until about 20 years later shortly before shooting the film. So in essence it is genuinely and old school zombie movie that just took a lot longer to reach the screen.
It was originally going to be shot in Morocco or somewhere like that but for those who don’t know The Ford brothers shoot TV commercials in between films. Anyway, while we were out on location in West Africa we came across places of unbelievable beauty and danger in equal measure. We realised the opportunities of setting this film in a place where no one has ever been or seen before, where there are no safe places to hide in or lock down, where survival is as dangerous as the zombies themselves. Also parallels can be drawn with starvation poverty and events like the Rwandan massacres, while investigating how other religions and cultures would react to such a pandemic.. That was when we realised we could make something really special and different.
The shoot for The Dead has been well documented and is famous for what went wrong as well as what went right. What is the most enduring memory you have form the making of it?
Jon: Yes the shoot itself has become quite famous for all the problems, but for me the more pleasant enduring memory is the driving. Even though I had contracted malaria and had what seemed like endless bouts of food poisoning and other tropical illnesses, so had lost about a third of my body weight. In fact I didn’t know if I would leave this place alive or not. Still as I drove across Ghana and Burkina Faso I will never forget the vast beauty of almost everywhere you look, words or even pictures cannot describe how stunning those places actually are. I though to myself if I die now, It was still nice to have seen such beauty.
Howard: For me it was the journey back from Ghana to Burkina Faso after the whole crew had flown out from Ouagadougou airport and I felt like ‘at least no one had actually died’ and suddenly the pressure was off my shoulders. It had felt like I had been carrying a crippling weight, no disrespect to the fantastic cast and crew but even though we were out of cash, food, without even enough fuel to get back to Ghana where I had to fly out from with the remaining cans of film, that journey was like entering heaven..
The actors are just superb and add much to the story, how did you go about casting the movie?
Jon: Thanks, yes the actors are great but all the more so for doing it in high stress and dangerous situations, or while actually suffering from malaria or typhoid while doing their art. I fondly remember Halimata, the woman with the baby, being so kind and supportive while actually dressing the fake baby and doing her costume herself, then with seconds left of light, delivering one of the greatest performances of terror I have ever seen!
Howard: We cast Rob Freeman in the UK where he was living at the time. In fact he lived virtually down the road from us which was nice as we were able to get to know him a bit and rehearse scenes together before flying out to Africa. We like to ‘know’ our key players personally rather than just meeting them in a casting session as it’s a big commitment to work together like this. We asked an ad agency we had worked with in Ghana to look for actors matching our description and Prince David Osei was one of the first we saw, It took all of one milli second to chose him. Strangely, we had worked with Prince before on an ad but just didn’t know it until he told us. We had both had our heads and shoulders covered during the commercial shoot in the heat of Africa and he thought we were Arabs so was very confused when we turned out to be Brits!
What sort of budget did you have as the effects are quite something?
Howard: We haven’t revealed this before but The Dead was actually shot for $150,000 which is ridiculously small for a movie shot on film in exotic locations around the world and we were advised not to mention this and others claimed the movie was shot for several million hence we missed out on any kudos for getting it in the can (literally the can, not a digital drive) for so little. To put that in context, another film that has been publicised on the basis it cost very little; ‘Monsters’ which is praised for being a low budget miracle shoot. It was apparently shot for $400,000 on digital with just 2 pro actors with a well-established production company lining things up and local support in each location as they went, which, don’t get me wrong, is still very impressive, but we had absolutely no back up at all and were trying to use as many physical special effects and real stunts as much as possible. Plus we were using our own money (life savings). It was a battle all the way financially and physically without any safety net at all.
Jon: The special effects are a big thanks to Dan Rickard and Max Van de Banks. What makes it really impressive is the total lack of budget resources and time. Most of the time the effects were created on the spur of the moment. It makes us laugh sometimes when you see awards being given to people who had all the money time and resources in the world. What Dan and Max achieved on virtually nothing is truly amazing! And this was after most of the fx materials had perished due to the 5 weeks we waited to get our equipment and props out of customs in Accra whilst they melted in the daily heat.
The Dead is being shown on the Horror Channel, you must be pleased?
Howard: We’re thrilled to have the Dead shown on the Horror channel. After watching so many other great movies there, to have our own movie played is a real honour! We can’t wait! We are also very appreciative of the support the Horror Channel has shown us so we will always be fans of the channel and we hope many will join us on the perilous journey across Africa when it airs on September 27.
The Dead 2 is a stunning sequel which continues the story but in a different country, how did you stop yourselves from treading the same ground?
Howard: Thanks. With The Dead 2 we did talk about continuing with Murphy’s journey and even developed how it would continue, but eventually felt it best left for The Dead to stand on its own, if you excuse the pun. So new audiences could watch ‘The Dead 2’ without the need to have seen part 1. The film does continue time line wise and has other connections. but we also wanted to take people somewhere new , but equally beautiful and intriguing so following the pandemic as it spreads over from Africa to India intrigued us. The eagle-eyed viewer will notice there are some direct links to both films.
Jon: Also, by continuing in another continent we have the opportunity to enter into a different Culture, religion, characters and landscape. Neither of us is interested in repeating ourselves. It’s still a Ford brothers Dead movie which was made with heart, soul, sweat, blood and tears. We hope the audience appreciate that we risked our lives for both Dead movies and went to the limit and beyond. Whenever there is talk of a third Dead instalment we’re reluctant because we worry that if we keep throwing the dice our luck might run out. If there is enough support we’ll consider it but right now, unless people REALLY want us to go and possibly kill ourselves doing another, the poster in our heads has the tag line: ‘The Dead 3; Perish the thought…
It looked stunning on the big screen at FrightFest last year, how nervous do you get before one of your movies are shown at a festival?
Howard: We do get a bit nervous when our films are shown especially for the first time. You just have no idea how audiences will react. I think it’s quite bad for us as we have so much personally invested in the film. Not just financially but the physical hardships that go into making a Dead movie are just off the scale! so it is a bit nerve wracking. However, we were delighted to see it at FrightFest and honoured to be the opening film. It’s such an incredible and important festival and we will be forever grateful for the support of all at FrightFest, it was a great Launchpad for ‘The Dead’
Which writers and directors inspired you when you were growing up?
Jon: There are films that inspire us more than directors I think, as sometimes you love a movie from a certain director but their other films are not so good, or don’t connect with you as powerfully. However someone like Sergio Leone was consistently good and was a master of composition.
Howard: It’s funny as sometimes a film can be great, only because of the script and not because of the director, yet that film still inspired you. I think as filmmakers you are more able to see if it’s the material or the director that’s good. On the flip side of that, a bad director can kill a great script just as easily. Knowing how hard it is to make a film, even one set in a room, we have great respect for anyone who actually gets one made. Even bad films are hard to make!
Which do you prefer running zombies or walking ones?
Jon: Running or walking zombies? Yes we get asked that quite a lot. We prefer slow but actually like both. They are so different that you almost can’t compare the two. Running zombies are action orientated and the scene will almost only ever be an action scene. With slow zombies you can build up a lot of suspense and tension which is ultimately more satisfying. I think the younger audience like the fast zombies as it gives instant gratification but later in life will grow to appreciate the slower ones. I suppose the sexual equivalent would be fast zombies cut straight to the orgasm while slow zombies ultimately build up to greater heights with plenty of foreplay.!
So what are you both working on at the moment?
Jon: I’ve written a revenge script that will shock and possibly offend in equal measure. It should be going into production within the year. The Dead was written and made because we wanted to see the film and the revenge movie has been written with the same philosophy. After watching film after film and being constantly unsatisfied you realise that sometimes if you want it done the way you like you have to do it yourself.
Howard: I’ve written a brutal thriller called ‘Never Let Go’ about a woman stopping at nothing to find her abducted child whilst on holiday in an unfamiliar location. I start shooting mid-September in Morocco, Spain and the States.
Jon: Hopefully whatever we do we can hit people in the heart and we will be supporting each other in these ventures and come together for other Ford Brothers Films too.