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.