Summertime … and the Nonliving Is Easy

zombie road trip

Warning breathers of zombies on a road trip.

Man do I love summertime. I still keep up the school work twice a week or so, but it’s still a chance to kick back and ease up on the little shamblers. (My daughter has especially enjoyed the break. Try to master graphing equations when your brain’s rotting out of your skull.) The little rotters worked hard this year, and we all deserve the break.

Some families use the summer to plan elaborate and expensive vacations, which I will never understand. It just sounds like more work to me. Every time I get the urge to travel, thinking about the realities of traveling with an undead family of five makes my skin peel and my hair fall out. Or maybe I need to use more sunscreen.

Sure, we could go someplace exotic and exciting like Paris or Firenze. Beautiful scenery, delicious local … cuisine. But there’s that airport security to worry about now. If you think they overreact when someone tries to bring a bottle of soda or a nail file on board, you should see the looks we get when they open my bag and see what I packed for the kids for a snack. Like I’m going to hijack a plane with a severed head. It doesn’t even have a sharp edge.

And then when we finally reach our destination, I could see the kids getting us kicked out for dropping fingers and toes off the top of the Eiffel Tower, or eating an exotic zoo animal. It’s happened before. We’re not welcome in Chicago anymore.

Travel by train is relaxing; it’s like traveling in a giant pantry. Comfortable seats, friendly atmosphere, lots of fresh, breathing meat—much of it hungover and sleepy. The meat seems to have a problem with our presence, though. That’s another reason we haven’t been back to Chicago in a while.

Road trips by car are out of the question. They always end the same way: some prejudiced breather spots us at a gas station and pretty soon we’re being blamed for every missing hitchhiker for a hundred miles around. That’s ridiculous. Like I’d even let my kids eat something as unsanitary as hitchhiker. I don’t even like them using gas station bathrooms.

Nope, just give me good old lair-sweet-lair for my summer vacation. It’s quiet, it’s relaxing, and I know where the bathrooms are and when they were last cleaned. Best of all, I know the town and the neighbors well enough that I never have to tell the kids, “Let that go, you don’t know where he’s been.”

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Making Blobageddon

Way back in early 2012, John and I decided we wanted to make a short film with zombies and the blob and enter it into the Phoenixville Blobfest Short Film Competition.  For those not aware of it, the Phoenixville Blobfest is an annual event commemorating the 1958 filming of The Blob in the Philadelphia suburbs.  At the end of May, after three days of principal photography, one afternoon reshoot and over 100 hours of post-production work, we unleashed the 4 minute and 44 second final product onto the world.  We felt that it was worthwhile to recount some of the “learning experiences” we encountered while putting this together.

Special effects are a LOT of work – especially when you’re learning on the fly.

First up – The Blob.  In our initial beer-soaked enthusiasm for the project we said – “Hey we’re getting better at using After Effects – we should do an animated Blob”.  So one problem – After Effects didn’t seem particularly suited for the type of 3D character animation we wanted to do.  There are wonderful programs like Maya which cost $5000.  Then there’s what we used – a public domain tool called Blender which can be had for the princely sum of nothing.   John did all of the animation after following some tutorials on making a pulsating blob and that still ended up taking about 40 hours right there.

Other notable effects like the meteor in sky, the smoking “space seed”, the earth exploding (another direct result of beer-soaked enthusiasm), the flashing red lights in the lab and the animated background while the blob was attacking the red-shirt zombie were all arrived at by desperately finding how-to tutorials on You Tube (often done by bored teenage boys listening to bad heavy metal music) and then tweaking as necessary until we got the desired final effect.

Just because you spent two days planning and filming some cool shots does not mean you’re going to use them.

In a previous post I recounted some of our initial foibles at scouting a location around Limerick, PA for scenes of us and our animated friend shambling towards the nuclear reactor.  With our friend Steve acting as cameraman, we got some phenomenal shots of John and I crawling around in rubble and shambling in grassy fields, but once we had the photo montage done and were editing the scenes of traveling to the reactor, they just didn’t seem to fit, so all we ended up using was a 5-6 second clip of us standing triumphantly in front of the reactors.

At The Limerick Reactor

As close as Homeland Security would let us get

Here’s a photo from a clip we did not use.

Climbing Rocks With The Blob

It was a long way to the top

It’s extremely helpful to be married to an artist.

Two of the essential props for the film were provided by my wife Susan.  The space seed that is in the first scene in which we show the blob is actually a piece of pottery that she made down in our basement that we shot against a green screen and then scaled into the scene.

The Space Seed

I’m not touching it – you touch it

She also designed the big red button at the end of the film in such a way that we could actually push it.  The button was actually a circular piece of wood that was painted red and had a big sponge attached to the back of it.  The entire contraption was then attached to the wall with a copious amount of duct tape.

Pushing The Big Red Button

No good can come of this

Had John and I been left to our own devices, the space seed would likely have looked suspiciously like a paper airplane and the big red button would have been a circle drawn on a piece of paper with a red sharpie.

If you want action stills that look good you need to actually shoot photos, not extract video frames.

We weren’t sure if we were going to do the photo montage initially and shot the scenes of us traveling through the woods on video.  We later decided that having photos with a pulsating blob set to Shmoolie’s fabulous Love Theme of The Blob would look absolutely silly.  The initial round was done by capturing frames from the video, but there was too much motion blur.  So come Mother’s Day, John and I got all zombied up and went back into the woods with Susan taking photos and my daughter along to provide supervision.  It was great fun explaining to the families out for their Mother’s Day strolls why two middle-aged men were made up as zombies on a sunny afternoon.

Blob On A Bench

Our little buddy

We went through the entire production with no idea what the final title would be.  We referred to it as Zombies vs. The Blob, knowing we’d need to use something else.  About two weeks before we did the final cuts, we had a bunch of other titles we considered such as Blob Zombie, Zomblobalypse and Hey, Don’t Push That Button!; however as you can see from the title of this post, we finally decided to go with Blobageddon and we’re pretty darn proud of it!

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Long Haired Zombie-Killing Freak #1

This is a prequel, rolled out in installments, to my first book “Blood-Soaked and Contagious“. The lovely revived people here are graciously allowing me to post it for your enjoyment. My plan is to drop about 1000 words on you every week. Please feel free to comment, email me, or follow me on Twitter @crawford4033.

Just to get you up to speed, the setting is Arlington, Virginia—right across the Potomac river from Washington, DC. Zombies started showing up about a year before the events of the prequel. Martial law was lifted six months after the world went to hell, mostly because it wasn’t helping and the soldiers were needed elsewhere.

So, without further interruption…

Long Haired Zombie-Killing Freak #1

“He hangs out in the dumpster next door to our building.” She was trying to speak to me calmly, but her cool was fraying at the edges. “He brings…people…back to the dumpster.”

“Horrible noises?” I asked, quietly, trying not to disturb her too much. Poking fragile people means you get lots of client shards all over the floor.

“Yes,” she breathed, clutching her jacket, “the noises are horrible.”

“Worse than hot sex two doors down in a small dorm?”

Why in the world did I ask her that? You would think that after a year of freelance zombie execution, I would have more tact. Unfortunately, I have about as much tact as my targets do.

“What?” Her carefully shadowed eyes opened horribly wide. For a moment, sitting there dumbstruck, she looked like a Yorkie Terrier with a thyroid condition.

“Right. So. Horrible noises, you say?” I scratched my head. I hadn’t bathed in about four days. Water and electricity weren’t regularly available…unless it rained and you walked outside with a long metal pole, cursing God.

“Yes.” She seemed a little more at ease, back on the comfortable footing of simple questions.

“I’m going to assume, since you came here to Marvin’s bar—looking for me—you’d like me to come and kill your noisy neighbor.”

“Yes. But it’s a zombie…aren’t they already dead?”

“Well, it’s a philosophical issue as much as anything… They were dead. Now they’re not.” I shrugged, and took a sip of my beer. “They’ve got a heartbeat, neural activity, and they bleed pretty well. They’re also wicked fast, and their fingernails have thickened into claws, usually.”

“They eat people!”

“Yes.”

Miss Malley was starting to fray for the second or third time. Most people, a year into the slow-form zombie apocalypse, didn’t dress as well as my potential client, or walk around without a dust mask on. She either still had money and position, or she was bug-fuck crazy. My instinctual jury was still in recess about her.

“They smell and they eat people!”

“They do, indeed. They eat people who are infected with the virus. The people they eat come back to life as zombies themselves.” I nodded. “That’s how it goes.”

“But they’re not people anymore!”

“I’d have to say the jury is still out on that issue. They don’t give a rat’s ass about working, but they’ve got all their memories from before they died.” I could tell I wasn’t doing anything to make her feel more secure.

“But…but!”

“Sh. Relax. Drink your drink.” I patted the back of her hand with my fingertips.

“Will you kill it?” Her question came out as a teary whimper. “Please, will you come and kill it?”

I’m a practical man. There was something I wanted to know before I accepted the job.

“How will I be compensated for risking my life to rid you of a loud, messy, pest?”

Louise Malley’s eyes started to track properly at the mention of payment for my services. Perhaps payment was a concept she was more comfortable with than re-murdering people. Who can say? Not I.

“What do you usually charge?” She actually squeezed her arms together, making her bosom plump up between the halves of her jacket. It looked like two Chinese pork buns mating.

Not unappetizing, but not what I had in mind.

“Well, Miss Malley, in these turbulent times when cash is mostly useless, I prefer hard goods. I don’t know how things are for you, but we subsist on trading around here.”

“You want,” she heaved a sigh and batted her eyes, “something in trade?”

“Yes. Durable goods. Food. Medicine. Gas.” I admit, I was frustrated with her and slightly turned on by the idea of a good…trade. “Your breasts are making my beard fluffy, but I really need supplies more than a roll in the hay.”

“Oh. Well.” She sighed, deflating the mating buns, along with my heart. “Do you know the hardware store up the street?”

“Yes, the one that was secured so well that no one can break into it.”

Whoever had locked the place down did it with welded steel plate. I looked it over once, thinking I could pull the trade goods sword from the stone and be king of all bartering. Maybe, if I had a source for plastic explosives, I could have made my way inside. Without a big bada-boom or heavy equipment, there was no way.

“My family owns that building. If you kill this thing, we will remove the security measures, and you can have the store.” She smiled and it was wicked. “You can have the store and everything inside. Of course, you’ll have to discourage looting on your own.”

I would have kissed her, but the speed of her changing mood made me restrain myself. Somewhere, hidden in all this, was a catch. No one, and I mean no one, gives away something that valuable for zombie removal.

Unfortunately for me, even with a catch, the offer was too good to refuse.

“Miss Malley, you have a deal.”

She smiled at me with perfect, straight, brilliant white teeth. Her grey eyes sparkled with genuine…something…and she held out her hand to get a “team spirit” shake from me. I let her have it, European-style: a single shake.

“Mr. Stewart, I am so grateful! We will sleep better at night, knowing this thing is gone!” My client gushed. “When we can we expect you? As soon as possible, I hope!”

“I’m free tomorrow. I will need an address from you, otherwise, I’ll be wandering around like an idiot.”

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry!” Miss Malley pulled a sheet of paper from her jacket, giving me a tantalizing glimpse of her dim sum cleavage. “This is the address. We’re on Clarendon Boulevard at 2300. The dumpster is in the alley near 2350.”

I knew the address. Prior to the world going to pot, it was a hot address for young Politicos and high-paid employees of government contractors that were thick on the ground in Rosslyn and Arlington. My favorite steakhouse used to be across the street. There were cold nights when I dreamed of their dry-aged Delmonico, a heavy red wine, and creamed spinach.

Like so many things, it didn’t survive the first riots and subsequent martial law.

©James Crawford, 2012

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For Zombies at Trenton Art All Night

Trenton Arts All Night

We are pleased to announce that our For Zombies videos are an official selection of the first annual film festival at the Trenton Art All Night this weekend.  It starts this Saturday June 16th at 3 pm and runs for a full 24 hours through to 3 pm Sunday July 17th.  The full schedule is listed below.  Our own contributions are bold and italicized.

It’s not just about films.  There’s live music, photography and art on display as well as interactive events.  There’s a molten iron pour starting at 9 pm Saturday night.  We hope that’s not too interactive. That’s only appropriate.  Festivities take place in the historic Roebling Wire works.  Festivities take place inside the historic. Best of all, admission is free. 

Our videos are scheduled to screen at 6 am on Sunday.  That should be the right time to catch the all night crowd unaware and grab some breakfast.  We plan on attending and seeing ourselves on the big screen for the first time.

Saturday

Doors open at 3:00 PM

Kids’ Films and Animation

3:15 PM – “The Wonkidos: Getting Dressed!” Animated Short (6 min) All-Ages

3:21 PM – “Max and the Reaper” (6 min) All-Ages

3:27 PM – “Team Art” (2 min) All-Ages

3:30 PM – “The Driveway” (10 min) Mild Language

Comedy

3:40 PM – “Greyboys” (5 min) All-Ages

3:45 PM – “Yes, Hello!” (20 min) Strong Language and Adult Themes

4:05 PM – “What’s Your Problem?” (40 min) Strong Language

Short Drama

4:45 PM – “Bump” (7 min) Adult Themes and Strong Language

4:52 PM – “Powerless” (12 min) Adult Themes and Strong Language

5:04 PM – “Perhaps Never” (10 min) All-Ages

5:15 PM – “A Not So Simple Goodbye” (10 min)

5:25 PM to 6:15 PM – Brief Intermission (Room for more movies)

Action/Thrillers/Horror

6:15 PM – “Brielle and the Horror” Trailer (2min) mild violence

6:18 PM – “GREY” Trailer (1min) All-Ages

6:20 PM – “Shogun Cowboy” Trailer (1min) All-Ages

6:22 PM – “Insomnolent” (6 min) Adult Theme

6:30 PM – “Kill Casual” (10 min) Strong Language, Blood and Violence

6:45 PM -“Tormented” (87 min) Might be Canceled?

or

6:45 PM – “Channel 6 Late Night Saturday Double Shot Feature” (72 min) Strong Language, Drug Use, Blood and Violence

8:15 PM – “The Velvet Elvis” (112 min) Strong Language, Blood and Violence

10:15 PM – “Dead Weight” (89 min) Blood and Violence, Adult Themes and Language

11:45 PM – “Damned Wear Headphone” (45 minutes)  Strong and Vulgar Language, Nudity, Drug Use, Blood and Violence

12:30 AM – “Mary Horror” (90 min) Unrated: Strong Language, Blood and Violence

2:00 AM – “Spinky’s Singing Winky” (30 min) Adult Language and Themes

2:30 AM – “Warehouse 15” (48 min) Brief Nudity and Strong Language

4:18AM to 6:00 AM – Long Intermission (Room for more movies)

Waking up to ZOMBIES: Instructional Video and more for Zombies

6:00 AM – “Blobageddon” (5 min) mild blood

6:05 AM – “Cocktails for Zombies” (7 min) mild blood

6:12 AM – “First Aid for Zombies” (7 min) mild blood

6:19 AM – “Football for Zombies” (2 min) mild blood

6:21 AM – “Brewing for Zombies” (10 min) mild blood

6:31 AM – “Grilling for Zombies” (8 min) mild blood

6:40 AM – “X” (60 min) mild blood

Music Videos

7:40 AM – “Honah Lee: Girls” (3 min) All-Ages

7:45 AM – “Radio Eris: Chip Mind” (9 min) Adult Language

Art and Experimental Films

7:55 AM – “David E. Williams: Their Paper Cranes Ablaze” (5 min) All-Ages

8:00 AM – “Still Here” (3 min) All-Ages

8:04 AM – “Light, Water, Robot” (4 min) All-Ages

8:08 AM – “Kiss Kill” (14 min) All-Ages

Short Films featuring Cinematography by Malachi Matcho (AAN’s Video Captain)

8:22 AM – “About Sally” (7 min) All-Ages

8:29 AM – “Hamlet” (5 min) All-Ages

8:34 AM – “Untitled” (11 min) All-Ages

8:45 AM – “Total Psychotic Break” (25 min) Adult Theme

9:10 AM – “The Weight of a Kiss” (13 min) Adult Theme

Docu-SundayMorning

ShortDocumentaries

9:23 AM – “Street Justice” (6 min) All-Ages

9:29 AM – “Viaduct” (9 min) All-Ages

9:38 AM – “Where Hope Works” (16 min) All-Ages

9:54 AM – “A Vision for a Better Future” (12 min) All-Ages

10:06 AM – “Beyond Intentions” (5 min) All-Ages

10:10 AM – “Cold Wave” (4min) All-Ages

Long Documentary

10:04 AM – “Splitting Pairs, Woman to Woman: A Documentary On Divorce”  (26 min) – All-Ages

10:30 AM – “Pat’s Lunch: You’re Not Eatin’ No Junk” (25 min) All-Ages

11:00 AM – “Act of faith: planned integrated housing in Princeton NJ” (22 min) All-Ages

Beyond the Doors of Grounds for Sculpture – 11:30 AM to 3:00 PM Brief Nudity

11:30 AM– “Beyond the Doors of Grounds for Sculpture” Video 1 (30 min)

12:00 PM – “Beyond the Doors of Grounds for Sculpture” Video 2 (30 min)

12:30 PM – “Beyond the Doors of Grounds for Sculpture” Video 3 (30 min)

1:00 PM – “Beyond the Doors of Grounds for Sculpture” Video 4 (30 min)

1:30 PM – “Beyond the Doors of Grounds for Sculpture” Video 5 (30 min)

2:00 PM – “Beyond the Doors of Grounds for Sculpture” Video 6 (30 min)

2:30 PM – “Beyond the Doors of Grounds for Sculpture” Video 7 (30 min)

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Six Reasons Miami Zombie Prank is Obvious

The Miami zombie prank caught the nation’s attention and got the zombie community groaning.  We don’t take kindly to breathers trying to emulate us.  We do understand the appeal.  Our freewheeling attitude, snappy fashion and all night parties have their draw, but you pretenders stand out like a sore infected thumb.  There are several telltale giveaways.  Allow me to elucidate.  First, enter exhibit A – the prank video.

Zombies don’t wear ties.  Ties went out of fashion among us in the mid-70s.  Nowadays you won’t catch any of us dead… er… with a shotgun hole in our heads wearing a tie.  Bowties are in because bowties are cool.

Zombies don’t stomp the ground.  The prankster gets down on all fours a few times and stops the when approaching his would-be victims.  Sure, our crawlers may do that, but it’s their means of locomotion.  The undead are not primates.  Our walkers have some class and don’t stoop to this behavior, metaphorically or otherwise.

Zombies don’t avoid personal contact.  The prankster never actually made contact with anyone. It’s abnormal for us.  We’re normally so gregarious and friendly.  When you see one of us approaching, just remember he or she only wants a hug.  The clawing, biting, ripping, tearing and eating is just incidental.

Zombies don’t hesitate.  We know what we want and we want it now.  We’re a demanding group.  Even though we’re slow, we’re methodical and move with purpose.  His pauses gave him away.

Zombies don’t have a film crew. Prying eyes and publicity is not our normal mode of operation.  We’ve been around for thousands of years and only agreed to be filmed for Romero’s landmark documentary, Night of the Living Dead, fifty years ago.  If you see a film crew following a zombie around, you can be sure that’s not a real zombie.  Although, some of us do enjoy being extras in horror movies.

Zombies don’t run away.  In the last prank, his would-be meals turned on him and chased him off.  Even outnumbered and overmatched we don’t run.  We may not survive the encounter, but we will convince a few of your to join our cause before you get the better of us.

We fully approve of how the video ended with the faux zombie running away from an angry mob.  Next time we think he should try blending in with a horde of real zombies and learn first-claw how we deal with pretenders.

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