The Zombie Casserole Chronicles – Part Two

Filming day arrived and we were armed with shot sheets, cameras, release forms and catering.  We don’t want our cast and crew to go hungry.  A few would be made up as zombies later in the day and, while we appreciate method acting, we don’t want our cast and crew turning on us. Total headcount stood at thirteen on Saturday and eleven on Sunday.  For experienced producers, this might not seem like much, but for us it was a full house.  We lucked out.  From our make-up artists to production assistants to cast, everyone was focused and ready to make it happen. We put out the call and it was answered. It’s up to us to deliver on our end.  Bring on Zombie Casserole!

Having a professional camcorder is one thing.  It gives some legitimacy.  Knowing how to use it is another. Fortunately, it arrived a few days before we held auditions and I had time to test it out and get used to it.  Lights were another story.  Our fill lights we’ve been using for a green screen are good for that purpose, but insufficient for lighting a set (on an unrelated note, the “set” is my house). We had two rather important lights we’d ordered from Mole-Richardson.  They are built on demand and give a wide six week window before it ships. Maybe they would come on time, maybe not. Lucky for us, they arrived a week ahead of the hurricane and we had a chance to test them out.

Zombie CasseroleWith equipment in place, shot sheets in hand and scripts at the ready, we met our actors and took our first shots.  Lesson one – when you have a lighting set up, take all the shots you need for that given set up regardless if it’s all part of the same scene or not. Halogen lights require up to fifteen minutes to cool and when you are fighting against time, those fifteen minutes matter. If you relight too soon after turning off a halogen bulb, it could explode. Lesson two – have back up halogen bulbs. Fortunately, we did. Even more surprisingly, we didn’t need them.

Zombie CasseroleAny zombie film worth its salt needs good makeup artists. Back in May, at Wizard World Philadelphia, we were fortunate to meet two impressively talented makeup artists who came out for our shoot and zombified a small horde. Next week, they’ll be doing it all again for a mid-sized horde or about a dozen.  If we hadn’t put ourselves out on display at Wizard World, we would have never met them. Lesson three – be outgoing.  I’ve engaged in photography and written a few short stories. They’re both largely solitary endeavors.  Film is another beast.  It’s a collaborate effort and won’t happen in a vacuum.

Zombie CasseroleWe treated the shot sheets, and portions of the script for that matter, as guidelines which brings me to… Lesson four – be flexible. The actors brought their own interpretation of the roles which made for some wonderful footage we hadn’t even envisioned. We scripted a ludicrous dinner scene where a family sits down to dinner with a generally well-mannered zombie along with a zombie-hating bigot.  It made for some tense and funny moments. The actors all did a fantastic job of bringing that scene to life.  It was far more demented (in a good way) than we had originally envisioned.

At the end of the weekend and two full days of filming, I was utterly exhausted and sore, but happy with the footage.  I’m ready to do it all again this coming weekend when we shoot a zombie protest rally.

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The Zombie Casserole Chronicles – Part One

Several months ago, after going to several conventions and film festivals, John and I met a number of different filmmakers who were pulling off productions for staggeringly small sums of money.  Over bourbon we asked ourselves “Why couldn’t we do that?”  We both recognized that making a full length feature film on evenings and weekends would be far too much to bite off so we decided to try making a 20 minute short.

With that decided somewhere around August, we picked the first two weekends in November as the filming dates.  We put out calls on Twitter and Facebook, spoke with people at more conferences and created a group on Facebook we stayed in touch with.  Through these channels, we ended up with 3 highly enthusiastic makeup artists.

As we got to September, we finally realized that if we wanted to do this, we needed to actually write a script.  Details, details.  A friend expressed interest in helping us, and one weekend and several beers later we had cranked out a script best described as Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner but with zombies.

We called the script Zombie Casserole as a working title and sent it out to friends and family and received some rather honest but brutal feedback.  We then sat down and rewrote about 50% of it.  Sending this out, we got much better feedback.  We did a read through and discovered it took us about 20-25 minutes to read it all the way through.

We felt pretty good about this version of the script and were ready to go.  To celebrate we bought a new video camera and fancy lighting.

One problem – it was very obvious to us that in order to make this work – we’d probably need real actors.  And we couldn’t pay them.  Oh joy.

Luckily, John had made a contact in the film department at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.  He suggested that we arrange a casting call there.  John and I figured why not?  So without having a location or date, we made some announcements and got some interested parties.  Once we had a location and time (Tuesday October 23’rd), we gave people timeslots on the promise that they’d show up.

We showed up with our shiny new video camera and a green screen, and got everything up in about 20 minutes when, at 10 AM, we had our first audition.  Quite frankly, we were a little surprised that people showed up – but they did!  Later in the afternoon, our friend Baxter (the red-shirt zombie from Blobageddon) joined us.  After reviewing footage and contacting our choices, by the end of the week, we had a cast for the film.  In the interest of full disclosure, we did let our cast members know exactly what our experience levels were and what we’d done in the past, giving them an opportunity to back out.  Still, everyone still seemed game.  To say we were tickled would be an understatement.

John and The Camera

Our first rejection

Sanj And John Evaluating

Dressed to Ill

Earlier this week when Hurricane Sandy tore through Philly, we got a scare when we lost power for a day and a half, resulting in sleepless nights and acid reflux.  But now things seem to be stabilizing, and this weekend we begin principal photography.

Now, we’re just going with it.  It could totally blow up in our faces, but it won’t be for lack of trying on our part.

I think I summed it up best when in describing our project to someone else, I said “We’re so far out of comfort zones it’s become comical.”


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Jesusween. Really?

Holy crap, Jesusween is a real thing. For the past month I’ve been convinced that everyone I knew was a victim of Poe’s Law. But no—there really is a segment of the Christian population that lives to spread the good news about Jesus to unsuspecting souls, and for some reason they think Halloween is the perfect time for this.
Now don’t get me wrong. I love me some Jesus. He’s a great guy. Anyone who can come back from the dead and cause others to do the same is like family to me. And I like a lot of what he had to say about not judging others and loving one’s neighbors. I love all of my neighbors. They’re delicious.
But Jesus has his own holidays. Halloween belongs to us ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties. It’s the one night of the year we can go out and roam around unnoticed, and when we knock on someone’s door they open it with smiles and candy instead of with screams and a shotgun.
Even though they don’t need to, my little shamblers love dressing up. Let’s face it, the only thing cooler than a ninja pirate is a zombie ninja pirate. And those silly superhero movies we were subjected to over the summer would have been a hundred times better had they been filmed with an all-zombie cast. My boys re-created a battle scene in our back yard while waiting for trick or treating to start, and I’m still finding fingers and toes everywhere.
And the Halloween parties—sheer perfection. The breather females are almost all scantily clad, which makes it easier to pick out the good ones and leave the skinny ones who would be more trouble than they’re worth. The males tend to be heavy drinkers at these parties, which makes them easier to catch. If you get one after he’s passed out, it’s like a gelatin shot.
Should anyone really be allowed to interfere with this kind of whimsical perfection? Do my shamblers need a pamphlet about Jesus and Satan instead of the expected Butterfinger? (Which was not at all what I expected the first time I tasted one, by the way. Talk about false advertising.)
My horde takes trick or treating very seriously. If you hand a breather child a religious tract, the worst that will happen is a few eggs on your house or strips of toilet paper in your trees. My children are more creative than that—and more openminded about what constitutes an edible treat.
Making a hungry undead teenager angry won’t bring her closer to God. But it might do the trick for you.

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Long Haired Zombie-Killing Freak #19

Wherein our hero displays aboriginal skills from another culture…

When you come home from a long day of whatever it is that you do, in a normal world, you don’t find yourself looking down the barrel of a shotgun for the second time… unless, you happen to be an unlucky police officer… or you’re me. Shirley, Marvin’s buxom, and immensely sturdy, wife, rested the double-barreled monstrosity against my forehead as soon as I opened the back door. It was cold, and strangely soothing.

“Is that your scraggly head, Frank?” She always sounded like an aging Country music star, after a life of bourbon and cigarettes: raspy, smoky, rough, ready, and able to kick the furry shit right out of you.

“Yes, Shirley. It is I, your humble tenant, in a great deal of pain. Would you let me in?”

She graciously stepped aside and let me in.

I hurried inside and surveyed the room for likely surfaces to perch on. Screw sitting at the bar! The stools were too high, and the seats were too small to rest my abused jewels on. It was find a chair, or drop all my gear and fall flat on my back on the rustic wooden floor. Luckily, there were plenty of chairs, and none of the ones near me were occupied.

Marvin and Shirley’s niece, Tracy, was watching my progress from the bar. I can’t imagine what I must have looked like to her, so I quickly put the whole lot of those thoughts to the side, and got down to the business of trying to sit down without screaming like a girl.

It was easier to put my goodie bag, gun, and sword down, before trying to lower myself into the waiting chair. Thank god, the chair had arms, or I wouldn’t have been able to control my descent.

“What happened out there?” Tracy asked me.

“Bad guys. Beatings. Death. Doom. Destruction. Normal.”

“You look like shit, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

“This ain’t all that different from what he usually looks like,” Shirley added, “except he’s acting like he got kicked in the nuts by a team of cheerleaders.”

“Thanks.” I groaned. I should have expected the commentary. “It would have been better if it had been cheerleaders. My target was the one who nutted me.”

“Oh!” Tracy exclaimed, with a sour grimace on her face. I hoped it was some kind of sympathy, and not derision. “You don’t feel any warm moisture down there, do you?”

“Huh? Why?”

“The impact could have ruptured one, or both, of your testicles. There would be… ahem… blood, and stuff.”

My face must have gone white, because Tracy seemed to teleport across the floor. She took my hand in hers, and started feeling for my pulse. It took her a moment, but she seemed satisfied when she found it.

“Have you checked them out?” She asked.


“Ah, you need to know if you’re intact. If you aren’t, then you’ve got problems.”

“What?” I’m ashamed how I squeaked.

“I’ll take that as a no. You need to. I can’t tell if all the blood on your pants is yours or someone else’s.”

“Wow!” Shirley yelled. “Marvin! Come on down! Frank might have lost his nuts in a fight!”

From somewhere else, I heard a muffled, “Oh!” Fantastic! I didn’t want an audience, but it looked like I was going to have one, regardless.

“Tracy, I am… moved… that you’re concerned for my testicles. I think I can even go so far as to tell you that they’re grateful for your interest, but I’ve only just started to feel a little better. I want to sit here for just a little while longer, and then I’ll go examine my junk.”

She gave me the dirtiest look I’ve ever seen. My penis would have hidden behind my prostate in sheer terror, if it had the energy to move. I put my hands up to stay her harsh feelings—or so I tell myself—but it was in case she decided to take a swing at me.

Funny how you prepare for one thing, and that isn’t the thing you get.

Tracy locked eyes with me, and held them, as she bent over at the waist, right in front of my hands. In the pregnant, tense silence, her hand shot out and tapped the zipper of my pants. I responded by giving her my best impression of a falsetto Maori Haka.

“Did you just scream ‘This is the hairy man who makes the sun rise for me’ in Maori?” Tracy asked with wide eyes.

I wiped tears from my eyes, and mumbled that I didn’t know.

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Long Haired Zombie-Killing Freak #18

My testicles—the Panza Twins—were howling. I rolled around on the ground, waiting for the enemy’s final technique. You know the one that thoroughly destroys the opponent? That one.

I wish I could say I hated the he was going to kill me in such a shameful state, but I can’t. I was too busy writhing in agony—the aforementioned “shameful state”—and my eyes were watering so hard I couldn’t even see him coming. This wasn’t the way I wanted to go.

God damn it! Where’s my blaze of glory?

Oh. Yes, the fire in my crotch. Right. Thanks for reminding me.


I knew my seconds were numbered, underneath the endorphin rush of abdominal pain. I managed to lift the gun and point it upwards, but didn’t dare pull the trigger. The wetness in my eyes was blurring my vision too much to distinguish a target from the rest of the indistinct shit.

Still, he didn’t attack. The clock kept ticking well past the amount of time one would normally expect for an opponent to close the distance and end your miserable life. So much time, in fact, I actually managed to wipe the wetness from my eyes, and take a look around.

My bike was still there, but he was gone. What the hell? Where did he go?

Why did he go? He had the drop on me! I couldn’t process any of it with the creeping pain in my innards, so I just sat there, breathing like a bellows until I could get up.

Lessons for the day: my opponent is unusual; riding a motorcycle with bruised testicles makes you long for the Spanish Inquisition; and I needed to have a break before tackling my contract again. I planned to indulge myself when I got back to the bar, provided I could lift my leg to dismount my ride. Failing that, I’d moan loudly until I fell over, or someone came to take pity on me.

It would have to be Tracy, the niece. Shirley would laugh at me. Marvin would probably do something much worse, like throw darts at me so I’d be forced to move around. Then, and only then, would he laugh. Aren’t post-apocalyptic relationships grand?

Have you ever noticed that motor vehicles find all the potholes when you’re in pain? I tried to avoid the holes in the road, truly. Even worse than the holes, were the rumble strips on the side of the road.

My front tire got bumped, and I found myself skidding over towards the shoulder of the road. I got out of the skid, but not in time to save my innards from a short experience with the asphalt vibrator of poorly maintained rumble strips, cut into the surface of the road. They’re designed to wake up sleepy drivers, and I can assure you my eyes were fully open after half a second of high-speed thumping. I will also admit to screaming at the top of my lungs.

Quixote and the Panza twins—my favorite nickname for my “meat and two veg”—were unhappy with my driving skills. I could easily imagine them huddled in the soggy cantina that was my pants, as they muttered about how to kill the lousy gringo who got them beaten so badly.

“I want to kill the gringo like a Quentin Tarantino movie, amigos.” Panza #1 said.

“¿Que?” #2 asked.

“Maybe, like, lots of blood and dismemberment?” Quixote added his 2¢ to the discussion.

“Si. Lots of blood. Uma Thurman beating the shit out of him, David Carradine comes back from the grave, and Lucy Liu crochets his guts into a scarf.”

“Man! For a hairy little plum, you got one hell of an imagination!” Quixote said, leaning gently on Panza #1, careful not to put too much weight on his purple amigo.

“No. Necesitamos el Machete. You know, Danny Trejo? Matarle con cuchillos. ¡Como fuentes de sangre!” Panza #2 had a different opinion: I should be killed by Danny Trejo, —as “Machete”—with knives, and fountains of blood.

I often curse myself for being born with an excellent visual imagination. It also sucks that my visuals come with dialog. No one should have nads with a horrible excess of personality. No one.

That was how I endured the ride back to Marvin’s, arguing with my anatomy. We’d arrived at a stalemate by the time I half-rolled, half-fell of my motorcycle around the back of the bar. I took the key out of the ignition, still bent over, and silently debated what to bring inside… because it might not be there if I left it alone for too long. Yeah, bring everything inside.

I looked at the stairs leading to the back door of the bar. The stairs stared back, and silently taunted me with their knotholes and wood grain. They were the shortest way inside; going around to the front of the bar would be more painful.

Summoning up what little bravado I had left, I mounted the stairs with my gear slung over my back, as I leaned heavily on the railing. It was surprisingly difficult to keep my balance, nearly bent in half from residual pain, with a load of goodies sliding around on my back. It shouldn’t have surprised me when I slipped on the second step and fell backwards onto the cement landing at the base of the stairs.

I lay there, like a dying roach, and cursed the Almighty at the top of my lungs.

I imagined God, looking down on me, with the big white beard and piercing eyes, through a hole in the clouds. He smirked behind the mustache.

“Get the fuck up, boy. You’re a lame excuse for a hero.” God said.

“Screw you, old man! I don’t believe in you either!”

In my prolific imagination, I heard God muttering “Asshole” as I got up off the concrete.

As I climbed the flight of stairs, successfully, I worried that I might be losing my sanity. People who hear voices and see things are, generally, believed to be crazier than a bag full of corn smut. I guess my saving grace is that I knew that it was my imagination at work, and not something forced upon me by whacked-out neurotransmitters.

Thank goodness for an extra helping of self-awareness.

(James Crawford, your friendly author, here. Follow me on Twitter @crawford4033. Be sure to hunt up the Frank Stewart books on BN, Amazon, iTunes, and Smashwords! Titles: Blood Soaked and Contagious and Blood-Soaked and Invaded.)

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