The Making of an Amateur zombie film: Part 4

JANUARY 2019 – Day 66 goes to school!

After a nice break for Christmas (yeah right, I was working) the Day 66 crew recommenced production on Sunday 20th January 2019.  We welcomed nine (yes, NINE!) new cast members, who were all keen to get involved.

The Locks Heath working men’s club kindly permitted us use of their entrance hall, which doubled as a school reception area.  I’d arranged for the cleaner to let us in.  Down went the ‘no drinks past this point’ and ‘Pub Watch’ signs…up went the drawings my kids and Erin Goble had drawn, along with other typical school themed signs and notices.  It only took a few minutes to make the place look a lot less like a drinking establishment and more like a school. Sandford Primary to be exact.

Steve Launay took on camera and we were joined by Sam Warren on sound, and Luke Goble as a runner. Everyone else chipped in here and there to get things set.

Jan Seymour took on the role of receptionist, Mrs MacReady (a nod to The Thing – I’d forgotten this was Kurt Russell’s character name when I appeared on Pressure Pad a few years ago and never live that down. It’s particularly embarrassing as its one of my favourite horrors).  Not realising she had any lines, Jan did well to get through the scenes in so few takes!

Sarah Miatt returned as Susan Farley, along with my kids, Ella and Lincoln, as Sarah and Brody Farley respectively.  The scene saw them being collected from school amongst all the chaos of a mysterious illness outbreak…

John and Ann Hampton joined us as paramedics, and Mat Hasker appeared as music teacher, Mr Gilbert.  His piano tie has caused quite the stir on Twitter!  Check it out!

Claire Goble and daughter Erin appeared as extras.  Erin did extremely well considering her young age, playing a sick child.  Well done Erin!

The shoot at the club went very smoothly and we kept on schedule.  Once completed, down went the drawings and all the alcohol related stuff went back up! Many thanks LHWMC!

Around half of us then headed to Whiteley to film a scene in a car park, which doubled for the school’s.  We were met by Ella’s friend, Francesca Baxter, and her parents, Darren and Lucia.  They’d been expecting Francesca to get involved but little did they know they too would be roped into being extras!  Many thanks for being game and taking part!  Day 66 is 96% shot at time of writing.  Getting there people!!!

FEBRUARY 2019 – Day 66 turns up the gore!

Tuesday 5th February 2019 saw the Day 66 crew back in action.  John and Ann Hampton had kindly offered the use of their bedroom for some brief shots of my parents, as zombies, staggering towards the camera.  This shot will be inserted into previously shot footage from inside Steve’s house, where my character, Jack, discovers the place in which he is recuperating is not as unoccupied as he first thought.  There’d also be a scene shot elsewhere involving another couple zombies, so we used the Hampton’s as a base for that makeup too.

I turned up at their house shortly before 10am slightly confused, having not been there for a couple years, not expecting the front door to actually be at the front!  It was lovely stepping back inside where I have fond memories of filming mainly Strawberry Fields and The Parsons, two of Beacon Productions’ biggest shows from the past.  Albeit, it has changed a great deal since that time!

My parents arrived soon after, followed by Molly Savery, who would once again assist with makeup.  I’d asked my parents to be zombies primarily to save money on materials.  There was also the added bonus my dad had twisted his ankle a few days before, which assisted with his zombie-walk!

We were joined by Steve Launay (camera), Luke Goble (runner/ zombie extra yet again!!) and Day 66 twitter follower Tess Lorrigan.  I’d put a shout out to Beacon members on social media requesting an extra but likely due to the daytime shoot I’d had no responses, so Tess bit my hand off (no pun intended) shortly after advertising the opportunity to followers on Twitter. Tess had been following the Day 66 project since the Daily Echo article was published in May last year and was eager to get involved.

As soon as my folks were made-up, we commenced shooting whilst Tess then had her makeup applied.

I was impressed with the excellent zombie work from my parents and Molly did a predictably great job with the makeup.

Once that finished we filmed a brief shot outside of me peeling a bandage off, revealing a wound underneath Molly had prepped for me.  This will be inserted into previously shot footage from last year.

Once that was in the can and Tess had been zombified, myself, Steve, Luke and of course Tess headed to a car park in the Warsash area to shoot another scene.  This would see Jack, having just taken on the hordes (yet to be filmed), arriving back to his car only to find two zombies loitering nearby! 

We’d had recent snow and I’d recced the car park the day before to ensure there was no ice remaining that would ruin continuity.  Upon arrival I was disheartened to see a council van and trailer parked in the exact spot my car needed to be!  I couldn’t believe my luck.

I found an alternative spot and figured a way to trick the angle/viewer.  Then every professional dog walker you can think of started turning up and before we knew it, Steve was scribbling down telephone numbers, impressed with the canine handling he was witnessing!

They were all good as gold and parked where we politely asked them!

Sadly, the council were chain sawing nearby, which meant we were unable to shoot with sound.  But then an awful lot of this production will rely on Foley anyway, so what did a little more matter?!

Tess was first up – she started staggering towards me as I entered the car park.  Once I’d pretended to douse her with lighter fluid, I stormed over to football hooligan zombie Luke (wearing a horrifically disturbing mask I’d purchased off Amazon), punched him to the ground and got in my car.  Seeing Luke trying to get to his feet in my wing mirror, I slammed the car into reverse and ran his head over.

To avoid a possible health and safety breach, I used a paper maché head I’d fashioned instead of Luke’s actual noggin.

Crafting the head had been strangely therapeutic.  Not having done this since I was six, I googled the technique.  I covered a balloon with a total of six layers of paper, newspaper followed by plain paper as a first double layer.  A day later a second double layer and so on.  Once dried, I popped the balloon.  The rest was my own experimentation.  I painted it and cut a half circle into the scalp so that when flattened, there was an obvious escape route for the gore.  I made a brain splatter mixture of fake blood, bread, dried cranberries and jelly. 

When we were ready to film the head being run over, I popped on some gloves and carefully poured the mixture into the head Tess kindly held for me.  Only realising as I went it was starting to leak out the cut in the scalp!  We cleaned up the leak and carefully positioned the head to the rear of my car, with a rock behind it to prevent it rolling to one side. I plugged the neck with bubble wrap so there was only one way the splatter could go.  We placed the scarf and top Luke had been wearing around the head and we were all set to go.

I became extremely nervous.  I’d only prepped one head. This really was a one shot opportunity.  No second chances.  It had  to work.  Realising the monumental moment, we got some behind the scenes footage and I introduced the take.  I got in my car and when Steve confirmed he was ready and recording, I slammed the car into reverse.

SPLAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  It worked a treat.

I sat nervously in my car for a few seconds whilst I sussed the reactions as to whether it had been a success. I exited the car and saw the carnage.  Watching the footage back, I couldn’t believe just how well it had gone.  Steve said it was the only disgusting thing he had ever seen.  Tess described it as a “beautiful squirt”! 

I was chuffed to bits. So much so, that the news later that day the pot-hole ridden car park had snapped both my front suspension coils causing £500 worth of damage, didn’t bother me.  Immediately, anyway! Sadly the other shoot planned for February was cancelled due to crew availability – this was rescheduled for 9th March…

The Making of an Amateur zombie film: Part 3

NOVEMBER 2018 – now 88% shot!

Day 66 managed three filming days in November, meaning great progress was made and as of 30/11/18, 88% of the film has now been shot.  This is fantastic news!

On Sunday 11th November we returned to the property in Titchfield to complete all remaining scenes set there.  I’d been keeping a close eye on Storm Deidre, who’d threatened to force my hand and cancel the shoot.  However, the ever-reliable BBC weather forecast (clearly keen to make up for the 1987 Michael Fish blunder) indicated Deidre would bypass Titchfield for the majority of the shoot.  I arrived early with my daughter Ella and started work on our mock cemetery, including the gravestones made by former Beacon member, Daniel Cook. 

Our cameraman for the day, Connor Cleary, was next to arrive, followed by Liam Low Ying who took on a mystery role…

Very little can be said about the cemetery scenes, as we’d enter spoiler-territory, and we are limited to what photos we can publish!  However, I can say Chris Challis took on the role of a vicar, and he brought along Yria Martinez Bonillo and Steve Launay, who took on zombie roles. 

I’d created a schedule for the day we needed to stick to rigidly.  The lovely Molly Savery was on hand to do make up and started work in the garage, which was our shelter/base for the day.  Molly once again did us proud and her timing fitted in perfectly with what I’d scheduled, ensuring there was always something being filmed.

Steve hammed up his zombie perfectly, which was just what was required for what I call the ‘companion’ role, although he was seemingly unable to control his saliva at one point!  My character, Jack, captures Steve’s zombie and instead of dispatching it, decides to wine and dine with it.  These scenes will be shot on a later date in the garden at Steve’s house.

Deidre emptied her bladder on us around noon, which provided an opportunity to break and scoff some food.  Liam kindly dropped Ella at my parents and once Deidre was spent, we continued filming.

We finished the day with scenes involving Jack being woke by Yria banging on the window of his car, leaving her bloody handprints on the glass.  We also popped down a local road and filmed scenes of Jack driving past a staggering Yria.  We chose a quiet location, but still managed to attract the attention of a curious motorist, who asked if we were filming a porno.  Much to his disappointment, I advised we weren’t, and he replied “I’d hoped you were gonna ask me to join in”.  I suggested the porn industry may wish to consider this genre but Connor informed me they already do. 

Tuesday 20th November saw our second Day 66 evening shoot (after the campfire scenes shot in June).   We met at mine to complete the remaining scenes set at the Farley’s house.  Crew-wise we had Steve on camera, and a jetlagged but determined Chris Wilkes on the duel-role of lighting and sound.  My kids, Ella and Lincoln, continued their roles as Sarah and Brody Farley, whilst Sarah Miatt and James Farmer returned as their parents, Susan and Chris.

I ran a tight ship, keen to get all planned scenes completed.  At around half 8, just after Sarah’s scream frightened the whole of Whiteley, we packed up and went to James’ house in Stubbington to film a couple of bedroom-set scenes there.  Thanks to James and Steph for accommodating us.

A few days later was the annual Beacon casino evening. I arrived to be informed by Steve a slight mishap had occurred mid file transfer and that all Day 66 (and other productions) audio since July had been deleted.  I thought the permadeath of my ultimate edition horse in RDR2 was upsetting…

Fortunately, I contacted my mate Liam, who works in IT, and he suggested a download of ‘undelete 360’.  Steve contacted me the next day and much to my relief, advised he was able to recover all the files.

Tuesday 27th November saw myself, Steve and Luke Goble film scenes in the Hook area of Warsash, Hampshire. Steve took camera, whilst Luke took sound but was also a zombie.

We made the most of the great location, filming scenes at Hook rec and the woods off Hook Lane car park. I popped by the Subway in Whiteley on my way home.  As I queued for my festive-special footlong, I realised I was wearing bloodied clothing and must have looked like I’d massacred someone and popped out for a spot of lunch.

DECEMBER 2018 – Day 66 wraps for 2018

On Thursday 6th December, I managed to cram in an hour and a half of filming before a late shift, getting shots done I’d struggled to ‘bolt on’ to other shoots through timing issues.

First location was a local church.  I’d recced the site around the same time of day a week or so earlier but on arrival we were frustrated to find the gate padlocked.

We were forced to cut short our visit, only getting what shots we could from outside the grounds.

We then ventured to a cemetery in Sarisbury Green to get shots of my character, Jack, walking through the site in search of his son’s grave.

Last up was Portsdown Hill, to get shots of the harbour and Portsmouth itself.  This will feature as part of a montage halfway through the film.  Such a quick shot but we needed to get it done at some point.

I dropped a carsick Steve home and headed to work.  Three locations in an hour and a half was not bad going.

The only other December shoot was on the evening of Wednesday 19th at Steve’s house.  This was always going to be a fun shoot, being a rare moment of humour in an otherwise bleak film.  Set whilst Jack recuperates at the country house, he starts going a bit loopy and wines and dines with the zombie he captured.

Steve was none too thrilled to be once again donning the vinegar-smelling bloodied jumper I’d prepared and cunningly stored at his house since his last appearance.  In fact I met the crew there before Steve even arrived home from work.  Chris Wilkes let us in, having just finished his Beacon Productions’ snooker final against Day 66 vicar Chris Challis.  Us being myself and returning cameraman Luke Foley.  Chris Wilkes took on the duel role of sound and lighting and the three of us set up the dining room ready for Steve’s arrival.

Shortly after Steve’s arrival, we were joined by Rhianna Kingdon, our returning make up artist, who did a fabulous job of recreating the work that (sadly unavailable) Molly Savery had done on Steve the previous month.  We got some cut-aways done whilst Steve was in the chair.

Once made-up, Steve joined the shoot.  We shot the first scene in full, which involved Jack getting frustrated with the zombie over his table manners and refusal to eat the meal that had been (or baked bean) prepared.  Needless to say, Jack found a way to encourage the zombie to consume its meal…

We then concentrated on getting all bits shot that involved Steve, as he’d had a last minute Air B&B guest book that night, and he was understandably keen not to greet them looking deceased.

We shot the next scene in full, which forms part of another montage showing Jack’s return to full fitness.  By this time, Jack has used up all the ‘acceptable’ tinned meals and is left with the one thing he cannot stand…corned beef.

It turned out Steve also cannot stand corned beef.  The mere smell of it was enough to make him retch.

In a reversal of table manners, Jack ends up throwing some rejected corned beef at Steve’s zombie.  We shot this from a few different angles.  The first time I was supposed to only pretend to throw it, but somehow some of the slop found its way out my fist, past Steve’s face and landed on his dining room wall.  I’ve never seen a zombie so annoyed.

My personal favourite shot, and Steve’s least favourite, was the close up of the slop landing on Steve’s face.  Naturally, this took a second take to get it just right.  Unfortunately, the second take also resulted in the slop bouncing off Steve’s face and back on to the wall…

Steve managed to de-zombify just in time to receive his French guest, who still managed to walk in on us as we finished shots involving Jack cutting his hand open.  I’ve yet to hear whether he left a favourable review.

With cast unavailable between Christmas and New Year, that would prove to be the final shoot of 2018, but what a fun way to end the year.  We started Day 66 in April 2018 and whilst 23 filming days sounds horrific, in reality many of these have been an hour here, a couple hours there.  Only a few have been full day shoots.

I left Beacon members this little festive number…

Rudolph the Dead-Nosed Reindeer

Had a very shiny nose

And if you ever saw it

You could watch it decompose.

All of the other reindeer

Used to groan and call him names

They never let poor Rudolph

Come with them in search of brains.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve

Santa-zombie said:

“Rudolph with your nose so dead,

Won’t you help me pull my sled?”

Then how the reindeer loved him

As they shouted out with glee:

“Rudolph the Dead-Nosed Reindeer, Eat a brain or two for me!”

The Making of an amateur zombie film: Part 2

AUGUST 2018 – Day 66 cast expands!

After the morning excitement and violence of the first zombie shoot, the afternoon of 25th July involved two scenes shot near Day 66 soundtrack composer Mat Hasker’s house in Titchfield Park.

The first was an introduction to acting for Mat’s seven year old son, Joseph.  Helen Warne returned to play Jack’s wife, Alice.  Joseph played their young son, Arnie.  No prizes for where that inspiration came from!

The scene will serve as a flashback for main character Jack, just before he takes on the hordes of zombies.  Joseph only had a couple of lines but nailed them perfectly – no mean feat for a seven year old who, only a couple of years ago, would run and hide the minute I walked in the Hasker household!  Well done Joseph – awesome work dude!

The second scene was another flashback, where Jack and Alice moved house, following a tragedy.  I commandeered Mat’s new car for the scene, in which Helen sat in the front whilst I loaded the last of our boxes into the boot, before getting in and driving off.  How to make this more interesting?  Film in a single take, with cameraman Steve Launay walking round the car, following the action.  Steve did brilliantly in ensuring he didn’t make a cameo in the paintwork.  I however, realised on watching the footage back I still had blood up my arm from the morning’s brutality!!

Thursday 2nd August saw Iain Hamer join the cast as a funeral director.  Elliott Honey kindly provided the use of a hall at Sarisbury Green community centre for the shoot, which would only last an hour.  Steve was on hand for camera once more and we took advantage of the location by completing further scenes involving Jack using an exercise bike, which will form part of a montage where he recuperates from injury.  Many thanks once again to Elliott for providing the location – greatly appreciated and we hope to return in the near future for more Day 66!

Saturday 4th August saw filming occur at my house, with my kids, Ella (10) and Lincoln (6) playing the children of Sarah Miatt’s Susan Farley.  Ella (Sarah Farley) only got to shoot one of her scenes that day but has more to come.  Lincoln (Brody Farley) saw more action and should be very proud of his performance, which involved throwing up and looking feverish.  Molly Savery joined the shoot to ensure Lincoln’s ‘injury’ looked suitably realistic and concerning!  Molly also took on the role of boom operator for a couple of scenes.

Long-term Beacon member Sarah, as expected, did an excellent job with her lengthy dialogue.  I, however, need to familiarise myself more with the ‘zoom’ sound device, failing to realise that if a certain button was accidentally pressed it meant sound recorded through the device itself as opposed to the boom!  Fortunately, where we were indoors, the sound quality is sufficiently good!

On Thursday 9th August we headed next to the Locks Heath district centre to film a news report, by famous reporter, Jim Hooper.  Sorry, Tim Cooper!  Jon Leech also made his Day 66 debut, covering sound for the shoot. 

The rear of one of the main shops doubled for Sandford hospital, at which the public were arriving in droves for treatment, following the outbreak of a mysterious illness.

Steve returned knackered from his ‘business trip’ to Amsterdam but willing to see through his camera duties, also finding opportunity to be “hospital extra #3’!  Extras 1 and 2 were played by my parents, who came armed with their B&Q dust masks bought on “Wrinkly Wednesday”, which they wore sheepishly whilst standing in a non-existent line waiting for treatment.

Tim was predictably brilliant in the role, bringing a sense of needed realism to the scene, which briefly explains what is occurring on what is essentially Day Zero.  A sequel one day, perhaps?!

We had hoped one of Steve’s travelling companions would play Tim’s cameraman, however, neither fancied it given their lack of sleep.  I desperately phoned round people two hours before the shoot, finally securing the services of Stevie Waight only half an hour before filming commenced!  Given her lack of acting experience and the late involvement, Stevie impressed those present with her performance, for which she had to learn lines at zero notice.  Stevie – you can come again! Thank you! That would be the last filming day in August, with my holidays following the shoot.

SEPTEMBER 2018 – braaaaaiiiiiiiins!

Sunday 2nd September saw the arrival of five more zombies!

The largest Day 66 cast and crew to date gathered at Steve Launay’s house at 9am.  The three make up girls returned, this time accompanied by newcomer Tash Smolerek.  Make up took the best part of two hours, allowing Steve and I time to recce Addison woods to choose our location.

Once make up was complete, our five zombies (James Bint, Emily Phillips, Thomas Rawlings, Lorinda Laing, and Mairi Campbell, visiting from Australia!), four make up girls, Steve, runner Daniel Farmer, cameramen Giorgio Cavacuiti and Luke Foley, production photographer Liam Low Ying and I gathered in the rear garden for a quick briefing. I read out the ambitious scene to all present, which would see Jack attacked by a mini-horde.

We then headed to Addison to create the mayhem!  Stab wounds to heads ensued, along with a brilliant bit of gory brain detail, courtesy of Rhianna Kingdon.  I also found a really good use for some reduced to clear turkey mince…

After a brief pause for lunch, filming resumed and continued until about 5pm.  It was a long day but well worth it – the footage looks great!  Many thanks to all involved – it was often a lot of waiting round but I’m confident it was all worth it.

On Tuesday 11th September, we headed to a work colleague’s house to film, as I’d realised the land there was perfect for the ‘country house’ I had in mind when I wrote the script.  I met cameraman Connor Cleary at Steve’s house to collect kit and the two of us headed over to start proceedings. Within five minutes, Connor unfortunately lost the majority of the camera rig in long grass.  We retraced our steps but were unable to locate it.  We got by and made good progress.

We were met by Steve and former ‘stick-in-the-eye’ zombie, Luke Goble, around 11.45am, followed by another work colleague who was on hand to move vehicles about on the land as required.  In fact they proved their worth very quickly, by driving the off-road vehicle round the field, managing to somehow locate the rig! 

My favourite bit of the day was the unveiling of a new Day 66 themed number plate for a vehicle Jack finds whilst he recuperates at the house. 

I’d over-estimated the amount of scenes we’d get through, leaving more to film there another time.

Saturday 22nd September saw James Farmer join the cast, as father Chris Farley.  Chris is the father of the children played by my kids, Ella and Lincoln.  Sarah Miatt was sadly not available, so we could only film one of James’ scenes, but managed to get through all of what else I’d scheduled. I was really impressed with Ella’s acting – I’ve been totally out-acted (not hard) by my 10 year old daughter! Steve took camera, while Jon Leech was on hand for sound and we welcomed Chris Wilkes to the crew to provide his expertise with the lighting.  I have learned lighting can take a long time to set up, so need to take that into account when scheduling future scenes.. TOP TIP! – When writing a script, DO NOT set any scenes on stairs or anywhere near banisters! 

On the afternoon of Sunday 30th September, I popped over to Steve’s to film a few hallway-based scenes, with Steve on camera and Jon Leech covering sound.  Despite more stair-lighting issues, we finished ahead of schedule and managed to get a few more montage scenes filmed, along with some footage of the M27, which may be inserted into the opening credits. 

With four shoots completed in September, it was our most active month since filming begun. 

With four shoots completed in September, it was our most active month since filming begun. 

OCTOBER 2018 – Day 66 nails it!

Ok, so it’s been a slow month for Day 66.  We haven’t exactly nailed it but as you will come to realise, this was an appropriate title for this month’s piece…

The only filming day in October was on Tuesday 2nd, when we returned to my work colleague’s property in Titchfield, intending to complete all non-zombie related scenes set there.

We consisted of me and Steve Launay, who has joined me on almost every Day 66 shoot so far.  We also consisted of newcomer Jack Pimbblet, who responded to the Daily Echo article, keen to get involved in any way he could.  We needed a runner, to lighten the load of prep work and carry the kit about.  Jack jumped at the opportunity!  Turned out Jack also has some camera experience, and was keen to advance these skills wherever possible.

We met on location and discussed the shoot.  I soon realised the garages that were supposed to be left unlocked, were in fact locked, so contacted the key holder to bail us out!  We got on with external scenes in the meantime.

We started with scenes of my character, Jack, running outside, which forms part of his recuperation whilst lodging at the country house.  We experimented with one shot, whereby I held the camera, mounted on the rig, filming myself whilst running.  This paid off and the result looks great!

We took full advantage of the great location by filming a scene by some eerie-looking outhouses. 

When the key holder arrived, we moved indoors to film garage-set scenes.

Some of these form part of a montage, where Jack is preparing for battle.  Jack finds a baseball bat and decides to hammer nails into it, creating a weapon Negan would be proud of.  Lucille Mk2 if you will.

I had a GREAT idea.  A POV shot of the bat as the nail was hammered in.  This is when we should have realised this was NOT a great idea.  We should have weighed up the pro’s and con’s and realised there were hardly any pro’s and a shitload of con’s.  We proceeded…

We realised we’d done it directly under transparent roofing, meaning I was a silhouette and nothing could be seen. 

This is when we should have re-evaluated the necessity of the shot and abandoned, realising that actually a camera lens is a pretty expensive bit of equipment and that a damaged camera lens could have significant ramifications on not only the club’s finances but also this and other scheduled productions!  Also, this was such a tiny, insignificant shot, that we may end up binning.

We proceeded…

Fuck. My. Life.

This time, I hit the hammer a tad too hard, and the nail dinked the camera lens.

Bollocks.

“Oh shit, I did it”, I said.  “What are you doing?!”, Steve replied.  “I didn’t do it on purpose mate…”, I replied, “…I brought it up, so that when I hit the nail with the hammer, it wouldn’t do that…”

But of course that had happened.

Steve checked the lens for damage.  Had we got lucky or was there a scratch?

But of course there was a scratch.

And herein lies the root cause of my PTSD.

Realising a small scratch would equate to a big circle on screen, we halted use of the short distance lens.  With 80 Degrees filming scheduled that weekend, Steve was understandably starting to fret.  Poor Jack didn’t know what to say but did Google the scenario and discovered ‘rubbing alcohol’ and a microfibre cloth may be our salvation.

We completed remaining scenes as best we could given our predicament, and then I took Steve to B&Q, hoping to find this weird sounding alcohol, even contemplating whether I would drink it should I find any.  They didn’t sell it, but said the chemist would.  So off we went to the chemist but were informed it’s really difficult stuff to get hold of.  Amazon Prime it was then.

To cut a long story short, I received an update a few days later that the scratch had buffed out sufficiently to no longer be an issue.  No word of a lie, I slept awful those few days and had flashbacks.  I could barely bring myself to watch the footage. 

Needless to say, now I can look back and (almost) chuckle, but a vital lesson has been learned.  Don’t fuck with the camera.  No shot is worth the fallout. Hopefully next month I won’t be reporting that a POV shot of a zombie’s head being run over resulted in the complete pancaking of a camera!

The Making of an Amateur zombie film: Part 1

April 2018 – Creation

Having been an avid fan of cinema since a very early age, I’ve always had one of those niggling thoughts at the back of my mind that one day I should make a film.  This has never gone away – could I direct a film?  There was only one way to find out…

I don’t tie myself down to any particular genre, when asked what sort of film I prefer.  Among my favourite movies ever are Dunkirk, The Matrix, Aliens, T2, The Dark Knight, Die Hard…ok, so far, ‘action’ seems to dominate, but among other films I’d rate 5 stars are the likes of The Sound of Music, Pulp Fiction, Goodfellas, Seven Samurai…

But on that list you will also find movies like, The Exorcist, The Sixth Sense, Sinister, Tremors, IT, The Ring…and Dawn of the Dead.

As much as I like zombie films like 28 Days Later, for me, zombies don’t run.  Ok, there’s no hard-fast rules.  They don’t exist!  You can pretty much make them whatever you want them to be. But I recall seeing the original DOTD aged about 10yrs and being scared shitless by these ridiculously slow-moving corpses.  For me, that is what a zombie should look like.  Slow as fuck and yet somehow always on your tail.

As over-saturated as the zombie market is right now, it was zombies I couldn’t get off my mind.  Over several months, I formulated a plot in my head, constantly adjusting detail here and there, and about two years ago I eventually got round to the metaphorical pen-to-paper.  I started work on a screenplay.

Though, my vision was a bit different from most zombie films.  I wanted to focus purely on one character.  A man, grieving from the loss of his wife and son, retreated to the countryside to get away from death, only to question whether life’s worth living anymore. How the hell can I make a film interesting, with only one main character in it?!  How would I achieve realistic zombie make-up?  Where the hell would I film this?!  Who would play the main character?

Well, I already had leave booked late April 2018 with nothing planned.  I finished the screenplay early 2018 and emailed it to Steve Launay.  My leave fell nicely with a break between other Beacon productions.  Day 66 was a go!

Who could I rely on to always turn up to filming days (mid-week too) whilst I was off work?  My shifts are notoriously difficult to accommodate filming and I would need to make the most of the leave I had. Who could take on this difficult role?  I chose myself.

I’m completely honest about my abilities. I have the acting range of a newt.  I have a tendency to revert to ‘crazy-eyes’ when attempting any sort of acting-expression.  Why the hell would I want to do this?  I knew I would be available when I was.  Simple. 

I went on a recce with Steve and the first place we visited was a gold mine. There was open countryside, thick forest, a lake, a stream and more within walking distance from the car park.  That was our location sorted.

In the weeks before filming, I began assembling a range of props. I spent the entirety of the allotted Beacon budget within days!  Luckily, I’d set aside my own funds to get other essentials. Days before filming was due to commence I still had no idea who our crew would be.  I was panicking somewhat.  Would this all work out fine?

May 2018 – Action!

Wednesday 25th April 2018 was Day 66’s first day of filming. 

Steve Launay confirmed the crew the previous day – Connor Cleary (Director of Photography), Giorgio Cavacuiti (camera / runner), Reece Palmer (camera / runner) and of course, Steve.  We would all travel in my car, but without Steve’s dog, Oska, meaning our time in the sticks was limited before Oska staged a dirty protest.

We met at Steve’s and discussed my vision for the film.  We then collected Giorgio from Swanwick station before setting off.

The first scene involved my character, Jack, washing at a stream.  The water was an odd red/brown colour and tasted horrible.  It was a very overcast day and washing bare-chested was rather cold!

Then the rain started spitting, mid-scene.  It kept stopping and starting.  We managed to get that scene done to our satisfaction.  In what would prove to be a truly amazing moment, mid take, two deer raced past in the background – all in shot!  They were followed a few seconds later by dogs chasing them.  Fortunately, whilst I reacted in shock, I didn’t ruin the take, so we’re able to use some of that in the finished scene.  Complete luck but a fantastic moment – you can’t plan stuff like that!

Alas, that would be the only luck we had.  There were some curious passers-by but they never threatened filming.  The rain, however, was a right bastard.  We were able to get some scenes filmed but all got thoroughly soaked, with only trees as shelter.  Amazingly, given the forecast, I was the only one wearing a coat (at times – when the script allowed!).  The crew would soon learn!  Filming was aborted when the camera misted up…

Upon returning to Steve’s, we set the tent up in his living room and filmed an interior tent scene.

The next day, it was just me and Steve initially – we would spend the day down Beacon favourite, Addison woods.  We got a few scenes filmed involving Jack’s camp site.  We were then joined by returning crew members Connor and Reece, who brought along new recruit, Ryan Wilson (runner).  Steve left us to it whilst he returned home to get work done.

Despite the rain returning, we managed to get quite a bit done.  Fortunately this time, we had the tent when rain got heavy.

With all scheduled scenes completed, we returned to Steve’s, with the intention of filming interior tent scenes I’d forgotten to include Wednesday.  However, on returning, I realised my knife prop was missing. Only the sheath remained on my belt.  This was a disaster – it features heavily in the film and would be required for most remaining filming days. 

I was determined not to spend another £15, so returned to Addison with Steve in search of it.  It wasn’t in any of the obvious places but then Steve, knowing the size of my bladder, suggested I should check wherever I‘d taken a piss that afternoon.  Sure enough, near my urination spot was the black knife, barely visible amongst the fallen leaves littering the ground.  Phew!

I spent Friday preparing for the weekend’s filming.  That evening, Mat Hasker came round mine to watch Escape From New York and help make tin can props for the following days shoot.  John Carpenter is one of the key influences on Day 66’s theme tune.  I’ve always loved how his tunes seem so simplistic, yet very effective.

Saturday afternoon consisted of interior scenes at Steve’s house, doubling for the inside of whichever isolated countryside house we use.  These scenes were the first to require sound.  The previous days filming would only need foley sound adding.  We rattled through these scenes with relative ease. 

Sunday saw a return to the sticks, where we were treated to our first rain-free day!  We made great progress – I decided to leave a few scenes until we have a drone at our disposal…

We only did an hour on Monday, involving two interior tent scenes.  These were the first filmed in the Beacon studio.  My 10 yr old daughter, Ella, was off school sick with tonsillitis, so naturally I dragged her along to hold the boom!  Parenting at its finest.

 Steve was at work Tuesday, but had arranged to leave a key out so I could film some further interior house scenes, with the assistance of Reece.  The key was indeed left in the agreed spot, however, the door from annex to kitchen was locked.  Fortunately, I was able to break into the house to get filming completed! 

Tuesday was slow, as Reece was doing both lighting and camera work.  The tight confines of the upstairs hallway also posed difficulties, as some doors will lead into rooms within the country house.  We therefore had to be devious with how we shot scenes, so we’re not limited in future elsewhere, for continuity reasons.

Tuesday’s extras performed very well.  I‘d ordered live maggots for some truly disgusting scenes and they certainly did not let us down! With my annual leave over, filming would be more sporadic over coming months.  Steve’s biggest concern throughout has been how I’d achieve the ‘hordes of zombies’ as scripted.   Read on to find out what my cunning plan was…

JUNE 2018 – Day 66 goes public!

So…how would the ‘hordes of zombies’ become a reality?!

A couple of weeks before filming commenced, I set up a Day 66 account on Twitter (@Day66_Movie – pause reading this and follow us at once! Please!).  When that was done, I needed to find a way to attract followers.

The Twitter account attracted around 400 followers in under 2 weeks.  I also set up a Day 66 Snapchat account (day66movie), so people could get live-time updates from filming.  This was all very well, but in our first location, none of us had phone reception, so the live-time updates promised were in fact somewhat delayed.

About a week before filming, I sent an email to the Daily Echo, telling them what we had planned, expecting to hear nothing back at all.  After all, there are much more important things happening in the world than a bunch of film geeks making a low budget horror film.

After the first few days of filming, I received an email from a journalist at the Daily Echo, asking me to give him a call, as he was very interested in writing an article about Day 66.  I couldn’t believe it.

I phoned him and he was extremely enthusiastic about the film.  He liked that there were many different angles with which he could approach the story from – from the reason we had chosen our location, to the subject matter of the piece.  He requested photos of the production and one of myself.  Fortunately, we had taken quite a few photos and I found a nice selfie photo of me and my son, Lincoln.

We chatted for quite a while and on Wednesday 2 May 2018, the article was published. We even got a front page mention, “So you want to be a film zombie? See page 14…”. Albeit, this was immediately to the right of the main headline, “ABDUCTION ALERT”…

I opened the paper to page 14 and there was my ugly mug, with poor Lincoln completely cropped out.  But hey ho, that’s show business my son, get your own movie!

The Bournemouth edition of the Echo also ran the article, with their websites adding the same, only with more photos.  The Salisbury Journal caught wind, as did the New Milton Advertiser, who contacted me and also ran articles. I even did an interview on radio with Sam FM!

Before I knew it, the Day 66 hotmail account I had set up was bombarded with members of public offering their services as a zombie extra!  It seems there is a HUGE appetite for all things-zombie and everyone wanted to be a part of it.  Managing the email became a full time job for about a week and things would get ridiculous again every time an article was published.

I would estimate I have had over 400 emails to date – mainly people wanting to be zombies (some emails volunteering entire families and groups of friends!), but also others offering their services completely free for professional SFX make-up, editing, general crew work, graphic designing…I even had someone offer me the use of their yacht and another offering me the use of their collection of American police cars!  The response was absolutely fantastic – beyond anything I could have imagined.

The Twitter account picked up followers and stands at 550 at time of writing.  I have since started a Facebook page.  The Snapchat has picked up quite a few followers to date, although with production slowing since that initial period of annual leave I had in April, there is often more to Tweet or “Face”(?!) about, than to snap.

I did get 5 embroidered Day 66 baseball caps made, which are pretty cool.  These were snapped up by mates, eager to buy something ultra-geeky!  If the demand is there once the project is complete, I can always look into ordering another, larger batch. Who knows, maybe one day people will be wearing Day 66 t-shirts too!

I want to get all non-zombie related stuff in the can first, before then moving on to the fun stuff!  I have created mail lists for extras, and makeup artists, for when that time comes.

I want to get all non-zombie related stuff in the can first, before then moving on to the fun stuff!  I have created mail lists for extras, and makeup artists, for when that time comes.

JULY 2018 – Day 66 turns professional!

Wednesday 16th May 2018 saw further scenes filmed at Beacon HQ, aka, various rooms at Steve Launay’s house.  Giorgio Cavacuiti joined us for the shoot, involving a collection of brief scenes documenting main character Jack’s recuperation at a country cottage.

We were keen to make scenes as challenging as possible.  Up went the black drape in the dining room, blocking the sunlight to allow for evening scenes, where Jack “enjoyed” a candle-lit dinner. Into the cramped attic I went with Giorgio, to film Jack searching for items that may assist him on his journey. 

My favourite shot of all though involved Jack brushing his teeth and spitting the toothpaste into the sink.  How to make this simple action more interesting?!  Steve’s brainwave involved the camera being positioned under a glass shelf, which I then spat on.  Seems simple enough but it took a couple attempts for my toothpaste-loaded spittle to land in the correct place!  Great result though and worth the time taken.

On the evening of Saturday 2nd June, we went camping.  Well, not quite. We shot campfire scenes down Addison woods. The ever reliable Giorgio once again joined Steve and I, accompanied too this time by Sarah Miatt and my brother, Howard, who I asked along to stay independent to filming to ensure the fire remained under control.  Approaching the longest day of the year meant we had to shoot late, timing it right to allow sufficient light so we weren’t just recording pitch black!

We all had fun creating some truly awesome shots of Jack with the flickering glow over his face, as he mourned his family.  Once again, I’d written in some eating for Jack to do, meaning I got to cook steak.  The cold baked beans were less welcome…

We filmed a couple quick scenes back at Steve’s before calling time.

Monday 25th June saw us at a mate’s house in Stubbington.  Work colleague Sam Warne and his wife, Helen, joined Steve and I for the shoot, along with their baby Thomas.  Helen is playing Jack’s wife, Alice Richards.  Sam played the part of DC Jason Mitchell.  The couple swapped baby duty when it was their turn to act.  The shoot went well and we were all done after about an hour.

A mixture of the World Cup and everyone’s busy lives away from Day 66 saw a whole month pass without filming.  However, when Day 66 returned, it turned professional…

Wednesday 25th July happened to be Beacon Productions’ 31st anniversary.  We met at 0900hrs at Steve’s house. Work colleague Luke Goble played the part of ‘zombie farmer’, after original choice Neil Miller was unavailable.  Little did Luke realise he was in for one hell of a transformation!

One of the unexpected results from the media coverage had been the offers of help from makeup artists.  This had never been something I’d considered appealing for, but the sheer number of offers I received from keen individuals was astounding.  The standard of work from photos they sent was staggering. 

I’d sent a global to artists who’d made contact. Five were able to attend. Five on makeup for one zombie would’ve been overkill, but I was keen to provide opportunity for as many as possible, so assigned one the lead, with two to assist where needed but primarily to ensure continuity throughout the production.

Molly Savery took the lead, having previously sent me a photo of someone with a pencil sticking out their eye!  This was actually exactly what I needed for this scene – only not a pencil but rather a stick.  Penelope Pitman and Rhianna Kingdon assisted Molly and it was like the three had known each other for years.  They instantly clicked, chatting enthusiastically about their experience.  It was clear we had one hell of a team assembling!

I’d allowed an hour for makeup and this overran slightly, making me nervous we’d struggle to fit the shoot in, as Steve had arranged for family to pop by at half 11!  We got down Addison woods just gone half 10 and that’s where the fun happened!  You’ll have to wait for the finished film for full details, but needless to say I stabbed Luke in the eye during a fight.  Molly had already fashioned an eye piece, meaning when we were ready for injury detail to be applied, she was able to do so in only around ten minutes. 

Of all the filming we’ve done so far, this was by far my favourite and I can’t wait to do more zombie scenes!  What a fantastic way to celebrate Beacon’s 31st that was!