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FXhome interviews Zombie Love director, Yfke van Berckelaer
A couple of weeks ago we reviewed the DVD of Zombie Love, an indie zombie-musical-rom-com that has won a huge number of awards over the past year, not least Best Humor/Parody at Comic-Con 2007 in San Diego. We wanted to know more about the movie, so asked director Yfke van Berckelaer a few questions.
As her name perhaps gives away, Yfke originally hails from Holland, though is now firmly based in California having completed a film directing course with Zombie Love as her thesis. “I love Holland dearly,” she explains, “but its film industry isn’t huge and I really wanted to go to the US to see what things where like. I applied for a bunch of MFA film directing courses at different schools and got accepted at the California Institute of the Arts.” Studying at CalArts proved to be the perfect environment for Yfke to hone her skills, surrounded by like-minded filmmakers, a supportive infrastructure and the bright American sunshine. “Who wouldn’t want to learn how to direct films in sunny California?”
With the course drawing to a close, Yfke was required to create her thesis film, a production that would be the final testament to all her studies. “The previous years had a lot of really serious student films,” recalls Yfke, “and Zombie Love did raise some eyebrows at first.” The idea had first been considered by Yfke three years earlier during a brainstorming session with a fellow writer, Darren Herczeg. “If you’re going to spend that much time on one project you better make sure you can have a laugh along the way,” she says, “CalArts very much encouraged the idea of doing something that you were passionate about but they were also very concerned that it was way too much work.”
Determined to pursue the idea of a zombie musical, Yfke started to develop the idea, drawing on a love of the genre. “I’m a big Disney fan and always like the ‘love conquers all’ message they have,” she says, “except they always ruin it in the end by having the lovers be the same. To me that’s taking out half the fun of it. Wouldn’t be great if Belle actually married the Beast, or if The Little Mermaid ended with Prince Eric wheeling a fish tank into his bedroom?”
A song and dance
“None of us had ever done anything like this before,” admits Yfke, “in fact I doubt if I can even distinguish one note from the next.” The solution was to bring talented composer Mark Mendelson on board early in pre-production to aid with song creation and recording. “We wrote all the lyrics first, then Mark then put it to music and elevated the whole thing. It was such a cool feeling to hear your bad rhymes all of sudden being full-on songs!”
A song is only as good as its performer and the hunt to find actor-singers quickly became a priority. “I wanted to record the songs ahead of time because on set I wanted the actors to focus on their acting and not on hitting the right notes,” explains Yfke, who was looking for actors that could sing rather than singers that could act. “If someone has a great voice but can’t act, your movie kind of falls apart.” While the music team could work with an actor’s voice, Yfke knew she wouldn’t have time on the set to teach acting to a singer. “Luckily we came across a lot of great people who could act, sing and dance really well, so that did make it a whole lot easier for us!”
Follow the screams
With rehearsals under way, Yfke’s production team began to construct the sets on the university campus, including a full graveyard. “The set was still up when they were touring prospective students around campus and they even included it in the tour, saying ‘that’s where you end up if you fail your classes.’”
The shoot needed precise planning, with the cast and crew striving to hit targets and not overstretch their miniscule budget. Rehearsals and pre-recording the songs helped but the inherent complexity of a musical provided inevitable challenges. “On set we had some speakers and would play just the part of the song that we were filming. It was hell syncing it all up and it doesn’t work 100% but we did our best and hope the audience will forgive us for the bits where it’s a little off!”
In addition to the difficulties of the musical genre, there were also certain commitments to gore that needed to be fulfilled. “The make-up and effects were all created by Allan Holt,” says Yfke. “The reason we got to pull this off on a low budget was because he never asked for a dime.” Actors had to endure a couple of hours everyday to get in and out of make-up, putting even more pressure on the schedule and budget. “One of our zombies was vegan so Allan not only had to make all the stuff edible, but vegan friendly as well,” Yfke recalls. “It couldn’t have been comfortable for the actors but they never complained and loved running around campus on their breaks to scare the shit out of people. You always knew where they were just by listening to the screams.”
Following its completion (which came shortly after the thesis deadline), Yfke submitted Zombie Love to numerous film festivals and genre conventions. “We made this movie because we thought it would be fun to do,” she says, “and I figured, as long as I like it then at least there will be one person who does and that’s always better then none.” To her surprise the film was received extremely well, by both audiences and critics alike, and the awards started to pile up. “Honestly, I don’t think we could have wished for anything better. Having people react positively to something that you put your heart and soul into is the best feeling in the world! It is amazing and very humbling as well.”
Following its positive reception and festival success, Yfke and her team is now in the process of developing a feature length Zombie Love. “We finished the script a while back and are trying to shop it around,” she says, “but seeing how we went completely overboard with more zombies, singing, dancing, blood and gore it will be a little more expensive and it might take awhile before we get all the money we’d need!”
In the meantime there are more shorts on the way, including a slasher film (non-musical) and an adaptation of Oregon at Last, a favourite book from Yfke’s childhood. Having already dismantled and reinvented the pretentious student thesis film as a hugely entertaining horror musical, the pressure is now on for Yfke to create something equally exciting for her follow-up.