SHAUN OF THE DEAD with EDGAR WRIGHT, SIMON PEGG, and NICK FROST
In August of 2004 I had the pleasure of seeing an advance screening of the
hit horror comedy from the United Kingdom, SHAUN OF THE DEAD. It's an
absolutely hilarious film that turns the zombie flick on it's head, whilst
being ever so respectful to the works of George Romero, and brings consistent
laughs throughout. The movie comes from the creators of the hit UK television
series SPACED, which I also highly recommend. After seeing the new film
(which has now been released on DVD inside the United States thanks to Rogue
Pictures) I had an opportunity to sit down with director Edgar Wright, and
stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Simon plays Shaun, and Nick plays his buddy
Ed. Just about every topic related to the film was discussed. They offered
up some funny stories about what went on behind the scenes, and what it took
to get this film made. I want to say congratulations on a job well done to
these guys, and sincere thanks for taking the time to talk with us. And
without further delay, here are some excerpts from the interviews.
How it all began.
Simon Pegg: This
film started out as a sketch. What we were doing is, we had a sitcom in the
UK called SPACED, and I wrote a scene for it in which my character Tim,
who is sort of this comic shop book geek video game playing skateboarder, he
ends up playing the original Resident Evil all night and starts hallucinating
that he’s in the game. And there's some sequences where I’m sort of battling
some zombies in the living room, and after shooting all morning and doing that
scene, myself and Edgar sort of turned to each other and said wouldn’t it be
great if we could actually make a zombie movie, and it not be a fantasy
sequence or a flashback, but it’s actually happening. That’s what inspired us
to go and do the film.
We’re obviously big comedy fans, and our background is
comedy, but I think genre films and horror film, and more specifically zombies
films, and more specifically than that the George Romero trilogy are the films
that me and Simon liked. It think when we did the TV show together we both
realized that DAWN OF THE DEAD is one of our favorite films, that kind
of sparked of these sort of end of the world fantasies. Many of those games
like Resident Evil sort of sparked the idea of what would we do in that
crisis, or how would we react if there was a zombie in our backyard on a
Sunday morning… and we had a hangover, and didn’t have a shotgun. So it sort
of became a kind of “What if?” thing, and later came the idea of
cross-breeding the romantic comedy and zombie film. Initially the joke was
that Britain’s main export in films is the romantic comedy, so we thought it
would be funny to do a romantic comedy where most of the guys die at the end.
Which is what you want to see really… apart from Bill Nighy.
How Bill Nighy got involved.
The part wasn’t written for him, but he was fantastic.
He’s such a lovely guy, and he read the script and was up for it straight
away. It was offered to him and he was totally into it. I think he got the
joke and that was great.
There were certain roles that were written with people
in mind. Ed obviously we wrote for Nick. The character of Pete, the
cantankerous flat mate, we wrote for that actor, who is the opposite of that
character. We wrote Liz for Kate Ashfield. We had an idea of who we wanted
to play Dianne, David and Barbara, you know it was a little bit more loose, so
when we came to cast the film… I mean we always kind of had Penelope Wilton in
mind cause she has such a great haunted look. She’s very, very good at
comedy, and also beautiful and can play the tragedy. It’s always good when
you’re writing to have someone in mind so you can physicalize it on the page.
How Nick became part of all this.
I think at one point Simon threatened me with a box
cutter, and said you better do it. Simon and I have been best friends for ten
years and we were flat mates for seven of those years. So I think I’ve always
kind of been his “Ed” in a way. I was never an actor, I was just a waiter,
and I never wanted to act at all. Then when Simon and Jessica (Stevenson,
co-writer of the show) wrote SPACED they wrote a part in it for me.
I said “You better do this.”
And I said “Yeah, I’ll have a go at it.” I reached a
stage in my life where I couldn’t go on serving food for the rest of my life.
So when this opportunity came up it seemed silly for me… like Jiminy Cricket
said “You buttered your bread now sleep in it.”
Jiminy Cricket gets 10% doesn’t he?
He’s on my staff. He works at Brillstein-Grey now.
Having met him (Nick) in this restaurant where my friend
was working, and he said you gotta meet this guy, he’s really funny, it just
struck me that this was wrong that he wasn’t being shown to the world.
It’s quite selfish on your behalf.
I surprised the British audiences with him, so then when
it came time to write SHAUN OF THE DEAD there was no real question that
it would be a vehicle for myself and Nick together. Our girlfriends never let
us spend any time together off the set.
Nick talks improvisation.
The only part I improvised was when we’re in the pub,
and I’m talking about the people in the pub. We’re talking about the porn
star and I call her a cock-a-cidal maniac, and that lady is actually Edgar’s
girlfriend’s mum. Edgar wanted Simon to laugh quite naturally, so every now
and again you’d go over and he’d whisper to do something different every
time. So I came up with about 15 different things, each more perverted than
the last. And I don’t know where it came from actually. But yeah, Edgar’s
whispers are quite nice, because it usually means he will put someone’s life
Yeah, go for it.
(to Simon) Oh yeah, you got to hit the stuntman, right?
With a cricket bat.
A SOFT cricket bat.
(whispering, as if he was Edgar) This time really hit
Using friends and family to get it done.
We asked just about everybody we knew to come help us
out in some way. My brother designed the titles, and we did the storyboards
together. He kind of embellished my scribbles. With the zombies we had about
40 specialized extras, or actors or stunt people, or physical performers that
were all cast properly. And the rest of it we just did a cattle call on the
website for our TV show. Asking “do you want to be a zombie”, and to be
completely honest about it we said “we can’t really pay you, and it’s going to
be long days, but you’ll get to be a zombie” and we just had an enormous
response. Literally 1100 people. So we had like a big Zombie Idol audition
process, and people really got into it. There were some people that came down
every day, who would come back again and again, who clearly didn’t have proper
jobs. But it was great and we couldn’t have done it without them. So a lot
of it is down to the fans of our TV show. Sometimes if we were filming in the
streets, especially if it was a Saturday or a Sunday, people in the houses
would come out and be in it as well.
Some scenes were harder to shoot than others.
The backyard scene with the two zombies they have to
fight took ages, because there were all sorts of elements we had to get right.
I remember you said “If you can hit Mark in the head
with that toaster I’ll give you ten quid.”
I did. The first person to hit the big zombie, Mark.
We had a movement choreographer, because we didn’t want it to become to
campy. We tried to make the zombies a bit more naturalistic in a way, even
though it seems like a contradiction in terms.
You all three worked together on a television series.
Can you talk about some of the differences between working on a television
series and a major motion picture, as far as the complexities of setting up
shots and things like that.
Well, it was difficult in different ways. If anything
making the film was tougher than the TV series. Just because of the added
pressure. There’s a lot more exterior work in the film than there was in the
TV show, and also with this you’re shooting with 35 millimeter. And just
shooting locations in London is more difficult. On top of that it was just a
more ambitious script. Everything we’ve done is always more ambitious than
the last thing, and sometimes the ambition outweighs the budget. It never
felt like “oh this is a big film, and so it’s easy now” and I could be like
“oh that’s my trailer, and I have a massage in two hours”, it just didn’t work
like that. It was tougher than anything I had ever done.
Speak for yourself.
I used to make amateur films, and cast all my friends
with like six hours notice, and be like “Hey are you working tomorrow?” My
old drama teacher asked me “What’s it like making these films compared to the
old films?” and I said “It’s no different.” I still have to ring my friends
and say “Hey what are you doing tomorrow? Wanna be a zombie?” It’s still the
same, I’m still pulling out the old favors. I think it helps that the stuff
we’ve done has been seen. See I think there’s like a British film statistic
that something like 60% of the films that get made never get released to
cinemas, and so it can create quite a cynicism within the industry. Crews can
work full time, all year round, on like 10 films in row, and not actually work
on a film that’s been seen by anybody.
It weird, because some of the older members of the crew
are more cynical than the others, thinking like “It’s trashy being on a zombie
film.” But as time went on, they realized how much we were dedicated to it,
and they started to get the feeling that maybe we were making something that
was going to be worthwhile. It became like a real unit. By the end of the
thing it was very tight knit. We did a really clever thing, about halfway
through the shoot we showed about 18 minutes of finished footage to them. Got
loads of wine out and some nibbles, and showed the crew what we’d done so
far. And it really, really worked. Because everybody thought “Hey this looks
okay, and it might get released actually.” And so everybody worked the next
day with an invigorated sense of duty and purpose.
They loved you for about six hours.
I know I was a bit grumpy. I’ll never forget one night
I asked the crew… Edgar had used up all his favors, they hated him at this
point. They had overrun already, and I asked them, having some production
duty, to overrun. You do it out of courtesy, to let them know you’re not
taking them for granted. So I had to ask them to run over, and I was so
tired. We had to get one headshot, one of the zombies getting shot in the
head. And it was so emotional. One person made a little complaint. I
remember looking over and thinking “She was fired!”
About having a trilogy in mind.
I don’t think so, only because it wraps up at the end.
The film completely wraps up. And unlike the TV show, as it has a beginning,
middle and end, and doesn’t worry about returning in the next episode. I
don’t think we’ll do anymore, but we want to do something different with the
same spirit. I really admire the Coen Brothers and Wes Anderson, in that
sense of having a rep company and a house style, and taking their world views
into different areas and different genres. Once we get back to the UK we’re
going to start writing.
Well I go back into my prospects box for another year.
Mark: In SPACED
you had a lot of references to comic books, because of the comic book store.
I have to ask, in the scene when Shaun sees Yvonne, and there’s kind of the
mirror universe versions of all the characters, was that sort of a nod to the
From that aspect, yes. Isn’t there a Seinfeld episode
Mark: Yes, there is
an episode that’s very similar.
Yeah, I’m a big Seinfeld fan, but I’ve never seen that
one. No it wasn’t really. That joke came from the idea of two things,
because it’s taking place in Romero’s universe, you know there’s eight million
stories in any town like that. We’re just following Shaun, so we got the idea
that he bumps into another cast, like from another film. Maybe even a more
Nick Frost: I think
what the American audiences miss out on is that every single member of that
group is a famous television personality there, from every different comedy
show. They’re all recognizable character actors to the UK audience, so it
genuinely looks like we’ve bumped into a different film.
Edgar Wright: The
real inspiration for that joke though was that during a catastrophe like that,
if you bumped into somebody from school that you hadn’t seen for ten years,
you’d still be like “Hey! What’s going on?”
Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Edgar
Wright, and Mark Walters
Everyone check out SHAUN OF THE DEAD now on DVD.
Check out the movie
Originally posted on
herorealm.com - September 27th, 2004
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