A Day at Zombieland - Sunscreen and Shotguns Required!
by Kevin Powers
July 13, 2009
It's Day 38. Just one week to go until Ruben Fleischer's horror comedy Zombieland is wrapped - under time and on budget. And today it's time to break shit. Lots of shit. Shit that took the production designers and set decorators weeks to put together. But I'm getting ahead of myself. A while back, the good people at Sony invited FS.net out to Atlanta, Georgia to spend a day on the set of Zombieland. For those of you who haven't already seen the brain-exploding trailer, this is the story of two friends: Columbus, played by Jesse Eisenberg, and Tallahassee, played by Woody Harrelson. So let's venture into Zombieland, shall we?
Columbus has made a habit of running from what scares him. Tallahassee doesn't have fears - and even if he did, he'd just mow ’em down with his shotgun and a snarl. In a world overrun by zombies, these two have survived as opposites, but now they must come together and survive… each other.
While on set, it seemed like they were both surviving each other quite fine. "I'm the flight, Woody's the fight," Eisenberg said during an interview. "I have a list of 47 rules for how to survive Zombieland, but toward the end I start crossing them off or modifying them because they make my life a nightmare. Because I'm so stringent." And when asked if Columbus' rules rubbed off on Tallahassee as well, Harrelson said, simply, "Yep." Though he did go on to describe his character a bit, "I gotta admit though, it jumps up the testosterone level as soon as I pick [my sawed-off, lever-action rifle] up. He's a shit-kickin' kinda guy."
It's a classic pairing, but a fresh energy. This odd-couple isn't just played for laughs - though, there are plenty of laughs to be had. The film is all about survival, and it walks a fine line between comedy and horror. First-time feature director Ruben Fleischer explained that, "I don't ever want the zombies to be too silly, [to be] too gimmicky. I'm trying to keep it true. I want people to buy it." Zombieland is a road movie. It's a buddy-comedy. It takes jabs at horror and comedy cliches alike. We're with Columbus, Tallahassee, Little Rock (played by Abigail Breslin), and Witchita (played by Emma Stone) as they travel 'cross-country to LA encountering zombies from all walks of death as they go. "We have douchebag zombies [in LA]," Fleischer jests. As if we all haven't dreamed of shooting them in the face.
But today on set, as I was saying, it's time to break shit. After dispatching a zombie, of course. Now, there's nothing quite like seeing a zombie in person. (I'd recommend it to any of you - that is, of course, if you have your 12-gauge at the ready or if it's a stunt man in makeup.) As the camera's started to roll, Tallahassee held his lever-action rifle at the ready, poised, showing not the slightest bit of apprehension. Then he raps the cowbell hanging over the door. And there's our zombie - seething, blood-thirsty, out for brains - until, BAM! - right in the head. Tallahassee holds the smoking gun, blood and ooze sprayed everywhere, and calm as ever motions for the other three to enter, it's safe. It was awesome to see that shot live - but in the trailer (because, this scene is in the trailer - though it isn't the Zombie Kill of the Week) it's even more badass. Which was a word thrown around a lot on set, as you might expect.
But after the shot, the foursome quickly realizes this little town in Georgia simply has nothing to save. And when there's nothing to save, you may as well have a little fun - which, in a world overrun by zombies, is a good idea from time to time. What ensued was a spectacular scene of release and joy. Ever had the urge to just run your hands along the shelves of that antique shop your grandma dragged you to and smash everything in sight? Yep, they do that. Hell, why not? The apocalypse has happened. Smaller dishes and nicknacks turn into larger ones, heavier ones, things that'll crash, spray, explode. And after the last dish has crashed (on a set that took weeks to build and only minutes to destroy, mind you!), it's time to continue westward. As they say - no rest for the weary!
It's scenes like that that really humanize the whole film. Sure, this is a horror movie where zombies could at any moment burst through a window or race endlessly after them down a stretch of highway. (Yes. The zombies are speedsters. Sorry, zombie purists.) Sure, this is a comedy, Columbus' story told through his eyes, non-linearly, where the search for a Twinkie is paramount for Tallahassee and Purell is always on hand. But it's the characters that really sell it. And the script has heart. The characters are known by the cities they hail from, not their names, because if it doesn't have a name you can't be as connected, right? And if you're connected - you just might hesitate when you have to off your newly infected friend.
In between takes, we were privy to a sizzle reel, some edited footage from the climax of the movie that was actually shot within everyone's first week on Zombieland. Tallahassee being catapulted all over the place strapped into a swing ride while spraying rounds upon rounds of machine gun fire into the countless zombie horde. Columbus, Wichita, and Little Rock riding the Free Fall ride, killing some more zombies every time they reach the ground. And, of course, the sexy-before-she-was-holding-a-machine-gun Emma Stone as Wichita (seen to the left) unleashing her fury upon the undead. Iconic and gorgeous. Though, guys, it's only just a movie. "I don't think I'm going to own a real gun," Stone says, "I don't trust myself. But it was fun."
The entire cast and crew make the line between horror and comedy indistinguishable. You'll be laughing as you cringe and you'll love every minute of it. And you might even learn a thing or two. "Are we heading toward some apocalypse?" Harrelson asked Eisenberg. "I think we're almost there." Almost, indeed. Come one, come all to Zombieland. If nothing else, you'll be craving a Twinkie afterward. Or the gun range.