Part one of three.

As a firm believer that zombie movies are as tired as a subgenre can get I was skeptical at the notion of yet another theatrical effort, especially one that skirted the dangerous line between horror and comedy. It’s a natural impulse in a world where every wannabe filmmaker has their high concept zombie flick prepping for the weekend’s video shoot.

Enter Zombieland.

Directed by first-time feature director Ruben Fleischer and written by the team of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (The Joe Schmo Show, Venom), the film tells the story of a few survivors of a zombie holocaust who band together, misfits with contrasting opinions on how to stay alive. Each character named after their city of origin, they range from carefree asskicker Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) to nervous and skeptical Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) to the somewhat mysterious Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin).

As one of the few really legit theatrical efforts to be shot almost entirely in Georgia, Zombieland was one I was anxious to head down to the set of (along with some other web luminaries whose coverage I’m sure you’ve either caught already or will soon) and get a gander as they filmed the supermarket scene represented in a few of the photos here. All of the principals were there, though Breslin was unavailable while we were on set. It turned out to be a really nice long day of filming, one which left me pretty assured there was a really fun time at the movies being created in my own backyard.

Almost instantly, it was apparent that Zombieland had a lot more on its mind than rehashing old ideas and trying to be the next Dawn of the Dead or [luckily] Shaun of the Dead. In actuality it has a different agenda completely, something which may surprise some gorehounds but bring the film closer to the middle where largest possible audience lies.

I mean, I’m a huge fan of “Vacation” and this is like a buddy comedy.
The whole time I’ve been saying this movie is like “Midnight Run” with
zombies. It’s really more about this odd couple relationship between a
sort of geekier guy and a badass guy, on the road, dealing with extreme
situations and ours just happens to be zombies, but it’s really based
more off an ‘80s road movie like “Vacation” or “Midnight Run” or
“Planes, Trains and Automobiles” or something like that then anything
else I think. It’s definitely a comedy first and everything else
second, I think.
– director Ruben Fleischer on the tone.

That said, it’s going to be Driving Miss Dead Daisy either. Though the film carries an R-rating it doesn’t aim for the viscera rather than have fun within the violent and bloody world of the Zombie genre. After spending a little time in the makeup trailer it was obvious that there was definitely an appreciation for the ‘classic’ zombie look but also an effort to keep it grounded in reality. These aren’t the brain-eating zombies but rather somewhat sentient eating machines who are much less discerning about their intake. It opens up a lot of fun possibilities, but it doesn’t prohibit the blood from flying.

One of the zombies on the day had a nice aura of decay about him and I’d venture to guess that Woody Harrelson’s going to win some hearts with his varying methods of putting the undead in their place. So, though the gore won’t be setting any new bars, there’s enough to go around.

There will be some gore, but it won’t be over the top. That’s just not
the movie we set out to make. I think, I don’t know, I’m of the opinion
that gore and comedy start to fight each other a little bit, after a
little while. At least with, especially with like, I say my girlfriend,
because there’s a certain subsection of the population who starts to
not get turned off by gore but finds it difficult to both see it and be
laughing at the same movie. So I don’t think we’re going to wildly over
the top, but it’s violent though.
writer/executive producer Rhett Reese on the gore.

The film’s climactic amusement park sequences were already shot by the time we hooked up with the production, a decision that seemed to make the remainder of the shoot that much easier having the most technically demanding and large-scale sequence in the can. Holed up in a closed supermarket in Powder Springs, the crew seemed loose and the cast were having a lot of fun with the day’s sequence involving the dispatching of two portly zombies.

Powder Springs is a pretty happening area. If it’s 1979. Nowadays, it’s a place where there are patches of really nice homes and business and others that were seemingly abandoned in the night. The choice for today’s shoot is perfect, a ghostly ramshackle building that seems to not realize there isn’t an actual zombie apocalypse.

The cast and crew is fun and the environment is creative and intense but not in a bad way. These folks are locked in and doing good work and there’s not that nervousness often seen when “press” is nearby. Everyone’s confident in their prep and the product they’re building, and from what we saw [and we saw some edited footage as well, which I’ll discuss on Wednesday], the tone of this thing is going to fall in a really good spot where horror fans and nonfans are going to get something from it.

I think it brings a level of depth and emotion and humanity that you
may not have seen in zombie movies before. I also think it’s as funny
as any zombie movie that’s been done. I hesitate ever to say, there’s
so many classic zombie movies, great, great movies, so this is just
slightly different. But it’s, I don’t know, I’m not objective. I think
it’s pretty funny, it’s really, really funny. But I think this movie
could bring a tear to people’s eye. I’m not sure that’s necessarily
happened in a zombie movie before, but maybe it has. I don’t know.
writer/executive producer Rhett Reese

Monday: We discuss how the film came to be and good names for a gun but in the meantime, for those who haven’t seen it… the trailer…