Along with a few other delectable and esteemed colleagues I spent a nice full day on the set of Zombieland and the thing that really surprised me was how cool and collected Ruben Fleischer was. Here’s a guy directing his first feature, a somewhat sizable studio flick with a few name brand stars which also carries the weight of being both a zombie film and an action comedy. The pressure would crush most, but Fleischer not only took it in stride and with grace but he even took the time to show us some edited footage. It looked damn good.

Among the numerous things the director brought to the table was the big climax of the film, a task made easier by having the film’s writers involved at every step of the process.

Well, there wasn’t an amusement park involved (laughter). I don’t know
if you heard about the genesis of the movie, but it was originally a TV
show so it didn’t really have an ending because it was supposed to lead
to the second episode, so it was kind of unresolved. I was just trying
to picture what was going to be the most climactic place and sequence
to the whole thing, and then in the original script, they had that the
little girl wanted to go to Disneyland. I was like, “Well, we should
just have them go to Disneyland and have it actually resolve there.”
That was my big contribution and then little pieces here and there. I
think maybe the biggest contribution I made was the casting. I really
saw Woody and Jesse pretty much the whole time, so it was amazing that
we got them to play the roles, because I cannot imagine anyone else as
those characters.
Ruben Fleischer on how the story evolved

The decision to let the humor and action breathe a little takes the burden off the horror aspects, the genre least in Fleischer’s sights. Judging from the response to the first trailer, he chose well.

Yeah, I love looking through all the comments on websites or even if
you go to Twitter and do a search for keyword “Zombieland,” it’s
remarkable how much anticipation there is for this movie. It seems like
the kids are really psyched on it, just from searching around comments
and stuff like that.  The trailer played with “Year One” and it got
seen over a million times in three days online, so I’d say like a
million and a half times in three days. It seems like it got passed
around a fair bit. The good thing is that it’s been really heavily
positive feedback whereas I feel people on the internet, especially
when it comes to genre stuff, people can be pretty mean or dubious or
protective or doubtful of things they hold precious like zombie movies.
So far, the feedback online has been very positive and excited and
anticipatory, as opposed to “It’s a ripoff of ‘Shaun of the Dead’ or
whatever people say. I think from the trailer people get a sense that
it’s it’s own movie. It’s not like other things that have come before
it. It’s got a funny sense of humor, a little cutting edge. What’s
awesome too is that people seem really excited to see Woody Harrelson
back in a big starring comedy role. I couldn’t be more excited and it’s
encouraging because I think the movie delivers on the trailer but
doesn’t exceed it, so I feel if people are already psyched on the
trailer, then they’ll be really psyched about the movie.
Ruben Fleischer on the response to the trailer

Of the scenes we watched, the best stuff involved the banter between Woody and Jesse and their fun list of zombie rules that serve as a storytelling backbone of the film. Woody is such a reliable and consistent actor whose brand is almost always strong enough to justify a viewing it’s hard not to get caught up in seeing him take out the trash. What’s weird is that he’s never done a film like this.

Luckily, the guy still looks like he’s in his twenties so as the ass-kicking zombie slayers and Twinkie aficionado [seriously, one of the great little aspects of the film] we get to see the actor really having fun. Eisenberg has taken his offbeat charm and ability to deliver witticisms and turned it into a brand as well, and seeing his hunched and timid character play off Woody’s physicality is uncommon for a film like this. Let’s face it, there’s only room for one Pegg/Frost tandem so it’s great to see these guys maneuver this reworked supermarket with their own brand of fun.

And practically in my backyard. How did they end up there?

Well I’ve been involved with the movie for over a year. December of
last year (that’s 2007) I got it and then there were complications with
the writers’ strike and the SAG strike threat so we couldn’t really
shoot until all those things were figured out, but in that time, it
really allowed us to work on the script, get it to the point where we
wanted it to be, I scouted New Mexico, I scouted Louisiana, and finally
ended up in Georgia. Things changed all throughout that process and
yeah, then we were in Georgia for 12 weeks doing preproduction and that
lends itself really well. I mean, the amusement park was better in
Valdosta then any of those other places we looked at. The variety of
environments in Georgia works really well. Originally, the movie was
set in the SouthWest so that was a major change and then coming here,
we set it in Texas instead of Arizona, just because there’s no way this
was going to play for Arizona and New Mexico and California, so we’re
playing it just strictly as Texas and then they travel to California.
Ruben Fleischer on shooting in Georgia.

Finally something to help erase the stench of Pet Sematary 2, Freejack, Fled, Trespass, and every home movie I ever made.

Next: The rousing finale!