The thing I had to learn as a writer, after being a writer/director/producer/editor for so long was that now there was someone else in the relationship.
From the first meeting with Geoff after the initial vomit draft there were notes; notes I agreed with, notes I didn’t agree with, notes to try things, notes to discard things. His opinion here mattered, obviously, as he would be the one directing it and the biggest lesson I learnt from having someone else in the relationship was that I WASN’T ALWAYS RIGHT.
Some of the notes Geoff gave I initially sneered at, then tried and actually found they worked, worked better than what I had initially. I felt, after so many years writing purely for myself that I was growing as a writer, even If I were just throwing gallons of blood around; it made sense, and having that person invest their time in the script as much as you did made it a better thing.
Next, I tried writing the script as a silent movie. No dialogue at all. It worked, kind of, but the humour wasn’t 100% there. We found a middle ground with minimal dialogue. I wanted it to play as well to, say, a Japanese audience as a Western audience. Hopefully with the script, we’ve kind of found that ‘middle ground’.
In those early meetings we had 3 distinct sections in the script, which haven’t really changed to this day, but the things that have changed have made the project evolve into a different ‘beast’.
Firstly, the initial draft was male and female characters in the band. They had no name as a band, they were just the ‘band’.
Secondly, they started out as an 80’s metal band.
Third, the AN2.
Fourth, those glowing eyes.
Firstly, the male and female roles were never a major head scratcher. They just fell that way. The Singer and Drummer were always female, the others started out as male, and we were thinking of various people that could potentially play those characters (note: Stacy Hart was always, since day one, the drummer. The role was written for her)
There came a day though where I thought, why not make the band all female. It actually made the characters stronger. Geoff pushed me to try it, it worked. We kept it.
By one of the early cast members we were queried as to why the band didn’t have a name. We gave them the name ‘The Stiffs’, but that was too on the nose, plus there was a band called that. So we thought and I came up with ‘Monster Kitten’
‘I like it’ said Geoff. So it stayed.
This second one, the music of the band, was one we flipped and flopped on so much. I loved both punk and metal, probably punk more now than metal, but Geoff has always been a metal fan, so one week they were a metal band, influenced by the likes of Iron Maiden, the next they were a punk band like the Ramones. This kind of back and forth really went on for the best part of the year, until we decided that the band’s main influences in the ‘real world’ were punk (pop punk/industrial punk etc). They were now a female punk band. Attitude to the end.
Third, the AN2.
When I first wrote the script, it was like a live action cartoon, very Peter Jackson’s Braindead meets Dead Snow 2 meets Deathgasm kind of humour. Geoff’s main concern was how was the anarchy of the script going to work on the plane we had. I had no clue, I had just googled images of the plane and then written an ambitious short, something I’d want to see. So in going to see the plane when I did, I immediately saw there was a problem there.
How on Earth were we going to shoot this script on that plane?
Cross that bridge when we got to it was my initial assessment. Looking back now, with our bigger plane, I’m thinking ‘OMG, no way would we have been able to do ANYTHING on the AN2, no cat swinging, no nothing!’. The AN2 still looks lovely, but nothing that I had written would’ve worked on it. I’m glad we were able to move to Black Hangar Studios (causing yet more rewrites to the script, but in a good way). Otherwise lots of people (crew, cast, puppeteers, directors) would’ve hated me.
Fourth, those glowing eyes. They were written in the script to give reason to the zombie outbreak, but the more we thought about what were in those cages (inspired equally by Critters, Braindead and Gremlins) the more we thought ‘why does it have to be zombies’, why couldn’t infection turn into something else?
In fact, this started to be the one thing I was fighting for, get rid of the zombies!!!
Luckily, Geoff is such an easy guy to work with, it didn’t turn into a battle, it turned into a collaboration, of the best kind. We just now needed to work out what the humans would turn into? This would take some pondering.
But back to the glowing eyes. From the start they were going to be an effect, they would have been a post effect, until I opened my mouth one day in one of our coffee shop meetings and said.
‘Wouldn’t it be good if our glowing eyes were actual puppets?’
‘Yes’ said Geoff ‘but how are we going to do that, do you know puppeteers, puppet makers?’
‘Leave it with me’ was my response.
I was making a rod for my own back (pun intended). Where was I going to find puppet makers?
I had suddenly turned from ‘just being a writer’ to being someone that was trying to make life more difficult for himself, by making it even more complex.
I was loving it.
To Be Continued…