Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with another AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. I had a chance to catch up with Bret & Drew Pierce about their new zombie comedy DEADHEADS. I actually reviewed this film a few months ago and you can read that review here. The Pierce Brothers have been touring this film around for a while now, but today it can be seen by all on DVD and on VOD, so be sure to check it out after reading this interview!
AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Thanks a lot for taking the time out to talk. So basically we are talking about DEADHEADS. I saw this film last fall when it was part of a festival. What festival was that?
BRET PIERCE (BP): Last fall it could have been a bunch of different ones. We were at Fright Fest, we were in Austin, we were at Toronto After Dark. I’m not sure which one you saw us at. I think I might have actually sent you a link to it, Mark. I kind of remember that.
BUG: You know, you’re right! I think you did send me a link to it, you’re right. Yeah, so as far as it touring around the festivals, I know a lot of films sort of go the direct route where they go right to theaters, but then some films have to go to these festivals in order to get distribution and everything like that. Can you talk a little bit about that? About just the hurdles that you guys had to jump? Was it a difficult journey for you?
DREW PIERCE (DP): For us it was really bumpy and a good experience, (laughs) but when we started out we kind of couldn’t get into anything for the longest time for festivals and then we finally kind of got into one which was the Newport Beach Film Festival and that kind of opened the doors for a ton of others and all of a sudden we went from zero festivals to like twenty.
BP: We didn’t realize that all of the festivals are a little connected.
BP: Or that everybody talks if your movie does well and audiences like it.
BUG: Yeah, so apparently the audience did like it. What was it like? What’s the feedback that you got for DEADHEADS?
BP: We were really lucky in that we got a huge response at all of the festivals. The first three or four fests we kept on selling out, they actually kept giving us…like the Newport Beach Fest, we ended up having three screenings, because we sold out the first two.
BUG: Oh cool. Very cool. So let’s backtrack a little bit. Can you tell the readers what DEADHEADS is about?
DP: It’s a road trip zombie comedy, I guess. It’s about a couple of guys who wake up in the midst of a zombie outbreak, so they decide to go on a road trip to find one of the guy’s lost love. The two guys are zombies.
BUG: Yeah, and that’s one of the cool things about this. It’s like so many times the zombies in these movies are just mindless kind of monsters and it’s up to the humans to be the main characters, but you guys made it so the actual characters in the film are the zombies. You care about them. You want them to succeed. Was that a decision from the beginning, that you wanted to give these zombies personalities?
BP: Yeah. I think we were trying to come up with horror ideas and we’re always throwing ideas around and I think we just got really excited about the idea of “What would happen if at the end of THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD the guy woke up at the top of the hill, but had no idea how he got there?” It was sort of a zombie experiment, so yeah I mean once we knew that that idea was out there, we knew the characters were going to be over the top and kind of fun and a little slapsticky.
DP: Yeah, I think we were just kind of jazzed about the idea of taking zombie characters and trying to make you care about them and putting them on a road trip. I can’t say I have heard of that before, so I’m kind of excited about it.
BUG: Yeah, it’s definitely a different kind of zombie movie. Has it been difficult with all of the zombie movies that are out right now to really stand out from the herd?
DP: Yes and no, because I think so many of the zombie movies…the only difference between a lot of them, a lot of the low budget stuff, is that it’s just a different location. It’s like a zombie movie classic in the mall, but everybody’s different concept is like “Zombies on an island!” You know? “Zombies on an airplane!” So I think the one thing that helped us is that we at least took a completely different spin on it, you know, and everybody said our movie was kind of like the John Hughes zombie movie. I think that’s what helps set it apart, but from the fests and all of that kind of stuff the response we’ve gotten and people telling their friends, that’s been key for us.
BP: Yeah, I think when we were making the movie there wasn’t this zombie craze. We kind of went into it probably just not knowing any better. It was SHAUN OF THE DEAD and DAWN OF THE DEAD were the only real things on the scene and even ZOMBIELAND was still in the works…
DP: We were nervous every time we’d hear a new announcement about a zombie movie. You panic, like “I hope they don’t go in the same direction we do” or even if they have a couple similar details, but I think we were lucky in that we kind of beat out most of them.
BP: Yeah, it was a great motivator to get it done as fast as possible, I think.
BUG: So as far as the comedy is concerned, it really is…sometimes it seems kind of difficult to mix comedy and horror, but you guys seem to do that really well in this film. What’s your philosophy going into mixing those two genres?
DP: I think key is character. I think that’s kind of true of all movies. Even our movie, which kind of leans towards being goofy at times, we usually try to stay as true to the characters as possible and those are the things that work the best in our movie. If you care about the character, you’re more likely to laugh at them. The jokes all work better, everything works better.
BP: I think we were kind of like…as long as we have characters you care about, and you give them an arc, and if all of the supporting work is kind of playing off of it and if you’re curious about where they need to get to in life or the end result of the movie, then it will be that much funnier and people will enjoy it a bit more and they will be invested with these self deprecating jokes that come with these characters--they actually ring true a little bit more.
BUG: Yeah, and as far as with the gore, you do at times go over the top with the gore, but it does seem to feed into the comedy. You tend to amp up the comedic aspects of that. Was that intentional?
DP: Yeah, I mean we kind of always knew that the gore elements were going to be kind of tongue in cheek fun like with the movie we want you to have a good time kind of vibe and we want you to kind of cringe, but laugh at the same time. It was actually difficult explaining to like our dad. When he read the script, he read in the first twenty pages that we shot a kid in the face and we were like “Trust us, dad, it will be funny.”
DP: You know, the funny thing is when we show it to audiences they laugh at the kid getting shot in the face, which sounds terrible, but it was meant to be funny and kind of a play on zombie movies.
BUG: As far as films that inspired you going into this film, what’s your list of films that you kind of looked to as inspiration?
BP: I think a lot of 80’s movies like GHOSTBUSTERS and BACK TO THE FUTURE. I think we had seen HAROLD AND KUMAR right around the time we started writing and so I think the relationship between the two leads is definitely inspired by that movie, but mostly 80’s action adventure. We grew up with all of the Amblin stuff.
DP: Yeah, we are Spielberg babies. We got crap for that for like ten years, but you know, we love them.
BUG: It definitely has that kind of innocence. It’s actually one of the few zombie films that you can walk away from and you actually feel pretty good about yourself.
BP: Honestly, we were really all about it. We were real fans of our character’s sweeter moments, but it was also something that we were really paranoid about, because we were like “Are people going to go along with this with us or are they just going to think we are taking this in the wrong direction?”
DP: We had a lot of crew and just people that we had read the script before that were like kind of hypercritical of anything sweet in the movie, but I don’t think it would work without some of the sweet stuff.
BUG: How did you end up getting your cast? It really is a talented cast that you guys put together.
BP: Oh thanks, Mark. Yeah, that was us. We didn’t have a great budget. We had a really tiny budget, so we relied solely on unknowns and some of them are guys that we’ve known for years that made really crappy shorts and indie films nobody will ever see. (laughs) We made things with them and we kind of came to them. We were like “They are really good, we’ve got to write something for them.” Case in point, our lead zombie Michael McKiddy was one of those guys who ten years ago we were like “We’ve got to write a part for Mike,” so there’s kind of a reason the character’s name is “Mike.” (laughs) But yeah, everybody else was just Drew and I going to showcases in LA to just see unknown actors and we would just hold our own auditions and we’d call people into our apartment and try to shoot auditions.
DP: I think the key was that when we were going into production and gearing up we spent probably like a year and a half as we were getting ready to go make the movie and get the locations set and all of that kind of stuff before we shot and casting the thing. Usually movies are cast over a month or two, but that’s the one advantage we kind of had, we just go around and visit zombie troupes and hold auditions over the course of an entire year. It’s a lot easier when you’re doing nonunion stuff.
BP: It’s also really hard to convince actresses to come audition at your apartment without thinking it’s creepy.
BUG: Very true. What’s it like working as brothers? I know if I would actually even attempt to make anything, even dinner, with my brother I would end up arguing with him the whole time. You guys seem to be pretty good working together as far as co-directing and writing. What’s your secret?
DP: I think we’ve just always gotten along. I think we are lucky that way, because…I don’t know.
BP: Yeah, we’re only two years apart and part of the explanation is up until about the age of 26 we shared a bedroom.
BP: So too much time together, but I mean it’s definitely the best thing. There’s just so much work that you’ve got to get done, and to be able to split that in half…the other thing is, when we write together, we’re not worried about offending the other person and most people that have writing partners, you know, you change something and there’s a little bit of ego involved, even if it’s a small amount. Even if it’s your best friend, there’s a little bit of ego involved, but literally we will go back to each other and be like “That idea I had was just terrible.”
DP: Yeah, we talk about everything so much that by the time it gets to actually shooting we are kind of like the same brain. It’s like somebody can talk to us and they are going to hear the same answer. Actors actually used to make fun of that, because they’d ask a question and think there was something creepy or unnatural “about the two of you guys.” It’s the same answer, but you know, we have a lot of fun. I don’t know how I’d do it without my brother. I would be totally screwed.
BUG: So when can people see DEADHEADS, and how can they see it? Is it a limited theatrical run or is it going to video?
DP: It’s being released March 6th, this coming Tuesday, and it’s coming out on DVD with a director’s commentary and some featurettes on it, but it’s also being released through every Video On Demand outlet like Direct TV, Dish Network…also like Playstation Network and iTunes and Amazon and Blockbuster…you can buy the DVD off of Amazon.com.
BUG: So what’s next for you guys?
BP: We have a script that we’ve been working on for a little while that we are really excited about that’s kind of like a Hallloween adventure movie. It’s got elements of…I think Drew and I kind of want to step a little bit more to something that actually scares you, that’s a little more in the horror vibe and a little more atmospheric, but I’m sure we will keep that comedy element of comedic characters a little bit, but something a little bit more along the lines of an indie Sherlock Holmes movie, but kind of based around Halloween and all about old myths about the classic, like, Halloween witch.
DP: Nice, I like that. We’ve fallen in love with Irish mythology in the last like six months and it’s just something we’re really into.
BUG: Very cool. I can’t wait to check that out. What’s the time frame on that? Is that just being written right now?
BP: It’s in the stages of being written, but it’s very far along. We are still kind of dealing with DEADHEADS, which is crazy because it’s coming out right now, but it kind of feels like we are finally wrapping up DEADHEADS and we are kind of starting the next thing. It’s been literally like the last month.
BUG: Well great. I can’t wait to see the next thing that you guys do. Thanks a lot, guys. I appreciate you taking the time out to talk with me and I’m glad we were able to work it out. I know we both have really busy schedules, so I’m glad we were able to do this.
DP: Thanks so much, Mark, for all of the coverage in the last year and a half, man. We really appreciate it.
BUG: No problem. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like in the movie.
BUG: Be sure to look for DEADHEADS on DVD & VOD today and find out more on the DEADHEADS website here and on the Facebook page!
See ya Friday, folks!
Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/reviewer/co-editor of AICN Comics for over ten years. He has written comics such as MUSCLES & FIGHTS, MUSCLES & FRIGHTS, VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, WONDERLAND ANNUAL 2010 & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND & has co-written their first ever comic book LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in October 2012 as an 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark has just announced his new comic book miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment to be released in March 2012.
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