Atom the Amazing Zombie Killer, the debut feature film from Bizjack FlemCo, features zombies, bowling and a seriously weird twist, all wrapped up in a gore-splattered, over-the-top sensibility that should be familiar to fans of Troma. The locally made film will get its proper Denver debut at the Denver Indie Fest (tonight at 9 p.m. at Su Teatro), with most of the cast and crew on hand to introduce the film and answer questions. In advance of that, we caught up with Richard Taylor, who co-wrote the film with Zack Beins and Tim Johnson and co-directed with Beins, to talk about the movie's long road to the screen, its screwy sensibilities and what it was like working with Troma legend Lloyd Kaufman.
Westword: You've been billing it as a "zombie movie without zombies." Can you explain what that means?
Richard Taylor: Correct, yeah -- the first zombie movie with no zombies! We don't want to give away the plot of the movie... it does have zombies, so it's kind of funny to say that. We've got bowling, we've got souped-up hearses.... I don't know how to explain it without giving it away. You can get a description at our IMDB page.
This film has been a work in progress since, what, at least 2009? Have you been working on it the whole time? Have there been delays in production?
Yeah, we've been working on it the whole time, and there were delays in production. We lost a few actors, actually. We lost locations. We just could not keep a bowling alley. They kept shutting down on us. The whole movie takes place in a bowling alley, and we just could not keep a bowling alley. We had some financial troubles. One of my friends, Zack, got in a really bad car accident and broke his leg, so that slowed down production. Just things kind of sucked at that time. We were trying to live our lives and make this movie at the same time, and life just kept getting in the way. We were supposed to premiere it in 2010, but it just didn't happen. We should have never made that announcement.
That doesn't seem too unusual among independent filmmakers.
Yeah, a lot of people say that their movie is going to get done this year, then it never happens. On a sad note, their movie just dies and you never hear of it again. With us, I was determined to finish it, and I lost all my hair, just pulled it out, and kept going. I just had to finish this thing, and it's finally done.
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This is the Denver premiere, but you've shown it a few times nearby, right?
Yeah. We filmed at an Elvis Cinemas in Arvada -- part of the movie takes place in a movie theater -- so we thought it would be fun to show the film where we filmed the movie. They were nice enough to actually let us screen the movie and film the movie there. We had a little get-together there, and that went really well. We also had the movie screen at TromaDance in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We had another screening, the very first, at StarFest, but that was a very early cut. It hadn't been color-corrected, and we were screening it off my computer.
How was it received at TromaDance?
The thing about that was we were in Albuquerque, so we didn't know anybody there. All we knew were that the people there were Troma fans. This movie is very Troma-esque, because me, Zack and Tim, we all love Troma movies. We basically wrote a Troma movie, and Lloyd [Kaufman, Troma president and co-founder] is even in the movie; he makes a little cameo in the film. The film was well received. People were cracking up, and there's one scene in the movie that seems to get everybody shouting out loud, and at TromaDance it was no exception.
With Troma, people are expecting a certain sensibility: over the top, shlocky, with gruesome but cheap effects. When you say your movie is Troma-esque, that's what we're talking about, right?
Absolutely. We establish right in the beginning that the film is very campy. The whole movie was just an excuse to do special effects. Me and Zack worked on Poultrygeist with Troma and did special effects from that movie. After learning everything we learned on Poultrygeist, we wanted to do something else that was really effects-driven. Doing Atom the Amazing Zombie Killer was an excuse to do effects: The guy's going around killing people he thinks are zombies. It's a fun reason to do effects. We've got blood, we've got gore -- we've got blood, boobs and beasts. Plenty of boobs, cars, we've got bowling...we've got radio DJs Uncle Nasty and Matt Need from KBPI. We've got Maris the Great, who's a gay zombie here in town. He makes a small cameo.
How was working with Kaufman?
Lloyd is great! We've been Troma fans since high school, and actually getting to work with one of your heroes is probably the best thing that's ever happened to me. He taught me a lot, and actually calling him a friend now is really cool. It's amazing. I don't think I could have ever gotten my movie done if I didn't learn All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned From the Toxic Avenger, which is actually a book.
Are you going to be taking Atom to some festivals, or what's the plan for the film now?
We're doing festivals right now. The first one that's been brave enough to play the movie has been the Denver Indie Fest. I haven't heard back from anybody else, but it's still early. Most of the festivals are in October, so hopefully I will hear back spon. We want to play the festival circuit and hopefully find a distributor at one of those events. Troma is already interested in the movie, but Lloyd told us to shop it around because they're going to give us the bottom-of-the-barrel deal.
That's their model, right?
Yeah. But if nobody says yes, we have Troma. I have no problem giving the movie to Troma, because I think it's in the vein of Troma. I support Troma in every way possible, and they would do a good distribution deal anyway. They're worldwide; people know who they are. I think my movie as a Troma movie would be amazing, but I'm going to shop it around still.
Now that this is done, is there something new in the works?
Absolutely. Since high school, I've been making movies with the same people, Zack and Tim. Of course we want to write another feature. We have a few ideas but nothing set in stone yet. I've been wanting to do a sequel to Cannibal Girl and Incest Boy called Hanger, about a boy born with a clothes hanger in his head, but that hasn't seen the light of day yet. We're really burnt out [after] Atom. It takes a lot out of you.
We did a music video for a local artist called Extra Kool; he's a rap artist here in town. We did a really bloody, gory music video for him recently. I think what we'd like to do is get back into doing some shorts, music videos, maybe something like that, before we jump into another feature, because it really sucks working on one project for like four years. [Laughs]. You've got to live your life on the movie, so it's like you can't stop thinking about it, or you lose focus and you won't get it down, and it'll be another year, another year.... The shorts and music videos are nice because you can finish them in, like, a day.
I want to jump into animation as well. In Atom the Amazing Zombie Killer, we did a lot of animation. I'd like to more of that as well. Definitely going to try do another feature, though. I think when the winter, when the cold weather starts coming, the brain will start working again.
Anything else you want to say about the movie?
Really, I'd just like people to come see the movie. We're doing another screening in Wyoming next month, part of the Cheyenne Zombie Fest. They contacted me and were like, "Would you like to show your movie alongside Troll 2?" I was like, sure! We're getting a lot of screenings like that, and I just want people to come out and see it.
I think they'll really like it when they see it. It's not your typical independent zombie movie. I never wanted to be the guy who was making a zombie movie, because there are so many of them. I said, "I'll never make a zombie movie, because they're overdone" -- but I got this idea, and I was like, "Okay this is a zombie movie that isn't really a zombie movie, where our good guy is really the bad guy and our bad guy is really our good guy." It plays with your mind and the whole genre, throws it on its head. I hadn't seen a movie like this before, so I went ahead and did it.
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Find out more about Atom the Amazing Zombie Killer at the official website.