Local filmmakers tackle zombie culture with Doc of the Dead

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Denver has zombie walks, zombie proms, zombie races, zombie car washes and zombie fashion shows, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that a pair of Denver filmmakers have launched an ambitious zombie documentary. Alexandre O. Philippe and Robert Muratore, the pair behind the Star Wars doc The People Vs. George Lucas (disclosure: I briefly appeared, without compensation, in PvGL in my capacity as a pop-culture critic) and The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (about the octopus who predicted the winners of the 2010 World Cup, and showing at this month's Starz Denver Film Festival) are turning their cameras on the walking dead, aiming to figure out exactly what it is about shambling, flesh-hungry corpses that has so captivated popular culture.

The film, which will be called Doc of the Dead, is currently in production and raising funds via Kickstarter. Denver residents will also get to participate in the documentary during next week's zombie town hall at the Starz Denver Film Festival, which features zombie legend George A. Romero alongside notable authors Max Brooks (World War Z, The Zombie Survival Guide) and Steven Schlozman (The Zombie Autopsies). We sat down with Philippe and Muratore to find out exactly what they had planned for their epic undead documentary. (Disclosure: I will be moderating the SDFF zombie panel, and appearing in the film -- both for no compensation -- in my capacity as a zombie expert.)

See also: - Event: Starz Denver Film Festival - Q&A: Atom the Amazing Zombie Killer - Blood, boobs and bowling - Horror docs will highlight this year's Watching Hour program at SDFF

Westword: Tell us what we can expect from Doc of the Dead.

Alexandre O. Philippe: Well, in a nutshell, [with] Doc of the Dead, our objective for the film is to make it the definitive zombie culture documentary, looking very specifically at the explosion of zombies in pop culture in very recent years. We feel like its reached a tipping point, and so we want to explore why that's happening and why now.

As a result of this, there's been a lot of talk about the zombie apocalypse. People are talking a lot about it and speculating a lot about it and so were going to explore the question of is a zombie apocalypse possible, and if so what would it look like. We're doing that with Jonathan London of Geekscape. His task is going to be to explore the possibility of the zombie apocalypse. So he's going to go through all these different scenarios, which will be very out there and pretty comedic. Mr. Plinkett of Red Letter Media is going to be stuck in his basement during a zombie apocalypse and bad things are going to happen.

There's definitely some fictional segments to the film. We're going to push the envelope in terms of straddling the line between documentary and speculation. More than fiction, it's going to be fun speculation that will lead to a lot of fan service, which is something we really want to emphasize.

Where did the idea for a zombie documentary come from?

Philippe: Years ago, I remember making a note on my iPhone. It was actually at the 2009 (San Diego ] Comic Con. It's funny because I remember telling that to Chris Bagley, that I really wanted to do a documentary on zombies. I was like, "Why isn't there a proper documentary on zombies?" And since then, we've been talking about it.

Robert Muratore: Yeah, we've just been throwing the idea around.

Philippe: So eventually we were just like, "Yeah, let's do it."

Muratore:Really, what I think was the impetus was we had a connection with Simon Pegg and once we were able to get confirmation of that interview, and really after we conducted the interview, we realized this is huge. It was a great interview. He has a deep respect for George Romero and that alone was what pushed us off the edge.

Philippe: We didn't want to invest in yet another documentary, but when Simon said he'd do the interview, we were like "Oh, fine we'll do it." And then suddenly, here you are with some actual footage, some good footage, and so you're thinking, "Now we have to follow through on this."

Muratore: Yeah, and then we were able to secure an interview with George Romero. We also got Matt Mogk from the Zombie Research Society and Thea Munster who started the first zombie walk in Toronto. When you start out with those interviews, that kind of caliber of interview subject, you realize you've got something. It was an amazing way to start a documentary process. Then we were recently able to get Alex Cox, director of Repo Man.

Philippe: It was like if we had started People Vs George Lucas and got George Lucas and Mark Hamill right off the bat. It's kind of like that.

Muratore: Yeah, hitting the ground running like that. For People Vs. George Lucas it was a much slower process. There was a lot of resistance along the way, because of the subject matter and the contentious aspect of it. This documentary, it's been a lot easier. Once we have the ability to really start seeking out these other name interviews, it's all going to fall into place easily.

You've mentioned some pretty big names in the field already, including Romero himself. Who else are you looking to include?

Philippe: We have a commitment from Max Brooks [and] Steven Schlozman. Greg Nicotero said yes to an interview. Mick Garris, the director of the Stephen King movies. Steve Barton from Dread Central.

Muratore: We've been talking to [Walking Dead writer/co-creator] Robert Kirkman, right?

Philippe: Well, [Walking Dead artist] Charlie Adlard we have committed. Kirkman might take .. we're targeting him, but I think he's been a little hesitant. He did send a really nice tweet about the film yesterday morning. Yeah, people on the dream list ... we'd love to talk to Stephen King. We'd love to talk to John Russo.

Muratore: David Cronenberg. His first couple movies were affected by [Romero].

Philippe: I'd love to talk to [Quentin] Tarantino.

Muratore: Tarantino is a huge Romero fan, so it would make sense to talk to him. Sam Raimi, obviously. There's a whole list of people who would be really good for this.

Are you planning on including fan input, like you did with People Vs. George Lucas?

Philippe: We have already. We have some submissions already, we definitely want ti to be a participatory doc in the same way. We definitely want to draw from popular culture because it is so rich and there is so much going on there. And there's so much other stuff, too -- going to the Day of the Dead in Mexico and looking at that parallel. We definitely want to go back to ground zero -- the cemetery in Night of the Living Dead, the mall in Dawn of the Dead.

Any plans to go to Haiti and look at zombies in voodoo culture?

Philippe: The idea is to send Jonathan London to Haiti.

Muratore: Yeah, we want to touch on the voodoo origins of zombies. It's a different thing, but if you take the name zombie you have to trace it back. Then there were old Universal horror films, like White Zombie.

Philippe: Speaking of which, we should interview Rob Zombie.

Muratore: We should interview Rob Zombie.

You're funding it initially via Kickstarter, right?

Philippe: Well, we've already invested in the film. We have a fair amount of footage already. But yeah, we're going with Kickstarter because we want to try and free ourselves from the constraints of traditional distribution, I would say. Be able to really control our films and release them the way we want to release them, because we feel like we have a pretty good understanding of fan culture and geek culture. We're geeks. We want to be able to do things with this film that we were not at liberty to do with something like People Vs. George Lucas.

So you'll be doing some kind of self distribution?

Philippe: It'll probably be a combination.

Muratore: I think in an ideal situation, if we could set up a path of self distribution for this film, I think that;s what we'll do. I think we'll have to see how it all plays out when we have a finished project, but self distribution is becoming more viable these days, and it allows you to keep the rights to your film. That, to us, has become very important,.

As part of the creation and promotion of this film, you're putting on a zombie town hall here in Denver. What can you tell us about that?

Philippe: The whole thing came about during our conversation with George Romero. after the interview, we were talking about Max Brooks and George said something like, "Oh yeah, when Max and I and Steven Schlozman go have beers together, it's a lot of fun to have at it and talk about zombies." He said, kind of jokingly, "If you bring us to Denver, we could do that live on stage." So I was like, well, actually, maybe we can. [We] talked to the Film Society to see if they had an interest in doing something like that, and yeah, sure enough.

It's going to be a unique event. It's the first time that Romero and Brooks will be together on stage. I have no idea if they'll do it again but it's definitely something to be a part of. It will be historical for any zombie fan to be a part of.

Once the Kickstarter and this zombie town hall are complete, what's next for the film?

Muratore: We start planning our next sets of interviews. We have a big trip to the West Coast, a big trip to the East Coast. Hopefully we'll be able to go to Europe within the next six months. We'll just be booking interviews once the Kickstarter is done. Maybe before the campaign ends. We're going to try to do as much this year as we can.

Philippe: Like I said Geekscape and Red Letter media are going to have segments in the film, so we're going to give them some money so they can start working on those segments as well. Target date, the goal is to have at least a fine cut by the end of next year. We're hoping for a set of early 2014 festival premiers and hopefully release in the summer [of that year]. Obviously we would love to do a big screening at the San Diego Comic Con in 2014, no doubt about it.

Anything else you want to touch on about the film or zombie culture before we wrap up?

Philippe: Zombie culture has gone to a whole other level in very recent years, so I think now is really the time to put a microscope on it and really look at what's going on.

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