There’s nothing like a challenge to kick the brain into working at things from angles you never really looked at before. In this case, it was a simple conversation that ended with a friend of mine questioning how something so well-known and well established could even be argued against.
A friend was discussing possible panel discussion topics about horror and, when zombies came up, another friend suggested a discussion about who created the zombie as we know it. He was blown off with a quick answer as to who did it and how silly the idea of even debating it was. There was, he was told, simply no questioning the fact that George A. Romero created the modern zombie. There are, after all, entire books and documentaries dedicated to just that fact.
My comment in response to this was that, hey, they’re still arguing over whether or not the Wright Brothers were really “First in Flight” in America. If that can be seriously debated by various scholars and newspapers; why not this? I put on my devil’s advocate’s cap and a day later told him that it might actually be easier than he thought. This is the result.
I should note, as if it wasn’t already somewhat apparent from the above, that this is pretty much just an exercise in looking at this from a different POV than the one I usually hold. It’s also maybe an opening for fun debate. I love George and think he doesn’t get enough credit in some areas and I certainly respect his well-earned reputation as the father of the modern zombie. Keep any angry typing and any offended INTERNET SCREAMING to yourself here. We’re likely on the same side of the actual argument. However, friendly geek debating is always welcome.
This is also going to be a bit rough as a read. I’m a bit busy and I’m supposed to be working on other things right now so I’m not working this out or refining it much beyond first think through and first draft. I’ll leave the polishing (or crushing) of the thing to any debate it might invite.
So, without further ado…
Did George A. Romero really create the modern zombie?
The generally accepted answer is usually a resounding “yes” and given faster than one can think. But the answer may not be as cut and dry as that. As a matter of fact, one very authoritative source has repeatedly stated that George A. Romero did not invent zombies back in 1968. That source would be George A. Romero himself.
Romero has, in many interviews over the years, stated that he never intended them to be zombies. Zombies to Romero were the still living Voodoo slaves of such classic films as White Zombie. His film was partially intended to be a riff on Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend with updated concepts and contemporary themes thrown in. But Romero didn’t want to use vampires. So after some thought about what to do, the decision was made to make them ghouls.
That’s actually an extremely important point. Romero knew what his creatures were and he named them. They were ghouls. And ghouls, even as portrayed in Night of the Living Dead, were not new or original by any stretch of the imagination.
Ghouls, particularly as seen in NotLD, date back centuries, if not millennia, in legend and lore from all around the world. You can find stories of the ravenous dead in ancient cultures that have been nothing but dust and ruins for longer than anyone reading this has been alive. And in many cases, they were also depicted as the departed friends, family or village-folk that came back mindless and with a taste for the flesh of the living. That’s not a story new to 1968 or even American storytelling. There were even a few of the pre-code horror comic books in the 1950s that at least played with the concept even if they didn’t dance fully into on panel, full gore body devouring.
So George A. Romero himself has for years said that he never intended these things to be “zombies” and didn’t even call them that himself in the early years and yet they still became “zombies” to the movie going and horror loving public. So how and why did that happen?
Romero has answered that one as well. The press basically did it. It was the press, both professional and fanzine, that labeled the ravenous dead of Romero’s film with the “zombie” tag.
But, Jerry, I hear you saying, they were new to film. We had never seen such a sight in films before; certainly not American films at any rate and not films that had any sort of mainstream coverage and release. And to that I answer simply…
Did James Bond not exist as a fully realized creation until the films came along? Yeah, they changed him quite a bit in the transition from page to screen, but it has always been acknowledged that James Bond was based on a book, on pre-existing stories, created by Ian Fleming. The film Beastmaster and Marc Singer’s Dar are nothing like Andre Norton’s books or Hosteen Storm in any way but the most superficial, and changed far, far more of the story and setting than Romero’s ghouls were changed from some of the ghouls of legend, but it’s still widely acknowledge that Beastmaster is Andre Norton’s creation. So how are we not to also acknowledge that Romero’s “zombies” existed so fully and firmly in story and legend that he knew what they were well enough to name them as ghouls himself even if a host of press people felt the need to give them a hipper name?
But, you say, the origin makes them different. The ravenous dead were supernatural. These were brought about by natural, if slightly cosmic and exaggerated, means. That means that they are different based on the “birth” as it were.
No they weren’t and no they’re not.
A lot of people who call themselves big zombie fans and big Romero fans often seem to trip themselves up over that one. They’ll tell you that the zombie plague was created by radiation brought back by a satellite that broke up on re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere. This is not true.
The satellite is referenced in NotLD, but it’s never actually established as the cause for the zombie outbreak. Romero himself has even said that the satellite was not the cause and inserted commentary by an expert into the early parts of Shaun of the Dead shooting down that idea. The cause of the zombie plague of Romero’s world is to this day exactly what Romero himself has stated he wanted it to be. It’s an unknown and hotly debated source. And, again, no matter what else is said, we still have this.
GEORGE ROMERO: “They haven’t. When I did the first film, I didn’t call them zombies. When I did Night of the Living Dead, I called them ghouls, flesh eaters. I didn’t think they were. Back then zombies were still those boys in the Caribbean doing the wet work for Lugosi. So I never thought of them as zombies. I thought they were just back from the dead. I ripped off the idea for the first film from a Matheson novel called I Am Legend which is now back with us after a couple of incarnations prior. I thought I Am Legend was about revolution. I mean this is a 60s guy sitting there [pretends to take a toke, laughs] and I said if you’re going to do something about revolution, you should start at the beginning. Richard starts his book with one man left. Everybody in the world has become a vampire and I said, “No man, we gotta start at the beginning and tweak it up a little bit.” And I couldn’t use vampires because he did so I wanted something that would be an earth shaking change, something that was forever, like this awful shit, something that was really at the heart of it. I said what if the dead stop staying dead. Again it’s just an idea that comes to you. And I just never thought of them as zombies in the first place. This film goes back theoretically to that first night. I mean I didn’t use the word until the second film and that’s only because people who were writing about the first film called them zombies and I said maybe they are in a way, but to me zombies were separate in the rainbow. I mean they were not even undead, they were just people that were … You blew this shit up with blowfish powder which would put someone in a state of suspended animation and then you get them to do your chores for you. I just thought it was completely different.”
It’s kind of hard to argue with the man himself when he says that he never intended them to be “zombies” and in fact thought that they were just ghouls. He also addresses the fact here that he only decided to use that word himself because other people were describing his ghouls as zombies in their writings on the first film.
You’ve built a car. A bunch of people who don’t know any better call it a plane. You finally give in and call it a plane. Did you really invent the modern plane?
No. No you did not. And Romero may not have created the modern zombie. He certainly had a hand in it and might be honestly labeled a co-creator who has had the good fortune of having many other co-creators who were far more unknown than he was and, in some cases with the passage of time, mostly forgotten.
But certainly he can be credited with creating the “Romero Zombie” and thus still have the title as the “Creator of the Modern Zombie” that has been bestowed upon him, right? Maybe not. The truth may be that we’ve never really seen a “Romero Zombie” on film.
The closest thing that you can make the claim of being a “Romero Zombie” about would be the first zombies of NotLD, creatures, again, that Romero himself has stated were never zombies, and that after that film we saw the creature drifting away from what it was and into the pop culture created narrative of what the zombie was.
Think about the evolution of the “Romero Zombie” for a moment. The zombies seen in Night and the zombies seen in Dawn could almost be different creatures. Yeah, they both rise from the dead to munch warm, living flesh, but there’s much more about them that’s different.
Other than the two child zombies at the airport in Dawn, the zombies of Night show the ability for faster movement than their counterparts in Dawn. In NotLD, the very first zombie we see jogs at a fairly nice clip after the departing Barbara. He also shows us zombies in Night that are more physically capable and that show more signs of intelligence in the moment. Jogging zombie, upon catching up to Barbara’s car starts rapid-fire pounding on the window like a jackhammer. He then, after figuring out that his knuckles ain’t cutting it, steps back, rapidly looks around the ground, picks up a rock, hauls back, and then smashes the window with the rock. Throughout Night we even see the undead using basic tools (sticks and stones) with regularity. They also seemed a wee bit light sensitive.
By Dawn of the Dead, the concept of the NotLD ghoul being instead a “zombie” has seemingly infected their presentation on screen. They’re slower, they’re more lumbering, they’re more clueless, they seem to have forgotten what tools are, and they resemble the lumbering Voodoo zombie of films gone by insofar as their general actions and movements much more so than their NotLD counterparts did. It was as if the very idea of labeling them zombies in turn affected the way they were written and performed.
The argument could be made that Romero allowed others and their descriptions of and ideas on his creatures to shape the development of his creatures, either consciously or unconsciously, rather than keeping them what they were and expanding on that. They changed in between NotLD and DotD into being closer to something you might see in White Zombie or King of the Zombies.
By Day of the Dead, the transformation of the creatures from being a ghoul to simply being a deader, hungrier version of the Voodoo zombie was more or less complete. We’re even treated to the lone zombie breaking through the haze of its clouded zombie-state mind to start remembering aspects of its previous life and to start displaying facets of its old, pre-zombie personality.
By the time the modern era of the zombie film came around (skipping Land of the Dead even though I actually liked that one more than most) and George Romero reclaimed his cinematic kingdom, we saw him using zombies that were in every way respectful of what many call “Romero’s Rules” for zombies. Surely these zombies are in fact Romero’s zombies, right? Hey, they follow Romero’s Rules for crying out loud.
Actually, if anything, these “Romero’s Rules” zombies from Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead are the least like Romero’s zombies in NotLD than any to come before them and are actually fairly different from even the zombies of Dawn, Day, and Land. These zombies do in fact follow the “Romero’s Rules” as defined by a legion of hardcore zombie purists in pop culture, but the problem is that Romero himself never really followed “Romero’s Rules” all that closely in his first three zombie films. What we see in Dairy and Survival is Romero using the zombie demanded by the purists and what we saw was even the purists ranking these two films as the worst two films of his (so far) six films.
What we have is a man who set out to use ghouls, slowly allowed the pop culture forces of the time to shift his creatures closer to their “zombie” moniker, and, after many years, finally set out to use “his” zombies based on “his” rules when the rules in question were never really his rules in the early days. So where does this all leave Romero insofar as being the “creator” of the modern zombie?
He’s certainly a great filmmaker. He’s made three fantastic films, two pretty damned good ones and one kinda clunker. But the reality of the situation is that he’s a co-creator of the modern zombie at best and, when looking at his first film VS subsequent films, he’s not even the majority co-creator of what is today considered the Romero Zombie.
He laid the groundwork, the well established groundwork, and so many others filled in the blanks. He headed the team, but a lot of other technicians added the fine details. Godfather of the modern zombie he may be, but he is at best only the unintentional co-creator of the modern zombie and not in fact the creator of the modern zombie.
Oh… A little bonus debate starter… Do you want to hear something that’s really insane sounding but very likely true? It’s quite possible that the single biggest thing that created the modern zombie as we know it, even the modern Romero zombie and the zombie craze as we know it right now was a simple mistake with copyright. Yeah, you read that right. You may in fact owe your favorite current creature’s success and relevance on the horror landscape to a screw-up.
It’s A Wonderful Life is a Christmas staple. For years you couldn’t turn the television on in the Christmas season and not channel surf into it on at least two or three channels. Everyone was airing it from your short on funds local PBS station to superstations like WOR, WGN, and WTBS. The thing is, Life was a flop. It was a failure at the box office and it was savaged by most critics at the time. No one cared about it and somewhere along the lines the film fell out of copyright and in to public domain. At that point, just about anyone who wanted to could air the thing day and night without putting the least little dent into their budget. And slowly over the years this “Holiday Classic” was aired so much and so many times that almost everyone had a chance to see it. It actually found an audience on television and it built a bit of a nostalgic following for some as the movie that they always watched in the Christmas Season when growing up.
And then the popularity got it noticed and it slipped back into copyright. Nice DVD versions were released and the cost of airing it went up. Suddenly it’s not on TV as much each December and its popularity has been noticeably slipping.
Night of the Living Dead sort of did the same thing. Night fell out of copyright almost immediately thanks to a fairly large screw-up. As a result, it cost basically nothing to air. Channels that were willing to air it, occasionally “uncut” but slightly edited to avoid bare zombie butts, could do so every Halloween season or on their local horror host’s program on the cheap. Drive-Ins and theaters now called Grindhouse Theaters but not so much known as such then could get prints cheap if they knew where to look and show it on special occasions with a much better profitability bang for their original layout buck.
When VHS came along, every fly-by-night company put out their own print. The same thing happened when DVD came along and put a bullet in the head of VHS. Hell, some of the DVDs were the VHS prints copied over with all of the tape defects intact. You could buy it on DVD for a whopping $1.99 or get it in a collection of ten, twenty-five or fifty films for the cost of any one or two big studio release DVDs.
Night of the Living Dead was everywhere when I was growing up. Everyone that was a horror fan saw it because you almost couldn’t not come across the film on TV or in a friend’s video collection.
It was a good movie to be sure. But the film also had a much better than average chance at finding and building an audience. Would it have been popular if it had never fallen out of copyright? Yeah, I think it would have been. It’s a good film after all. Would it have been as big if it had stayed in copyright? I really don’t think so. It would have been aired less on television and there would have only been higher priced VHS tapes and DVDs on the market with almost no mega collections containing it until the most recent years of DVD distribution.
It would have found an audience, but the audience, just based on the reduced exposure, would have likely been smaller in the early years as well as into the 80s and 90s. Without the larger “cult” following, we don’t see the same rise of the cheap zombie horror that we saw in the 80s. Hell, we may not even have seen Return of the Living Dead. Without these things, we don’t see the same demand for Day, which may still have been made, and Land, which may not have still been made, and the blossoming love affair with all things zombie that we’ve seen from the major studio heads. The zombie genre isn’t as strong as it is now and we maybe don’t see The Walking Dead on TV even if we do maybe see the comic with a less successful run from being released to a less rabid zombie fandom.
The zombie craze we see now can be traced back to Night of the Living Dead. But do we see an in copyright NotLD making the same impact in the two decades after its creation that we saw from the cheaper to air/print/distribute version? Probably not.
There was an amazingly well written book released some years ago now called WWZ. WWZ (World War Zombie) was written as the chronicles of a man looking back after a decade’s time on the zombie war that almost wiped out mankind. It was amazingly intelligently written, it focused heavily on the human element, it played around with concepts of the cultures and politics around the world and how they would impact our ability to survive, and it of course had its fair share of zombie action moments.
There is a movie coming out this summer calling itself WWZ. About the only thing it appears to have in common with the book is the name. The movie itself may ultimately turn out to be good, but I’m not holding out much hope.
One of the things that makes me less than secure in the belief that the movie will be good has been the ridiculous CGI scenes displayed in the trailers and clips released so far. Zombies charging like rats at fixed structures and then building up into an ever shifting pile crashing against those structures before pushing zombies up and then off of the top of the pile with the type of laughably bad CGI physics that even good gaming companies try to avoid. When the action on the screen looks less realistically portrayed than your average PS3 cutscene; that might not be a great indicator of a quality movie experience to come. The other problem, of which the bad CGI scenes are likely a side effect of, is that so much of what I’ve seen so far screams that this is a movie asking you to turn off your brain and not think overly much about what you’re looking at.
Now, a lot of really good summer blockbusters are films that ask you to suspend your disbelief for a bit. Certainly more than a few lately have asked you to not only believe that a man can fly. but that a whole lot of men and women can fly while also displaying a wide assortment of other fantastical abilities. But the willing suspension of disbelief is not turning one’s brain off completely. WWZ is actually releasing teaser clips that scream out that you are not to think about what you’re looking at on the screen longer than it takes to jump at the “shock” scare that they throw at you.
This is a recently released teaser clip for WWZ. It’s a clip that, at just under one minute, we’ve actually seen a good bit of in the earlier trailers. It’s a scene that made me wince at the poorly contrived shock moment in the trailer. But released as a full clip designed to show off why you should be excited about the film? It ends up just making me doubt the film’s quality even more.
We once again see Brad in his car with his family as a motorcycle cop knocks the mirror off of the car door as he goes speeding by. We see Brad decide that the best thing he can do is get out of the car and look around and we get a nice bird’s eye shot of the street in front of them so that we can see the massive parking lot that the city street has become as well as a low level shot showing us the same behind Brad’s car; every lane filled with unmoving cars for as far as the eye can see with Brad’s car more or less in the center of the street. Another motorcycle cop pulls up and yells at Brad to get back into his car. We then see what looks like either a small tanker truck or a large delivery truck speed past Brad’s car and slam into the cop; your sudden shock scare moment.
Just a few seconds earlier, we see an entire city block of cars sitting bumper to bumper. There is no open lane of traffic for this truck to come flying through and, Hollywood film or not, the truck is neither making its way through that many cars to make its meeting with the motorcycle cop or doing so quickly and quietly enough that neither Brad or the motorcycle cop are going to be suddenly caught unawares by its presence. It’s a shock scare that barely works as it is and looks mindlessly stupid by the setup the film gives you to the shock scare.
It was bad enough seeing it in the early trailer, but this is a promo clip. This clip is supposed to be about getting you excited by showing you what you have to look forward to when you slap down first the ever increasing sum of money to buy your ticket and then the money from the second mortgage you just took out in order to buy a small drink and a box of popcorn. This clip just says that they expect you to shut your brain off completely and not even consider basic common sense elements when looking at even the most mundane scares and action. Between this and the other clip that they just released where Brad has to decide whether or not to leave his family and undertake his new mission, a scene completely and utterly boring in its presentation of human drama, I think that they’ve successfully killed what little hope I had left that this will be anything but an instantly forgettable CGI fest and that the only thing it may successfully do by the end of its theatrical run will be to ensure that we don’t see an actual adaptation of WWZ come to any screen for a decade or more.
Let me say upfront that this is being written more for the benefit of the casual, drive-by reader that blogs in the WordPress family tend to get. Most of the people from Facebook (where I will be linking this) who might read this already know this. Well over half of my Facebook friends either do independent films or are connected to horror hosting and have, in my experiences with them, the right mindset.
So this isn’t really written for them. They may find it an entertaining or interesting read, but this really isn’t being addressed to them. No, this is addressed to you. This is being addressed to the person who picked this up as a hit on the WordPress press page or in a Google search with the words “independent” and “film” in the search and are thinking about going out to do extra work on an independent film.
Getting involved on a independent film can be fun as hell. There’s a lot of long days and hard work involved, but it’s an absolute blast. But the thing that is the most important thing that you can have, maybe even more so than talent, is the right mindset. If you haven’t got that mindset, well, just don’t bother.
But what’s that right mindset? And, more importantly, what’s an example of a wrong mindset? Let me tell you a story about a part of my life in the last 18 months and something that happened just before the start of this last 18 months’ journey.
The thing that happened before Easter weekend of 2010 isn’t really something I can discuss in full detail. It’s not my place to do so since the incident in question was something akin to a family matter in the little independent film group I would be getting involved with down in Sanford, North Carolina and it was not a happy-happy, joy-joy moment in their history. But I do have to address a couple of details to make this bit of blogging have any meaning at all.
The film group, Adrenalin, was working on their feature length film A Few Brains More: Summer of Blood which in turn was a sequel film to their prior film titled A Fistful of Brains. Some of their shoots for the film involved using a fair chunk of extras and to keep everything running smoothly they accepted some help from another independent film group local to the general area that was their base of operations. And this seemed to be working out pretty well for them. Well, at least until the emails and postings started.
Again, I can’t get into it all. It’s not my place and the gossip end of it isn’t the point of this. But there was one specific detail shared with me just prior to my drive down to Sanford, NC from Richmond, VA that at the time seemed a little bit goofy to me and at this point now seems full blown retarded to me. The detail in question was what one of the things that was used to criticize and attack both Adrenalin as a whole and the director, Christine Parker, also the original founder of Adrenalin, specifically. Apparently, this other film group wanted to disparage Adrenalin and Parker’s character because, so they claimed, Parker and Adrenalin weren’t real filmmakers and they didn’t show the extras any respect. Why? Well, basically because they weren’t (according to the dolts) offering to dole out free perks (such as full breakfasts/lunches/dinners and t-shirts) to everyone involved. They also didn’t give the extras cushy places to sit and chill in between the scenes that they were needed in. They were a disgrace because of this and nothing at all like “real” filmmakers should be or act like.
Now, before I go any further here, I have to digress a bit. I’ve been an extra on Hollywood films shot in the central Virginia area. You’re treated like cattle. Actually, cattle may even be treated better. The “food” you get is just slightly above the quality of a vending machine and that’s only if the shoot allows you to have a proper meal on their schedule. And when you’re not shooting a scene, you’re basically told to go sit quietly in a room and frequently reminded that you’re making too much noise if you talk in a whisper that’s loud enough to be understood by the person next to you. Oh, and you’re told just about every hour to not talk to the cast and crew, even if just in passing and even in long downtime periods. If you’re a pest of that sort, they will pointedly inform you, you’ll be removed from the set.
Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but it’s certainly not an experience that I would consider being treated with huge amounts of respect or some wonderful, joyful experience. I’ve also spoken to a small army of people who eventually made it big (or not so big) who started out with shoestring budgets and have tales of their early film days being filled with pretty much everything but free meals, free t-shirts and other perks but still managed to love what they were doing at the time. So, yeah, I’ve done what these nozzles have described as a “real” film set and I’ve spoken to a number of people who are either cult figures or Icons in horror cinema who started out with low budget indie work and neither my experiences or their self described experiences were the sunshine and lollypops that this group of clods played it up to be while trying to stir discontent.
Oh, and I should also point out that the accusations weren’t true. Parker and crew did make sure that their extras were fed and fed well and they (and I) have the pictures to prove it. Did any of the extras ever chip in on getting the food or prepping it? Yeah, but only because we wanted to and not because we were ever forced to. And there was a good reason for why we almost all would do something like that that I’ll touch on in a bit.
But, unfortunately, their attempt worked. After they played their little games, some people left the production. And, really unfortunately, a couple of the people who left with them, although more so over the newly developing personal relationships than the attempts at stirring discontent in other ways, were fairly important to the film as they were not merely extras, but were actually portraying major onscreen characters. So the situation I was walking into that Easter Weekend last year wasn’t one that could be described as ideal.
Fortunately for Adrenalin and for me, Fate had a soft spot for them and they literally had two replacements for the roles dropped into their laps just when they needed them most and who were both a hell of a lot better in the parts. But that’s another story all together and, again, not really one I have the full right to tell.
Anyhow, the weekend was fun despite the issues. I met a lot of really great people and did some really screwy stuff on the film set that really was just fun beyond words. And, because one of the Adrenalin crew knew me prior to this shoot, I even got to pitch a few ideas for scenes and brainstorm with them about some stuff to deal with the situation they had before their two new stars fell into their laps. And, no, for the record, most of what I pitched didn’t make it to screen, but it was fun just being allowed to brainstorm with a group of fun, open, and creative people.
After the Easter shoot, I came back down for a few more shoots on the film whenever my schedule would match up with theirs and allow it. I did some more shambling as a zombie on screen, but I was also quite happy to do other things like set up what was needed for a couple of scenes, fill in as a boom mic operator when the usual guy couldn’t make it, lay way too close to a huge fire and act as a human mat for a person to fall on, get beaten silly by an insane martial arts expert (hi, Ted) who was training everyone for the fight scenes, get covered with tons of gunk and take baths in Off bug spray to combat the small army of ticks trying to devour every living soul in North Carolina that year.
Oh, and I also used my truck to run a few errands for the production. And I chipped in for food. And I chipped in once when the people that owned the location we were filming on suddenly required a few more bucks than they asked for before. And I wasn’t the only one who did so. (Again, I’ll touch on something about this again in a bit.)
And that’s where the mindset thing comes in.
If you want to go and sit around on a high priced set and look as pretty as you can in hopes of getting discovered by a big time Hollywood power player and are really looking forward to the day you can do the Diva thing or, well, whatever the hell the male version of the Diva thing is, then, yeah, do the extra thing on Hollywood films for sure. But if you want to have fun, if you want to have a really great experience, do the indie thing. But do it with the right mindset.
I got lucky, but my bit of luck wasn’t unique to finding me the group I found myself working with. I ended up falling in with a really good group of people and there are a lot of other indie groups out there with equally good people. Unfortunately, there are also groups out there filled with people like the jackasses who wanted to stir shit up. If you’re lucky, you get to find a group like the one I found.
I found a group of people who are genuinely good people. And it wasn’t just the actual Adrenalin group that I’m talking about here, but rather the entire cast and crew of people from the director on down to the other extras and the various people who just tagged along with the people working on the film. And now, some of these people are my friends. Some I’ve gotten to know well while others I’ve unfortunately not gotten to be around as much as I would like, but who have been nothing but great whenever we’re around each other. And that and more are worth something.
I have memories and experiences that are unique compared to anything else in my life right now that I would not have had if not for the last 18 months. That’s worth a hell of a lot more to me than a bag of chips and a lunchmeat sandwich ever will be.
I have new friends, some of whom I love dearly and all of whom I hope I’m able to stay in touch with for the rest of our lives. That’s damned sure worth more to me than a free t-shirt.
I’ve been given the opportunity to contribute to something creative in a creative way and have a blast doing it. That’s so much more valuable and worth it to me than some material perks.
And if you go into something like this with the right mindset, you can have all of that and more.
Now, obviously you should keep an eye out to make sure you’re not being taken advantage of. If you’re suddenly being asked to pony up thousands of dollars that you know you will never get back… There might be an issue there. But the cons should be easy to spot and you shouldn’t let the idiots stop you from having such an experience.
And to a degree, if you can pitch in and help out in certain ways involving small amounts of little green pieces of paper… Well, it’s a judgment call. But let me put it to you like this.
Have you ever gone to an office party around the holidays? Have you ever gone to a friend’s place for a cookout or pool party? Have you ever gone to a friend’s place for some sort of themed party around an event or holiday? If you’ve said yes to any of those then you’ve very likely been the person bringing either the chips, dogs, burgers, veggies, drinks or desserts. You’ve said that, yeah, you’ll bring those meatballs or that chili you make from your grandma’s recipe that everyone else liked so much last year. You do, in short, chip in some of your little green pieces of paper because you’re going to go hang out with friends and have a good time.
If you’re lucky, if you’re lucky like I was lucky, it’s the same thing here. You’re getting together with friends to have a good time and you just have to bring the fruit salad to the party. It’s the exact same thing, but with a few added perks.
You will have, as I mentioned above, fairly unique memories and experiences that you aren’t going to get at the annual pool-opening party or 4th of July cookout. You’re also more likely to meet new people and make new friends doing something like this than you would be at the holiday office party. You’ll also have a ready-made record of your memories printed on DVD to look at for years to come. Oh, and who knows? You may end up getting the chance to be a part of things in a more substantial and rewarding way down the road.
And, again, if you’re lucky, you’ll be a part of something special that’s yours. This film that I just had a hand in is, in just about any way that most people initially look at things, not mine. It belongs to Christine Parker, Bill Mulligan and Ed Warner to be sure. After them, Emlee, Michael, Zack, Jessie, Amber, Kevin, Shane, Shane, Shane, Shane, Shane and Shane (sorry, in-joke) and a few others get major dibs on that claim for having had major roles in the film. But, you know what, it’s mine too. It’s mine and it also belongs to all the extras who worked so hard on it because they not only loved the project but because they found a cool group of people to hang out with and do something unique and fun with and contributed (in non-financial ways here) everything they possibly could because of that.
And that’s the mindset you have to have if you really want to get anything of any true worth out of the experience. Sure, a production that manages to secure enough of a budget ahead of time to lay out for food that no one in the cast and crew chips in for and that can hand out free goodies like film related t-shirts (which I have never been given on a Hollywood set) is nice, but it’s just icing on the cake. No, actually that’s not true. It’s not even the icing on the cake because you actually kind of need the icing on most cakes. It’s more along the lines of one of those little candy flowers that gets stuck on the icing once the icing is actually already there. It’s nice, but the cake is every bit as good without it as it is with it.
So, yeah, I’ve driven three-plus hours to work for free on a film set on multiple occasions and then chipped in for costs on things from time to time as well. The shit disturbers would (and in a way did in one of their emails while speaking in general terms) call me a moron or an idiot. But to me, I was driving down to hang with friends, do something creative and fun and, at least occasionally, the film itself was kind of a secondary thought at times.
Still, hopefully you get luckier than I’ve been about that whole drive time thing…
But, drive time or not, the only way to get anything good out of something like this is to, yet again repeating this concept, have the right mindset for it. Know going in that you’re not going into a high dollar, Hollywood set. Know going in that most locally done indie filmmaking is about as shoestring as it gets. Know that there aren’t a lot a free perks in the material sense, but that the things you will get out of it are so much more worth it.
If you’ve got that mindset, you will have a ball and get so much more out of something like this (or, as I’ve also done in the last 18 months, being an extra for a horror host’s show) than any bag of chips and a sandwich or a t-shirt would ever be worth to you. And you get a really nice reward for it at the end of it all.
My reward “at the end of it all” was just this last weekend. Down in Smithfield, NC, I got to see the film on a nice screen in a nice little theater that was filled with people beyond just the cast, crew and extras who worked on the film. People laughed where they were suppose to laugh, people cheered where they were suppose to cheer and a good time was had by all. And there at the end, you get a little bit of satisfaction knowing that this fun, creative thing you were a part of is now done and that there’s at least a small part of you up there on that screen making those people laugh and cheer.
So… New friends, fun memories, unique experiences and something in the end to enjoy and show for it and that will be enjoyed by others. Yeah, that’s a hell of a lot more valuable than some sandwich or some free t-shirt.
So go. Go out and find your group if you’ve ever wanted to do anything like this. Have fun. Hell, have an absolute blast. Just make it easy on yourself insofar as allowing yourself to have the experience and go into it with your head in the right place.
Oh, two last things. First, run like hell from the person who starts talking like the shit disturbers who created so much hardship and problems for this film. If you’re doing something like this, doing anything remotely like what I did with people even half as much fun to be around, don’t let the shit disturbing bastards bring you down. And, second, if you can’t wrap your head around the right mindset and you think you have to have your perks to have a good time or you think that it’s your job to be the shit disturbing bastards and point out to everyone that they’re not getting their perks… Stay the fuck home. You’re nothing but poison. You’re nothing more than the jackass that you yourself probably work with or have worked with at some job or another that you and everyone else hated because all they did was stir the pot or constantly talk about how everything was so much worse than it actually is. You’re not needed, you’re not wanted and you’re not worth it to have around.
But you… No, not you but that other guy there… You get it? Great, then come on out and play. Let’s have some fun and be a part of something that’s cool as hell.