In an exclusive interview with the director of the British rom-zom-com GANGSTERS, GUNS & ZOMBIES, Matthew Mitchell talked about his early influences, his successes and failures on set, his loverly cast, and all sorts of inside scoop on the process of making his first feature film. The film has heart, laughs and blood, and merits a viewing on Video on Demand.
Famous Monsters: What were your early pop culture (film, tv, music) influences that inspired a career in film?
Matthew Mitchell: Damn, good question. I’m going to have to say a list of films I used to watch over and over when I was really young… Aliens, Tremors, Ghostbusters, Empire Strikes Back, and Dream Warriors (which I think is something like Nightmare on Elmstreet 3?!)
FM: This was your first feature. How would you describe the experience of bringing the script (written by your wife and yourself) to life? How different was it from shorts, music videos and the like? Which do you prefer?
MM: It was a perfect combination of fantastic and awful! When we first started shooting, it was only ever two or three days at a time over weekends, which was like shooting 4 or 5 short films in a row! In some ways, this was great because it cut the logistics down into manageable chunks but on the other hand, it meant we could never really get into a rhythm in terms of getting to set, setting up, rehearsing and shooting. Also, because the first 5 or 6 days were actually night shoots and then we had some more sprinkled in over the rest of shoot, we had the constant strange atmosphere that comes with night working, where you really feel like you might be in an apocalypse because you don’t see other people or daylight!
Having said all that, I definitely prefer features to shorts and music videos because the product of all that stress and work is much more rewarding. I think I can say the same for Clare (our freaking amazing producer) and Tali (my co-writer and 1st AD).
FM: Gangsters, Guns & Zombies has a ton of different genres that it plays with, from crime thriller, to comedy to horror (and onto romance), with a lot of Guy Ritchie mixed in. Was your intention to scramble them all up, or did the idea spark from one specific genre and then take off from there?
MM: We knew we wanted to make a zombie film and then we knew we needed that crime element to have an original take on the zombie apocalypse and then the romance and the comedy came from knowing that we couldn’t provide the kind of massive explosions we wanted (because we didn’t have the budget), so instead we would have to give the film heart and laughter, and as much gore and fun as we could muster.
It took on a life of its own as we tried to write to a ridiculous budget but also make something we thought people would want to watch and then re-watch.
FM: You definitely benefited in having a wacky cast of characters, from Crazy Steve to Muscles and the foulmouthed Grandma. In many ways it seemed like a group of friends screwing around on camera, in the best possible way. Were any of these characters inspired by people you know/knew?
MM: Crazy Steve was written specifically for Fabrizio ‘Sonny’ Santino. He is a brilliant young actor and was a champion of the film from the very beginning – it was in fact re-written to give him a more heroic storyline!
Muscles was a tribute to every real hard man I’ve met over 20 years of a being a martial arts instructor – the ones who look (and are capable of being) terrifying, but in fact turn out to be lovely.
All the actors ‘got it’, pretty much from the moment they read the script and auditioned. We weren’t just looking for people who could play the part, we were looking for people that could handle what we were going to throw at them and come out the other side smiling. We needed a team and we really got one!
FM: One of my favorite things about the film were the brief zombie eating/killing interludes, featuring a wife and groom, clowns, an old man and his killer cane, etc. Did all of your ideas for these make it into the film, or did you plan more, or plan more with them? I almost wanted to see each in their own short film.
MM: We knew we needed things to happen outside the van, to give the film a bit of scope outside the characters and dialogue. So we did what we had to do throughout the whole process of making GGZ… we begged, borrowed and stole! We asked people what they wouldn’t mind lending/finding for us (and getting blood all over). Our wonderful make up artist (Alexandra Vlcek) brought 3 wedding dresses and 5 clown outfits (it’s a long story!), a friend brought his mates who like to dress up in army gear and own replica weapons and I brought my mum and dad!
The woman in the cab is my mum, who knew exactly what we wanted and was an absolute star and the old man and his killer cane is my dad. He had less of an idea of what was going on, as he’s 78 and deaf, but as an ex-military PT instructor and retired golfing teacher, all you have to do is put a stick in his hands and tell him to swing!
FM: How would you describe the film to someone who has never heard of it? Why should they go see it?
MM: Haha, great question! Well normally we just have to say the title and the look on someone’s face will tell us whether they’d want to watch it!
If the title has put you off, give it a chance. Don’t sweat the blood, it’s all fake, but the films heart isn’t – and the characters deal with a bucket load of bizarre and exciting situations.
If you like the title, you’re in for a treat because guess what – there are totally gangsters, guns and zombies in the film!
Still not convinced? In that case I should tell you that this is one of the most important and moving social realism documentaries that you’ll ever see. It will change you life and make you think hard about the choices we make everyday and western cultures general sense of entitlement. It’s a deep and subtle commentary on the collapse of our financial systems in wake of unbelievable decisions made by very real people, and offers a way fix every problem our small blue planet faces. There are also tits in it
FM: What’s next for you? More features?
MM: Hell yes! We’re knee-deep in writing and re-writing a couple of action/horrors for next year and none of us can’t wait to get back on set!