Baron Craze: Please tell my readers how you came up concept of the film and why are there so many writers (6) attached to the project?
Tony Jopia: My brother Stuart and I are massive zombie movie fans, Lucio Fulci implanted a firm seed of desire for the undead (as weird as that reads lol) firmly in our brains…also Stuart inherited my collection of VHSs and posters so he had no choice. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was one of our favourite movies so making a zombie flick was inevitable. I got the ball rolling with my writing partner Andy Davie to draft the first versions and then my brother Stuart and his writing partner Stuart Bedford worked on the next draft. These are the only writers attached to the main script and film, I do believe a couple of the guys who shot breakaway International shots for me made a little more of the shoots. After delivering what we needed they went on to credit themselves as writers for the film. With all film development, I always look at what we have to our disposal, whether its people, locations or even equipment. We knew we had enough to build and dress a TV studio (News Studio) so the idea needed to be centered around this. We tried hard to finds a location but knowing the amount of destruction we were likely to need to do we ended up going to our usual location, a farm in the Cotswolds. We built the whole interiors of the TV Company, all the floors etc in the cow barn. My co producers and executives Kris Dayne and Fabien Muller on CLB [Cute Little Buggers] came on on board and provided enough funds for us to ‘up the game’ both were amazingly supportive and really got behind me with the idea and making it happen, without the two of them we would not have been able to make DofD. This time we have enough to construct the set and bring on board a few more professionals. My brother Stuart and son Alex co-produced it with me and looked after the zombie world, from look of the undead to how they moved, they managed the whole thing with professional zombie specialist such as Colin James Murtagh from Zombie Business and Alex Noble – The Zomboss. They held zombie schools and prepped all the cast including Mark Jonston’s stunt team. I really wanted the film to have scale and although the budget was tiny I got the idea of using international filmmakers to get me a couple of shots based in well know global locations. We were inundated with offers which really made a massive difference. The local council came on board to assist us with filming permits in Banbury high streets which included permissions to shoot car stunts, explosions and the take-over with hundreds of zombies. Again, it was a massive undertaking but everyone really embraced the challenge and I think what we did for what we had was pretty amazing!
BC: With so many zombie and apocalypse films why did you do a film called Dawning of the Dead and how does this one differ from countless others?
TJ: The thing here is that we wanted to make a zombie film for zombie fans by zombie fans. We didn’t set out to create something totally knew. I set out from the very first moment I worked on the first draft that, for me, this had to be a non-stop action flick where people were either losing their head (literally) trapped in a studio not able to get out without pushing their heroics to new heights or individuals fighting off an army of killers as the world around them collapses. I briefed the production right at the beginning and said I wanted to have a feeling that from the minute we start it’s like being on a train that loses its driver and we can’t get it to stop which is why I ended it the way I did with Katya running off being chased. It’s one massive race for survival. I think with the budget, time and resources we had, we achieved that. The distributors Uncorked decided to rename it, which we totally supported and trust them with.
BC: What challenges did you face working on the film? What was the overall mood on the set?
TJ: It was the most challenging thing I had ever done, simply because it was a massive project to achieve with the little we had. The production team did a great job, from health and safety to coordinating hundreds of people. Shooting in busy high streets with cars flying and exploding was a very scary thing but totally fun. Aside from this, my team really looked after me and went full heartedly to make the best possible film we could. Most of the time the mood was good and spirits were high, a few challenging moments which led to a slight re-edit of the script in order to accommodate the demanding shooting schedule but overall it was great even with only 25 days to shoot the whole thing!
BC: Do you think there will be a sequel?
TJ: We’re so ready for a sequel and know exactly where we want to take Katya. If the film does well then, it’s possible. We are concentrating on Damned Nation at the moment which is another zombie flick, a sort of Starship Troopers set in apocalyptic London with forces fighting off mutations and zombies. Exciting times as we also have 4 greenlit feature creatures to make in next 2 years.
BC: Not to be crude but this is gore-hound paradise. What can you tell about the special effects of the film?
TJ: It sure is and why not, it’s what we loved about Fulci and Romero’s movies. I had a CGI hell with my rabbits in CLB so was adamant that we had to do as much as possible as practical’s and boy did we nail it. Mike Stringer was head of Make Up effects, Trish Penders also came on board to help with pick-ups and together they aimed to make as much of it happen on the moment. From squirting gallons of fake blood to exploding heads. It was so much fun to watch them do it. In one scene when the guys use the carpet cleaner to fight off the zombies, my son Alex was underneath the camera throwing chunks of fake meat to resemble body parts being torn from the zombies. It was like this across the whole film, Mike and his team were amazing at getting stuck in and doing whatever was necessary to make it happen. Trish and Karl Evans worked on the exploding head and this was literally fired at with a shotgun, the slow-mo captures the amazing explosion.
BC: The cast seems quite large for such an independent project, maybe rivaling your Cute Little Buggers film how was that possible?
TJ: Fabien Muller and Kris Dayne handled the casting and yes it was massive. They literally but out casting calls and sure enough actors came marching in. The biggest expense of the whole production went into hiring Leo Gregory. Everyone was supper supportive. Ruth Galliers and Paul Lavers where incredible. Of course, all my usual suspects from my other films came on board too which was nice to have them involved and continue to show my appreciation and loyalty.
BC: Obviously, a lot of extras were needed for the zombies was it difficult in getting the people? What was the process of getting them and going through the rigors of makeup personnel?
TJ: We could have had hundreds of zombies but due to health and safety we kept number very controlled and manageable. People like Colin James Murtagh from Zombie Business and Alex Noble – The Zomboss, both have massive followings and they did an incredible job bringing in zombie performers. It was brilliantly scheduled to perfection by the Jeremy Stephens Production team and Mike Stringer and also Harriet Rogers who was one of the key make-up artist. There was a massive factory line set up in one of the barn at the farm. We had a 3-tier production line so if they were primary tier they would appear in close up so make up needed to shine that little bit more, if in background then we could get away with less detail. It worked really well.
BC: I know you’ve been asked why you sought to become a filmmaker however what film hooked you on both wanting to a director as opposed to another job in the film industry?
TJ: Right at the very beginning it has to be The Poseidon Adventure with Gene Hackman. I remember being thrilled, emotional, angry… the works. When Shirley Winters die…oh my god…then Gene…loved it. The scale, the drama, the story. After this came Landis’ An American werewolf…and The Blue Brother which I adored. Everything from Spielberg, Carpenter and Leone… Fulci and Argento… and …and ….and… but if I had to nail it to one film then it was ET. The whole experience just grabbed me and held me from the first shot to the last. The cinematography, the acting, the story, the humour, the music, the whole package. Masterful story filmmaking…oh and The Thing…Once upon a time in the West….and not forgetting DAMNATION ALLEY!
BC: What movie hooked you onto the horror genre (not your favorite)?
TJ: An American werewolf in London without a shadow of a doubt but what it did do was gave me something else and that was humour. Loved the mix, the happy balance between the horror element and the lighter touches. Loved the use of the music from the Rock n roll MOON tracks to Elmer Bernstein soundtrack. But the one thing that jumped out at me was the work of Rick Baker…..Then came Carpenter’s Halloween with the traveling camera….The Exorcist with the shocks…and finally the daddy of all gore THE EVIL DEAD! That slapped me hard across my face and kicked my arse into making horror.
BC: What do you want to say to the audiences that will be watching this movie?
TJ: DAWNING OF THE DEAD like all my films are about the fun side of horror, don’t get too carried away with the finer details, sit back and enjoy the relentless driving storyline. Characters fighting for survival, pushing themselves against adversity…kicking ass and fighting zombies…it’s just a good old fashioned splatter zombie movie made by zombie fans!
BC: What’s your favorite scene in the movie?
TJ: I really like the newsagent scene, I think it looks great, has the drama of the two brothers getting their anger of their chest with a couple of silly lines to lighten up the scene, the fumbling shop owner trying to get their attention to announce that he has a car to escape in…a nice car then the horde of zombies crashing through. I think that scene really captures the essence of the film. Busy, chaotic and a cocktail of fun!
BC: With many aspiring filmmakers do you encourage them to use their smart phones to make the movies cheaply or believe they should invest in better equipment?
TJ: For sure, I’ve always said and preached religiously that the only way to get better is TO MAKE…make more and more on anything. This art is about learning, perfecting and being creative at every opportunity. Try things out, sometimes they work and other times they won’t. It doesn’t matter, keep trying, don’t be shy and do whatever it takes to realize your dream and ideas. Making movies is amazing and nothing needs to get in the way. All you need is belief that you can do it, the expertise comes with experience. MAKE your MOVIE MAGIC!
BC: In your opinion, why does the horror cinema attract so many fans?
TJ: Because it escapism, no one want to be really scared but when you watch a movie you know you can switch it off, leave the cinema…it takes us to boundaries we shouldn’t cross, to emotions we often move away from, to imaginative scenarios we shouldn’t think off…it’s all about experiencing what we shouldn’t do for real!…well most of us…there’s always exception to every rule lol! (evil lol)
BC: Do you have any other projects you are working on at the moment?
TJ: Sure CLB and Dawning of the Dead has opened some amazing doors for us. We’ve been commissioned to make 4 creature features for 2018/19 which includes CLB sequel CLB 2 The Quills of Death which is going to be bigger, better and bloodier than ever…bring on the hedgehogs. We have a dark ghost story called Frequency of Fear created by my brother Stuart, Producer of Good Tidings. A western called Bullet for the Beast and an apocalyptic monster movie to be shot in Chile called Obliteration. We have just completed 3 TV Pilots which include Zombie Monster series called Damned Nation which is a bit like The Expendables meeting Jason and the Argonauts in London! Exciting times for me and my team…oh and of course I still have my amazing day job being creative director for a major global broadcaster.
BC: Thanks Tony Jopia.