Ruben Fleischer directs ZOMBIELAND, a zombie comedy about Columbus (Jessie Eisenberg), a young man who's among the few remaining humans after a zombie apocalypse. He struggles to remain alive along with other survivors, namely, the Twinkie-crazed Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Wichita (Emma Stone) and her younger sister, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin).This marks Ruben Fleischer's feature film directorial debut after previously directing music videos. It was a real privilege to interview him.
Columbia Pictures releases Zombieland on October 2nd, 2009 nationwide.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What attracted you to direct Zombieland?
RF: The script itself was such a strong starting point. The characters, the comedy [and] the relationships were all really grounded. As Iím not really a zombie fan or a horror guy, I think I approached it in a way that wasnít a traditional zombie film because, as a first-time director, I wanted to find myself, put my stamp on and show what I can do. I wasnít looking to make just a zombie movie because thatís not really where my taste lies. I aspired to make it a grounded, character-based comedy that is set with a backdrop of zombies.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What was it like to direct the zombies?
RF: Zombies are really fun to direct. They were just incredibly enthusiastic. A lot of them were just zombie fans and so excited to be in a zombie film and were pretty much ready to do anything that we asked. We were shooting all through the night in freezing cold weather and they were such troopers.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What classic horror comedies did you consider as a reference point?
RF: The biggest reference point for me was An American Werewolf in London which I think is the ultimate horror comedy. [John] Landisís ability to balance the characters and make it scary and exciting was what I was aspiring to.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you come up with the amazing opening credits sequence?
RF: I have a music video background. That, to me, is like a music video in itself. I knew I wanted to tell the story of the outbreak. I figured that if we were going to do it, it should be really stylistic and cool.
NYC MOVIE GURU: How did you manage to find the right balance between comedy and social commentary?
RF: We set out to make a comedy and I donít think that comedies should delve too deeply in social commentary. There are a lot of zombie movies that take on that aspect, but I intended to keep ours light and funny and to keep the pace going. Originally in the script, we didnít have any definition of what happened. The audiences, through the process of friend and family screenings, wondered what did happen, so we added a couple of lines [of explanations]. I didnít like defining itóI kind like leaving it a little vague and open to possibilities. We definitely tried to tie the [zombie] disease to modern anxieties like food sources getting contaminated or pandemics spreading like swine flu. There are realities of modern living. We tried to base both the way itís spread as well as the manifestations on real conditions.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What kind of an influence was the music video ďThrillerĒ for you?
RF: I think that itís the biggest reference point for zombies in popular culture. Our make-up guy, Tony Gardner, actually worked on ďThriller.Ē John Landis, one of my favorite directors, directed the video, so thatís a huge influence on me. We actually tried using the Thriller song over the opening credits sequence, and it plays in credibly, but there was no way that we were going to get [the rights].
NYC MOVIE GURU: How would you compare Zombieland to Shaun of the Dead?
RF: I knew that the movie was so great that we were instantly going to be compared to it. I wanted to distinguish our film from that film because I have so much respect for that movie. I didnít want people to think that weíre derivative in any way. A lot of it was accomplished through the script in that we have fast zombies, but they have slow zombies. Theyíre British; weíre American. Tonally, Shaun of the Dead is more of a satire of zombie films, [but] I wanted our film to be more grounded. I feel like our movie is a very American movie. Itís a classic American road movie.