Writing and directing a Zombie comedy

Scouts vs Zombies – a zany comedy

Zombie fever strikes again with Scouts vs Zombies, directed by Christopher B. Landon and co-written by Carrie Evans, Emi Mochizuki, Lona Williams, and Landon.

Left to right: Joey Morgan, Director Christopher Landon, Tye Sheridan and Logan Miller on the set of Scouts vs Zombies

Left to right: Joey Morgan, Director Christopher Landon, Tye Sheridan and Logan Miller on the set of Scouts vs Zombies

zombie_scout-640x373What could possibly go wrong when three buddies (Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller, Joey Morgan) decide to join the Boy Scouts? When bloodthirsty, undead ghouls invade their once-peaceful town, it’s up to kindhearted Ben, quick-witted Carter and class clown Augie to save the day. With help from Denise (Sarah Dumont), a beautiful but tough cocktail waitress, the boys must put their scouting skills to the ultimate test to save mankind and earn their zombie-killing badges.

What drew Christopher B. Landon and his segue into the horror-comedy genre

When I read the script for this film (co-written by Carrie Evans, Emi Mochizuki, Lona Williams, and Landon), I was instantly struck by the playful, Amblin-esque tone. It felt silly and crazy but in a totally fresh and entertaining way. As a writer and director, I have always used comedy in my work, even in the horror genre. Disturbia had very comedic moments, as did most of the Paranormal Activity movies; especially in the first act. I love using comedy to disarm an audience and connect them with my characters. I also feel that comedy and horror make strange yet perfect bedfellows. They both rely on the set-up and the pay-off. There’s a rhythm to comedy that is very similar to horror.

On his creative inspiration for the film

I grew up watching movies like The Goonies, Monster Squad, and Gremlins. They had such a playful and quirky energy. I wanted to bring that same spirit to SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE. But to push things a little further, I added a dash of Raimi to the mix. I think the result is something that feels contemporary but at the same time undeniably throw-back. I wanted the movie to have an 80’s type of charm that I feel has been missing from the mainstream for some time. There is also definitely a personal connection between myself and the three Scouts in the movie. I had a hard time letting go of childhood things and was sort of reluctantly dragged into manhood. I also identified with the desire to feel included by my peers but knowing I was a little on the “outside.” In my case, I was just a gay kid trying to figure myself out but I feel like the struggle to fit in is a universal experience for so many people. I really enjoyed exploring the theme of wanting to fit in but also trying to stay true to yourself.  All of this while people are dying in a zombie apocalypse. LOL.

The film has a throwback vibe. I feels like every movie you watched as a kid, yet it feels very modern and new. Was that a challenge for you in terms of walking that line?

It was part of the challenge, but it was also just part of the fun—figuring out a way to give it a throwback ’80s feel but still keeping it very contemporary so that younger audiences would still think it’s for them, too. I like those kinds of challenges and it’s very similar in a weird way to what I did with Disturbia where it was like, “How can I bring Hitchcock to a different audience? How can I update that?” This was just that situation for me, but in terms of the horror and the comedy, I think they make strange but great bedfellows.

That’s why I love horror comedies—you can get scared, but you can just have a blast, too. Scouts doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it’s still sentimental at times. There’s a sweetness to it and it’s not cynical at all, and that was another thing that I was really drawn to. I wanted to make something that was a little earnest and kind of sweet and weird, too.

 The casting process

Casting, for me, is always a gut process. It’s like falling in love – you just know it when you meet the person. I saw Tye Sheridan (Ben) in the movie Mud and I knew he was the perfect Ben. He embodied all of his qualities: a kind heart, a little teenage insecurity, a good sense of humor and a strong sense of loyalty. Tye is all of those things. It was an easy choice for me. Logan Miller (Carter) came in to audition and he was such a smart-ass. He has a quick wit and a sharp tongue – very Carter. His improv skills were off the chart and he never hit a false note. Joseph Morgan (Augie) was living in Chicago and I saw his self-tape and flipped out. He played Augie with such sincerity and confidence. He can make you laugh out loud with a gesture and tear up with a look. I have said several times that he reminds me in the best way of a young John Candy. Sarah Dumont (Denise) was the trickiest role for me to cast. This was an original character that I created because I wanted to see a strong female in the movie. I was basically looking for a cool dude in a hot girl’s body. Sarah is that person. She’s grotesquely beautiful but she has the mouth of a trucker and the swagger of a rock star. The first time I saw her holding one of our prop shot guns I just nodded my head. The whole bad-ass vibe fits her like a glove.

One thing you explore in this film that I really enjoyed was the idea of “learned behavior.” Romero touches on it with Survival of the Dead, but I don’t think he nailed that idea and what you guys did with Scouts Guide takes that concept and explores it in a really cool way.

Yeah, I wanted to do it in a comedic way but again, to what you said, the premise was based on routine—your former life, for example. I didn’t want to treat the zombies as completely mindless and I thought that would be fun to explore. The concept is also a gold mine for comedy because I felt it hadn’t really been done before in this way, being able to play to some degree a little fast and loose with the zombie rules.

When you are making a comedy, especially when you’re making a movie like this where you’re already building on a pretty outlandish premise, you have the license to go for some pretty wacky stuff and that’s what I wanted. I wanted a musical number and I wanted a zombie cat and I wanted a crazy old zombie lady gumming on someone’s butt; all those things that are over-the-top and ridiculous. This movie was engineered to be fun.

 The on-set experience

Being on the set of this movie was one of the most enjoyable and exhausting experiences I have ever had. A pleasure because of the people I had the privilege to work with – from an amazing cast, to a supportive studio, to the hardest working crew on the planet. It was exhausting because our hours we challenging. We shot long nights and got very little sleep. This was an ambitious movie in scale on a modest budget so we were basically trying to squeeze a 20lb movie into a 10lb bag. Luckily for me I had the greatest DP (Brandon Trost) who shot the hell out of this thing, the best AD (Dale Stern) who kept things moving with a smile, and a crafty German line producer (Samson Mucke) who literally squeezed every penny he could to ensure it was all up on the screen.  We had an amazing FX wizard, Tony Gardner, who did a great job with our practical effects. We made a point to keep the movie in an 80’s lane, so that meant going practical as much as possible. For example: zombie cats. The very idea is ridiculous. And seeing a zombie puppet appear over Augie’s shoulder just makes everything feel so much cooler and silly in the best possible way. I think practical effects rule. Period.

The collaboration with EDM Music Artist Dillon Francis (“DJ”)

I was already a fan of Dillon’s music but when I met him in person I quickly realized he had the best sense of humor and tons of charisma. If I had met him sooner I would have written him into every scene of this movie. He’s crazy and fun and happens to make awesome music.

What audiences can take-away from the film

I want people to walk into the theater and spend an hour and a half screaming and laughing their heads off. This movie is an amusement park ride. But I think the surprising take-away for the audience will be their affection and connection to the characters. They’re loveable and very relatable. We all worked hard to make this movie as fun as possible and I hope people enjoy it as much as we did making it.

It’s been an exceptional year for horror comedies and Scouts is another great addition to the sub genre. Is it surprising to you just how much these types of films have taken off in 2015?

It’s super trippy to me because I started working on this movie about two years ago and it was a relatively quiet landscape. Then all of a sudden, I started to hear about all these other movies popping up and there’s Krampus, which is actually by a friend of mine, Mike Dougherty, and Cooties too. All this stuff started to pop up and I was like, “Are we all of one hive mind doing this at the same time?” So it’s kind of crazy and fun to see this stuff happening right now. There’s an appetite for it, which is really cool because again, the reason why I made this movie was because I miss those movies and they feel very few and far between, so to have a few in a row is an embarrassment of comedy riches for me right now. It’s so cool.

About Christopher Landon

Chris landon writes and directs compelling, character-driven stories.  He Landon previously wrote PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2, 3 and 4, and wrote and directed PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES.  Landon made his feature film debut writing the thriller ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE based on the novel by Eddie Little. He then went on to write DISTURBIA for director D.J. Caruso.  Landon’s feature film directing debut was the thriller BURNING PALMS with Zoe Saldana, Rosamund Pike and Dylan McDermott.