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The AUTUMN movie – set report

Here’s the second in my series of blog posts about the AUTUMN movie. Principle photography on the film began in November 2007 and, in early December, I was fortunate enough to be able to fly over to Canada to visit the set and meet the cast and crew. On my return to the UK I posted a report which I’m reposting (in a slightly re-edited form) here:

Do you have children? If you do, have you experienced the hell which is their first day at school yet? Anyone who has will know exactly what I’m talking about. With your stomach churning you drop your innocent and unsuspecting little offspring off in their new and unfamiliar classroom with their equally new and unfamiliar teacher and you walk away. No matter what your kid is doing – screaming, crying, laughing, singing, fighting, hanging onto your legs and pleading with you not to go – you have to turn your back and walk away. It’s hard but you have to do it.

So what’s that got to do with the AUTUMN movie?

For a long, long time Infected Books was just me working alone and I took responsibility for everything. I’m a control freak – I generally have a pretty firm idea of how I want things to turn out and I’ll do all that I can to make them happen. After working alone for many years, when Renegade Motion Pictures contacted me and acquired the film rights to the book, I had to get used to the idea that AUTUMN wasn’t going to be just my baby anymore, and that other people were going to put their own stamp on it. When I signed the paperwork and handed it over, I felt just like I’d done when I’d left my children at the classroom door on their first day of school. I didn’t want to let go but I knew that I had to. I needed to have faith and walk away and butt out!

Over the months I kept in regular contact with Renegade, but I didn’t get too involved. I handed over a draft of the screenplay and turned my attention to some of the other projects I’d been working on. Every so often something would come my way which would grab my attention and ramp up my excitement and curiosity – movie posters, teaser videos, cast announcements, early footage – but I resisted the temptation to stick my nose in too much and I kept my head down. In December, however, came the moment I’d been waiting for… the chance to fly to Canada and visit the set and see how my ‘baby’ was getting on and growing up.

CAST & CREW

AUTUMN is a very British story. Although the locations are inspired by real places, the names of the towns and cities are fictitious (although since writing the book I’ve learnt that almost every place name I thought I’d made up actually exists!). For practical and financial reasons, however, the movie was to be made in Canada. Although not ideal from my point of view, it was something I had to get used to. Early on in pre-production, the director Steven Rumbelow (who comes from the UK himself) expressed his intention to cast British actors in the lead roles to try and maintain the British perspective and feel of the story.

As anyone who’s read the book knows, AUTUMN is more about the relationships between Michael, Carl and Emma and their individual deteriorating emotional states than it is the living dead. The casting of these characters was therefore crucial to the success of the movie.

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Dexter Fletcher plays Michael. Dexter is well known from his roles in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking BarrelsBand of Brothers and many other movies and TV series. I had the pleasure of watching several scenes being filmed at the farmhouse and was also able to watch a lot of footage that had already been filmed. Dexter’s portrayal of Michael was absolutely spot-on and his chemistry with Carl and Emma was as natural and intense as I’d hoped it would be. I mentioned in my earlier post about the movie that, as a writer, I have a clear vision of how each scene in the book plays out. Watching early footage of scenes in the farmhouse between Michael, Emma (played by Lana Kamenov in her first major role) and Carl (Dickon Tolson), I was struck by how closely they compared to what I’d originally envisaged. There are some conversations which have survived through every draft and edit of the book and which have made it into the movie too. I’m sure those people familiar with the original novel will recognize them…

The food was good – probably the best meal they’d eaten together – and that, combined with the wine, helped perpetuate an uneasy and fragile sense of normality. That taste of normality, however, had the unwanted side effect of helping them to remember everything about the past that they had been trying hard to forget and ignore. Michael decided that the best way of dealing with what they’d lost was to talk about it.

‘So,’ he began, chewing thoughtfully on a mouthful of food as he spoke, ‘Wednesday night. What would you two usually have been doing on a Wednesday night?’

There was an awkward silence. The same awkward silence which always seemed to hamper any conversation that dared broach the subject of the way the world had been before last Tuesday.

‘I’d either have been studying or drinking,’ Emma eventually replied, also realising that it made sense to talk, ‘probably both.’

On the face of it they might seem like trivial, almost insignificant conversations, but they help show how the three survivors bond and also highlight the differences between them. In AUTUMN, scenes like this are as important as the action.

More people ask me about Carl than pretty much any other character in the entire AUTUMN series. Without doubt he’s the key figure in the first book but Dickon (who has a strong track record in UK TV drama) didn’t seem at all fazed by the weight of expectation he was carrying on his shoulders. The crew were full of praise for his performance of a man slowly coming to terms with the bitter realization there’s no point trying to survive when there’s nothing left to live for.

Steven Rumbelow and I spoke on numerous occasions during pre-production and it was clear from day one that he understood what I was trying to do with the book, what it’s really about and, even more importantly, what it’s not about. This is no production-line, blood and guts, brain-eating, special effects driven zombie movie – it’s about ordinary people struggling to come to terms with a world that has been turned upside down without warning or explanation.

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Literally minutes after I’d landed in Canada, Steven phoned and told me about a final piece of casting news which took me completely by surprise. Those of you who have read the book (and his back-story in THE HUMAN CONDITION) might remember the character of Philip…

Philip obediently turned and led the others back towards his cottage. Emma looked him up and down as she followed him indoors. He was thin and shabbily dressed. A noticeable stoop made him appear much shorter than he actually was and his grubby clothes were well worn and had obviously not been washed or changed for several days, maybe a week. His tired face was ruddy, pockmarked and unshaven and his hair greasy, ruffled and unkempt. Philip itched and scratched at himself continually.

Philip was played by the late, and quite brilliant, David Carradine. Even now, almost two years later, I still find it hard to believe that Carradine (Bill from Kill Bill 1 and 2, Caine from Kung Fu and Frankenstein from the original Death Race 2000 to name but a few of his many, many roles) stars in AUTUMN. As a long-time fan and movie geek, it’s difficult to comprehend the fact that such a genre-favourite has portrayed a part that I’ve written. My big regret is that I missed meeting him on-set by just a few days. In his brief appearance in the film he delivers a tragic and pitiful performance, completely against type and like nothing I’ve seen from him before.

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Philip’s mom, incidentally, was played (under several inches of make-up) by Diane Salema, a presenter from MTV Canada.

FROM PAGE TO SCREEN

The plot of AUTUMN has remained generally faithful to the original novel. Book and film are vastly different mediums, of course, and what works on the printed page won’t necessarily translate well to the screen. The main characters in the book do a lot of thinking about who and what they’ve lost and about the horrific situations they find themselves trapped in and it’s hard to effectively convey their thoughts on screen without having to resort to forced dialogue or tacky voiceovers!

Some other minor changes were made through necessity. A scheduling conflict meant that Carl had to be the one to meet Philip at his cottage, not Michael and Emma. Also, pretty early on in the shooting schedule, an unexpected and very heavy snowfall meant that AUTUMN turned to winter overnight! What do you do? Delay shooting at considerable inconvenience and cost, or just keep going and work the story around the weather? Fortunately the team decided to press on and I’m glad they did. The wintry backdrops added an otherworldly aspect to the film which works well. There’s something about the contrast of the bodies with the snow which looks great on screen, and the weather seems to add to the feeling of isolation experienced by the survivors at the farm house. It makes their already difficult struggle seem all that much harder still…

I spent several days with the crew up at the farmhouse location outside Hamilton, about an hour out of Toronto. It made a great Penn Farm – plenty of space, surrounded by trees and with a stream running alongside it. Inside the house was rustic and yet still felt modern and contemporary. As the author, watching the footage being filmed at the farm was a surreal experience. I watched Michael and Emma console each other in front of the fire after Carl had left to go back home to be with his family, I saw Michael cleaning the rifle he’d found and then watched Carl take it off him and barge outside to take pot-shots at the dead, I watched them discover the generator in the shed and I watched the three survivors sit around the kitchen table and discuss their lives before the end of the world… It’s difficult to put into words how it felt to see scenes which I’d written come to live so vividly. Even though the location was out by about 3500 miles and it was snowing heavily outside, everything still felt unmistakably like AUTUMN.

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PLAYING DEAD

‘So, David,’ Rachel (Renegade’s Executive Assistant) asked, ‘would you like to be a zombie tomorrow?’. It took me about half a second to answer. Just over a day later, standing out in the freezing cold Canadian night covered in zombie make-up, I lived out every horror fanboy’s dream and played dead.

A talented make-up team worked on AUTUMN under the guidance of Randy Daudlin who has worked on many films including the Dawn of the Dead remake. Many would argue that I didn’t need much work, but Randy and his team pulled out all the stops to make me appear as gross as they could using copious amounts of latex, paint, blood, drool, pus and god knows what else.

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I staggered through the snow, ‘acted’ with Dexter Fletcher (he acted, I just stomped around) and dribbled blood as I staggered towards the camera. You can see a couple of pictures here and if you’re interested, my cameo appears on page 117 of the book (2007 Infected Books edition) as Michael becomes aware of a group of bodies hanging around outside the shed which houses the generator…

ZOMBIES

Of course, I never use the ‘Z’ word, but I couldn’t finish this piece without mentioning the hordes of willing and enthusiastic zombie extras who turned up on set day after day after day. Being in a movie dressed in full zombie make-up and costume sounds cool, and it is cool… for the first hour or so. Standing outside at all hours in sub-zero temperatures with false-teeth chattering and latex and glue freezing on your face, the novelty quickly wore off (for me anyway!). So thanks to the many, many extras who came back again and again to be a part of AUTUMN.

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It was hard leaving Canada and AUTUMN behind, but it was probably for the best. I’ve said many times before that I’m a frustrated film-maker at heart, and I’d have started sticking my nose in where it wasn’t wanted and getting in the way. One thing I’ve learnt quickly in this industry – directors and writers can be like oil and water – they often don’t mix well.

In my next post I’ll talk about some of the less than positive situations, developments and events which besieged post-production.

Photo credits – Steve Genier, Renegade Motion Pictures and the crew of AUTUMN. Copyrighted material. Used with permission.

The Autumn movie – UK premier

The Autumn movie will receive its UK premier at the Grimm Up North festival in Manchester (running Friday 30th October – Sunday 1st November). See the festival website for more information.

I’m planning to be there, along with Steven Rumbelow, the director of the movie. It would be excellent to meet as many of you who are going as possible so drop me a line if you’re planning to attend. It should be a cracking weekend with some great films being shown including Colin, The Descent Part 2 and many others still to be confirmed. On the Sunday the organisers are hoping to break the world zombie walk record with several thousand people staggering along the streets of Manchester! Oh, and I’m planning to be able to fit in a HATER book signing too.

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By the way, keep the questions for the upcoming Q&A with Rumbelow coming. Please click here to submit your questions about the Autumn movie.

HATER movie update

Check out this article over at Shock Till You Drop who managed to grab a quick word with Mark Johnson, one of the producers of the HATER movie.

Can’t tell you how excited I am about this…

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of HATER, keep an eye on this site in the coming weeks for news of more editions of the book and the first word on DOG BLOOD, the second book in the series due for release in 2010.

The AUTUMN movie

It’s getting closer! There’s lots going on behind-the-scenes and I’m really hopeful that before long we’ll have some news about when you can see the AUTUMN movie.

I’m pleased to announce that a special midnight showing of the film has been arranged at the Roxy Theatre in Saskatoon, Canada on 30th May. Follow this link for more information.

And to all those of you who can’t make it… watch this space. More news coming very soon!

The AUTUMN movie

The Autumn movie

The team at Renegade want you to see the Autumn movie, and so do I. I know they’re as frustrated as anyone that the film’s not yet been released, and they’re working hard behind the scenes to get it onto cinema and TV screens.

Over at the movie’s official blog, they’re asking for your input. If you’re in the UK or Canada, please head over to their site at autumnthemovie.blogspot.com and answer their questions. Alternatively, you can email your views to: autumninfo (at) renegademotionpictures.com.

Thanks in advance for your patience and input.

12 MONKEYS

12monkeysIt broke my heart this week to see the trailer for the SyFy channel’s unnecessary remake of the Terry Gilliam classic, 12 MONKEYS, which looked about as good as I expected (i.e. not good at all). 12 MONKEYS is a favourite film of mine, and I realised I hadn’t written about it for this site. So I’m putting that right today, and adding the movie to the Post-Apocalyptic Movie Club.

You know, of the slew of (almost exclusively inferior) remakes announced and produced over the last few years, 12 MONKEYS is one that hurts the most. And that’s ironic, because the film is a remake of sorts itself, being based on LA JETEE – a 1962 post-apocalyptic French short directed by Chris Marker, told entirely through still images and narration.

The premise of 12 MONKEYS is beautifully simple: “In a future world devastated by disease, a convict is sent back in time to gather information about the man-made virus that wiped out most of the human population on the planet.” I’m sure you’ve probably seen it already but, if not, watch the trailer and click the link below and I’ll tell you why you should stop what you’re doing and watch the movie now.

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The Seventh Leeds Zombie Film Festival

On Sunday 11 May, the seventh LEEDS ZOMBIE FILM FESTIVAL takes place at the Cottage Road Cinema, Headingley. Organised as always by Dominic Brunt (director/star of the magnificent BEFORE DAWN) and his Emmerdale co-star Mark Charnock, this year they’ve put together a phenomenal selection of movies including THE BATTERY, LIFEFORCE, STALLED and WORLD WAR Z. To remind yourself what I thought of each of those movies, click the posters below.

Day tickets are £15, and are available from the Cottage Road Cinema (click here). More information can be found via Facebook and Twitter. This is a chance to see a truly fine selection of films in the company of two great hosts. I can’t make it, unfortunately, but I’m jealous as heck of everyone who’s going!

BjzslC7IgAAHodKAnd if you’re looking for suggestions as to what to watch (or what not to watch), you could do worse than check out my fancy new recommendations page – click here.

 

Idiocracy

Something completely different for this week’s post-apocalyptic movie club selection, and I have a feeling this film will have passed most folks by…

Idiocracy_movie_posterIDIOCRACY is directed by Mike Judge, who first came to prominence in the mid-nineties as the creator of Beavis and Butt-Head. This, his second live action feature which was released (barely… I’ll explain in a second) in 2006, is a science-fiction satire which, I don’t mind admitting, left me feeling genuinely uneasy. As usual, here’s the plot, followed by the trailer, followed by my thoughts:

“Private Joe Bauers, the definition of “average American”, is selected by the Pentagon to be the guinea pig for a top-secret hibernation program. Forgotten, he awakes 500 years in the future. He discovers a society so incredibly dumbed-down that he’s easily the most intelligent person alive.”

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The Battery

THE-BATTERY-Movie-PosterRegular visitors here will recall how, a couple of weeks back, I was banging on about concept versus story and my argument boiled down to this: it’s all well and good having a great idea, but without a story which matters to people, your book or film will most likely go unread/unwatched/unloved.

Today’s Post-Apocalyptic Movie Club selection is a fantastic example of how that holds true – a movie with a deceptively slight concept which is carried by an excellent story and performances.

THE BATTERY is a lo-fi zombie movie. In fact, it’s one of the lowest lo-fi movies I think I’ve ever seen. It has a very small cast, a distinct lack of action, and yet I was captivated through the entire one hundred and one minutes. Here’s the synopsis and trailer. Click the link below for my thoughts.

Two former baseball players, Ben (Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim), cut an aimless path across a desolate New England.  They stick to the back roads and forests to steer clear of the shambling corpses that patrol the once bustling cities and towns.  In order to survive, they must overcome the stark differences in each other’s personalities—Ben embraces an increasingly feral, lawless, and nomadic lifestyle—while Mickey is unable to accept the harsh realities of the new world.  Mickey refuses to engage in Ben’s violent games and longs for the creature comforts he once took for granted.  A bed, a girl, and a safe place to live. 

When the men intercept a radio transmission from a seemingly thriving, protected community, Mickey will stop at nothing to find it, even though it is made perfectly clear that he is not welcome.

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Recommendations

An ever-growing selection of books and films which have impressed, inspired, excited or influenced me over the years. Enjoy!

POST-APOCALYPTIC MOVIE CLUB

 

 

RECOMMENDED READING