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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

A few September releases

Orion books in the UK have released a mass-market (i.e. cheaper!) edition of HATER which, from today, you’ll find in supermarkets, airports etc. etc. You can also get it online from Amazon.co.uk, Waterstones, Play.com and the Book Depository amongst others.

German readers can now get their hands on the first publication anywhere in the world of Autumn: Disintegration (Herbst: Zerfall). Whilst this is good news for readers in Germany and Austria, it’s not so good for those of you who’ve been waiting more than patiently for the US and UK releases of the book. I’ll be honest (as I’ve had a few angry emails about the subject recently), Disintegration is still a long way off for the rest of the world. I’ve updated the FAQ page of this site with a revised explanation and it’s something I’ll talk more about next week.

Finally, the audio book of HATER I mentioned here is now available to download from Audible.com.

Autumn

Over the course of the next few weeks and months, people around the world are finally going to be able to see the AUTUMN movie (and I mean the proper, finished movie – not the poor quality, unfinished rip that was leaked online and which has been unfairly generating bad press around the Internet recently). At the end of the day, AUTUMN is a low budget indie horror film which, like many indies, will be released wherever deals are made, whenever those deals are made. It would have been great if there could have been a single, massive, coordinated, worldwide release but these are challenging times and I’m just grateful that the film’s complete and ready to be enjoyed.

Bizarrely, if you’re in Thailand, you can already buy the DVD and if you’re in Germany, you can pre-order it from Amazon.de (it’s out in October – apologies for the unique, market-specific update to the title!). If you’re in the UK or Canada… please bear with me for a little longer – more news is coming very soon.

The journey to get AUTUMN to the screen has been frustratingly long for a number of reasons but, now that we’ve almost reached the finish line, I thought it was time I properly documented some of my thoughts and feelings on the process, the film itself, and the issues and experiences we’ve had along the way. I’ll be posting a series of articles over the coming weeks, starting today with a brief look at the origins of the project. My next AUTUMN post will be an updated version of the set report I previously published in early 2008 on theinfected.co.uk (the official AUTUMN website – soon to be re-launched). Later I’ll be talking about the bizarre series of events which thrust the film firmly into the spotlight after the tragic death of David Carradine. A Q&A with director Steven Rumbelow will follow (I’ll be asking you for questions to put to Steven later) and I’ll wrap the series up with a look at the finished movie. By then I hope many of you will have had chance to see the film and I’m looking forward to discussing it with you on the forum (and, hopefully, in the flesh if you’re in the UK!).

I should start out by saying that if you’re expecting a full-blown review of the film from me, you’re not going to get one. More to the point, I can’t write one. Why? Because as a writer, having a story you’ve written adapted for the screen is a unique and very emotional experience – far more so than I anticipated or imagined. It’s difficult to be completely impartial and objective about the finished result because you’re impossibly close and yet frustratingly distant from the project at the same time. When I write I spend months (often years) planning and preparing each story to the point where I can almost just shut my eyes and watch the whole thing play out in my head like a movie. By the time the book’s finished, I know exactly how each character looks, behaves and sounds. I know the locations they inhabit, the size and layout of the buildings and rooms where they interact, the undulations of the land outside, the cars they drive, the clothes they wear, the colour of the wallpaper in their living rooms… On a more technical level, I know how the scenes flow, how they cut into each other, what I can hear and see at any given moment… I write listening to music and invariably I build up a playlisted soundtrack for each book that matches the atmosphere and feel of the story…

Give one hundred directors the same script, and you’ll probably end up with one hundred very different films. The point I’m trying to make is that everything is open to personal interpretation. No-one is able to fully see what I see as I write and the movie I involuntarily plan in my head – with its perfect cast, jaw-dropping locations, ground-breaking special effects and limitless budget – is the invisible, intangible benchmark that I’m sure every author unknowingly sets. In the nicest possible way, no movie will ever match it, so it would be unfair to write a review.

Enough of that. Back to the beginning…

The AUTUMN movie came about as the result of an approach from Renegade Motion Pictures for the film rights in September 2006. They weren’t alone in their interest – I’d had several other enquiries from production companies of various statures and sizes – but Renegade’s attitude and the dialogue we quickly established soon made them my ‘partner of choice’. I liked the way Rumbelow talked about the themes of the story with me and the plans he had for keeping the movie close to the indie spirit of the original novel. Those of you who’ve followed my writing for some time will know that, up until that point, I’d previously taken responsibility for every aspect of the publishing process – writing, editing, designing, marketing etc. – and the prospect of working with an independent production company like Renegade appealed to me more than the idea of letting a larger, corporate outfit loose with AUTUMN. It was the book that put me on the map and a huge part of my heart and soul was ploughed into the series as a whole. With Renegade I knew I’d be able to have some influence on the project, and at that stage in my career that mattered.

Once the formalities were completed (including the addition of a unique clause in the rights agreement stating that the film would not be allowed to become a ‘Hollywood-style’ zombie movie!), Renegade began work on the project in earnest.

In late-2005, some twelve months before the movie was first mooted, I decided to write a ‘spec-script’ for AUTUMN, more because I wanted to try my hand at screenplay writing than for any other reason. That script later became the basis for Darker Projects’ audio dramatization of the book and, after a further re-write, I sent it to Renegade where Steven Rumbelow used elements of it to put together his vision of AUTUMN. If I’m honest, my attempt was far too bloated and overlong, an attempt to literally translate virtually every page of the book to the screen, but it was something I enjoyed doing (and something I plan to do again in the near future).

With the screenplay well advanced and much of the required funding in place, Renegade took the unusual step of inviting fans to become shareholders in the movie. This wasn’t just a means to generate extra cash and publicity, it was also a genuine attempt to bridge the gap between the film-makers and those people who’d been following the books since 2001 when the first AUTUMN novel appeared online. There was a great response and to those of you who invested, check your inboxes for an update from Renegade in the very near future.

As the end of 2007 neared, the movie was cast, locations were scouted and filming was ready to begin.

If you get knocked down by a car, do you care what colour it is?

Strange title for a blog post I know, but I have a question and I’d appreciate some feedback.

My books typically deal with the end of the world in one way or another, but I’m generally more interested in how people deal with whatever’s happened to them than with the cause of ‘the event’ itself. If you were trying to survive through an apocalyptic scenario, let’s say (very topically) a pandemic, would it really make any difference to your struggle if the killer disease was man-made, a naturally occurring mutation or something of alien origin? This brief extract from AUTUMN summarises the point I’m trying to make:

‘So do you think it was a virus that did this to them?’ Carl asked. ‘Emma seems to think so. Or do you think it was…?’

‘Don’t know and I don’t care.’

‘What do you mean, you don’t care?’

‘What difference does it make? What’s happened has happened. It’s the old cliché, isn’t it? If you get knocked down by a car, does it matter what colour it is?’

‘Suppose.’

‘It doesn’t matter what caused any of this. What’s done is done and I can’t see the point in wasting time coming up with bullshit theories and explanations when none of it will make the slightest bit of difference. The only thing that any of us have any influence and control over now is what we do tomorrow.’

My question to you, however, is this: as the reader of a post-apocalyptic story, how important is it for you to know what happened? Do you need to know what caused the virus in AUTUMN? Will it spoil your enjoyment of the HATER trilogy if you don’t find out why people are suddenly turning on each other?

Any feedback / comments / thoughts from anyone would be appreciated. Please use the comments function and the related forum discussion to let me know.

Thanks in advance!

Revenant Magazine

If you’re a fan of zombies, either in print or on screen, chances are you’re already aware of the Revenant Magazine website. For several years it’s been a great online resource for zombie followers, boasting a wealth of living dead news, interviews, reviews and more. In recent years they’ve expanded and now host an annual zombie film festival (click here for details of this years event).

This week the editors have announced that Revenant is about to make its debut in print form with the release in September of Issue #0. It already looks like being a great read and, particularly in view of the current economic climate, the team deserve applause and support for taking this step. I wish them every success with this new venture and I’ll be sending them plenty of HATER and AUTUMN news over the coming months. If you’ve got any interest in zombies at all (and as you’re visiting this site and know what my books are about I guess you have), please try and get hold of a copy.

Congratulations Permuted Press

Congratulations to my friends at Permuted Press who’ve announced a deal with Pocket Books (a division of Simon & Schuster) to release seven of their titles including ‘Day by Day Armageddon‘, ‘Down the Road‘ and ‘Plague of the Dead‘.

This is absolutely great news. Jacob Kier (owner of Permuted) and I started out around the same time and we first crossed paths when my story ‘Home’ appeared in the first Permuted title – ‘The Undead‘. For several years we ran reciprocal adverts for each other – I carried PP ads in my ‘Infected Books’, Jacob carried adverts for the ‘Autumn‘ books in PP titles.

I’m absolutely thrilled for him and all the authors involved because they’ve shown yet again how independent publishing can and does work. It’s fast becoming a viable alternative way to market for a lot of authors. In fact, my US publisher Thomas Dunne Books is now taking pre-orders for ‘John Dies at the End‘ – another book which was initially self-published on-line before being released by Permuted. Movie rights to the book have been sold to Don Coscarelli, director of ‘Bubba Ho-Tep‘ and the ‘Phantasm‘ films.

Congratulations again to Jacob and all the Permuted authors involved in this deal. I’m stoked for all of them!

David Carradine

By now I’m sure you’ve already heard the tragic news that David Carradine was found dead in a Bangkok hotel room today.

Unfortunately I never met the man himself (I missed him by a few days when I visited the set of Autumn) but I’ve heard many great stories from the Renegade team. He was a total legend who leaves behind a vast legacy of film and TV work and he’ll be greatly missed. I grew up watching him in Kung-fu then, as I got older and my taste in movies developed, I got to know him again through his role in classics such as Death Race 2000, Q: The Winged Serpent and the Kill Bill films. Hell, we’ve even got one of his Tai Chi videos kicking around the house somewhere!

As a fanboy and horror movie geek, I’ll never forget the thrill when, just minutes after landing in Canada, I took a call from Steven Rumbelow (the Director of Autumn) telling me that Carradine had signed to play the part of Philip Evans in the movie. I know that most of you haven’t seen it yet, but I can assure you his appearance is a highlight of the film. To have a story you’ve written brought to the screen is cool enough. To have a character you created played by such an actor is something else entirely. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know how ‘unsettled’ and naive Philip is. Carradine got the character to a tee – a powerful, heartbreaking performance.

I offer my sincere condolences to his his family at this terrible time.

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!

Global round up

A few quick updates for a Friday afternoon…

mX, a free Australian newspaper, ran a feature on HATER this week. Click here to download a copy.

An interview I did with www.scyla.com in Spain is now online (in English and Spanish!) here. (An update to this update… another Spanish interview with www.fantasymundo.com is now online here in English and Spanish.)

And finally, Herbst: Läuterung (the German language version of Autumn: Purification) is attracting some great reviews like this one from www.roterdorn.de.

Have a great weekend (an extra long one if you’re in the UK!). Maybe I’ll bump into some of you at Sci-Fi-London on Sunday.

(By the way, the ‘The Men They Couldn’t Hang’ competition is now closed. Winners will be announced next week.)

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.