An interview with I Survived a Zombie Holocaust director Guy Pigden
Today we spotlight kiwi writer / director Guy Pigden and put him In The Crosshairs. He gives some advice to horror screenwriters and directors, along with some insight into his upcoming film ‘I Survived A Zombie Holocaust,’ and what he really thinks about a zombie holocaust.
New Zealand born and raised writer/director Guy Pigden founded his Pigville Productions in 2002, with two esteemed colleagues, Harley Neville and Nic Larsen, and did what most aspiring filmmakers do, shoot a lot of shorts to showcase their talents and put them on Youtube (including a very funny LOTR parody, Lord Of The Rings: The Calling Of The Ring). His hard work paid off when he landed a creator/writer job for New Zealand’s leading entertainment television production company, Eyeworks Touchdown.
Since his time at Eyeworks, Pigden and his colleagues have continued their hard work through Pigville and have recently completed shooting their second feature entitled Older, which the official site states is an honest confronting drama/comedy about sex, love, relationships, growing up and how our nostalgic attachment to the past can colour our perception of the present sometimes for the worse. As interesting as Older sounds, it doesn’t have zombies. But Pigden’s first feature does.
From the land that brought us Braindead aka Dead Alive, Black Sheep and The Last of the Living, comes I Survived A Zombie Holocaust, which is getting great reviews on the festival circuit. Director Guy Pigden was gracious enough to take time away from his busy schedule to talk zombies with me.
ZEA: You’ve been working on your film since it was green lit by the New Zealand film Commission in 2010, and it is finally making the festival circuit. What were the major problems you encountered with making your first feature?
Pigden: Well, the biggest issue was simply a matter of budget. If you don’t have much money then you don’t have enough of anything to truly feel comfortable on set. Time is the most valuable commodity, time to shoot, time to plan, time for the actors, time to create the effects and money buys that time on set. When you don’t have time you’re in a constant state of duress. Problems that come up can’t be solved by throwing money at them the way they normally would. So you have to be clever and creative in how you solve problems.
ZEA: There is an unwritten rule in the film making business that a screenwriter should never direct his own film, because he will not be able to look at with objectivity. You ignored that rule. As the writer/director did you find yourself conflicted, where the writer side of you wanted to keep something in the film but the director side knew it had to be altered or eliminated?
Pigden: I personally don’t subscribe to that philosophy. You can lose your objectivity whether you’ve written the film or not, but if you have written it, you have a very clear understanding of the film you’re trying to make because you conceived of it. That intimate understanding would not be there had I not written it. But I never made the distinction between the writer or director in that sense. Once the film is shot you become the editor and it doesn’t matter what was written or what was shot, only how that footage comes together and so you assume an entirely new role. There were a lot of things we had to lose as part of that editing process, but nothing that the writer in me was fighting for. If anything the director wants to keep what doesn’t work because he remembers how difficult it was to shoot that material, to the writer it was only words on a page. But I’m pretty mellow and I’m not too precious, the story and intention, retaining that is what is important but not specifically a scene or a line.
ZEA: As a filmmaker, what is the most import piece of advise you can give other aspiring horror filmmakers?
Pigden: Tell your story with heart. All the gore and scares in the world don’t amount to anything if people aren’t invested in your characters. Horror’s major downfall is in the lack of character development. Think about why something like The Walking Dead is so good. Build your frights around people you care about. People dying in elaborate ways means nothing unless you liked them to begin with.
ZEA: Writers draw inspiration for characters from life experiences as well as imagination. The anti-hero in ISAZH is a nerdy kid named Wesley Pennington, who is “fresh out of film school and bubbling with enthusiasm.” And who has a “prolific knowledge of zombie films to help him.” As a filmmaker and zombie aficionado, how much Guy Pigden is in your Wesley character?
Pigden: Haha, not as much as there used to be. But Wesley is a lot like I was when I was 19. I was incredibly passionate and enthusiastic but also naive. I though that I would just show up and say I wanted to be a filmmaker and I would be discovered overnight. I imagined the world would fall at my feet and people would just automatically acknowledge I should be a filmmaker. Of course what I realised is that it’s not really easy at all, and just like Wesley that I would have to go through hell and back and fight with everything I had to become what I wanted to be. Fortunately, I didn’t also have to try and survive a Zombie outbreak the way he did.
ZEA: In your film title you use the word “holocaust,” meaning the destruction of human life, instead of “apocalypse,” meaning total destruction. Is the word usage meant as an affirmation to your Jewish heritage or is does it have another significant meaning?
Pigden: I realise Holocaust is a bit of a taboo word, but I’m not talking about anything related to war atrocities and I do not have a Jewish heritage, and my intention is certainly not to make fun of any of that. It’s simply a callback to the older b-grade horror films of the bygone era, which had very over the top names such as Cannibal Holocaust. I was looking for the kind of overly dramatic horror title that Wesley, as an inexperienced writer would make up thinking it was amazing, not realising it’s kind of cheesy. In this context it’s simply meaning destruction or slaughter on a large scale.
ZEA: You wrote your first zombie script at age 19, which gave you the idea for your film ISAZH. Excluding projects that you were hired to write for, have you always written in the horror genre or was there another genre you tried your hand at?
Pigden: I actually normally write comedies and in fact ISAZH is very much a comedy, more so than a horror. I have written in several different genres, only three of my scripts have been horror films, although it’s very likely I’ll be returning to this territory again as I have two ideas I think really deserve to be written. I’m a genre film lover but I like all types of films and hope to write all types of films.
ZEA: Have you done any prepping like, stockpiling food, water or toilet paper, for a zombie holocaust or other doomsday scenario?
Pigden: Actually, I’m very unprepared. There is no survival kit at my house and I’d probably be in a lot of trouble!
ZEA: Do you believe in the possibility of a zombie holocaust?
Pigden: Do I believe the dead will come back to life? No. Do I believe a viral style outbreak is possible, more in line with 28 Days Later? Yes, I think so. I mean the world essentially has experienced a very similar event, it was called The Black Plague. It wiped out over a third of the worlds population at the time and although people weren’t eating each other, the symptoms and the fear of infection was really close in a lot of ways. So I certainly think that could happen and I also think that we could very well be part of a mass extinction event of some kind, most likely through global warming.
ZEA: If a zombie holocaust happened, would you plan on bugging out or hunkering down and fortifying?
Pigden: I think I would find a friend’s house out in the middle of nowhere, stock up and try and keep a very low profile. New Zealand has a lot of remote areas, very hard for zombies to get to, but avoiding starving to death would be a big issue in such a place.
ZEA: What would be your firearm of choice?
Pigden: Got to be the shotgun. Like any true Resident Evil fan. You’re aim doesn’t have to be that great due to the spread and it’s got kick, so even if you don’t kill the zombies you’ll be knocking them back and preventing yourself from being swarmed.
ZEA: What would be your edged or blunt weapon of choice?
Pigden: I think I’d go a crow bar, you can use it for bludgeoning or impaling so you kind of get the best of both worlds.
ZEA: Who would be in your survivor group?
Pigden: Well, I would pick Harley Neville, my best friend (and star of I Survived A Zombie Holocaust). He’d keep me laughing during the end of the world, which I imagine would be very important. I would bring my family for obvious reasons and Natalie Portman. Do you think she’d come with me? Do you have her number? You need a beautiful woman at your side to help repopulate the world, right?
ZEA: My final question: Who was the person that most influenced you to become a filmmaker?
Pigden: Hmmm, a tough one. I would say George Lucas for capturing my imagination as a young boy and encouraging me to look up at the stars. And my dad, who introduced me to the wonder of movies, and storytelling and gave me the tools to be a writer.
ZEA: Anything you’d like to add?
Pigden: You can find out more information about our film at https://www.facebook.com/isazh. I encourage everyone to like the page and keep up to date with information regarding the film. It’s really up to all the zombie lovers and enthusiasts out there to get behind the film and support it so we have the opportunity to make another one.
ZEA: Guy Pigden, thank you very much for your time.
Pigden: Thank you for the interesting questions.
Though there is currently no distribution deal and no North American release date, I encourage everyone to check out their Facebook page and watch the official trailer below. We will have a film review for you next week.
Guy talks about his film, I Survived A Zombie Holocaust. Courtesy Pigville Productions.
Behind the scenes look of ISAZH.