Michigan may not seem like a likely place to film a movie, but Justin Cash Kirkpatrick is convincing me otherwise. Kirkpatrick, along with fellow filmaker Chad Ream, are the minds behind Buddy Holly vs. The Living Dead. They recently finished shooting and we had an opportunity to talk to them.
ZRC: First a little background information – how did you get involved in film making and what spurred you to create Buddy Holly vs The Living Dead?
Justin: I’ve been involved in the whole idea of film-making since early childhood. I had been doing smaller projects for several years and in 2005 I got a chance to join the crew of The Dread, where I served as a script supervisor and 1st Assistant Director. The production had come to my hometown of Kalamazoo and it was the “foot in the door” I had been waiting for. I developed a lot of great relationships during the course of filming and have since worked with many of them on other film projects.
But it was on the set of another independent film, A Sheer Agenda, when I was asked by the producer, Chad Ream, if I had a short film idea that I might be interested in doing. Naturally I said, “Of course”, and kept it pretty vague, revealing only the fact that it would contain zombies. After we wrapped production on A Sheer Agenda, I dove into creating what would soon become Buddy Holly Vs. The Living Dead. Before I knew it, it had expanded from a short to a feature length motion picture that not only contained zombies, but was also set in the 1950s and had real-life rock & roll legend as it’s central character.
ZRC: Where does the idea of Buddy Holly fighting zombies come from?
Justin: The idea sprang from my own twisted mind. In the very early phases of the script Buddy was not around, and one night it just hit me. The film The Buddy Holly Story starring Gary Busey is one of my favorites and I often pop it in the DVD player and run it as background while I am writing. In the opening of the film it has Buddy playing his music at a roller-rink, and I basically just picked up where that opening scene ended, presupposing that before Buddy gained fame he may have fought hordes of zombies, and possibly where he found inspiration for some of his greatest songs.
ZRC: What are some of your other influences?
Justin: I love exploitation movies from the 70′s. To name a few: Death Race 2000, Ilsa, She Wolf of the S.S., Assault on Precint 13, The Gore Gore Girls, The Wizard of Gore and even Death Rides A Horse. And naturally I’m also a huge fan of the Romero zombie films, obviously the Evil Dead movies and let’s not forget the Phantasm series as well.
My favorite directors would have to be Scorsese, Tarantino and John Carpenter.
ZRC: What type of challenges do you face in the production of the film?
Chad: I could write a book on this question alone, but lets see… balancing the work/life balance. Since we are shooting the movie in southwest Michigan, people are not used to the movie scene as people in California. Individuals will approach the fact that a movie is being made locally and independently from a couple approaches, ultimately influencing their opinion and commitment that is being made on the production.
Justin: Time is always the greatest challenge on any film production. There just aren’t enough hours in a day, so I suppose that would be our greatest challenge. Also, coordinating large numbers of extras is its own unique science that can at times be frustrating. Oddly enough, the make-up FX are not as difficult as one may think, but that’s due to having such great talents like our make-up artist Lee Behymer on board. His work has truly been amazing and the speed at which he works is very impressive.
ZRC: How long will the project take to complete, and what are your plans after it is finished?
Justin: Production will be wrapped in early July. We are currently in negotiations for both foreign and domestic distribution. Incidentally, the Asian market has expressed keen interest.
Chad: The time on this will vary, but I would expect that it will take 6 to 12 months of post production before we have a final print.
ZRC: What involvement does Tom Sullivan (of Evil Dead fame) have on the picture? How did he come to be involved in it?
Justin: I first met Tom on the set of The Dread and it was a fast friendship from there. He also was in A Sheer Agenda and I shot a scene where he gets to cut up a poor girl with a chainsaw. It was a very bloody day – Tom’s favorite. So getting Tom on board for this project was as easy as a phone call. After hearing the title, he couldn’t turn it down.
Tom plays a roller-rink manager named Mr. O’Brien and his complaint department is a baseball bat lovingly named ‘Karen’. Tom also lent his talents in creating some of the zombie effects and their design.
ZRC: Buddy Holly vs. The Living Dead seems to touch on some of the themes of mid-century US culture, such as fear of nuclear technology, youth rebellion, etc. Will the movie touch on contemporary fears as well?
Justin: At a glance, it appears to be nothing more than a run of the mill horror film with its aim being to capitalize on the growing popularity of the genre. However upon closer inspection, Buddy Holly vs. the Living Dead sets precedent by doing what horror films rarely do: offering commentary. As a film within a film, this movie shows audiences that parallel story lines the enhance sense of reality and thereby challenge preconceived notions of what a horror movie is. At its core, the film is about fanaticism in all its forms: from gambling to drinking to false idolization; it opens the flood gates to the subconscious where viewers realize that the real horror element of the film lies not within the ominous flesh eating monsters.
The movie itself centers on the key players involved in making a 1950â€™s zombie movie and the effects of living the sort of life that lends itself to such chronic exposure to gratuitous excess. By shifting back and forth between the two plot lines, I create the foreboding sensation that the â€œfantasyâ€ plot bears on the â€œrealâ€ plot. As things get worse within the â€œmovieâ€ so too do they get worse in â€œreal lifeâ€. The impending hordes of undead are cleverly used as an allegory; a rotting decrepit evil descending on a seemingly wholesome town, bent on devouring everyone along with their Americana values and consequently turning them into mindless drones. This sort of technique is not at all common among those involved in the horror movie industry. The lines are blurred between, not only fantasy and reality, but between stardom and heroism, villain and protagonist, and exploitation and success to the point where moviegoers will be left wondering why the films ambiguity has left them feeling dirty.
ZRC: Zombie films are currently experienced a surge in popularity – why do you think that is? What is it about the living dead that interests people?
Justin: Zombie films are a great form escapism. (You get to) put yourself in the shoes of a survivor in a world ravaged by hordes of the undead. Sure, it might not beat a day at the beach but when you really get down to it might just be kind of fun. The rules no longer apply. You do what you have to do. For example, you could go live in a mall like they dead in Dawn of the Dead. For some people, that alone would be worth the price of a population of zombies.
Some people wanted to be cowboys when they were kids, some cops and some robbers. But there was always a group who just wanted to be the zombies who ate the cops, robbers and cowboys. I suppose I was one of those screwed up little zombie loving kids. Zombies do not discriminate, they’ll eat anybody.
ZRC: Thanks guys. Anything else our readers show know about your movie?
Justin: One thing I would like to add about what makes our zombies different from the others; they’re puking zombies. You see, their stomachs no longer function properly and since they’re constantly eating they are forced to expel their stomach contents over and over and over.