On the Set of 'Z: The Zombie Musical'
Transmogrifying from human into zombie isn't tough. Splotch your skin a puke green. Apply black lipstick, eyeliner, and nail polish. Chain up a supper-to-be in the basement. And learn to sing. At least that's the rulebook à la John McLean's Z: The Zombie Musical, a comedy that has lensed off and on around Austin for more than six months and is nearing a wrap. Hearing actors grumble that the only available roles are for the undead is a sure sign that McLean's baby is the current somewhat-beating heart of Austin's bare-bones indie film scene. It's Sunday just past noon when McLean, an actor and ad salesman, enters the South Austin casting agency borrowed as today's set. He's a towering, sloppy grin clad in what appears to be pajamas. Around him, low-tech zombie make-up is being applied to extras by the film's choreographer/co-star Amy Jordan. In the ultra-low-budget world, everyone does everything. Executive Producer Cheryl Adendorff is an extra today, and trying her best to keep her two kids from gobbling down the craft-services treats (generic colas and corn chips). This is a relaxed day, shooting a scene of a zombie casting director (yours truly) interviewing actors for a zombie musical. It will likely be shown as the credits roll. That is, if they can find the missing lime-green van that the film's leads, three nuns turned zombies, tool around in. Last McLean heard it was broken down somewhere in Nebraska. An English major while at UT, McLean remembers going to the Varsity Theater on the Drag to see foreign films shown by what grew into the Austin Film Society. He never studied film in a classroom; instead, he worked for Roger Corman reading scripts and writing coverage. And he gigged independent films as a grip, worked in casting for topless kickboxing movies, did anything to learn. His idols include Trey Parker and Matt Stone, whose Cannibal! The Musical had perhaps the biggest influence on Z. That and an Archie Bunker-esque father who was forever dragging McLean to Las Vegas to see musicals. "It's got silly dancing and silly songs, and is so much more entertaining to me and my kids than something as polished as The Producers," he says of Cannibal!
Z, a follow-up to McLean's Austin-shot directing debut The Perfect Man Contest, began as a comedy short from the point of view of zombies. "A wife comes home from work with a grocery bag with feet sticking out of it," McLean explains. But a posting on Austin Film Casting, a Yahoo group run by retired teacher Dan Eggleston, caused such a stir that he decided to expand it. And he got Eggleston as part of the bargain. A bearded whirling dervish, the former teacher is the film's true jack-of-all-trades, earning him a co-producer/zombie philosopher credit.
The story follows three nuns who turn into zombies after being attacked by a dog. They sink into Zomburbia modeled after Pflugerville and commence to singing and getting in touch with their sexuality and intellectualism. Guest warblers include Joe "King" Carrasco (the mayor of Zomburbia) and Dale Watson. "I love the genre and I wish there were more of them," McLean says of musicals, counting off on one hand those that hit the big screen in 2005: Rent, The Producers, Reefer Madness. McLean's film is chock-full of songs, and it spices that with a sock puppet and a smidgen of gratuitous nudity. For more on this zombie mania and the latest on that missing van, check out his set diary, Lights! Camera! Zombies!, at www.moviepoopshoot.com.