My boring, day to day life has changed drastically in the past 4 months. I have become a divorced parent, single again for the first time in 16 years and a zombie. No, not a zombie because I am so tired from being the custodial parent to two rapidly growing boys and a puppy. Not a zombie because I am a middle school teacher in the last trimester of the school year when EVERYTHING seems to happen. And not a zombie because I have decided that in my “free time” I am going to explore my latent writing talents by maintaining a blog and actually finishing the book I started to write. I mean, I literally became a zombie extra on the set of an 88mm Productions film titled The Sound of Nothing.
A little venting on Facebook was the catalyst to my plunge into the world of the undead and self-acceptance.
“So tired and crabby!!! Definitely more zombie than unicorn today!!!! Ugh! Cold weather not helping.”
My friend and fellow teacher, Carol Eubanks-Riccardi responded to my status update with information about a movie production in which her daughter was participating. They needed volunteers for zombie extras. Before continuing, I have to tell you a bit about my previous acting and zombie experience. Other than my day job (every teacher is an actor of sorts) I have no acting experience. I avoid cameras unless I have put effort into make-up and hair. Even then, I avoid anything other than a headshot. My body is a sore subject for me. My experience with zombies involves half watching TV shows and movies that my ex-husband wanted to watch. I hated them. They were gross, predictable and pointless. Plus, he liked them. He would have died at the chance to play a zombie and now I had that very opportunity. This bit of revenge and the chance at meeting new people, while redefining myself, fueled my decision to join the cast.
I didn’t ask anything but when, where and can I bring a friend, which made the first shoot a bit of a surprise, but no less memorable. I threw insecurities aside and thrust myself into an abandoned YMCA in Granite City, Illinois at 7am in below freezing weather. The building had no heat, no running water and the electricity consisted of extension cords run from the few working outlets. Zombie-hood was not starting out pleasant, but it quickly grew on me. From the moment we arrived, everyone was welcoming. We were given a bloody, shredded wardrobe and make-up from a professional make-up artist. Then we explored the creepy, decaying building and learned what to expect from the day. We were fed and watered and even taught a little bit about the film making process. The day was long, but pretty incredible despite freezing. But that is not why I came back three more times.
Something about becoming a zombie is addicting. Maybe, it’s the fact that you spend a day looking your absolute worst and being proud of it. Maybe, it’s the fact that you have to throw your inhibitions out the window, make inappropriate noises and walk like an injured drunk along with a group of strangers doing the same. Maybe, it was the fact that we had to go to McDonald’s, QuikTrip and the library to use public restrooms while in costume (and sometimes character). I’m not exactly sure what it is, but if I had to bet, I would say it is the people and the relationships built with those people during my zombie-hood.
My fellow zombies and the cast and crew for The Sound of Nothing couldn’t have been a more incredible group of people. Despite the unaccommodating conditions of the abandoned building, everyone was kind, compassionate and hilarious. Facebook friending was on the up and zombie jokes flying. We sat, huddled on an old couch in the lobby of the building, sharing bits of our lives with one another in between takes. We were interviewed for behind the scenes (while in character) and asked about the secret lives of zombies; a task that I found difficult on that first shoot due to my lack of confidence when it came to zombie knowledge. Pictures were taken at every interval of the day both informally on camera phones and formally on high resolution cameras. The day was so much more than I could have imagined. I had to do it again to make sure it was real.
It wasn’t. In fact, returning to set, alone this time, was even better than the first. The cast and crew knew my name. They were happy to see me return. Despite the flurry with which they worked during my first day on set and all the filming they had done in the three months since, the people from 88mm remembered me and took the time to greet me with smiles. I was floored at their ease. Between shots, we connected over inclinations of supernatural happenings in the building, hobbies, histories and even writing. This time, when interviewed for behind the scenes, I felt comfortable. I became more confident as I realized acceptance didn’t come from my common knowledge of zombies, but how I could uniquely characterize them. This freedom to be myself led to my declaration of the guidelines for building a zombie army as well as the embrace of my imagination’s return. During the shoots, there was dancing between takes, watching out for each other’s safety and celebrations as we got the shot the director was going for. Sharing the experience of turning an imagined world into a real one somehow bonds people together.
I participated in filming a total of four times. Despite long days of shooting, the whole experience went way too fast. I found myself wanting to know more about what this movie making business is all about. What drives someone to bring the world of make-believe to life? Whatever that element is that propels them forward, that desire to persevere even when something goes wrong with the shot, is an inspiring mindset to observe. Everyone should take the opportunity to experience film making, even just once, to see that passion in action. Watching others take a script and turn it into something distinctively visual, inspired me to continue to tell my story, build my world, despite the hindrances I encounter both on paper and in reality.