Sunday, August 05, 2012

FANTASIA 2012: A LITTLE BIT ZOMBIE (2012)—Q&A With Casey Walker & Cast

All in all, Casey Walker's A Little Bit Zombie (2012) [official site / IMDb / Facebook] is a Canadian homegrown joint that sets you up for some stoner laughs. Featuring a deranged zombie mosquito infected from having bitten one of the undead, broad comic turns by an ensemble of young Canadian actors, and an ever-entertaining performance by one of Canada's hardest-working actors Stephen McHattie (also in Fantasia entry The Tall Man), A Little Bit Zombie has no pretensions about being anything other than what it is: a slapstick zom-com.

Lead Kristopher Turner—with a touch of Steve Carell—does a fine job as our put-upon protagonist dealing with his buzzkill fiance Tina (Crystal Lowe, the girl you love to hate and hate to date), his resentful sister Sarah (Kristen Hager), her thick-necked squeeze Craig (Shawn Roberts), a stinging zombie mosquito that won't die no matter how many times you slap it (uncredited), his developing appetite for human brains, a countryside crawling with zombies, and a vigilante duo: out-of-control living-dead hunter McHattie and his lovely assistant Penelope (Emilie Ullerup). A shout-out to a brief but always welcome appearance by Robert Maillet (Monster Brawl). Hunk Shawn Roberts steals the show with impeccable comic timing (it helps that he has the best lines); but, even eye candy can't ward off the tiresome gay jokes that deflate Trevor Martin and Christopher Bond's otherwise enthusiastic script. Perhaps if they'd written in a gay zombie mosquito I'd have been a bit more amused?

Casey Walker introduced his film by reminding his Fantasia audience that—back in 2006 when he lived in Montreal—he created "a stupid little website" called MyMillionDollarMovie.com, allegedly the world's first crowd funding website and notable for allowing contributors to buy frames of the film. He considered it "pretty fucking awesome" to be able to bring the circle full round by having A Little Bit Zombie's Quebec premiere at Fantasia.

After the screening, Walker and several members of his cast—including Stephen McHattie, Emilie Ullerup, Kristopher Turner, Crystal Lowe and Shawn Roberts—found their way to the Théâtre Hall Concordia stage to field questions from the audience. The unexpected highlight of that exchange was McHattie responding to a query about the genesis of the project by reading a few paragraphs of pornography off his iPad.

Asked about the essential difference between making a smaller independent movie in contrast to a big budget production, Walker answered, "We were really lucky because, at the end of the day, the movie lived or died with us. We had no executive producer. We had no studio. We had nobody saying, 'Do this or do it that way.' The funny was what we determined was funny. We wanted to make a movie that people wanted to watch, not one that was scientific and would generate a certain box office percentage review blah blah blah. We just wanted to have fun and we had a lot of fuckin' fun. We didn't have to answer to anyone."

With regard to working with Stephen McHattie, Walker recalled: "Stephen and I met over a couple of bottles of wine and became friends and then Stephen—doing what he does, work a stupid amount—took off and I didn't get to talk to him again until I was at the airport and he was coming in. He came up to me all sly and said, 'How's it going?' I told him it was really good with the laughing every day, getting lots of material, making our days awesome and he goes, 'I'm not going to be funny.' I sort of peed a little and thought, 'What have I gotten myself into?' On set he has a focus that calms everyone down. It made some people extremely nervous and they wouldn't look him in the eye; but, it's just that he's in the process and thinking things through. So when we did the scene where he and Emilie were killing zombies and he'd done his first line and played it straight, not being funny at all, and then I called, "Cut!", we had about 140 people on set and it took 10 minutes to stop the laughter, because he wasn't being funny. It just went from there. He challenged me every day—I don't think anyone in my life has challenged me as much as this man has—simply to make the film better. He always asked the question, 'Why are we doing this?' " Unfortunately, Walker jokingly complained, McHattie's attitude became infectious and his cast started giving him a lot of flak.

Improv from his actors embellished the script he, Martin and Bond had worked on for three years. "It's difficult making independent film," Walker explained, "because you have no time. That's the one thing you don't have. Money buys you time. A lot of times I had to get the meat and these guys would only have one take at certain things. Emilie's speech at the end is one take. Kristopher getting bit by the mosquito is all one take. But the magic these guys brought to these scenes allowed the improv to flow and made things even funnier. Stephen spit in Shawn's hand for real and so when you see him all grossed out it's because he didn't expect that."

Available on VOD on August 1, 2012, A Little Bit Zombie will be released by Phase 4 Films on DVD/Blu-Ray on August 21, 2012.

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