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Special Report: On the Set of The Crazies

Director and cast on the upcoming remake

Four hours ago…

Peach County, Georgia. The cloud cover is too surreal. Like a Quilted Northern bathroom tissue ad hanging in the sky, the clouds are that cushiony and grey. Verdant fields zip by in an animated blur as make-up FX artist Rob Hall of Almost Human drives this writer to the aptly-named Peach Country High School (“Parent Meeting tonight” reads black letters on a white sign).

We’ve arrived on the set of The Crazies, the latest horror remake in the works. This one’s in production at Overture Films. They’ve enlisted Breck Eisner (Sahara) to direct a re-imagining of George A. Romero’s 1973 simmering homeland terror flick about a small Pennsylvania town under quarantine when a bacteriological weapon leaks into the water supply and drives the townsfolk batty.

The Amityville Horror remake’s Scott Kosar (also best known for The Machinist) took a crack the script years ago when the project was originally set up at Paramount as a directing vehicle for Brad Anderson (Session 9). Writer Ray Wright has since been hired to re-tool the narrative, however, the concept remains the same: Timothy Olyphant is David Dutton, the sheriff of Ogden Marsh, a small town rocked by an incident during a school baseball game. The fatality that occurs in the outfield is just the beginning of a string of attacks linked to an outbreak infecting Ogden Marsh’s residents. When the military moves in and begins to round everyone up, Dutton, his wife (Radha Mitchell) and deputy (Joe Anderson) attempt to escape town.

As Hall and I pull into the parking lot of PCHS, the lingering crew that we find here at base camp is packing their equipment and walking in droves to the football field. I catch Eisner crossing the school grounds and he recognizes me from our chat during the Fear Itself press conference held almost a year ago. He looks tired and cold in his blue cap, baggy white shirt and jeans. There remains some energy reserve fueling him, though, because he’s still in a joking mood, exchanging gossip with Hall about something that he heard happened to someone at some bar.

I’m tuning out because, in the distance, I hear the dull whup-whup-whup of a helicopter’s blades spinning. My eyes turn to that Quilted Northern sky and I don’t see any aircraft in sight.

Now…

Panic. Confusion. The sun has set and the outskirts of the PCHS football field is awash in red and blue emergency lights twirling atop of the countless police cars in the area. Then, a blast of exhaust wafts down on a frigid group of onlookers. An Apache helicopter has flown overhead, its downdraft kicking dust up into an already hectic scene.

Welcome to the beginning of the quarantine. Perhaps one of busiest nights on Eisner’s shooting schedule.

I’m tucked away safely by a fence watching this organized chaos. Fourteen school buses line the parking lot to my right. Between this yellow frontline and the football field to my left (where a banner screams, “Welcome to Ogden Marsh H.S.! Home of the Tigers!”) is a series of green and white tents – an interconnecting hive bustling with soldiers, a chain link fence quarantine pen where cold, underdressed townspeople – families – meander about, and two big rigs hauling what appear to be cattle trailers. Look closer and one sees a system here. The people in the pen are being escorted out in a single file line to the trailers. A soldier perched atop a parked Humvee nearby trains his gun carefully on the civilians.

If that’s not menacing enough, military personnel in green Hazmat suits – faces obscured by gas masks – move through the crowd. And above, three helicopters continue to circle the perimeter. Sentinels of the sky with their flood lights and heavy artillery.

This is a far cry from Romero’s vision of The Crazies which had pittance to work with in 1973.

Apparently, what I’m watching is just a test run. Two choppers touch down on the grass a safe distance from the quarantine zone. Eisner is spotted hustling through the swirls of smoke generating from a machine near the football field bleachers. He reaches his place at video village out of this writer’s sight. The helicopters lift off again and a water truck creeps across the parking lot wetting the pavement in its path.

“Here they come!” squawks a crew member’s walkie-talkie and suddenly the helicopters are back, cutting through the air like determined sharks around a life raft. Searchlights swing back and forth across the scene. More school buses are transporting women, children, farmers and fathers to a check-in point by the tents. There they will be tested for infection and separated accordingly.

Later…

I’ll find myself inside the labyrinthine tent system by two monitors. Olyphant, Mitchell and Anderson are here. It’s tight, not much room to move. Sterilization showers are at my back and lines of locals (literally, the woman who checked me in at the hotel is here) serve as extras for the next scene, a feat that will require careful coordination.

The actors leave and find their place on a bus outside. I know this because I’m watching them on a monitor feed. A take is called for and the scene begins. The three are escorted off the bus, through a dense crowd and into the tents. Anderson is separate from Olyphant and Mitchell by soldiers. He goes with resistance. Then Olyphant and Mitchell are guided out of the tents to the quarantine pen. There’s a commotion. They, too, are separated and Olyphant goes apeshit. Something’s not right.

Oh, something to note: This is being done in a single shot.

“Cut” is called and everyone rushes back to their starting places. Eisner and his actors want a glimpse at the playback. The scene is definitely coming together but it needs some finessing. As they continue, I call it a night taken aback by the scope Eisner is reaching for with this remake which opens in theaters on September 25th.

Interviews with the director and his cast can be found via the links below. More from the set of The Crazies is to come when we visit the make-up FX trailer of Rob Hall and chat with actress Danielle Panabaker.

BRECK EISNER (DIRECTOR)

TIMOTHY OLYPHANT (“DAVID DUTTON”)

RADHA MITCHELL (“JUDY DUTTON”)

JOE ANDERSON (“RUSSELL”)


Source: Ryan Rotten, Managing Editor