This week, Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, the creators of Zombieland, spoke to the press about their latest trip to the land of the dead: A new pilot episode at Amazon.
Zombieland is being made available for free on Amazon Instant Video and LOVEFiLM UK. Customers are invited to view the pilots and then review them on the site; customer feedback will help determine which of the 13 pilots Amazon Studios will make into full-season productions, to air on Prime Instant Video.
After the jump, the writers discuss Zombieland’s leap from the big screen to the small…
Question: It’s kind of widely known that Zombieland started as a television pilot. Why don’t you give us a little bit of the history of how it began and how it has evolved to where it is now on Amazon?
Rhett Reese: Well we always intended Zombieland to be a television series. And we originally sold a pilot script to CBS back in 2005. They decided not to make it which was a blessing in disguise because that pilot script we ultimately expanded into the move Zombieland. When Zombieland came out and succeeded as it did there was a lot of talk of a Zombieland 2, a sequel. And we tried very, very hard to make that happen. Unfortunately the movie gods didn’t smile on us. We had a few key departures and any number of factors that played into Zombieland 2 not happening. And at that moment we decided well why not go back to our original passion and our original vision which was to make Zombieland into a TV series. And we found, you know, a partner in Amazon to do that. And now we’ve brought out the pilot. So that’s a little bit of a rough chronology of how it’s all come down.
Question: What was the decision as far as bringing back the same characters. Why bring back the same characters from the movie instead of like recasting or coming up with like a new batch of characters within the same Zombieland?
Rhett Reese: I think the biggest reason we brought back these specific characters is to us Zombieland really is these characters. You know, if – without Tallahassee, Wichita, Little Rock and Columbus I think Zombieland really wouldn’t be much more than a title and a tone. And it would be — I’m trying to think of something analogous — but it would be, you know, like bringing – watching the Odd Couple movie and then doing the Odd Couple TV show and not having it be Felix and Oscar, having it be two other random – another odd couple of two different people. It just didn’t make sense to us. Like we always loved these characters. You know, they were the reason we wrote the movie in the first place. It’s about a dysfunctional family. It’s about a fearless guy paired with a fearful guy. It’s about two really live-by-their-wits con artist sisters. And at its heart we just didn’t want to stray from that. We didn’t want to create a bunch of new characters. Now obviously what that then created was this, you know, comparison between new cast and old cast which I think is – you know, we think is incredibly unfair in the sense that, you know, obviously our first cast was tremendous. You know, we had four academy award nominees in Zombieland the movie. And it’s clearly impossible to replace those actors and the indelible market they left. That said there’s a long history of parts both on stage and in TV shows that have become movies and movies that have become TV shows going in each direction of parts being played by multiple different actors. That is a precedent that has, you know, definitely come long before Zombieland. And we think we found a tremendous cast, people who really captured the essence of the characters without imitating the actors who came before them. And we’re very, very proud of them. And we just want everyone to give them a chance and to – and our feeling is if the more time they spend with them the more they’re going to love them and the more they’re going to embrace them.
Question: Are you really planning on exploring a lot of the country? Will we get to see a lot of this world that maybe didn’t quite make it into the original pilot and then feature movie? And on top of that can you speak to how working with Amazon impacts the amount of gore that you’re able to show versus you know, a regular network?
Paul Wernick: Well absolutely. I mean, we do envision this as a road show that we’re going to, you know, be heading east and traveling towards Detroit, towards, you know, the East Coast and Fisher Island to this, you know, safe community. So absolutely. We feel that actually going on the road and shooting it in location, you know, to location, Vegas hopefully being the next spot we hit and, you know, hitting, you know, spots along the way like, you know, Mt. Rushmore and, you know, Graceland. And, you know, again we have to kind of chart it out on a map. But absolutely. This inherently is a road show and I think we, you know, ideally would love to take the production on the road. As far as gore, I mean, you know, I don’t think we got overly gory in the movie. I think we tried to maintain that same level of, you know, horror and comedy and heart, you know. The tone of the movie I think we tried to maintain in the pilot. Amazon – basically their edict was, you know, make the show that you want to make. Make Zombieland. And so as far as gore goes, you know, I think, you know, we do see some blood and, you know, guts and, you know. But that’s all, you know, part of the tone of the show and something that Amazon encouraged.
Question: With each episode seemingly being in the 30-minute format were you envisioning the show to be more of a horror sitcom type of show? Is that how you’re looking at it?
Paul Wernick: No not really. Again, I think there’s really nothing like it on TV right now just in the half hour space. It’s not a sitcom. And so, invoking the horror and the comedy and the heart and the drama and the scares and then the thrills and chills, you know, we – there’s really no category I think for what we’re trying to do or no model for what we’re trying to do in the half hour space which is what’s exciting for us. There was a discussion when we first conceived or were thinking about doing the show in this – you know, incarnation. And it was well should we do an hour or half hour. And we very intentionally – Rhett and I very intentionally chose the half hour space because it did feel trailblazing to us. It did feel unique.
Question Can you talk a little bit about finding the balance between honoring the movie while keeping the TV series its own entity?
Rhett Reese: Yes, I mean, ultimately really we’re trying to recreate the movie without imitating the movie if that makes sense. Again we want to try to capture the tone of the movie which is both, you know, dramatic, scary and funny in theory with the emphasis on the funny. We want it to have a heart the way the movie did. We want the relationships to play out similarly to how they were playing out in the movie and how they would have played out in movie sequels which is, you know, a father-daughter relationship that developed between Tallahassee and Little Rock and a romance that developed between Columbus and Wichita. So really we are – and then we’re bringing back a lot of elements from the movie like the rules and the zombie kill of the week. We have a lot more of those in store not just rules and zombie kills of the week, but also a lot of other fun little kind of – I hate to say – use the word gimmicks because it sounds gimmicky, but a lot of different elements that will bring new graphics and just new fun runners and jokes that we always had intended to bring in. But I think overall we’re not trying to imitate the movie or do exactly what we did in the movie. But we are trying to make it feel like it’s of a consistent tone and world.
Paul Wernick: I would say is that really the – if you think of Zombieland the brand think of the movie as the pilot episode of the show. And now we’re continuing on and telling, you know, more stories. You know, the movie ends. They’re at Pacific Playland. They get in the car and they’re hitting the road. And really, you know, the movie was essentially episodes 1 and 2 of the show put together. And now we’re basically hitting the road on episode – essentially episode 2 or episode 3 depending on how you look at it. So it’s – and we’re not necessarily trying to emulate it as much as we are just trying to continue to tell that, you know, serialized story that we wanted to tell of a dysfunctional family coming together and trying to survive in a world of zombies.
Question: Do you have any plans or have you given some thought to perhaps a series of surprise cameos as part of your storylines? Or is that part of your process or part of your vision?
Rhett Reese: It’s a very good question. And the answer is absolutely yes. We will likely see a celebrity cameo down the road. It’s tough to predict who it will be because celebrities are notoriously hard to pin down and convince. And their schedules are always difficult and getting them in. And, I mean, getting Bill Murray into the movie was an absolute miracle. It was a Hail Mary that largely was a function of Woody Harrelson knowing Bill Murray personally and asking him if he’d be willing to do it and us finding a little window in his time and getting him the script. And it was crazy. It was very lucky. He got the script about three days before he showed up on set. It was that touch and go. Anyway so yes we absolutely plan to do it. It may be difficult to find the right person and we won’t do it unless it is the right person. But we’re going to try hard.