Image Entertainment recently released Dead Season on DVD and I had a chance to talk with the film’s writer/producer Loren Semmens. For those who are unfamiliar with the film, it is a zombie movie that takes place mostly on an island and I had a chance to learn about the difficulties of filming on Vieques, creating a zombie movie on a budget, and the possibility of a sequel:
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Can you tell me how this project first came together?
Loren Semmens: Adam (the director) and I had always wanted to make a zombie film together. We took a trip to Vieques, the island where we shot the film, and thought it was a fantastic background for a zombie movie. We figured this was the time to do it and I raised some money. We wrote the script and we got started in less than a month.
I actually think I’m familiar with the area you were filming in. Is Vieques the island near Puerto Rico?
Loren Semmens: Yeah, it is a tiny island off the coast of Puerto Rico that has a history of being used as a military base by the navy.
When did filming take place?
Loren Semmens: Principle photography started in November 2010, but that wasn’t the entire movie. We wound up shooting over the next year, as we raised a little bit more money to finish up the story.
Were there any difficulties in being allowed to shoot a zombie film on the island? What other challenges did the location provide?
Loren Semmens: From a permanent filming standpoint, it was easy. They elected a new government official who was really into the idea of filming a zombie movie. Vieques is really picky with people shooting there because there are media outlets who want to cover the bombing history the Navy has over there.
Luckily for us, they let us come in, but shooting in that island is almost like a warfield. We didn’t know if we were going to stand on a landmine or something like that and it wasn’t a production-friendly environment. We were also there during hurricane season.
Aside from environment, the locals were awesome. Fifty percent of the zombies in the movie were people from the island. It was really cool that they accepted us into the community.
Where many zombie films end with the main characters trying to reach an island or some kind of haven, most of your film takes place there. Was that always the plan or did it change when you visited Vieques?
Loren Semmens: The entire reason we went to Vieques was to location scout for a completely different movie we were developing. It was a buddy comedy that was supposed to take place on a remote island. When we arrived there, it was completely different then we thought it would be.
If you ever have an opportunity, definitely visit Vieques, because it’s unlike anywhere else in the world. It’s really bizarre, yet extremely beautiful at the same time. Because of that, we thought it was a perfect place for a zombie movie. The idea was birthed from the location as opposed to the other way around.
Aside from the location, what goals or ideas did you have to take the traditional zombie story in new directions?
Loren Semmens: One goal of ours was to focus on a story that takes place at least a year after the initial outbreak because many films take place on day one. Naturally, we were trying to figure out how many people would have already died, what areas would be safe, and implement real world scenarios when telling the story. As a result, we felt there would be more of a focus on other humans as the aggressors as well as the zombies. New communities and cultures are popping up that are hostile to our characters.
I felt that the gore in this film really stood out from many of the independent zombie productions I’ve seen. Who did you work with for the special makeup effects and how did you accomplish this kind of detail?
Loren Semmens: We actually went with an interesting route for the special makeup effects. We vetted a bunch of people who have experience with horror movies, but opted for someone who has never done a feature. His name is David Lee Smith and his job is making prosthetics for the government. He would be hired by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to give tutorials. For example, if someone was in a meth explosion, he’d show what the skin would look like and what injuries they would sustain.
When he showed us his photos, it was truly disgusting. From a realistic standpoint, we knew he had it down . It was just whether or not he could handle ridiculous production hours and he was awesome. Our gore is a bit different from other films because he came at it from a different perspective.
We also did most of our effects practically. There was very little CG blood and things of that nature. We tried to do everything on camera when we could.
The movie leaves the story open for a sequel. Is that something you’re interested in exploring?
Loren Semmens: Yes, but it would depend on the success of the film. We already have some ideas for what we’d like to do to take this to the next level. If we see that there is a demand for it, we’d totally be down. The one thing we’d like is more money to make it, because it makes life a lot easier.
What was the budget for the film and what advice do you have for independent filmmakers looking to make a zombie movie on a low budget?
Loren Semmens: We shot the film for less than $500,000 and I feel the best thing to do is to write around what you already have. For example, we had Vieques so we tried to structure the story around locations that existed. We built scenes around a massive warehouse and a pier, eliminating all potential location costs, which can be massive.
What are some of your favorite zombie films and the movies that helped inspire Dead Season?
Loren Semmens: Definitely Dawn of the Dead, the original, is one of my favorites. Obviously, The Walking Dead TV show is great. One show that I don’t think gets respect for its zombies is Game of Thrones because it has a whole zombie element to it. I think that’s really cool.
“When a worldwide viral outbreak leads to a plague of zombies, two survivors flee the chaos of America to a remote island, hoping for a chance to start a new life. What they find is unrelenting horror. Beyond the hordes of the flesh-hungry undead, the other people already on the island force the pair into a fight-or-die battle amongst themselves. Armed only with crude weapons, they must descend into savagery and cutthroat tactics just to make it through each day. Packed with cutting-edge action and insane gore, Dead Season is a riveting new spin on the zombie genre!”