I had to die, go six feet undercover, and come back again as a zombie to meet some of the kindest people I could never imagine.
Walking onto the set of CJ Hutchinson’s Masked Maniac vs The Zombies set I immediately felt relaxed, like I was supposed to be there because I, like the rest of the cast, was immediately taken care of – but not coddled. We were there for a reason. We had a job to do.
For someone who’s placing his livelihood in the hands of a few well trained actors and a bunch of first-time volunteers, CJ was an incredibly relaxed director.
He’s someone who didn’t demand respect but offered friendship and was given it in return.
CJ filmed his movie with planned spontaneity. He knew what points A and B were, and he knew how to get there but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t stop along the way for improv or additions.
At one point filming stopped and CJ called out a better line was needed for a scene between Gonzo the Destroyer and a older lady with the mouth of a trucker-sailor. Brennan Kennedy, one of the youngest cast members, said he had a good idea and CJ took the time to listen as if the opinion of one small kid actually mattered.
Even though he lost three main actors in the year it took to produce the movie CJ, never let the stress show on set. Drew Penner, one of the actors who wasn’t able to make the filming, built such a relationship over the course of an audition and limited contact that he showed up on the last day of filming to support CJ in an area he needed most, zombie extras.
Being on set was like being at summer camp, there was a time to get down to business and there was a time for 30-plus zombies to break out the chicken dance with the camera still rolling, just because they could.
The small-budget indie movie was exciting and the hours seemed to melt away in the blink of an eye. Yes, there were hours of waiting around, decaying in the hot sum, yet nobody complained of boredom.
Those sitting on the sidelines awaiting their next scene were too busy forming new friendships with other cast members or watching the magic of a movie – shot disjointed, out of order and riddled with flying intestines – to think about how long the days really were.
Most of the time, while dragging my undead legs through a field, sweating under pounds of liquid latex and itchy fake blood, I forgot I was in Ponoka even though McDonald’s was right behind me.
Instead I had been transported into history where a legacy was being written before my very eyes. Helping make the eighth installment of CJ’s legacy began a new part of my own. Years from now, when I have my own kids I can show them I was a zombie who had her head smashed off with a folding chair – and how cool will that be?
This movie is also working to breathe new life into Ponoka. CJ wrote the movie with the town specifically in mind.
One woman, after having her face made up in full zombie goriness, headed off to the nearest gas station to use the bathroom despite the fact the movie’s base camp was a motel. I could be wrong but I’m sure a part of her wanted to get off site for the thrill of others viewing her in all her undead glory.
And she wasn’t the only one excited to take a tour of the gas station or Tim Hortons for simple needs –along with a bathroom the motel also food and drink for the cast and crew.
Masked Maniac vs The Zombies will hit at least two festivals in the United States, putting Ponoka on the map in a whole new way, something that can’t be bad for a town with Ponoka’s floundering economic vitality where empty buildings as vacant as the eyes of a zombie plague downtown.
CJ’s been burned before by bad reviews, not everyone seems to understand acting is just an act.
Even when a kid is killed off, something he feels as a director people don’t appreciate, it’s not a permanent state.
Another main cast member was overheard saying she made more tips as a waitress with her hair worn slightly longer and not in a faux hawk. This, coupled with the fact that in response to last week’s edition, five women contacted the Ponoka News complaining about the “violence” of the front page, which was one of the tamest pictures taken from the shoot, leads me to believe Ponoka is fairly conservative town.
Ponoka should be revelling in the talents of one of their own, not trying to tame or hide them, especially when he’s bringing in business.
Although images of zombies and other movie characters may be scary, they’re much less devastating than actual accident scenes. I don’t know too many seven-year-olds out there who read the newspaper cover to cover and if parents don’t want their children seeing the images they are the ones in control who can censor that child’s world. The world cannot be expected to censor itself based on the views of a few.
There are scant places I could name where I’ve been as comfortable with myself as I was on that set.
Sitting with a lead go-go girl’s companion, a complete stranger whose name I never found out, I found myself having a relaxed conversation ranging from people who forget to do up their pants zippers, to politics and never once feeling uncomfortable. Being a part of the movie makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger but still value as an individual.
Being undead was not an unhealthy place to be.