Imagine in a world in which a weekly television show is set after the zombie apocalypse, in which you get to meet new zombies and survivors on a regular basis, and follow your four main characters as they routinely destroy the undead.
Sadly, this is not the world we live in, otherwise Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick's pilot would have been picked up by a network that would have immediately become the best ever. Luckily for us though, that failed TV pilot became what we now know as Zombieland, the hilarious horror comedy coming out this weekend, in which Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin play a quartet of survivors making their way across the country and kicking zombie ass along the way.
I got on the phone with Wernick and Reese earlier this week to talk about the process of making Zombieland's hourlong pilot into the movie we now see, making your zombie movie hero a neurotic nut, and why an amusement park is the best place to stage a zombie battle. Zombieland opens tomorrow.
So how closely does the movie resemble the TV show you guys wrote at first?
Rhett: What we had in mind [for the TV show] was starting with four characters who were very dissimilar, so they would necessarily butt heads, and we wanted to slowly introduce new characters as we moved forward, and either kill them off or let them survive. But the freewheeling nature of the first hour of the movie was very much what we intended to extend out to a full season.
Paul: Obviously there was a lot less gore for television. The set pieces got bigger and badder as it moved to a feature.
Rhett: You'll also see some vestiges of the idea we had for the pilot in the movie. For instance, the zombie kill of the week. That was going to be every week in the television show, whatever the zombie kill of the week was. We also had a segment that we called viewer e-mails, which would be Columbus and Tallahassee responding to purported viewer mail.
When you're writing Columbus, you're writing inside the head of a guy who's kind of strange. How hard was it figuring out that voice?
Paul: That voice was actually Rhett Reese's voice. Rhett Reese is very much Columbus. I think it was very easy to tap into for both of us.
Rhett: Yeah, I am a very neurotic person, and have been my whole life. One of the reasons we wrote this is we thought, wouldn't it be fun to take someone who is naturally scared and place them in the scariest envrionment in the world, and the discover that the fact that they're a scaredy-cat ends up helping them and becoming an adaptive strategy for survival in a violent environment. Because Columbus is the kind of character who always runs from things, we needed to pair him with a character who always runs into danger, and that was Tallahassee. Once we found that pairing it made sense. We had an inherent push-pull that worked nicely.
When you're putting the script together, how do you balance the zombie elements and the road trip elements?
Paul: More than anything, the story we wanted to tell was a story about a dysfunctional family. The fact that they're traveling on the road was helpful, and zombies obviously provided us the antagonist that we needed, provided stakes. Essentially Zombieland is a movie about a dysfunctional family learning to get along, and just happens to be in a post-apocalyptic world with zombies.
Ruben said that Wally World from Vacation resonated for him when it came to crafting the finale.
Rhett: I wouldn't say we were thinking about Vacation. More than anything we were looking at the rides as an interesting opportunity for creative violence. It became a wonderful sandbox full of a lot of unique toys. The original thing was set at a gas station. It just didn't have quite the same breadth and scope as the amusement park. You've got swings hitting zombies, Woody riding through the air shooting things. That was a wonderful thing we were able to do in the movie version that we would not have been able to do budgetarily in the television version.
Is Earth vs. Moon the next thing you're doing?
Paul: We're in the middle of Earth vs. Moon. We're writing a second draft for Universal and Scott Stuber, so that's in process. With the success of Zombieland and people around town responding so well to it, we've got a lot of different things. We've been kept pretty busy riding the Zombieland wave.