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By Mike Watt | January 19, 2005

Sure. So, what was the inspiration for “Zombie Planet”?
I have always wanted to do a zombie movie. I have loved the genre since the very first time I saw “Dawn Of The Dead”. Over the years I have toyed with different story ideas but nothing seemed to gel for me. After relocating to the Kentucky area and discovering what great interest everyone showed in making independent movies, I decided to start a motion picture studio here. After building a great crew the next order of business was what movie to do first. I went back to my original concept of a zombie movie. Now I had to develop a believable, viable concept. Something different and unique.

I first approached the idea of how would these things come to be. What would cause ‘the zombie plague’? It has always bothered me that most movies never even try to explain how the populous became zombies. Nuclear waste was one attempt? Really? That was pretty weak, wasn’t it? So, I started with the premise of how. Once I had that in mind I began to search for the reason, why would they crave meat to the point that they would eat their own kind? It finally came to me. A diet drug—one that suppresses carbohydrate cravings while boosting cravings for proteins. The perfect diet drug. Think about it. If a company such as Rortek Pharmaceuticals came out with a drug that would absolutely guarantee you the figure you had as a teenager, what would the public do? Well, they would buy it as fast as it could be made. It really would be the biggest selling drug of all time. Everyone on every continent would be on it. Then what happens if the drug proves to be defective? By the time it would be discovered the world would be saturated with the drug to an extent that would devastate the planet. The “zombie plague” would kill millions. Then with the drug infesting every cell the dead would rise again to seek out more protein, more meat.

Now we had a story and a crew. Casting and preparation took months. Building a bleak future world held many challenges but everyone rose to the occasion. This is where true artist come into the picture. We had Linda Goforth, Sven Granlund, Tammy Bonilla and Xyliena Praeter handling make-up and zombie effects. They did a spectacular job. We began using latex effects and then moved onto using foam rubber appliances. We have 78 PLUS full blown zombies in “Zombie Planet”. Fran Rabe who also played Mary supervised and constructed costumes for all 200 PLUS actors. Darrell White and Ronda Baker handled all of the major props and weapons. These included building Adam’s Lair which had a full size throne and stage. The Upper Class was equipped with some fantastic barbaric weapons all constructed and designed by the prop department. The reason I share this is just to show you a fraction of what went into “Zombie Planet” and “Zombie Planet II”. In the end there were over 300 people who worked on these two features in one way or another.”

Whoa. So how close did the finished project come to the movie playing in your head while writing/shooting?
It came out (exactly) like I saw it in my head. I do think that some lighting could have been better and that the finished edit is too long. I will do a directors cut in the future. Overall, though, I am very pleased the way it went from the page to the screen. I am especially pleased with the characters. The actors who portrayed them really did a fantastic job. Frank Farhat did a really understated, heroic Kane. Matt Perry was charming yet evil as Adam. Rebecca Minton brought a pathos to Julie and a human aspect to the dead world of the future. Karl G. Lindstrom as Frank was a totally despicable character. He also is one of the most talented actors I have ever met. I loved what he did with that role. Chris Rose did a wonderful job as Warren. When you look at his performance, remember that he had the task of explaining everything. He had more lines than anyone by far. What a pro, showed up on time and knew every word of every line. Fran Rabe as Mary managed to be menacing and touching at the same time. Matt Shorr was really great as Tom. I defy you to not feel bad when Lugos grabs Dolly. Jon Shelton and Jim Marshall as Stiletto and Ralph have cult status villains written all over them. Mike Van Zant as Gardner, Mike Shose as Valentino, William Harris, Mark Mathern, and of course Billy W Blackwell as Doglouge. And I can NOT forget Mari Stamper as Jamaica, this girl just has star power. I could go on and on but I think you get the point. Good actors make for a good translation from the page to the screen.

That’s very true. What made you decide to go the route you did with talking, fighting zombies, as opposed to the more standard shuffling/groaning variety?
I have often said that I did not start with the concept of the zombies from “Night Of The Living Dead”. This story is “Zombie Planet”. The zombies are created by a diet drug. Any drug affects everyone differently. Some zombies would be slow, some fast, some talk, some do not. Just as in the real world zombies would be different just as people are different. And, of course, the time on the drug would dictate speed and speech. Karl G. Lindstrom, who plays Frank, is also a genetic scientist. We had a great conversation about this and believe me he knows his stuff. I know that the Romero zombie is the standard, but do you understand what standard means? Standard, the same, alike. Do you want all of your zombie features to be cookie cutter movies? Five people in a farm house surrounded by shuffling drooling zombies? If you do, say goodbye to the genre as it will become tired and will eventually cease to be. Every genre evolves and gets better. Even the living dead genre. If you only want the garden variety zombie good for you. I am a fan myself. But, I, as a filmmaker have to push the boundaries a bit.”

Sure. And what were some of the challenges you faced during production? Anything uplifting or heart-rendering you could share with us?
The biggest challenge was putting together a crew from scratch. You see, we did something that most people would tell you never to do. I approached this with the attitude that if you want to be in the movie business we will train you from the ground up. And we did! I would venture to say that 97% of the cast and crew had never been on a movie set before. The disadvantages are no experience; the biggest advantage was no bad habits. It was very hard to show everyone what to do, but they wanted to learn. They wanted to make a good movie. They wanted to succeed. I can now say, proudly, that we have one of the best crews anywhere. I think the desire to want to make movies can be more important than how much experience you have.

The most uplifting part of this story is that we did make a movie with a totally inexperienced cast and crew! An example, Darrell White had always wanted to make props and no one would give him a chance, we did. He is one of the best prop makers in the world! I mean that! I have worked with Hollywood props, his are better! Another, Roy White had never operated a camera in his life, three movies later and he is one of the best in the biz! Russell Coy II, Douglas Campbell and Tammy Bonilla produced like they had done it for years! I remember hearing people scoff at what we were doing and saying that there is no way they can make a movie with an untrained crew. Well, we did and it is on the market for the world to see! You have to always dream and you must never, never, give up. You can do it. We did and now we are getting ready to start our FOURTH feature “The Edison Death Machine”!”

That’s great to hear!
You know, when we started this no one was making movies in this area. Now, there are several production companies! The Film Commission here with Dian Knight and Jim O’Toole were a big help. People really do want you to succeed! From the Film Commission to the Town Council, everyone wants you to make movies! Do not be afraid to ask for help. A few of the other features done in the area are: “Forever In Black Hills” (Excellent!) by Mike and Charles Shouse; “Purvos” by Jerry Williams’ “Shadows Light” by Steven Zimmer; and “Breaking And Entering” by Vin Morrale Jr and VSM Productions. One that really looks cool in production now is Stacey Gillespie’s “In The Eyes Of Darkness”—sort of a “Lord of the Rings” adventure. This just goes to show you that you can make movies anywhere!”

Get the rest of the interview in part three of GEORGE BONILLA: THE LATE, GREAT “ZOMBIE PLANET” EARTH>>>

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