Walter Mencken 2 p.m., Aug. 22
Interview: Lakeside Filmmaker Paul Blevins Brings Zombies to East County
Paul Blevins has a zombie on his back.
For years he had been wanting to make a horror movie, but needed a spark. A Halloween gala at a friend's house proved to be the foundation for his dream project. While filming a short at he party, Paul found the inspiration to make True Love Zombie, the feature length romantic tale of a husband and wife who refuse to let the fact that he is a zombie get in the way of their love.
Along with wife, Rhonda, who stars opposite her flesh-eating hubby, some friends, and a budget that wouldn't cover the craft services tab for one day on an AIP shoot, the Lakeside resident devoted 1,500 hours of his life to making a monster movie.
As a work of cinematic refinement, it proved to be a great learning experience for the at times aesthetically challenged novice. By Paul's own admission, True Love Zombie was more of a journey than an actual attempt at making a commercially viable work of cinematic art. There are moments in the film that would make Ed Wood chuckle. Paul, too, who has a good sense of humor when talking about his film's shortcomings and the learning curve he was forced to limbo under.
His family moved to San Diego in 1959 when Paul was 2-months-old and he grew up in San Carlos and Lakeside. When not wrangling zombies, Paul is the Chief Financial Officer of an energy efficiency services company in Carlsbad.
Paul is working to arrange a public screening of the film in the near future. If you can't wait that long, you can pick up a DVD copy for $10.95. Click to visit the official website.
How does one segue from energy efficiency expert to ultra-low budget horror filmmaker?
My mom used to love scary movies. When I was 7 or 8-years-old we used to stay up late on the weekends eating popcorn and watching Frankenstein and B horror films. I developed a love for those movies and haven't stopped enjoying them since. The hook dug deep and for decades I wanted to make a movie, but never had the means or the spark to actually do it.
How long did it take to make True Love Zombie?
I started the movie in September of 2010. There was a series of events that caused me to make this movie. My buddy Blake (McCurdy), he plays Dr. Procto in the film, is a big horror movie buff. Since he was throwing a Halloween party, I asked if we could dress up and write a little script and make a scary movie short. He liked the idea, so I sat down to write a few pages and the next thing I knew it was three days later and I had finished up with a feature-length script.
The story essentially wrote itself. I created this backstory about an average guy who met the love of his life, is tragically turned into a zombie, and how the couple dealt with in in a society that doesn't look kindly on walking dead people.
Rhonda seems to adjust to Paul's transformation a little too quickly.
That was probably the second scene we shot and it was choreographed quite a bit. I was going for suspense, wanting the audience to believe that the zombie was going to kill her because in films like this, they always do. You have a point: she does accept him fairly quickly. I cut to another parallel thread in the movie and then later cut back to the scene hoping to show a passage of time.
Where did the combat footage at the beginning of the film come from?
That came off the website DVIDS.gov. It public domain military footage you can pull off your computer. Most of the backgrounds in the green screen were public domain pictures I found while surfing Google.
When we spoke a week ago to arrange the interview, I had only watched the first few minutes of the picture. I mentioned the distracting floating green screen towards the beginning of the film. You assured me that it got better as the film progressed, and you are a man of your word.
When you are just learning how to make a movie, the last thing you want to do is go out and waste a bunch of money. Chances are the limitations of your expertise are not going to enable you to take full advantage of all those resources. By forcing myself into doing pretty much everything by myself, the creative focus was a lot better had I rented a studio at Groovy Like a Movie for $200 an hour.
There were also practical considerations. There were certain limits to what I could do. We made a lot more extensive use of green screen that I would have liked.
There was almost a sense of liberation when you switch from a location shot to an actual bar, not a digital representation.
The bar scene is great. It was so much fun to shoot there. It was the practicality of tapping into your friends as cast and crew members. There was no way I was going to get friends to build sets for me in a warehouse that I rented for a month.
What parts of San Diego did you use as your backdrop?
The bar scene was shot at the La Palapa Mexican Restaurant in Lakeside. The scenes where Paul is wandering around at night were shot in La Mesa on the main drag. The mugging scene was shot in the alley behind my friends' house in La Mesa. The dessert scenes were shot in the Yuha Valley and the boat that Rhonda takes Paul to is my actual boat in Marina Village.
The green screen "locations" were shot in my garage in Lakeside. I went to Video Gear and they were helpful when it came to giving me guidance on how to set up the 8 x 12 green screen. The entire back wall of my garage was one big green screen. The raw footage that I got off of the green screen -- before I learned how to color correct and minimize motion issues -- was horrible. I was particularly disappointed with the poor sound quality.
I used a HD camera, but it wasn't really a professional grade rig. I couldn't control shutter or aperture speed. The objective lens was only 2-inches, so you're not going to get any depth of field. I couldn't use boom mics which was very frustrating, so there are a lot of echos.
In order to get the cast to show up, we had to serve a lot of alcohol. Several hours into the daily shooting, after the cast had imbibed quite a lot, you can hear background noise from the kitchen bleeding into the garage. You can also hear our refrigerator/freezer switching on and off.
How would the film have been different if you played down the camp and made some of the characters more human by not having them parade around in fake teeth and fright wigs? At times it looked a little too much like a live-action version of *Mad Monster Party.*
Since they are all my friends, there was a certain amount of latitude I gave the cast to build their own character. When it came to character design, demeanor, and archetype, I was very hands off. Dr. Procto was the most problematic. Blake had a character identity crisis halfway through the picture.
It is a little disconcerting when Dr. Procto suddenly appears without the wig and stays that way throughout the rest of the picture.
His friends told him he looked stupid in that wig and should have played the doctor more straight. In hindsight, I agree. When it begins, all the technical mistakes make it look campy/stupid. The framing was...I don't know if you watched how I made the movie.
Believe me. I paid attention.
The camera framing was very problematic during the first 25% of the shoot. As the movie progressed, I felt that I was able to give it a more indie feel. When it began, I was not pleased with the campy nature of the film. I toyed with the idea of some re-shoots, but I have close to 1,500 hours into this thing and there becomes a practical limit -- particularly when you have a day job -- to the amount of time you can actually put into making it.
Apart from old movies, what was your one big inspiration when making the movie?
My wife Rhonda, the true love of my life. The main thesis of the movie is how strong love can be. Rhonda accepts Paul unconditionally after he's turned into this hideous beast. Something visceral inside Paul stops him from killing her. If I get some type of incurable disease, will Rhonda still love me? Things like that happen to people on an everyday basis and sometimes their love survives and sometimes it doesn't. A lot of marriages go to hell due to outside pressures that society puts on people. Those kinds of things test love as well.
Rhonda an I actually go back to high school. She was the proverbial girl next door. We wound up finally getting married when we were both around 40-years-old and now we're living happily ever after.
Did the movie put any strains on your marriage?
We almost got divorced three times over this movie. I'm talking serious knock-down-drag-outs with furniture flying around the room.
That's funny. On screen, Paul refuses to bite her while off screen the two of you are acting out *Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf.* How much did it cost to make the movie?
My out of pocket expense is probably around $1,500. I had to rent a light set, I bought green screen equipment, tape props...
Don't forget booze for the actors.
Now we're talking real money!
More like this:
- Interview: John Crowley, director of Closed Circuit — Sept. 4, 2013
- Interview with Starlet director and co-writer Sean Baker — Dec. 4, 2012
- Interview with The Loneliest Planet Writer-Director Julia Loktev — Nov. 7, 2012
- Paul Blevins to unleash True Love Zombie — Oct. 9, 2012
- Wim, Vigor, and Vitality: An Interview with Wim Wenders, Pt. 1 — Feb. 24, 2012