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Howard J. Ford: Director, THE DEAD

February 18, 2013

This is one of the most fascinating interviews I have ever done.


SONY DSC1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of THE DEAD, from concept to financing.

The original concept for The Dead has been brewing for more than 20 years. My brother Jon and I had started making short films on Super8mm not long after my 13th birthday – doing our best to hone our skills and inspired by Romero’s incredible ‘Dawn of the Dead’ which had a huge impact on us, alongside other inspirations outside of the horror genre, we simply wanted to make the Zombie movie we always wanted to see. One that would take place on a journey in a strange land – a survival story. We just didn’t know yet that Africa would be the location to draw us in…

Twenty odd years later we had never made ‘that zombie film’.  The time hadn’t been right and since then I had directed, and Jon had been the Director of Photography on well over 100 TV commercials, shooting for every kind of product you could think of from Guinness to condoms to mobile phones ads… We were flying round the world shooting for large corporations and suddenly it dawned on us that we had ‘sold out’ as we thought we would never do.

Then Jon mentioned the zombie film again and I felt the fire light inside… We had been to parts of Africa a few times to shoot commercials and had seen some real potential, so once we had agreed we would do the movie in Africa I felt we had something a little different and worth risking a successful career over! At first I thought I was going to finance the whole movie but starting with my accountant Amir (now the executive producer) I realised there might be some interest in our crazy adventure as he agreed to match my finance dollar-for-dollar. So I closed the production company doors and off we trekked to West Africa to resurrected our zombies!

2Q: Zombie films are becoming very popular on the big screen these days, and horror films are always popular at Cinequest. How is THE DEAD different from the average zombie film?

It doesn’t matter if you like horror films or not. Or Zombie films either for that matter. I know for certain that ‘The Dead’ is different from every other film out there as it takes place on a journey across locations that you will have never seen before. The cast and crew literally nearly died to get this film in the can shooting in places across rural Africa never featured in movies before including villages that prior to our arrival had not been visited by anyone from the western world, let alone as a setting for a survival zombie road movie…  Audiences can definitely expect to be taken on rollercoaster of a journey across beautiful lands with a good few scares on the way, but I truly hope that people who join us on this strange journey will feel it in their heart as well as the head… I want people to feel a strange mix of beauty and tragedy and even to contemplate their own lives on the way…

3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making THE DEAD?

Ok, lets get the worst experiences out of the way. How much time do you have? Because I could talk to you for days about the horrific time we experienced making ‘The Dead’ and even then we’d only scratch the surface…Firstly, it took 5 weeks to get our equipment into West Africa, and out of the port regardless of how much cash we seemed to part with each day! Bear in mind this is 5 weeks of an intended 6 week schedule with no equipment whatsoever – with an entire cast & crew waiting in hotels that our already tight budget had to shell out for and every day we would return from the port empty handed and much lighter in the pocket. When we did finally get the kit out and started shooting, I was mugged at knifepoint in the local city centre and all my cards, the cash-float for the crew and both my UK & local phones, cards etc taken. Soon after, we were held up by armed police with AK47’s to be taken to jail for driving one of the crew vehicles without the driving licence that had been taken during the mugging!! Luckily we were able to buy our way out of this and also the numerous times we were stopped by armed police throughout the rest of the production – I quite literally developed a bad arm from handing over cash. I am not joking. As if this and the general challenges of the shoot were not enough to deal with, soon after we got rolling, Rob Freeman our fantastic lead actor collapsed with Malaria and put on a drip. He apparently would have been dead within 2-3 days so remained on a drip in a loal Mosquito infested hospital for a further 2 weeks. Add this to the 5 weeks of no equipment and you can imagine the fun we were having…. On top of this, the entire crew were getting ill constantly and my brother Jon and I would have director/DOP type discussions in between bouts of projectile vomiting. Not surprising because we were encountering a lot of real death such as a village hut that features in the film which had pots containing the remains of dead villagers. I remember shooting a low angle shot there and having cockroaches crawling up my legs and nearly reaching places you just don’t want them to reach! These are just the highlights but I’ll reveal more gruesome details in the Q&A at Cinequest for those that come to see it.

Quite honestly the best experience was getting the heck out of there alive! Also, for all the difficulties we faced, the ordinary folk in the villages we encountered were so lovely. Ok, they might slaughter an animal to celebrate our arrival on location (which I’d have to pay for) but that aside, we were filming in and around their homes, their lives and I’ll forever be grateful for them allowing us to come into their world with our crazy concept and for their involvement in ‘The Dead’. Most of these people had never seen cameras before – they didn’t even have electricity which is why when we set a light up and night powered by our generator, hundreds of people would gather from far and wide just to huddle underneath. They had never seen their village lit up at night. Yet all of a sudden they were cast as background extras – zombies or survivors and they really tried their best – it was a surreal experience for them and us. It was an honour to be in a unique position to get cash and supplies to these people as they really needed it and we left after the shoot with a smile and a wave. It was very humbling.

MV5BMTY2MjU1MTEyMF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMTM4ODUyNw@@._V1_SY280_SX184_4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?

Firstly, I want to say that if you just want a straight horror/slasher or a ‘shoot-em-up’ full of funny ‘one liners’ or wall-to-wall action, or you are just interested in seeing blood, guts n gore and not engaging the mind or heart, then you should NOT come and see ‘The Dead’… Yes it’s got some plenty of flesh eating zombies but its about so many other things. It’s a journey and you’ll need an open mind as its going to take you somewhere very different…

5Q: The current market for independent films is fractured, to put it lightly, and existing distribution models grow more ineffective with each passing moment. What are your hopes or plans for distribution?

Yes, the state of the world is sad in so many ways right now and so many markets are not what they used to be; For ‘The Dead’, having had such a tough time making it, my brother Jon and I swore we’d rather shelve the movie than give it away for peanuts and we didn’t trek across Africa shooting in never-before-seen locations lugging 35mm cameras through sweat and African dust just see ‘The Dead’ go straight to DVD either. As a result we have turned down SO many ‘deals’ I think we damn near gave our agents a coronary… Luckily some great distributors have filtered through to share the passion for our unusual movie and it’s now going to hit the big screen in numerous countries including US & UK in the next few months. So, I want to thank everyone who shows up and parts with their hard-earned cash to see ‘The Dead’ and supports independent movies, as without that, it will be dead for sure!!

In the meantime you can see behind the scenes snippets from the shoot in Africa and a trailer at www.thedead-movie.com

Happily, THE DEAD is now available on Netflix and DVD. Don’t miss it, it’s GREAT!

From → Interviews

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