Making the zombie film ‘The Dead’ almost turned the two men into zombies themselves.
For their latest project, UK filmmaking brothers Howard J. and Jonathan Ford shared scripting and directorial duties, which is a good thing, considering the experience nearly killed them (and others). The end result is not-so-ironically titled “The Dead,” a zombie epic set in South Africa that’s been called one of the genre’s best in recent years. It hits home video on Valentine’s Day, so share it with the one you love. Until then, here’s our interview with both sibs about making the horror film.
R&R: With so many zombie projects these days, why another one?
Howard Ford: For us, it's our first. We felt it would be different. We hadn't seen a living dead movie in Africa before, and in a way, we were slightly taking the living dead legend back to its roots in Haiti, French-speaking West Africa as well, where we shot the movie. That was very, very difficult to do, but we wanted a journey movie, and it felt different for that reason. It was a film that could hopefully work for people who just wanted to be entertained by the zombie situations and also to find deeper meaning as well.
Jonathan Ford: I felt like this genre of movie had passed without this particular type of movie having being made. An era had passed without all the boxes checked.
Howard Ford: And going back to the classics, as well. We first saw [George A.] Romero's “Dawn of the Dead” when I was 11 and that blew us away. It took horror into the light. And we've seen a few films since then that have been a little more disappointing. There's a formula now: People end up cooped up in a building and zombies try to get in. We said, “No, let's just take people on a journey so they're never in the same location for a few minutes.” That was something we personally wanted to see.
R&R: Shooting in regions that have been described as "life-threatening," what were you thinking?
Howard Ford: Funny, "What were we thinking?" is the opening line of my book I just finished this morning, I kid you not. It comes out in March, but that’s another story. What the hell were we thinking? A movie by British filmmakers in French-speaking West Africa ...
Jonathan Ford: ... with a Canadian vegan lead!
Howard Ford: The whole thing is crazy on paper and it was crazy. I was mugged by knife point on day one in the city and they took everything: my cards, my cash, my driver's license. The police tried to put me in jail for driving without the license taken from me in the mugging. The lead actor, Rob Freeman, nearly died of malaria.
Jonathan Ford: I got malaria, too. Horrific food poisoning. Every meal was like Russian roulette, and that's when you could find a meal. What the hell were we thinking?
Howard Ford: We were often digging for a toilet. There's no facilities there. You dig a whole in the ground and good luck to you. We kind of wanted to have this organic feeling and it became a life-threatening journey.
R&R:How long of a shoot was it?
Howard Ford: Well, it was supposed to be six weeks, but it took us five weeks to get our equipment out of the port.
Jonathan Ford: We were out there for about three months.
Howard Ford: When we did get going after five weeks of waiting on our equipment and paying God knows what every day at the ports, then Rob collapsed with cerebral malaria, convulsing, spent the night on a table covered in his own shit because there was no hospital bed.
Jonathan Ford: Then the doctor said, "He may not pull through. He's going to die in the next two or three days." And then he was on a trip for two weeks, so that's seven weeks down, and we haven't even done anything yet!
Howard Ford: And there's police pointing guns us for money all the time. It was just a living hell.
R&R: The film has been pretty well-received, yet it hasn't been given a large theatrical release in North America? I imagine that has to be frustrating after all that you went through --
Jonathan Ford: Yes!
Howard Ford: We're proud of what we've done, given the circumstances under which we did it, but it got a theatrical release, which is what we wanted, in 20 cities across the U.S.
Jonathan Ford: Unless you've got a big name in your movie, you ain't gonna get a large theatrical release. We accept that's the way the business works. It's not about how good or bad your movie is. It's down to the name thing, and we didn't have a name.
Howard Ford: We didn't have Paris Hilton in it, which is probably a shame …
Jonathan Ford: Steven Seagal.
Howard Ford: We'd love to see it more on the big screen. Audience reactions are really, really good.
Jonathan Ford: Certainly after the heart and soul and pain, and blood and sweat and tears — a lot of blood, sweat and tears — yeah, obviously, you want it to get the biggest exposure you can.
Howard Ford: We didn't shoot digital, so after lugging a 35mm camera across the Sahara Desert under such difficult circumstances — yes, it would've been nice to get it out there more. But hey, if people support the film on DVD and Blu-ray, and we're thoroughly appreciative of everyone who supports the movie by buying it …
Jonathan Ford: Hopefully it finds its audience there.
Howard Ford: ... we'll come back and do it all again.
R&R: You really would do a sequel? Do you have one in mind?
Howard Ford: We talked about the sequel even before the first one. But we had such a horrific experience making the film, which has made us very concerned about it, but yes. What it comes down to is, is there a demand for it? Do enough people buy the DVD and Blu-ray?
Jonathan Ford: It broke my heart, [but] some of my favorite sequences never made it into the film. We could easily pack another movie and hopefully make an ever better one next time.
Howard Ford: The U.S. release [of the Blu-ray and DVD] really has a bearing on all that.
Jonathan Ford: It's kind of hinging on that. It's all or nothing now! —Rod Lott