Last week I was lucky enough to be involved with four other journalists in a roundtable junket interview with the director of World War Z, Marc Forster. We fired off a couple of questions each and this is what Marc had to say about the film. With many Zombie films previously made and with TV shows like The Walking Dead, how do you put out a Zombie film that is different from anything we have seen before?
MF: For me I didn’t see it only as a Zombie movie I wanted to make an apocalyptic thriller, to extend the genre in that sense. I felt like I wanted to create my own Zombies – the way that they move, the make-up – and ultimately have this intimate family story at the heart of the movie and surround it with a large-scale worldwide epidemic.
When you look back to some of your earliest films as a director this is such a long way away from them. Did you ever expect to be going down the action blockbuster route, and in that respect is this something you want to continue?
MF: I love all kinds of genre and mixing it up. Every genre has its own challenge and that’s where my passion lies. I don’t see myself solely as an action director so I will definitely make smaller films again as well, but I was passionate about the subject matter and about the possibilities of creating this blockbuster. On the other hand there was a second tier of social-political backdrop and the opportunity to work with Brad. That combination, I thought, could lead to something interesting. I’m not sure whether I will do more of these movies, as I don’t really plan. My decisions are intuitive. After Quantum of Solace they offered me Skyfall but I didn’t want to do Skyfall. Finally, I had time to develop a script for years, because we only had three months to develop the script for Quantum, and I just wanted to do something else.
How did you balance creating that intense atmosphere with the sensibilities of an accessible mainstream blockbuster?
MF: I wanted to make a movie that felt very real and set in reality. The higher the intensity, the more effect it will have on the audience. I wanted to keep them on the edge of their seat at all times and push the intensity versus the gore. The sound is part of that obviously and I wanted to create a sound language for the Zombies themselves, the way the teeth clatter for instance. Making Brad this family man, this ordinary guy who becomes a reluctant hero, we hoped that audiences could identify with him, while throwing these curveballs of scares which come out of nowhere. The idea was to start when the cop takes off the mirror of the car and keep it up until they get into the aircraft carrier, then give the audience a rest, before starting again when they get to Korea.
What was your Zombie lore and how did you come up with the rules for these particular Zombies?
MF: We started to write down what the rules are, and how I wanted to make them my own Zombies. I went chronologically. Okay, so what happens when they get bitten? I looked at epileptic seizures and how one reacts and I started bringing in these movement artists and asked them to play with the mannerisms. I also looked at how the face changes, and because the eyes are the windows to your soul they had to switch. For the attacks I looked at police dogs, these German Shepherds, when they start to bite someone. They take off with their jaw first. That’s how I started to develop the language of the Zombies, taking notes about how the behaviours and the sounds should be.
The aeroplane sequence was one of the most impressive set pieces. The idea of executing that gives me nightmares. How do you go from idea that in conception, through planning to execution?
MF: The plane sequence was one of easier ones because you’re in a confined space. You’re on a stage so you don’t have any weather issues and you have a certain amount of people. You’re not in Philadelphia or Israel where you are outdoors and have thousands of extras. You have traffic and, helicopters and massive hysteria. That was much harder to do, but with the plane it was certainly more controllable. I shoot everything until he throws the grenade and that’s where I had to break it. That’s a real explosion there. We have some people on wires that we yank out of the plane and then we give the CG team something to work with.
Looking back at the beginning of the production there were some issues with the script and you had to re-shoot some scenes. How much input was there from Damon Lindelof when you bring him in?
MF: Basically, we did the ending. The original ending was a big battle scene, which we shot. It is in the blockbuster vein and everybody wanted a bigger set piece than we already had. I felt like the Israel set piece was big enough, but they wanted a bigger one. I felt like this was too big, and not my style. Most of my movies end very small, introverted and reflective, so I thought before we spend all of this money on CG on the final battle sequence, which was enormous, lets use this money and shoot something very simple at the end. Damon came up with an idea to set it in the World Health Organization. I wanted something with the Zombie alone in a glass box. We thought it would be interesting to have him take a journey to B Wing and find a Zombie there because then you have that tension, like a haunted house. Damon came up with the script. He’s very smart.
Was it tough to convince the studio to do that?
MF: They understood. It was basically the same story line, the Zombies avoiding the sick, in the final battle. We took that and replaced it with the WHO. In the final battle it was him [Gerry] slaughtering Zombie after Zombie and I felt like it was so big and fatiguing. The problem I had with it was that it repeats a similar beat as in Israel, and I felt like the haunted house tension was more interesting at that point in the movie.
I haven’t read Max Brooks’ novel that influences the film, but there are a lot of fans out there in the world? How do you feel they will react to the film?
MF: I would have to say that the film stands on it’s own two legs. It is a companion piece and not an adaptation. I hope they will be okay with that. The book has 54 different accounts of the epidemic and how they survived it and with the film we decided to take a more linear structure, a three-act narrative from Brad’s point-of-view. The book was a great template, but I felt this would be a better way to approach the movie.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
World War Z is released in Australia on the 20/06/2013
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.