Inspired by a heavy dose of "The Walking Dead" fandom and a lot of time to kill working at Ace Hardware, director Jon Hurst set out to make a documentary project for film class, but quickly catapulted into the upper echelons of this year's short films and viral must-sees. The nine-minute mockumentary When the Zombies Come took top honors for documentary film at Dragon*Con last summer before being hand-selected for this year's Sundance Film Festival's Screening Room, a program dedicated to showcasing short works that "tell vibrant tales." After debuting on YouTube last week, the film racked up more than 60,000 views in less than 24 hours before its screening at Sundance in Park City, Utah.
The short feature, full of white noise and a heft of out-of-focus b-roll, chronicles Alex Wagner, an Ace employee, and a handful of other "real life" zombie preppers as they rummage through an odd assortment of undead-slaying tools laying around their place of work, and point out from the rooftop why their Ace Hardware store "in the middle of nowhere" is a perfect spot to camp when the dead start to rise. But the seemingly fictitious backdrop isn't quite so rural. In fact, the video was shot right here in metro Atlanta, at an Ace Hardware in Gwinnett County.
While throngs of Internet gazers have offered thousands of views in approval, Ace's corporate office didn't find it nearly as amusing. In a strongly worded comment left shortly after the YouTube video went live, the company said it was "aghast" and "outraged," among other things, at being included in the film. Its condemnation set off a whirlwind of controversy and trash-talking about corporate America's inability to take a joke.
Ace's communications office hasn't responded to our calls, but "Joey," an associate at the store where the video was shot who declined to give his last name, said Wagner was taking vacation time to attend Sundance Film Fest when we talked.
"I think they're overreacting, honestly," Hurst tells CL. The company has been working feverishly to get the video taken offline, and while Wagner wasn't officially fired, Hurst says they feel the company is trying to make him quit by cutting back his hours. Wagner really does work at Ace, though Hurst doesn't.
When the Zombies Come was just one of the Georgia films screening at Sundance. The Spectacular Now, a feature filmed in Athens, Ga., by Georgia-born director James Ponsholdt, was acquired by big-money production firm A24 Films. While Hurst's film didn't take home any awards or money, the recent film school grad says it was "good experience" and hopefully leads to a full-time gig doing what he loves.
Additional reporting by Wyatt Williams.