From Buster Keaton's Haunted House and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein to Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein, Sam Raimi's Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn and Edgar Wright's Shaun of the Dead, humor and horror have gone hand-in-glove since the advent of film.
Laughter has an uncanny knack for diffusing tension. A crafty filmmaker can prey on the heightened state of attention the audiences pays to the genre by subverting expectations with a well-placed joke.
Hitchcock knew this best of all. While his stabs at pure comedy missed the target, the humor he squeezed from his thrillers is dazzling.
A local Web series by creator/writer/producer/director Elizabeth Stacy, titled Zombie Socks: The Series, follows in this tradition. Set sometime after the Zombie Apocalypse, each webisode is shot in the style of a popular unscripted television show.
Stacy overcomes her limited resources with ambition, organization, and a practical flair for creative problem-solving that led her to apply for Zombie Socks to become the first series to become a post-merger SAG-AFTRA new media production in Georgia. CL caught up with Stacy to ask her a few questions about the show.
What is it with Atlanta and zombies?
I think we have to start by thanking [AMC's hit television series] "The Walking Dead" for the current Atlanta enthusiasm for the undead. It's simply the most popular supernatural subject matter in the state.
Everybody loves zombies! The fact that they film just outside of Atlanta makes it feel like the cast and crew are more open and accessible to their fans.
They are some of the nicest people I have ever met in the entertainment business.
What inspired the series?
Some friends asked me if I was going to make a zombie film. It was honestly the last thing I wanted to do. The market is so saturated with every possible incarnation of the undead. I am such a big fan of the genre, I wasn't sure how I would approach the subject. I gave it some serious thought and decided if I were going to go zombie, I would have to make it completely different. That's when the concept for "Zombie Socks Series 1: Undead Rental" was created.
I started with a basic storyline and broke it down into episodes, or "socks," as we call them. I met with my friend, published author Michael Boylan, about developing a few scripts from my outline. He immediately came on board as head writer and before Dragon*Con 2012 we had three finished scripts, plus the premise for a music video parody.
I made some incredible contacts through the production class offered as a part of the Dragon*Con Film Festival. From there we built a production team including my right hand Amanda Cape, a repeatedly featured zombie on "The Walking Dead"; Cujo Cooley, who handled onsite sound for The Hunger Games; and a handful of other incredibly talented people. Everyone involved in the production came from Georgia except for John Wayne, our amazing special effects makeup artist, who traveled all the way from St. Louis!
We utilized various groups on Facebook to post our casting calls, and though the response wasn't overwhelming, we honestly recruited the exact right people for the project. As we finished the casting process we decided to participate in a monthly networking event called Get Connected. That turned out to be one of the best investments of our time. There we met our cinematographer, Matthias Saunders, our post sound production team, Krista and David with Earmark (formerly D2ThaJ Productions), and several more cast and crew members.
We began filming in October 2012 with episode 2, "The Undead Hunter," at Third Ward Park across the street from my house in Griffin, approximately 50 miles directly south of Atlanta. The following day we shot episode 1, "Undead Rental Zombie Staffing."
All our locations to date have been in Griffin, Ga., and have been donated by friends or family, and the entire cast and crew are 100 percent volunteer.
We use Gofundme for crowd-funding and other donations to purchase props and craft services.
Everyone pitches in to make this show happen, and even if we run across problems, they seem to just work themselves out.
It has taken a great deal of work to get this far, though we continually seem to be in the right place at the right time. This is especially true for our "Disgusting Careers" episode. I had been following comedian Ryan Singer on Twitter for a year or so, and when I wrote this particular script, I knew I wanted him to play Ascher Crowe. I simply sent him a Tweet saying I wanted to put him in my zombie show and he responded with an OK. He came on board as a part of the show in September, and our only issue was figuring out how to raise the funds to get him here from Los Angeles, Calif.
We put the shoot on hold and in early December we found out he was going on the Organic Comedy Tour, which would pass through Atlanta in February. It was a truly incredible experience. Ryan fit right into the family and was such a trooper with the cold!
Episodes are 90 percent scripted, still allowing the actors to make the characters their own with a little improvisation. The interview "socks" that accompany the pieces are 100 percent improv.
One important aspect to the series is that we never give a definite cause for the zombie apocalypse, so the actors can develop ideas unique to each character.
What are the differences shooting for Web vs. shooting for a television or film (festival) audience? Are there special technical considerations? Legal? Casting? Etc?
There isn't much difference in shooting a short film for festival release and shooting a single episode for a Web series. It is essentially the same process, since one of our goals is to submit some or all pieces to various festivals. We have already been screened in a few venues to date.
The major differences in Web series and TV production are time and budget. We shoot on weekends, as many of us have full time jobs; we have no budget to speak of, and don't have any studio space readily available. We use what we have available and we make it work. Most TV shows have budgets and a much longer shooting schedule. We shoot an entire episode in a day. This may even be in multiple locations. The only way this works is to stay on schedule.
It's important as a producer and director to respect the time of my cast and crew because they are volunteering. I make sure we get everything we need in the time frame we have by being prepared. I take time in advance to plan all of my camera shots and blocking. Actors and essential crew get this information prior to arriving on set. Apparently, this is rare in the local Web series community, where I am told people tend to "wing" it. I come from a musical theater background, so I'm all about planning. I even go over the schedule first thing before we begin our shoot day, so everyone knows exactly where and when they are needed.
We utilize locations and actors according to their specific availability. This comes down to scheduling. I know exactly what I want and we work seamlessly together to get it done!
I allow time and opportunities for the cast to express their creativity. For example, the chop shop scene in "Disgusting Careers" was developed by Jason and Rachel while the rest of us were shooting the opening of the show. They showed me what they came up with and I had to keep it. It was hilarious!
With regards to legal issues, our approach to production changed when we began preparing to film in December because we wanted to bring in SAG actor, Lawrence Van, to play our lead. This meant we had to comply with union regulations. I had heard that it would be a long and difficult process and was more trouble than it was worth. This is a huge misconception! With help from the Atlanta SAG-AFTRA office and a hand from Lawrence, we walked through the whole process seamlessly. Within two weeks our paperwork was filed, approved, I was assigned a rep out of L.A., and the entire "Zombie Socks Series" became a union new media production.
They were so enthusiastic about the show that they even waived all the fees for me.
This means we can hire any actor we want, and all actors receive credit toward SAG eligibility. Even if they are not getting paid for their time, they benefit from credit that helps further their careers. I encourage Web series producers to do the same. If you have a zero budget production, it makes sense to take care of your cast. In return, they want to continue working with you!
Is creating something for Web an end unto itself? Or is there a greater goal? What's the ultimate aspiration for the series for you and for those working on it? Is there a plan to monetize this?
I believe that the movement to Web is expanding at such an amazing rate that the possibilities for a Web series are limitless. Smart TVs, gaming consoles, smart phones, tablets, ROKU boxes, and so forth have brought Web access to the home entertainment center. To consider it an end unto itself isn't the reality. We have already expanded beyond our YouTube channel onto Webseriesnetwork.com, and soon we plan to expand to a few other outlets.
The ultimate goal is to make something simple, intelligent, and funny. There is so much lowbrow humor that it seemed a fitting time for bringing back well-written, fairly family-friendly comedy. I created a show I would want to watch. Most of the actors have great aspirations for fame. I can't speak for them individually, but I wish to continue to produce a show that they are proud to be a part of, that showcases their talents.
I love when the cast and crew find further success outside of the show. I would love it if "Zombie Socks" got picked up by a network or distributor. It would mean an opportunity to have a functional budget to work from, and could help us take the production value to the next level.
Up to this point, we have been fortunate to have a lot given to us in the way of crew talents, post-production, and music from local artists like Sol Junky.
Realistically, we will have to start paying people with more than food and credits.
We are in the process of becoming partners with Yahoo! Once the last of our paperwork is finalized, we will be able to begin monetizing episodes and extras. It may not be a great deal of money, but we are truly grateful for what we do have and will continue to put it to use as effectively as possible.
Thus far, you've focused on the reality-show format - including episodes spoofing "Crocodile Hunter" and "Dirty Jobs," as well as cribbing the meta-mock-doc reality of "The Office." Meanwhile, actual reality shows are pushing the boundaries of absurdity. Is it even possible to parody a form that has become utterly insane?
It's a cliche because its true: write what you know. We are huge fans of the shows we've parodied. We know the shows well enough to develop scripts incorporating their elements easily with our ideas. Simplicity is key. I chose the reality format because it is the easiest to replicate with zero budget.
We have a few interesting developments currently. The next episode, launching at the end of April, deviates from our original course. As we have laid the groundwork for the Undead Rental Corporation in episodes 1-3, we begin to explore a slightly different arena geared toward television. Episode 4 - "Piranha Bowl" is a parody of two shows, "Shark Tank" and "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo."
It will have our first "mini" commercial for a "real/fake" product developed specifically for the show, and will star our first full SAG actor, Lawrence Van. I taught myself how to edit with Premiere Pro about two years ago and up till now I have done the majority of the post work other than sound. Thanks to an introduction from Nicole Hankerson, of C.C. Productions 803 LLC, I enlisted the talents of Nick Anderson with Cinevation Media, to help edit and produce post sound on "Piranha Bowl."
I am just as excited as everyone else is to see the finished product.
Future plans include an episode entitled "Ground Z.E.R.O. (Zombie Emergency Response Operations)," which is being written now, a Katy Perry music video parody, collaborations with other Atlanta-based Web series like Upyri, parodies of "Pawn Stars" and spin-offs from that, as well as "Face Off," "Project Runway," "Toddlers & Tiaras" with more guest stars, and more "commercial spots" from satisfied UR customers.
The possibilities are truly limitless!
The next big addition to the "Zombie Socks Series 1" is still in its infancy.
I am working with local Griffin artists and writers developing a companion comic which we will use to explore individual character back stories and scripts that would be, with our current budget restrictions, too elaborate to physically produce.
The plan is to eventually make it available digitally on our Web site once we have that up and running.
Right now you can contact us with any questions or comments at email@example.com.
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