Interviews: Director Breck Eisner, Production Designer Andrew Menzies, and Special Make-Up Designer Rob Hall

     April 14, 2009

Written by Matt Goldberg

Director Breck Eisner

Best known for his work on the 2005 Matthew McConaughey flick “Sahara”, Breck Eisner is the first major player we meet when we arrive on the set and he makes sure he can talk to us while he’s still energetic and clear-headed before the grueling and complicated shoot he has ahead of him that night.

On approaching the remake and the fundamental changes to the story:

“Any time you do a remake or a reimagining, you want to have target aspects of the movie that they didn’t have when they first made it. My theory is they should have something they couldn’t do the first time around that you could do differently. It’s not like you’re just redoing Psycho or redoing a perfect film. Romero obviously had limitations in terms of the budget. He had $275 grand to make the entire movie. We’re obviously spending more money than that. It’s not a big-budget movie, but we have bigger assets so that we can represent the government with the scale and force that it needs to be in a movie like this. It’s this oppressive and realistic force.”

“There is no military point-of-view. The original script was mostly military and it was more of an action movie. When I came on the movie, I wanted to get rid of the point of view of the military. Any time you [have that], it goes away from horror and it goes to action, Bourne Identity kind of action. To me it was much more interesting being in the point of view of our townsfolk and with this oppressive, nameless, faceless force of the military and the bio-containment suits wandering around. That’s putting them through the terror [along with] the other infected Crazies that are roaming the town.”

On the social commentary in this updated version:

“There’s a bunch of commentary we’re hoping to make. For me, there’s this sense of Augden Marsh, which is the name of the town where our heroes live, as this idyllic place but we’re not painting it in a perfect landscape. The idea is that the characters are natural and real but underneath there are these competing agendas and human qualities. A lot of times small town people say, ‘Oh it’s perfect, everything ideal and like the ‘50s and everything back then was so easy’ but that’s not the reality. The idea for me was of this disease, when you get infected, it unlocks these deep latent qualities in people and it brings them to the forefront. There are these hunter characters, for example, who we meet when they are in the act of actually hunting and they stumble on a plot point. Those hunters will come back in the movie infected. It’s not a zombie movie, it doesn’t turn them into creatures of a certain agenda. You maintain your identity to a degree or your drive or your persona. It just becomes extremely heightened and focused to a point of almost absurdity.”

“This project definitely began under the regime of George Bush. There is definitely a social commentary to the feeling of the use of military as a machine and the ends justifying the means.”

“There is a clear delineation between the soldier ordered to do something and the mechanism of the military used to accomplish an ends.”

“The times we are living in are kind of similar to the time when Romero made it and it felt like the time was right to make this.”

What is the physical transformation of the infected?

“There are five stages of The Crazies. The first is before anything happens, the fifth is when you’re dead. The second stage is a performance-based craziness which is somebody you know acting differently but not looking differently at all. The next two stages are various levels of physical differences.”

“The challenge for us was making them look interesting and iconic but not like zombies and not so far over the top that you don’t believe that it could be a sickness that made this happen.”

“We had a lot of references. We used Ebola, Rabies, Tetanus. There are a couple of other disease references. We went through these really horrific books. We took Steven Johnson Syndrome and said, ‘What if instead of weeks it took 12 hours.’ But by the end of the movie it’s quite pronounced.”

Why Georgia?

“Tax breaks. But also, for us, I really wanted the wide open plains. It takes place in Iowa and we are doing two weeks [there] starting Tuesday. What worked nicely here is we could have that same scope. There are wide open spaces and old houses and this school (Peach County High School) and a truck stop and a car wash. It fits the look of the movie.”

“I wanted this idea that our heroes are not trapped in small boxes, but open spaces that go on for miles and miles and miles. There’s literally nowhere to hide.”

“The problem with setting it in Georgia is there is a lot of forests so characters would be able to hide. I wanted it to be open with this terror in these open fields where there is no place to hide.”

“It’s horrific and graphic, but I wanted a real quality to it. We’re not shying away from blood and blood hits, whether it’s an entry wound. Its visceral.”

“There is a lot of scope to the movie and we don’t have a lot of time or money. Most of it comes down to schedule.”

“We talked to the CDC about how they would do a containment and what accelerated diseases could cause this. And then we’ve talked to military in terms of the containment.”

Andrew Menzies, Production Designer

Andrew Menzies has worked on some massive blockbuster films including “A.I. Artificial Intelligence”, “Terminator: Rise of the Machines”, “War of the Worlds” and James Cameron’s upcoming 3D event “Avatar”.

How does your work on a lower-budget horror flick like “The Crazies” compare to something as massive and complex as “Avatar”?

“With something like Avatar or any really big, behemoth movie, you have to get into the technical aspect. So you’re really much more focused on scale.

“Instead of having maybe six people in the art department on a movie this size, you have 50 or 60 people on Avatar. And if you include all the digital people, you’re getting into 100’s of people. So its really just more of a logistical change. When you’re responding to art, you’re really just going with your gut reaction to how you like something, and that’s going to be the same throughout any movie you do. The experience is more, how do you handle the logistics of a massive movie?”

“On Avatar, my job was all the practical vehicles, so all the helicopters and space ship-type. They are not spaceships, but… That was all very easy for me, because it was getting into the mindset of what Jim wanted. From his prior movies, you can see he loves hardware… If you look at vehicles from his sets, he comes from a very mechanical… He’s an engineer, so he’s got that background. With each movie, you just try to get into the mindset of what’s it’s going to be and then you just riff off that experience and knowledge.”

Special Make-Up Designer Robert Hall

I’ve heard that folks who work in horror are actually more well-adjusted and fun than those geeks who are obsessed with superheroes or comics. I don’t know about the latter part but Hall is surprisingly friendly and funny even as he shows us the charred remains of a burnt child. Hall has worked on special make-up effects for seventy films including “Quarantine” and “Pineapple Express” and also wrote and directed the indie horror flick “Laid to Rest”.

On his experience with the tone of the film: “What I liked about the script for this film is that it expands on the themes Romero had and makes it current but not in a tame, PG-13-way; it actually takes it and amps up the violence and amps up the infection and the horror which is cool and needed. So it’s a lot darker than the original.”

On how the infection is different than the virus from his previous film, “Quarantine”: “There’s been a really conscious effort to steer clear of that movie and to steer clear of zombies. Our guys, they’re full of this virus. They’re almost like they’re the opposite of dead. There’s too much life in them so they’re like bursting at the seams. Their faces are red and there are blood blisters and veins and they’re very vascular.”

How he paces the progression of the virus: “There’s a certain amount of medical accuracy you have to have and then there’s a cinematic expectation so it’s trying to hover between all that stuff. And we tried to extrapolate on the real diseases so it’s like, ‘Well this disease has a little bit of this when it gets late so we can introduce a little bit of that,’ and tried to keep it consistent with what those diseases we mentioned actually do. And then we combined it all and played with it a little bit.”

Click here to read interview with Danielle Panabaker, Radha Mitchell, and Joe Anderson

Click here to read an interview with Timothy Olyphant

Click here to read about Matt’s visit to the set of “The Crazies”

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