They’re faster, stronger, and more organised! Netflix’s new teeth-gnashing feature “Army of The Dead” is going to leap at your small screens soon and it’s a real doozy! Zack Snyder, the visionary mind behind “300” and “Justice League” ditches the superhero tights and spears of Leonidas to hunt a horde of zombies in Vegas.
And you know what they say about zombies in Vegas… (wink*)
Taking place after an outbreak leaves the city in ruins, Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), a former zombie war hero, is given a task by casino boss Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), to break into the zombie-infested zone. The mission? Retrieve a $200 million stash sitting in a vault beneath the strip before the government nukes the city.
Seeing this as a chance to redeem himself with his estranged daughter, Kate (Ella Purnell), Ward assembles a group of ragtag experts to find the cash. However, Scott soon faces an unexpected emotional hindrance when Kate joins in to search for Geeta (Huma Qureshi), a mother who vanished within the city.
High stakes. Gnashin’ undead. Zombie tigers. The clock is ticking. What are we waiting for?
We recently had the fine opportunity to attend a press conference where the film’s director was shedding some light on the new undead world, the long road to get the movie made, and the crazy filmmaking process among other things.
1. Zack Snyder got the idea for “Army of the Dead” right after he completed his very first feature in 2004.
Now, before Snyder became known for his DC feature spectacles and the epic retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, he got his first big-screen break with… you guessed it… a zombie movie! “Dawn of the Dead”, a remake of the George A. Romero film of the same name, was one heck of a thrilling gorefest. That movie, released seventeen years ago, laid some seeds for Snyder’s future.
According to Snyder, the idea was there, but he was not directing it. The pages of the script were merely floating around for a decade. It wasn’t until Netflix and the man were sitting down for a couple o’ beers by the coast that the planets began to align.
“I told them that there was a script, but I said that I’d really love to start up, write it from scratch. It wasn’t really written for me to direct and if was the director, I really wanted to kind of write it myself. I got Shay to partner with me and we wrote the script and then we shot it. We wrote pretty quick ’cause I knew it really well. When we finished, Netflix was like, “This is great, let’s go do it.”
2. Dave Bautista ditched James Gunn in Favour of “Army of The Dead”.
Dave Bautista is a significant face of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (although his actual presence may seem like a mystery to some – just where the heck is Drax in all these outings!?). Lately, the WWE wrestler turned actor has been bagging roles left and right, with many fans appreciating his dedication to shaping himself as an actor. In 2017, he appeared in Denis Villeneuve’s “Blade Runner 2049”, a critical darling of that year. We will be seeing the actor next in a new adaptation of “Dune” as Glossu Rabban. It was also announced that he would be joining Daniel Craig in Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” sequel.
Nevertheless, in an interview with Digital Spy, Bautista revealed that he turned down another collaboration with James Gunn for DC’s next comic-book caper “The Suicide Squad” because he really wanted to work with Zack Snyder. The actor cited this as a smart career move as he also got to be the lead.
“I had to call James, and I told him, ‘It breaks my heart because as a friend, I want to be there with you, but professionally, this is the smart decision for me.'”, the actor said.
The “Guardians of the Galaxy” director was all cool with it and was even proud that his friend had gotten to a point where he to make difficult career decisions. But, we need not fret here. While we won’t be getting that Bautista-Gunn dynamic this year, the actor is returning for “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” a couple of years from now.
3. Zack Snyder has a shiny cameo in “Army of the Dead”.
Zack Snyder may have made headlines for appearing alongside Amy Adam’s Lois Lane while she was getting coffee. While it’s a rare appearance from the director, it was a neat little detail that audiences seemed to love.
Indeed, Snyder himself revealed that, yes, he does make an appearance in the movie. No, he will not be a zombie. According to him, it was never his intention for him to be in the movie in the first place.
“You can certainly watch it 100 times over to find Zack Snyder. It’s a very tricky moment. But I’m in there. I’m operating the camera. It’s in a mirror. It’s only for a few frames. But it’s in there, for sure. We were gonna take it out. And I was like, ‘Oh leave it. It’s good.'”.
Oh, we’re so on for the Snyder Hunt.
4. “Army of The Dead” took inspiration from “Aliens” and “Planet of The Apes”.
Iconic monsters and horrific figures have always populated the world of sci-fi cinema. Naturally, Zack Snyder took several cues from films such as James Cameron’s “Aliens” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing” for his zombie fest. As a matter of fact, a shot of Lady Liberty in the film was inspired by the Statue of Liberty from 1968’s “Planet of The Apes”.
5. Tig Notaro, Christopher Plummer reborn?
In one of the movie’s ballsiest moves, a performer was digitally removed and replaced with another actor. Chris D’Elia was originally going to feature in the movie and had completed all of his scenes. However, the actor received several allegations of sexual misconduct against him, prompting the filmmakers to replace him with actress, Tig Notaro.
One may compare this move to when Ridley Scott’s “All the Money In The World” replaced Kevin Spacey. Christopher Plummer was brought on after the shooting had completed for the feature. What completely blew everyone away was how Christopher Plummer owned the role and made it to the stage where he earned an Academy Award nomination.
Now, Notaro was shooting all her scenes solo with an acting partner in order to immerse herself into the scenes. Nonetheless, all of it was post-production work. The actress never acted a scene with a single castmate, an experience she described as a joy, but hopefully does not have to be repeated.
“It was a joy to do what I did, but I would love to be in the next movie that I do. That’s my dream! I’d love to interact with the cast.”
Nevertheless, this move also serves as a testament to the digital magic that goes into making these films. Chroma-keying has come a long way and it just continues to work wonders for the filmmaking industry.
6. When in Vegas, you get rabid flesh-eating social commentary.
You know, when you think of Las Vegas, you see bright neon signs and the endless calls of casinos begging you to place all your chips in. But, you don’t go… “haha, Vegas, that’s where all dem zombies live”. Nonetheless, there’s a good reason for that and Snyder tells us why:
“Well, look, you know the best zombie movies have social commentary. I just felt like casinos and humans make for a good zombie setting. It’s also a place where there’s a lot of money. There are a couple of times when I felt like I turned into a zombie, much like Romero uses shopping malls to say that as consumers we were becoming zombies – that aspect was pretty straightforward.”
The filmmaker then went on to provide some similarities to the real world and what it meant to for the film to depict such parallelisms.
“Recently, it was all the talk of building the wall and what it meant to build walls and borders that gave rise to the refugee camps we see in the film, we wanted to focus on how a zombie plague would affect the disenfranchised and how the government might use something like a zombie plague to take away certain freedoms. The interpretations are completely different now from when we first started. But the catch-all for zombie movies is still the same. In the end, the humans are worse than the zombies.”
7. “Army of The Dead” brought Zack Snyder back to the cinematic experience.
As we all know, Zack Snyder is a significant player in the comic-book superhero game but that does not mean that the process of making those films felt authentic to his cinematic vision.
“When you do these giant superhero movies you get further and further away from the camera. And for me just shooting the movie and-and operating it all was an enjoyable experience. So, I had a great time doing “Dawn”. This was really kind of my favourite sort of cinematic process. The process of making the film was incredibly satisfying.”
8. A Whole New World of the Undead
“Army of The Dead” may only be debuting on Netflix next week, but it’s not a one-off thing. Indeed, the idea has already spawned a couple of spinoff projects; one is based on Matthias Schweighöfer‘s character, Dieter, a German safecracker and the other will be an anime-style outing. Bringing life into this crazy flesh-eating world was an enjoyable experience for the filmmaker.
“When I did “Dawn of The Dead”, it was based on another film. And this is based on an original IP, so, it’s really a chance for me to create a world, frankly. For me, starting this world from scratch was really fun. And I think for an audience, they’re gonna get to just sort of go into a zombie world that you’ve never seen before.”
“For me. It was about digging into all the tropes and really having fun with it – not doing something because it’s expected in the genre, but adhering to the rules we know and love and then breaking them. I was one of those ideas that just wouldn’t go away.”
9. “Army of the Dead” will still feel like an all-out blockbuster film made for the big screen despite debuting on a streaming service.
The pandemic has sped up the transition of cinema over to the small screen. Some have criticised this move, stating that the small screen fails to capture the awe and wonder that a conventional theatre would provide. Nevertheless, Zack Snyder has some interesting thoughts on this.
“I felt like when I decided to make “Army of The Dead”, I knew it was gonna be straight to the service. Netflix didn’t say, “Oh, maybe we’ll release it in the theatres too.” That’s only been a recent development with this film. I hope it’s just because they’re confident in the film, and they just want people to see it in the theatre. Yes, I made it specifically for your TV but my approach to it was, I wanted to make a big giant movie for you, regardless. I wanted that quality, that feeling of a movie, but you’re getting it at home, day one when it comes out.”
Well, looks like we are in for a summer blockbusting treat. There is no doubt of the filmmaker’s dedication here. The film was shot in whopping 8K after all.
10. Zack Snyder drew inspiration from his own parental journey to craft his lead characters.
The best bits of writing comes when they are personal, and that’s what the director chooses to do when building the relationship between Scott and his estranged daughter, Kate.
“Yeah. The father-daughter relationship has always been the core of the movie. Frankly, it evolves quite a bit. When I was writing those scenes between Kate and Scott, you know, my own experience with my own children played a huge role. Your children can hurt you with a word worse than anybody else. But they can also bring you joy and sorrow. Your greatest pain can come from your children. Your highest highs and lowest lows. So I brought all that pain and joy to writing this relationship between Scott and Kate.”
Dave Bautista and Ella Purnell were also deeply involved with their characters’ journeys. Purnell, specifically felt that this aspect was really touching and something that she could relate to in an action movie.
11. Zack Snyder served as his own director of photography for “Army of The Dead”.
Zack Snyder was adamant about getting the look and feel for “Army of the Dead” right. Collaborating with Red Studios, he custom-ordered cameras that combined digital filmmaking with 1960’s era Canon Dream lenses. When we say he was committed, oh hell yeah, he was. Snyder spent about a year purchasing every Canon Dream lens he could find on eBay to get the look he wanted specifically for the movie.
“I had been going down this rabbit hole with Canon Dream lenses that I wanted to use in the movie. They have a very shallow depth of field. There are these candid lenses that open to an aperture of .95, which provides an incredibly thin depth of field. It was really difficult as I really wanted to do the whole thing with this very sort of organic lighting. I wanted to shoot at a specific time of the day with a certain level of exposure. It just felt really ballsy at the time, and I felt like if the studio saw that it wasn’t working, the DP could get in a lot of trouble. And that would be the first person they would ask me to get rid of. In the end, I felt it would be unfair to bring someone in and really impose all these parameters on them.”
“And so I was like, “Look, I’ll do it myself. I know how to do it.” Um, it’s not a thing I haven’t done. You know, for 10 years I was a director of commercials. Um, I’ve seen every piece of equipment. I operated every commercial I ever did. And so, I was like, “Okay, well, um, I’ll just do it myself.” And it just seemed like an easy choice.”
Throughout the course of filming, Snyder was working on the B-camera alongside his trusty collaborator, John Clothier, who had been working with him since 2009’s “Watchmen”. “Army of The Dead” also marks the first time the director is using digital cameras for a full-length feature as most of his previous works involved him shooting in film.
12. No sacrifice, no victory for cinema.
The amount of dedication that went into the cinematography is astounding. Aside from the commitment to shoot almost entirely with natural light, the crew was working with whatever limited resources they had in a day to get the shots they needed.
Nonetheless, in order to film one of the car sequences, the crew sacrificed one of their custom RED camera packages. They soon found the memory card intact in the grass. Since it contained all the footage Snyder needed, it was probably a noble sacrifice. Nevertheless, the camera’s remains were gathered and are currently put on display at RED Studios.
13. “Army of The Dead’s” zombies are one tough nut to beat down with a barbed baseball bat.
We’ve seen all types of zombies when it comes to the genre. Slow zombies. Exploding zombies. Cybernetic zombies. World war zombies. And yeah, the list goes ooooonnnnnnn…
“Army of The Dead” does attempt to give all these other zombies a run for their money because they are some of the most formidable creatures ever put together on-screen. Not, only are some of them intelligent and organised, but they have a zombie tiger for cryin’ out loud.
“Nobody survives these guys. But the interesting thing about is that they represent an evolution because they’re also not ambitious. You know, they are formidable, and they have zombie tigers, zombie horses. You can’t beat them in a fight. But they’re kinda like, they’re like wolves or lions. If all lions did was procreate, create an army, and go out and conquer the world, lions would be problematic. But our alphas are not really ambitious in that way. They’re kinda minding their own business. It’s only when provoked by humans that they act the way they are.”, said Snyder.
14. Art is in the eye of the beholder.
Art makes us think in wondrous ways and that’s what makes it so important. It’s the creativity that spawns out of analysing films and understanding various perspectives that give so much weight to a filmmaker’s craft. Needless to say, there may be multiple ways for the audience to interpret Zack Snyder’s latest and he explains why.
“If you want to take some weird deep dive into how the movie represents itself mythologically and you want to write your master’s thesis about the zombie genre; whether it be holding up a mirror to ourselves or whether it be how we interact in casinos, or all-all of the different ways that the allusions come through the zombies, that’s all fine. If you want to be political and talk about the wall, and refugee camps, then that’s a movie for you. If you want it to be like, I’m excited about this heist part of it, like, they’re gonna go get the money. Or the father-daughter relationship. Like, that’s what the movie is. So, that’s what I really want the movie to be. It’s bespoken to the viewer in that way.”
15. Zack Snyder cast each character individually, not how well they played with others.
Castings may be a long and strenuous exercise to get the best player for the part. However, Snyder strived to get each character right first. Such was his approach that he just placed his faith in them mushing up the dynamic later during the actual shooting.
“I’ve always had fun casting. In this case, I really wanted a diverse cast that was globally representative. And I really cast them individually. I didn’t look at them as a package. It was like, let’s do that when the time comes. I just wanted to nail each of them. And then let’s see what happens.”
The helmer then likened the process to grouping an actual team of people to storm a zombie-infested Las Vegas.
“You would be like, “Oh, okay, what is your skillset? Yeah, I need you.” I was doing that for the movie. As a group, that’s where they’re really cooperative throughout. As a group of individuals, each of them is amazing and they form a weird little bond. And because I was with them, operating the camera, a lot of it was right there.”
16. The performers bring out the best comedy in the film.
When asked about the brand of comedy that “Army of The Dead” brought to the screen, Zack Snyder did not hesitate to push his actors to the forefront. The fun and jokes had to be organic in the dire circumstances of the movie and it was only. Due to the comedic timing of these actors, the crew were always managing to accomplish such feats.
Speaking of the film’s comedic tone, Snyder commented, “There was this particular tone I was trying to maintain, where the movie is self-aware but it doesn’t break. But, you know, you have to be careful. ‘Cause as soon as the movie breaks, then none of the stakes means anything. I think the trick is just keeping you in. And frankly, using the comedy just as a little pressure release. So I could put it back, ratchet it back harder next time.”
17. Look Closely, Look Hard
Easter Eggs tend to be some of the most enjoyable details of a movie. It may subtle inside jokes shared between the crew. It might be a reference to other pieces of cinema or the director’s upcoming work. Needless to say, it’s the joy of finding one that brings a certain delight to movie audiences.
According to Snyder, “Army of The Dead” will be filled with little golden nuggets like these. One of these is a reference to the Snyder Cut, which is in a vault in the movie. Besides, there may be more clues hiding in plain sight, giving away details to the established world.
“In one of the first two or three opening shots in the movie, if you look carefully, you’ll see something in the sky that kind of reveals where all the zombies come from. The dialogue between the guys in the truck kind of start to tell that story a little bit. And kind of took the deep dive on that concept, if you’re looking for it, you’ll find more subtle clues to that within the context of some of the zombies.”
Hmm… UFO’s perhaps? Do keep a lookout for some fun details such as classic roadsters, a taco-truck-menu-turned-kill-counter, and the origin of the zombie tiger, Valentine!
18. There is an undead hierarchy in “Army of The Dead”
We live in a society, where honour is a rabid infection.
Oo boy, these zombies don’t play around. There is no doubt that these undead creatures are some of the most vicious not because they’re fast, but because they are more intelligent.
“Alphas are fast. They can think. These zombies can take orders and organize themselves. We treat them like a pack of wolves. You can’t really reason with them or talk to them, but they certainly will circle you. They know how to fight and how to hunt.”, Snyder said of his undead creations.
There is also a certain pyramid structure that comes with infecting the living.
“The way it works is that Zeus is the Alpha who comes from Area 51. He’s sort of a Patient Zero. If he bites you directly, you become an Alpha. But if an Alpha other than Zeus bites you, you become a shambler. And then if another shambler bites you, you become a shambler.”
Gosh, we wouldn’t wanna mess with these guys.
19. Deadly Origins: The Movie
One thing that might not be answered right away during the course of the film is the origin of these zombies. We probably know that they come from Area 51, but exactly where did they come from? How did they originally spawn? To answer that the director turned our focus to the upcoming animated project.
“Well, wait ’til you see the animated prequel that we’re also working on. That tells the origin story of the zombies. You won’t be disappointed.”
20. Will you be my Valentine?
So, if you haven’t been sold by this movie already, we’ll just hand you the money right here. If you haven’t already noticed, we’re gonna say it again [breathes*]
THERE’S A F****** ZOMBIE TIGER IN THERE!!!
Aside from crafting the apocalyptic landscape of a zombie-infested Vegas, The VFX team had the challenge of putting together a photo-realistic undead tiger. It was quite difficult to get to big-cat sanctuaries as they wanted to base Valentine on a real tiger.
However, an interesting individual shows up to the rescue particularly because she realises that the production was using visual effects instead of an actual tiger for the role. And that individual was none other than Carole Baskin, star of Netflix’s “Tiger King” series. According to Marcus Taormina, the VFX supervisor, everything they had needed for the model, Carole gave, and she was the sweetest about it.
After the crew obtained their base reference, it was time to build the fictional animal. They figured that the dry and desolate environment of Las Vegas would have made for a lean cat, and allowed some of the tiger’s bones to pop out of its fur. Oof. Gnarly.
Either way, we’re gonna get one hell of a bloody Valentine!
Zack Snyder’s “Army of The Dead” will be tearing up your screens on the 21st of May 2021!