Are you sick of zombies yet? Good, me neither. Especially with such promising properties as Dead Rising still churning out blood, guts, and fun for all. On March 27, Crackle will premiere their original film Dead Rising: Watchtower and we got a chance to talk to the director Zach Lipovsky about it transforming the hit video game franchise into a feature film.
Nerdist: Zach, thank you for taking the time to talk to us about Dead Rising: Watchtower.
Zach Lipovsky: Of course, and it is super exciting. We just had the premiere recently, and it was nice for all the people who worked so hard, but there were lots of people who had won a contest from IGN to be there and fans that had come out and were kind of just losing their minds over it. [laughs]
Nerdist: How did you get involved with directing this film?
Zach: Well, the film started with Tim Carter, who is the writer and producer. He is kind of a big writer in the video game world, he wrote Sleeping Dogs, and also makes films. So, he knew the people from Capcom in Vancouver, which is where I am from, and they were the ones who had made the Dead Rising games. He was able to pitch them on what the film could be and he brought that to Legendary, got them involved. So when they were looking for the crazy person willing to take on this monumental task, I fought really hard to get it and they ended up choosing me.
[Image: Anything Horror]
Nerdist: With Watchtower being released on Crackle, what difference did you see working on the project as compared to your TV or film directing?
Zach: I’m glad you brought that up, because it’s kind of like a really, really, really big web series. In that way we had all the challenges that anyone would have with a web series and a limited budget. Obviously we don’t have all the resources we would on a $100 million movie, but at the same time there was just so much freedom. There’s no ratings, rules, or running time limit. There are no words we weren’t allowed to say, but there was really no model either. Basically, anytime we had an idea the only response was, “Well, it’s the internet. Who knows? Let’s try it!” [laughs] It ended up being really freeing in that way and I really enjoyed it.
The other cool thing is that because it is going on Crackle it’s going out there for free. It’s ad-supported so, like watching a movie on TV, there will be breaks during the film for the ads. We built the film with that in mind, though. Like a web series, it is broken up in to about nine episodes which are all separated by the ads, so they won’t be cutting in like halfway through a line of dialogue or anything. [Laughs] It’s really cool though we have each section set so it can stand alone as a separate piece. They build to a cliffhanger and have the ads cut in, and then start the next piece. It can be watched in chunks or as a whole. We also did this whole bit with Rob Riggle, who is playing the game’s iconic character Frank West, where he is being interviewed on a news broadcast. So, we use those as a buffer at the beginning of each segment. Go to commercial, come back to Rob Riggle who says something hilarious, and then back into the movie.
Nerdist: You mentioned Rob Riggle playing Frank West, but is there a chance we will see any of Chuck Greene or Nick Ramos in the film?
Zach: There are cameos that you will have to be eagle-eyed to see. [Laughs] There are homages in almost every single scene of the film. It was fun, because we got to show the film for Capcom and they were just cheering and screaming through out it while everyone else in the audience is just like, “What are they screaming at?” [laughs] Just losing their minds over, like, random props and stuff we had in it. They [the other protagonists from the games] don’t have starring role in it, but there are definitely homages to them in there.
Nerdist: Where does the film fall in the timeline of Dead Rising?
Zach: Actually, I think that is one of the coolest parts. We worked with Capcom and have the film set in between the second and third games. The events of the film are also considered to be part of the story canon for those games.
Nerdist: Was it a big challenge trying to keep the film true to the spirit of the game series?
Zach: That actually wasn’t that much of a challenge. I was already a fan of the games, and we just played the hell out of them. We wrote down every little thing that we wanted to bring in from the games, and made sure they were there in the film. The energy of the games is the thing I fell in love with the most. It is just a much more fun zombie world. Everything is more like an action-adventure and there is a sense of humor with everything. It was what I was really drawn to about them. A lot of the zombie stuff going on right now is very serious, dark, and dramatic. We have our own dramatic moments, but generally its an adventure film with a lot of fun and a lot of momentum. That’s really the DNA of what Dead Rising was, and it’s also the kind of movie I like to make so it wasn’t that hard to bring that across. [laughs]
[Image: Live For Films]
Nerdist: Did you feel a lot of pressure making a zombie movie in a world where The Walking Dead dominates cable television?
Zach: It was kind of two-sided. We knew we didn’t want to be Walking Dead, and we said that a lot. Everyone would bring up the comparison and be like “Oh, cool, so it’s like Walking Dead,” and we’d just have to yell back, “No! Not like Walking Dead! We’re doing our own thing!” [Laughs] Also, Dead Rising is already so different from Walking Dead that there wasn’t a lot of that danger. We really just tried to find the things that were unique to Dead Rising. The idea that the zombies have muscle-memory and have a little bit of who they were before they turned. We play with that a lot. The idea of Zombrex, as well, is something no one has done before. To have a drug that you can take to stop you from turning into a zombie after being bitten was a game mechanic in the series but we wanted to explore more of the character side to it. If you have this virus inside of you, what does that mean and what is that fear like? To know you could turn into a zombie tomorrow if you don’t keep on a regular schedule with this drug, it is pretty terrifying. Also, what does that mean for everyone around you? If suddenly your wife or husband has this disease, do their co-workers stop inviting them out? Just the whole idea of a taboo about being infected but still human is kind of at the heart of the film. It’s just something that, again, is totally unique to this series.
Nerdist: Did you have more fun making this than, say, Leprechaun Origins?
Zach: This is the first real movie where I can say it is my movie. I was really allowed to just go all out and make it as cool of a film as I could. I have to give a lot of credit to both Legendary and Crackle for basically letting me off the leash. Because of that there is a lot of my style and DNA in this film. If anyone knows my shorts or any of the other work I have done they will see a lot of my trademarks in here.
Nerdist: Circling back to the cameos in the film. Did I spot Harley Morenstein from Epic Meal Time in the trailer?
Zach: [Laughs] Yes, you did. It wouldn’t be Dead Rising without some group of maniacal, psychopathic bikers and Harley plays Pyro Biker, who has a tendency to light things on fire, blow shit up, and cause mayhem wherever he goes. Harley had a really great time filming and he was very funny. He didn’t have that much experience on a film set before, but he was always cracking jokes and making everyone laugh. His first day of shooting we are doing his big entrance moment and he’s standing there with the cameras around and he calls me over in this hushed tone. So when I get to him he and ask what’s going on he leans closes to my ear and says, “I just have one question. What point do I whip my dick out?” [laughs] I would just tell him “the next scene,” and he’d say “OK, great.” So, from then on I knew he was going to be a good time.
Nerdist: What is your favorite customized weapon from the series?
Zach: It’s an oldie and a goodie but the sledge-saw is just such a badass combination.
There is something about it. Anyone who sees that thing instantly falls in love with it. We have this amazing sequence right in the middle of the film that is a 5-minute, one-take zombie killing spree. [Laughs] It is entirely with the sledge-saw. It really is just built around that experience of playing the game where you get this awesome weapon like the sledge-saw, you finally build it, and just charge out into a horde of zombies feeling really kickass. Pretty quickly, though, your weapon breaks in half, but it’s ok you have a backup. Then that breaks, and you are in the middle of 600 zombies with nothing so you start scrambling over cars and grabbing traffic cones or whatever out of sheer panic. [Laughs] So for five minutes in the middle of the film it is just that.
Nerdist: What else do you have down the line after Watchtower officially premieres?
Zach: I have a few other things I am working on. I have a film that I have written, a contained thriller time travel film called Chrononaut. There’s a trailer for it on my site at the moment. Basically it is a time travel movie that takes place all in one room. It’s kind of like Moon meets Time Crimes and I’m really excited for it. I’m also working on a film, that we are hoping to shoot this year, called The Keeper and it is written by Graeme Manson, who is the creator of Orphan Black. It is this masterfully written Kubrick/Hitchcockian sort of contained character piece. So hopefully we move forward with that soon.
Dead Rising: Watchtower premieres on Crackle Friday, March 27th.
Editor’s note: Nerdist Industries is a subsidiary of Legendary Digital Networks.