Not long ago, my primary activity was playing god with the lives of web videos. I was responsible for deciding whether to accept various films submitted for publishing to a website. My setup was such that I usually didn’t read the titles of the videos before watching them, so when I opened a file that started with a dimly lit, stationary shot of a hesitant young woman - Hannah - speaking into her webcam, I was about ready to reject it and move on.
At first I couldn’t tell whether this was a real video blog (a format I kind of despise) or not, and I suppose Hannah’s conspicuously bare shoulder kept me going through the first few seconds until her quirky, insecure monologue took over my attention. Soon two goofy guys burst into the flat - Miles and Tony. One collapses into a chair, the other starts stomping on the sofa, and verbal exposition begins to seep in. (At that point I realized I was watching a cinema verité style narrative film.) Hannah sends Tony and Miles to the supermarket and they take a video camera along. There they run into a demented gypsy who stumbles about and to whom they are very hostile. Meanwhile, Hannah, dressed warmly, continues vlogging from inside her bathtub where, as she explained, she sits to feel safe whenever the boys are away.
Now, sometimes not understanding what the hell is going on in a film gives you a child-like ability to appreciate it for what it is. As I said, I didn’t see the title of the video (Zomblogalypse Episode 1 - SHOPPING) and so I was unaware of the context that these characters are survivors in a post-apocalyptic landscape teeming with zombies. From my perspective, it was just a bunch of people acting in a surreal way. I wanted to keep watching to understand what this all means. And I think it was at that point that I was hooked.
Zomblogalypse is basically a cross between the movie 28 Days Later and the TV series The Office in that it has great moments of suspense as well as skillful, naturalistic (and hilarious) acting. The show is character-driven. The three flatmates strike an intricate balance, with Hannah being a neurotic voice of reason, Miles an optimistic idea man and Tony an oddball camcorder junkie. As episodes progress, we get to know the characters deeper than these archetypes. Tony has a hopeless romantic side, Miles is a control freak, Hannah is agoraphobic and, um, knits little plush toys, etc.
Through the miracle of Facebook, I have since learned that the real-life UK-based trio that produce and act in the series are a lot like their namesake characters.
Miles Watts is a tireless developer of independent short and feature films. Although Zomblogalypse is a total collaboration, in many ways he is the driving force behind the series. He cites Container by Lukas Moodysson, and Diary of the Dead by George A. Romero as the films which originally pushed him toward the concept of a zombie-themed web series.
“I was taken with the idea of doing something no-budget and quick, with no planning or set-ups needed, just a video blog really, stream-of-consciousness thing like in Container where I could just vent thoughts very artfully and cheaply and then knock it all together to, hopefully, make a film. Plus I hated Diary of the Dead, and didn’t think they used the idea of handheld cameras during a zombie apocalypse to its full advantage!”
Tony Hipwell met Miles three years ago when the two became co-workers at what he terms an “almost independent cinema” in York, UK, called City Screen. But it took them a year to become creative partners. Impressed by Miles’ ability to get things done, Tony increasingly participated as DoP (that’s DP for us American filmmakers and Director of Photography for everyone else in the world) on projects with him. On Zomblog, Tony designs, and keeps an eye on, the overall story arc for the series.
Always ready with a funny remark or an obscure pop culture quote, he seems to bring the same dynamic to his two collaborators as his character does to the trio in Zomblogalypse, in the form of off-beat ideas and mercilessly absurd humor. Sorry, humour.
Hannah Bungard was Tony’s university classmate in a Theatre, Film and TV course.
“I met Miles when Tony was filming a music video for a band and needed people to wear animal masks and terrorise our friend, Rory but it wasn’t until a little while later that we actually started talking and then hanging out and suddenly it was as if we’d been friends for ages.”
Hannah reluctantly admits that she’s not particularly involved in film outside of Zomblog (as though we filmmakers will scoff at such a dishonorable profession as a… teacher!) She also claims to have limited acting skills, but this is extremely hard to believe given that much of the narrative in the series is driven by her delightfully rambling webcam monologues and hilarious outrage at Miles’ and Tony’s antics. Miles is quick to correct Hannah:
“You’re too modest. Everyone points out to me, like ALL THE TIME, how naturally funny you are in the episodes, and that’s a hard thing to try and do. You just do it effortlessly.”
Although Zomblogalypse is designed for simple and efficient production - most scenes are shot on-the-go, with auto focus and on-camera sound, then jumpcut together - the series has been steadily getting more sophisticated. The first season finale (6 webisodes = 1 season) featured exterior scenes full of zombie extras and fictitious short films made by the characters within the episode. It’s great to see that each new release raises the production bar and expands the universe of the show.
The newest episode - “GROUND Z-RO” is a prequel depicting how the whole apocalypse first hit our heroes’ town. Finally I’m able to understand what the hell’s going on! But it’s too late. I already like the show anyway. I highly recommend you check it out, catch up on all the episodes and the extras available on the series’ official site: www.zomblogalypse.com.
One might say, Zomblog is about a group of characters refusing to acknowledge the hopelessness of their situation. But maybe the fact that they are a group is what makes their situation far from hopeless. They’re all very oblivious and rather happy. It’s as if they subconsciously realize that even in a worst-scenario apocalypse, all they really need to survive is each other.
Both as an uninfected human and as a filmmaker, watching Zomblogalypse fills me with much hope for the future.
Zomblogalypse © 2009 - MilesTone Productions