'These zombies are fast, and they're angry. These are not the shuffling, slow, Romero-style zombies. Those just aren't scary.'
I disagreed with the director's comment. When visiting the cemetary, the first zombie seen by Barbara and Johnnie in Night Of The Living Dead
is made fun of, allowing him to creep up by surprise. Later, horders could be underestimated by viewers, until they surround the house, overwhelming it completely. It is terrifying in much the same way as Godzilla looming over Odo Island. But I didn't argue. It's his movie, not mine.
The statement was made as a part of a briefing during 'Zombie Training,' the precursor to fulfilling a New Year's resolution of several years ago. That resolution was actually a very specific goal that I have worked towards spasmodically since viewing a scene in a Transformers sequel
several years ago, the goal to become a prominently featured extra in a feature film. Upon starting the quest, I also determined that roles such as 'corpse,' 'explosion victim,' and 'zombie' appeal to me. So when I saw a broad call out for extras in Werribee's local paper on my last visit, I immediately acted.
The extras, it was revealled through the seemingly demanding application process, would be ranked into their tiers, and the fact of my invitation to this session seemed to suggest that my application had impressed enough to see me into one of those higher tiers. The 'rehearsal' was actually just an overview of the film's plot, a gentle request for further funding, and running and falling practice - perhaps designed to weed out those who are enthusiastic, but physically ill-prepared for the role.
I was given a five.am call for the following weekend in a location kept secret until a couple of days before. Once disclosed - a vintage railyard - I booked accomodation nearby. I was vaguely annoyed when the call time was delayed until eight o'clock, as I could have saved the expense of the hotel and travelled there early in the morning, but not too much. I arrived that morning to be ushered eventually in groups of 15 from a mass of around 500 extras. In those smaller groups, we queued for a long time, guided by officials who revealled themselves to be extras from the filming the day before who had been so impressed that they'd offered more of their time. We were broken into tiers based upon a number of factors - if we had attended the previous weekend's training, physical ability, and knowledge of languages other than English. This decided it - I had made it to the tier one stage, and closer to the goal of being prominently featured but uncredited.
We were given numbered, colour-coded tickets, which we were told would be presented to the make up staff to identify which extremity of make up to apply. We waited in a less organised queue, and I started talking to a guy named Jeff, also designated the role of 'Tier 1 Zombie.' Together, we checked out the catering tent, which at this stage was only serving biscuits and bottles of weird juices. I took one of each, and the staff apologised for the lack of coffee, apparently the result of the outdoor setting not allowing electricity, and promised that some would be available once we headed into the railsheds to have make up applied. The juice, I discovered, was beetroot and celery flavour, which might have made a nice soup, but was not as successful in juice format.
After some more waiting, Jeff and I were called into the shed, home to vintage steamtrain carriages. We followed the tracks in the long, darkened shed to the end of a train, where the first of an elaborate team of make up artists started working on us, first on our hands. A second artist further shaded our hands. We were then taken to a row of seats, where we had ever more elaborate facial make up applied. There were no mirrors, but I could see the progress of Jeff and the other casts' make up to get an idea of how each stage progressed my own. One of the make up artists, who appeared to be in charge, at one point dragged a guy who looked convincingly zombie-like back through the action of artists, asking him to identify the artist responsible for each stage of his make up. He seemed uncommitted to any response.
'Was it you?' the leader asked of one of the artists close to where I was having diseased veins painted into my skin. I didn't hear the response, but the outcome saw the leader raise her voice and call over all of the artists. 'Alright, girls,' she called. 'All of you, leave what you are doing. Get over here now. I want to show you how not
to do face make up!'
'See this?' The leader pushed the subject's hair back at his forehead. Right at the base of his hairline, his natural skintone could be barely seen. 'What if his hair goes back when he is running on set? Everyone can see that! This
is no zombie. This is just... a painted freak!' The actor looked sheepish beneath the elborate, if apparently inadequate make up.
After the interruption, those midway through the make up process were left in their seats whilst touch ups were done to others later in the process. I asked for some direction, and the artist looked at my face, telling me I looked done, and directing me further down the line. There, I reconvened with Jeff, who was gritting his teeth, now stained with make up. Through clench teeth he asked 'Is it dry yet?' I asked the tooth make up artist on his behalf, who told us the effect takes only ten seconds to dry. It was my turn next, and I quickly moved to the hair and finally dirt booth, before moving out of the rail shed into the warmth of the winter sun. It had been frightfully cold inside the shed.
Just outside, the final stage of make up was more artists applying a spatter of blood. Once again, we were left to await direction. I've worked on sets before. I know the drill. In the down time, I decided to venture back to the catering tent before we were called to shoot. I had spent over three hours having the make up applied, but the catering stand told me to return later - they said food would be served shortly. Meanwhile, a few extras cast as soldiers and refugees were called away for filming. Extras now made up as zombies were asked to pose for publicity photographs, but since the photographers were using smart phones, it seemed to be more an exercise in promoting the bulk of the cast as useful rather than as an actual productive exercise. I'd brought my copy of Trainspotting
and my Gameboy, but we'd been asked to leave our belongings inside the rail shed. So I checked out the rail yard.
After a few more hours, it was announced that lunch was being served, and a line instantly formed behind a barbeque that had been set up in the catering tent. I joined, and predicted a lengthy wait. I hadn't moved at all when the line was halted by the same voice which had been calling 'painted freak!'
earlier. 'Would you please hold off for a minute? My girls haven't eaten all morning!'
The queue was held back while the make up artists took their well-deserved lunch. Meanwhile, a crew member paced the queue, calling for and pulling aside Tier 1 zombies. We were led away from the catering queue around the corner to the set. It was an impressive location. A stone archway between two tall, vintage workshops divided two sets or train tracks laid into rough cobblestone roads. On the rail sidings of one set of tracks stood two diesel train engines. For the purposes of the film, a chain-link fence had been erected beyond the engines, serving as the checkpoint for a quarantine area.
We were given further directions, and asked to wait for further make up once the artists had finished their lunch. We were instructed on how the scene would pan out, and told to draw upon our inner anger. 'When I'm hungry, I get angry, so it shouldn't be hard,' commented a woman in the crowd scene. 'Maybe that was the plan all along,' commented another extra. 'Starve us until we're really
When the make up artists arrived, they came carrying a couple of buckets of blood each. They arranged the extras in rows of ten, and ordered our eyes closed. They flung blood on us, and we started to film the scene - a horde of zombies chasing soldiers ushering children through to the quarantine area as it struggles to keep the infected outside. Although the shooting confirmed that this probably won't be the kind of zombie film I liked to watch, it does seem like an exciting scene. My favourite part involved the application of 'mouth blood' by the make up artists, for the front runners to spew as they surged towards the blockade.
The scene was run throguh several times, with a few shots utilising a drone flying overhead through the arch. I pictured sweeping shots of the desperate, mindless horde below, which would look impressive with the three tiers pushing through. It didn't last long before the drone crashed, to a sigh of disappointment from the horde. We were also asked to film various detail shots to intersperse from within the chase sequence. I would have preferred to feature as the director's non-scary zombie, but I did enjoy this role.
It wasn't long before someone - a vocal producer I'd met at the rehearsal, perhaps - called that it was a wrap, to applause through the rail yard. By this time, I was eager to leave. I started to head out, but was caught first as someone I'd not seen all day was asking once more to take photographs. Someone during this called for three cheers for the crew, but I felt bitter and starved, so did not participate - though by 'crew,' I guessed they were referring specifically to film crew, and not administrative and organisational, who did seem to perform admirably. Another round of applause was also called for the expansive team of make up artists, which I did join in on enthusiastically. I'd been impressed with their efficiency and also working under a forceful manager.
At the rehearsal, we'd been promised provisions for removal of the make up, but I found this to be limited to a few WetOnes, which didn't remove much. There was no mirror in the bathroom, but I felt around and it seemed like most of the blood, at least, was gone from my face and neck.