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Interview with ‘Year Zero’ Director Richard Cunningham III

Having premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival to a clamor of positive feedback, Bloody-Disgusting’s John Marrone caught up with “Year Zero” director Richard Cunningham III who talked about his 24-minute short starring Pat Rigby, Tim Brennan, Richard Cunningham III, Marie-Pierre Beausejour, Christina George and Bridget Carroll.

A month after a bacterial parasite began to plague New York City, a survivor remains barricaded his bedroom, trapped by the zombies beating at his door. Eating captured insects and drinking from a leaky pipe, he ekes out the numbed existence of someone caged and isolated. This animated zombie apocalypse tells the story of man’s slow breakup with the world that was.

Visit the film’s official website for more. Interview inside, along with an exclusive clip.

Year Zero interview – with director Richard Cunningham III
By John Marrone

BD: What type of artwork is this called and how long did it take you to create Year Zero from start to finish?

CUNNINGHAM: Essentially I think Year Zero is a motion comic. The composited moving sequences are all based on still shots, much like what animators are working with when giving life do an comic illustrator’s work. Though I hadn’t heard of a motion comic until I was nearly done animating, so it was really a process that I developed myself as my technique evolved.

I started test photography in the fall of 2008, had a first draft of the script by December, then I spent the next two years slowly putting it all together, teaching myself how to animate with After Effects and edit Final Cut Pro; recording the voice-overs in my apartment, along with the music; scouring the internet for royalty-free sound FX, mixing audio, learning about Compressor and a bunch of technical stuff. I made half the movie on a 10 yr old Dell Dimension and the rest on a Mac Mini, so both systems were completely over-worked and prone to crashing. I guess Year Zero wasn’t completely done until April 2011 though, when I did the final audio mix for its theatrical release.

BD: You had somewhere mentioned hopes of this becoming a series of some sort? What is the full and final vision for this work?

CUNNINGHAM: I have a lot of concepts in my head for a series, and 12 episodes outlined. Because I had no money to make Year Zero, and because the character was stuck in his apartment, I really tried to get into his head and with that intimacy I was hoping that the audience would connect with the character, and really want to see more of his journey.

The series opens up to larger themes, society on the brink of collapse, the idea of humans turning from predator to prey on a mass scale, our possible extinction, it’s parallels with humanity’s own penchant for over-consumption; though, it’s still a very personal story about the main character’s struggle. I’d really like to improve on the animation, to keep the style and feel, but go further with it, do stuff that I wasn’t able to do when it was just me hitting the timer on my camera in a cramped apartment and jumping in front of the lens with a pose.

BD: Favorite zombie films? Anything in particular spawn this vision / endeavor?

CUNNINGHAM: 28 DAYS LATER got me into zombies and really how horrifying they can be when depicted as rabid animals. I really like how NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD addresses social themes on top of being a groundbreaking zombie film. I think “The Zombie Survival Guide” definitely got me thinking about the actual scenario of a zombie apocalypse and how I’d react in a realistic sense. “World War Z”, by Max Brook, is also really great zombie reading. Ravenous is a cannibal movie that had some influence on the music I composed, as well as Johnny Greenwood’s scores. I discovered “The Walking Dead” as I was animating and I was a little bummed to be honest, because I was afraid they’d beat me to the punch with its gritty perspective, but it’s so well done, you have to love it purely as a fan.

BD: Noticed you went pretty deep into the psychology of such an apocalypse – is this character a reflection of your life personally (people who crash at your place and outstay their welcome) or is this your view of how the average New Yorker would handle the situation?

CUNNINGHAM: Ha! Yea, there are some parallels definitely and that was actually planned from the start. I’m from the country- upstate NY- so NYC was originally a big adjustment to the noise and loss of open space/nature. And then when I started investing all my time to making the film, I was stuck in my apartment for a long while working in front of my computer day in, day out, and it wasn’t really a stretch to get into the character’s mindset of isolation and detachment. But yea, the cockroaches, the car alarms, the spring showers, the claustrophobia, that’s all NYC. But I also wanted to have an everyman kind of experience, where the character isn’t entirely heroic, where the consequence of death or infection is always top on the survivor’s mind.

BD: (spoiler warning) The blood running down his torso at the end seemed to indicate that he had bought the farm, so to speak. Regardless of being picked up, do you plan on continuing this story from where it left off – would (our main character) still be the main subject or would it be expanded to other parts of the city / other people / other situations within the calamity?

CUNNINGHAM: I’m happy to give up a spoiler. Yeah, the main character is bitten at the end and he is now infected; however, there’s a short clip earlier in the story inserted when he’s drinking from a bowl of water. Briefly an antibody swims around some cells: As presented in the series concept, the government has already introduced into urban water systems (much like with Chlorine, etc.) an inoculation that stops the parasite’s growth, but still leaves the infected with a desperate urge to eat living flesh. So the main character struggles with this curse, as well as protecting an orphaned girl during the apocalypse; the girl herself becomes a murderous schizophrenic, after having been forced to put down both of her infected parents in the pilot episode. That’s the direction it’ll go, if I can get it realized.

BD: Do you privately, deep down inside, pray for the zombie apocalypse like I do?

CUNNINGHAM: Ha, Hell no! Well… At least not while I’m living in NYC. I really don’t think I’d make it out of this place alive, even with the Highlander katana. But, yeah, the idea of the apocalypse is great. I’ve prepared a little for it, and I do actually have a friend who is gearing up some for the end- of- days, so I take a little comfort in that connection.

BD: Anything else you’d like to mention (and do you have any insight as to when/where non festival goers might be able to see this in its entirety)?

CUNNINGHAM: Right now you can follow Year Zero on Facebook.

Also I have a Twitter feeding Year Zero-related links and the storyline of random Year Zero survivors in NYC.

Hopefully there will be some news on where people can watch Year Zero in the weeks/months to come!

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