Set Report: Becoming a Zombie in ‘Land of the Dead’

There are a few experiences that could never be topped- where nothing in the world could be cooler. Becoming a zombie on the set of George Romero’s Land of the Dead, his fourth zombie flick, is one of those moments, where your very life could end the next day and you might not even care. Inside you’ll find an in depth report from a zombie on the set of the biggest thing to happen to horror in decades. ‘Land of the Dead’ hits theaters October 21st.
A Day as a Zombie on the set of Romero’s Land of the Dead

Written by: Gary Ugarek of Wet N Wild Radio

It seems kind of funny to me when I look back at it. 20 years ago I was the biggest fan of the Romero Dead films, when I say big fan I mean HUGE. I thought that these were by far the best type of apocalyptic horror films ever. I mean come on think about it, your friends, your family, turned into these flesh eating monsters that will stop at nothing until you’re devoured to the bone, it is ****ing insane, so when I had the chance to be a zombie in George A. Romero’s “Land of the Dead”, I took it. Getting that chance was something entirely different.

I was able to become a zombie in LOTD through Greg Nicotero, the Special Make-up FX supervisor on the film, and co-owner of KNB FX of Los Angeles California. I met Greg through my old website, Wet N Wild Radio, I was doing the coverage of the Dawn of the Dead remake, and Greg had sent me an email saying he liked what he saw on the site in regards to BTS (Behind The Scenes) stuff. So I was like, Hey cool, I got an Email from Greg Nicotero. When I attended the World Premiere of Dawn of the Dead at the Beverly Center in Beverly Hills, CA, courtesy of Universal Studios, I was able to meet Greg in person, and he is a really cool guy. Greg, Tom Savini, Scott Reiniger, some guy from Rolling Stone magazine, and I sat around a table just bull****ting about Horror films in general, what we liked, disliked, and down right loathed about horror films in general. It was a very cool night, and something to remember.

After staying in contact with Greg for a few months he told me he was on his way to Baltimore, MD for the Horrorfind convention. I was like “cool, I live in the area, I will see ya there”. When I arrived at the con I went and said hello and Greg asked… “So I guess you heard LOTD has been green lighted?” I responded “Oh Yeah”. Greg then asked, “So you wanna be a zombie?” I think I said something to the affect of, “FUCK YEAH” and we both laughed.

Fast Forward to the weekend of November 5th – 7th 2004. Here I am in my car traveling to Toronto to be a zombie extra in LOTD. I mean how ****ing cool is that. After a Nice 7 hour drive, which should have taken me 8.5 hours, I finally arrived at the border. Now just a weekend prior, my friend Matt Blasi, and his Friend Lee were on the set as zombies, Matt told me they had a hard time with the Canadian customs agent when going across the border, so of course I figure I am gonna have the same issue… NOT! I pulled up and she asked “What is your purpose for visiting Canada?” I stated “Going to see a friend who is working on a Movie in Toronto.” She said “Ok, enjoy your stay”. and that was it, I am in Canada.

Now I arrive at my hotel, and I crawl into bed, mainly because I arrived at 5:00 in the morning. After 7 hours of sleep I was up, and I decided to give Greg a call. Here I am in Toronto just beaming about the fact I am going to be a zombie, and I cannot wait to get in make-up. Greg answers the phone and lets me know the zombies were pushed back until Saturday, here it is Friday, so I have to kill a day in Toronto. I was like ok cool I will see ya tomorrow. So I spent my Friday scouting Toronto for fun when I decided to drive to Thornhill, and check out the old shooting locations for the Dawn remake. What a Surprise when I arrived to find the MALL was leveled. I took a few pics then left. So after a day if driving around Toronto I head to the Hotel, went into the bar, and well, I don’t remember much after that.

Now here it is on Saturday… and guess what… it’s Zombie Day. So of course I am just happy as hell, but I am starting to get a migraine. The funny thing is, when my buddy Matt and his friend Lee went to the set, Lee ended up getting a migraine as well, talk about Irony. So now I am like WTF, a headache… NOOOOOOOOOO! So I immediately went to the drug store and bought some Advil 400’s. Took some and 3 hours later I still got a splitting headache. I said **** this I need to see a doctor or something. I am not letting a headache Fuck this chance in a lifetime up. So I drive to a local hospital and they tell me go to the Drug store and ask the pharmacist for Tylenol with Codeine. I was like “What, you need a prescription for that” the on duty triage nurse said “Not in Canada”. So I was like Ok. I drive back to the drug store and tell the pharmacist behind the counter my problem, and voila… one bottle of Tylenol W/codeine… $4.99 for 30 pills. I popped 2 of them and an hour later… I still have the ****ing headache, just not as severe.


At approx 2:00 Greg calls and tells me to meet him at Carl Hall Road near the Aerospace Museum @ 3:30pm. So I get in the car and drive to the location and meet up with Greg. Not only did he get me an Invite, but he gave me the chance to be a Zombie in LOTD. I mean… Damn, how do you ever thank someone for that kind of an opportunity? I had this Killer make-up job done by Francois Dagenais. This make-up took about 2 hours+ to apply and was just ****ing outstanding stuff. Plus I got to meet some of the great Make-up FX guys Behind LOTD. For instance Christopher Nelson, I knew Chris’s work from Return of the Living Dead 3, which kinda sucks because I know he has worked on so many other great projects, but ROTLD3 was the first thing that popped into my head. Anyway, Greg introduced me, and I said “I know Chris’s work from ROTLD 3″. Greg poked a little fun at Chris, but being a cool guy, he didn’t mind. (Chris you did awesome work on that film.. Don’t ever think otherwise, or let anyone ever let you think otherwise).

Anyway, off to the Make-Up chair I went… Let me tell you, I thought I had a killer job with what I do for a living…. Fuck That, Make-Up artists have a tough job, fun, but tough. We started the Make-up process at about 4:00 that afternoon and Francois said we are gonna mess you up good, and they did. Greg said lets put some bite marks here, here, and here, (pointing to areas on my face) so Francois went to town. While the make-up was being applied every once and a while Greg would pop in and look over the work, then he would bust my chops about me liking the Dawn of the Dead remake. However, it was kinda cool because the guy doing my make-up worked on Dawn of the Dead 2004. The Make Up trailer was filled with a bunch of crew from the make-up team from DOTD04, and we all talked about Dawn 04 a bit. Greg would come in and say ” Tell them how you love the remake over the original”, of course he was busting balls, but that is Greg and he is cool about that kinda **** (for the record, I like the remake, but it will never replace the original).

Well after 2 hours of some laughs, and good tunes in the Make-Up Trailer, we were whisked away to the set. Of course my headache is going full bore again so I am eating those Tylenol w/ Codiene’s like PEZ. Anyway, now being on a Movie Set is cool, however, being a zombie in a George Romero Zombie Movie is even cooler. So, we get to the set and Greg is just beaming about all the Make-up jobs that were done. There were 6 zombies total for the shoot that night and he was ecstatic about all the make-ups. Let’s face it folks, Greg was involved in Day of the Dead, it is where he got his start, and now the man is not only the Special Make-Up FX supervisor, but he is the 2nd unit director as well. So after a few minutes of looking over the zombies he started prepping the shots.

The 1st shot, was 5 zombies trying to get into Dead Reckoning- this was 2nd unit stuff that was filler for the opening of the movie. So we are supposed to be in Uniontown, Pa. Anyway, there are 5 zombies, and they set us all up. The purpose of the shot is to show a zombie’s finger nails breaking off from him trying to into Dead Reckoning. So we have the “nails zombie” then I, then the other zombies in the shot. They shot this from 2 angles. Once from behind us, Look for my missing ear, and then from the side of us. I don’t know which one they will use. Then we break while they prep the next shot. 2 hours later, they huddle us over to the front of Dead Reckoning. The next shot involves us zombies trying to get one of the members of the Dead reckoning crew, what he ends up doing is kicking a zombie in the face. Greg said “Gary I am gonna put you next to this zombie (The Face Kicked zombie) so you can get a little screen time. I was like Ok. So we do that shot and boom, it is done in one take.

Now it is time to kill some zombies. Greg had to do some library shots of zombies getting killed. He was looking for volunteers, so I asked if I could be on of the zombies, because I always wanted to have my head blown off. Greg was cool with it. So now they have to rig my head with a “brain balloon”. A small device attached to my melon that with the right amount of air pressure explodes and shoots blood and brain out of the back of my head. After that rigging, I have to get contacts put in. There was a little issue with the contacts, simply because I was never fitted for them so Greg had to put them in himself, only to find out one of my eyes is smaller than the other. Well after that issue I am now ready to have my head blown the **** off. I am set up in front of a red brick wall; they rig my head up and tell me what to do. I turn, walk, then when they yell “POP” the rig explodes and I hit the stunt mat. Let’s just say, after 2 takes we broke for lunch, which I wore my full make-up to lunch, which was kind of fun in and of itself. Anyway lunch is over and it is back to getting shot. Last take, number 3, we hear ‘Rolling, Sticks, Action Gary” I do my thing, and suddenly I hear “POP” I fall and then they yell cut. I don’t think any take will be used, simply because I am 6’2″ and every time the Brain Balloon would explode the **** would fly off camera. Then even had the balloon on my neck and still the same thing.

Well…

The set ups were done, the Crew was fantastic. I mean these guys were eager and ready to do whatever it took, to take a little extra work off George. They wanted to make sure all he had to was concentrate on Main Unit and they would take care of the rest. They were a great group of people. Everyone laughed and had a good time, and in between set-ups to just take a breather some of the crew would play a little stick ball to help ease the tension of working on the biggest zombie film of all time. Everyone was fantastic and the production is lucky to have surrounded themselves with such a great group of people.

I spent a total of about 16 hours on set. 3 of which was just sitting and waiting in the break area while they set up the shots. After an 8 hour day on the 2nd unit, the motley looking lot of zombies, us, were called up to the Main Unit… Thats right, to work for the Master himself. Now I am like standing there on the main unit in this ghastly make-up, with PA’s smiling and nearly vomiting at every turn, wondering how I could compare any other fun time I ever had with this. I mean ****, I am standing on the set of a Fucking George A. Romero zombie film. What can top that? Answer… Not a Goddamn thing!

The scenes for Main Unit were a little more fun; however I didn’t get to do as much because one of the producers kept saying… “He was shot in the head”, one of the PA’s would say, “George wants him in the shot” So after some discussion they set up the shot of a soldier getting attacked by zombies. So instead of showing me eating a soldier, I walk by the camera to work it as a wipe effect. The solider was none other than the Maintenance Zombie from the Dawn remake- the zombie whom got the spike through his head. So the zombies bum rush in and attack this guy, then myself and another zombie walk by the camera for the wipe effect. Now that was fun because the playback was really awesome. The zombies whom attack went right in for the kill, and the wipe effect worked perfectly.

Well after some Main Unit shots, the somewhat enjoyable Toronto night started to give way to a brisk and windy morning. The cool thing is Filming was about to wrap for the night. One last shot… The zombies are supposed to be forming at a fence protecting the walled in city. All we had to do was look mean, hungry and pissed off… At least that is what the AD said. So we do that, and then all I had to do was report back to Make-Up and get the stuff off my face. It was a Great time and by 8:30am Sunday morning I was headed back to my hotel and ready to call it a night. Needless to say, after the 16 hour exp. I had… The Fans are sure going to enjoy this ride. This is the ultimate E-ticket attraction.

Full gallery here.

Source: Gary Ugarek of Wet n Wild Radio