Detention Of The Dead takes the fun, amiable John Hughes approach to its horror comedy mayhem. As far as entries in the “monsters have invaded our school” sub-genre go, it’s not half bad. While it never quite rises to the heights of Joe Ballarini and Gregg Bishop’s Dance Of The Dead it’s a far sight better than many of the other zombie entries I’ve seen recently.
In the film, “Comedy and Horror unite in this ‘The Breakfast Club’ meets ‘Shaun Of The Dead’ tale about a group of oddball high school students who find themselves trapped in detention with their classmates having turned into a horde of zombies. Can they put their differences aside and work together to survive the night? Fat chance! This is High School after all.”
Co-writer/director Alex Mann has a background in acting and it shows in the way he’s able to corral his ensemble. I recently hopped on the phone with him to discuss the process of adapting Rob Rinow‘s stage play for the big screen as well as the challenges of directing his first feature.
Detention Of The Dead stars Jacob Zachar, Alexa Nikolas, Christa B. Allen, Jayson Blair and Justin Chon (The Twilight Saga) It’s playing Wednesday, May 2nd at The Newport Beach Film Festival before making the more traditional festival rounds.
Head inside for the interview.
I know you co-wrote the film with Rob Rinow, how did that come about?
Well he actually wrote the play. It was something I workshopped with him and directed. We opened that play October 31st 2009 and we had a lot of fun. It was more of an elongated “Saturday Night Live” sketch almost. It didn’t have that Joh Hughes element to it, that’s what I brought. When I became a writer on the project I wanted to make sure it was grounded in that kind of 80’s homage. Really influenced by The Breakfast Club and Some Kind Of Wonderful. It’s got the guy who’s in love with the hot cheerleader but who should really be with his best friend, the other outcast.
Did the play debut here in Los Angeles?
It did. It played at the Beverly Hills Playhouse on a small stage there. I teach acting there as well.
How did you put the ensemble together? Were parts added during the adaptation process?
One in particular. The play starts with five characters – Eddie the nerd, Brad the jock, Janet the hot cheerleader, Willow the goth and Ash the stoner punk kind of guy and they’re all standing at the door watching their friend make a run for it. And he doesn’t make it. And that friend who died out there was Jimmy. Now in the movie, we put that in there. The movie is vastly different from the play, which already begins in detention. There’s already zombies. In the movie we sort of added an Act 1, we put the teacher in there and we see the journey of her becoming a zombie. We added Act 1 as how they ended up in the zombie apocalypse.
What was the casting process like to find these archetypal teens?
Well, we had some great casting directors. We went about casting the best actors we could find in town who were also experienced. It was important for me to find good actors, professional actors. Meaning not only a combination of talent and skill but also attitude. This is my first feature film and I have a background in acting and so I looked in every way possible to snuff out the possibilities of a poor attitude. When you’re doing your first feature film on location you want to take the time to make sure that everyone is going to be committed and passionate and on the same page. And honestly, I feel very blessed that I ended up wit the six leads that I came up with. They were terrific to work with and I really couldn’t have asked for anything better. They were terrific in their roles.
What was the shooting schedule like on the film?
20 days. We were doing 35 to 40 set-ups per day. It flew by. Especially when you’re working with practical effects and blood. I didn’t have enough money to set up a costume change all the time so we would rehearse and rehearse and rehearse and hope that it would happen right.
Speaking of practical effects, there’s quite a lot. I imagine a lot of that as to do with budget, but I prefer them anyway. What’s your favorite gore set piece in the film?
It’s funny you say that [about budget]. I was a fan of practical effects already, but I found that almost nobody likes digital effects that much. And that made me very happy because it fit with my low-budget comedy concept. Part of that was how we wrote it, but it was also necessary because of the budget.
As far as my favorites in the film, there’s some wonderful ones in there. Working with Dan Phillips [Special Effects Department Head], he did the first zombie and it was basically just this little balloon that was in there and he was just off-camera breathing into it gently and it made his hand look like it was pulsating. And he’d just do that repeatedly. If you look at it closely you can see how it’s almost pushing the makeup off, but it looks brilliant. Dan is just so passionate and committed. This was a passion project – there’s a lot of love on that screen because nobody was actually getting paid what they were worth.
You guys are playing at the Newport Beach Film Festival. What’s next after that?
We’re also going to be at “Dances With Films” at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater at the end of May. And I think we’re a midnight screening, it’s going to be a lot of fun. And after that, it’s onto festivals. We’re well represented by our sales team and we have some good interest. I’m not really sure what will happen but I’m working hard and wishing for the best.