Last Friday, Paramount Pictures invited a group of journalists to the lot to check out about 20 minutes of footage from World War Z, which is out on June 21st. After a quick hello from Brad Pitt, we saw the 3D version of the trailer that’s hitting theaters today (it hit the web earlier this week), which actually looked pretty good for a post-conversion. Following the trailer we saw about 20 minutes of footage culled together from the first two acts of the film. Then we were given a group interview with director Marc Forster, during which he fielded the questions that have been on a lot of our minds during this film’s lengthy production process.
Starring Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, Matthew Fox and David Morse all star in the film that “ revolves around United Nations employee Gerry Lane (Pitt), who traverses the world in a race against time to stop a pandemic that is toppling armies and governments and threatening to decimate humanity itself.”
As the last of the journalists file into Paramount’s smallish Sherry Lansing theater, Brad Pitt enters the room along with director Marc Forster. The whole thing is running about 10 minutes late but Pitt assures the crowd with a smile, “it wasn’t us.” Forster stands to the side as Pitt provides a brief introduction to the footage, saying the goal was to make a film “his son would like” and that he thinks they’ve pretty much got it right.
Then he exits and the footage unspools. First, we get the debut of the new trailer, which hit the web earlier this week and is in theaters today – you’ve seen it by now. But you probably haven’t seen it in 3D yet, which for a post-conversion is surprisingly good. When the zombies pile up on that wall in Israel or come tumbling out of the fuselage of the plane, they’re definitely coming right at you. Usually when post-converts opt for the whole “popping out at you thing” they sacrifice the quality of the film’s quieter moments – but everything in the trailer looked pretty good. After that we got a look at a 20 minute assembly of footage from various parts of the film. This was in 2D since World War Z is still in post and hasn’t undergone its’ final conversion yet as a whole.
Things started out with an extended look at Pitt’s character, Gerry Lane, in gridlock traffic with his family. We get a few more character beats that set up the personality of the family unit. But something’s wrong, cops speed past the car only to come running back in the opposite direction. A police motorcycle zooms by, clipping off Lane’s side mirror. When he gets out to investigate – a giant truck starts plowing through traffic. Lane jumps back behind the wheel and follows the truck that’s essentially clearing a path for him. From there we see utter chaos as the city is overcome with the zombie plague (and these are definitely fast zombies). During his family’s escape, Lane catches sight of a bystander being bitten. The guy falls to the ground and there’s a small countdown as the seconds pass – by the time the countdown hits 8 seconds the bystander is back on his feet and fully zombified. The process is that fast.
The next beat we get a look at is Lane trying to get his family settled in on the aircraft carrier from the trailers while the powers that be strong-arm him into helping them figure out what’s causing all of this. At this rate the world’s population will be decimated within just a few days and they need his help (Lane’s some kind of UN expert) traveling the world to find patient zero. If he doesn’t help them, they kick his entire family off the boat. Suffice to say, pretty soon he’s out and about traveling the world. This seems like it’s going to be the heart of the movie, Lane going from place to place – finding different permutations of the Zombie plague in different locales.
The first stop is Israel. Lane drives around with a fellow UN rep while they discuss the crisis at hand. It’s here that we first hear the word, “Zombie.” Apparently the UN rep has found proof in old writings that a zombie plague was once considered a threat – and here we are again. This leads to the sequence at Israel’s Western Wall, where just as soon as Lane’s UN friend claims the walled off area is safe – it’s stormed by a sea of zombies. This is the money shot you’ve seen in the trailers and, lest you be concerned that the film’s climax has been spoiled, it actually seems to occur fairly early in Act 2. It was sort of hard to get a bead on the buildup to this shot because the sequence as a whole had been edited to fit into the footage assembly – but hopefully it gets a nice ramp up.
One of the more interesting moments of the presentation followed soon after. Lane is on the run with a group of Israeli soldiers. One of them, a woman, is bitten on the hand by a zombie. Having previously seen someone turn in a matter of seconds – Lane wastes no time in chopping her hand right off. Boom. Done. She looks at her stump in shock as he dresses it. The required amount of time passes, and she’s still a human. It’s an interesting take on preventing a post-bite zombie infection and I hope it’s something they explore more later on in the film.
After that the footage speeds up a bit, showing bits and pieces from here and there in the film, including a slightly extended take on the airplane sequence that concludes the new trailer. What I gather is this – the film is impressive in scope. A lot of the footage looks cool, but it’s still hard to tell how it will play out in the final product since even some of what we saw in the assembly appeared to have been edited for time. World War Z could go either way for me, but I’m certainly interested in seeing the final film.
After the presentation director Marc Forster took the stage to answer questions from the attending journalists. I’ve included some highlights that might be of interest to you below.
How close are you to being done? “We’re about 2 weeks away from locking picture.” And head shots kill them? “If you shoot them in the knees, they’ll crawl. But head shots kill them.”
What happened with all the re-shoots in the 3rd act? “We shot the movie and felt like the ending wasn’t what we wanted it to be. It could be better. So we showed it to the studio and went back and did some additional shooting and are happy with the result.” Is it a big difference? “It’s a different ending, yes. I prefer it and I think it’s powerful. It works in favor of the story.”
We didn’t see many single “hero shots” of the zombies in the footage – zombies with personalities. Are they in the film? “Yes, we have those moments. Later in the film. But at the same time, the idea we had for them came from nature. The flocking and swarming. In the George Romero films in the 70’s the zombies were such a great metaphor for consumerism, for me the metaphor was about overpopulation and less resources. Especially when the feeding frenzy starts.”
What’s the time frame of the movie? Does it take place over a few days or is it over a month or two? “No, it’s basically over a few days. It’s pretty compressed.”
In this film it looks like it takes about 8 seconds for someone to turn into a zombie. “It’s 12 seconds.” So you don’t have any of the standard scenes where someone gets bitten and tries to hide it when they’re turning into a zombie? “Basically, as we discussed in the film, some people turn faster than others. But there’s also the idea that viruses mutate, and some mutate faster than others. [Brad Pitt’s character] discovers at first that it’s 12 seconds, but then he goes to another place where it takes longer. So he’s trying to figure that out.”
How much did the book’s author, Max Brooks, have to do with the movie? “I met with Max a couple of times and we spoke about the book and his intentions. I think ultimately he gave his blessing. He hasn’t seen the finished film yet, but he’s seen some of the material and I’m looking forward to showing him [the whole thing]. I hope I get his blessing [on that].” Are there going to be more characters from the book? Yes. We have [other characters] we’re including from the book.”
Since it treats zombies as an infection, did they have CDC advisors on the film? “Yes, we had CDC advisors.” How many zombie actors did you use to show the plague spreading? “Sometimes up to 100 zombie actors. In some of the crowd scenes you have 50 with excellent makeup up front and then 50 with background makeup behind them. Makeup takes a long time!”
The book has a reputation for being more reflective, but the footage we’ve seen is very fast paced. Does the film ever take a breather to hit some of those beats? “Yes, it does take a break and become more reflective. It’s not all what you guys saw here.”
One of the most popular shows on TV now is “The Walking Dead”, which is extremely violent. Are you concerned that going for a PG-13 is a little tame considering what people are used to in their weekly viewings? “No, because we approach our zombies in a different way. And I consciously designed the film in a different way, so I think we will overcome that.”
It seems like a lot of the modern zombie movies have shied away from actually saying the word “Zombie.” Are you trying to reclaim that? “Yeah, I felt like the film should feel very real. Like it could happen right now in the world we live in. I didn’t want it to feel campy. There are characters in the film that talk about zombies.”
Did we see anything from the 3rd act in this footage? Or was it just the first two acts? “No, you didn’t see anything from the 3rd act. I guess the plane the going down was part of the 3rd act. But that’s about it.”