Amazon Studios’ “Zombieland” pilot is now out and available to view for free! Right here. There’s a feedback button to vote for the show’s future (as previously reported) – I say go ahead and do it. I dig the pilot, but I’m also aware that typically shows get even better afterwards.
The show is based on the hit Columbia Pictures movie of the same name, and finds four survivors outwitting zombies and searching for a place to call home. All of this comes from feature film’s original creative team, writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The Joe Schmo Show), and producer Gavin Polone (Gilmore Girls, Curb Your Enthusiasm).
To that end I recently hopped on a conference call with Rheese and Wernick (and a few other journalists). We talked about how Kirk Ward was the original choice to play Tallahassee (even before Woody Harrelson; “Zombieland” was going to be a TV show before it became a movie) and why they’ve chosen re-adapt the material back into the TV format. They also give their thoughts on Amazon’s unique pilot vetting process.
Kirk Ward was originally your choice for Tallahassee back when this was going to be a TV Show (before the film). What’s it like working with him post Woody taking on the role? Did it change the way that Kirk interpreted it? Because he very much feels like his own character in the television series.
Rheese: Well, you know, we worked in Kirk Ward in 2005 on a show called “Invasion Iowa” with William Shatner. And we fell in love with his talents and him as a person. And so – and when it came time to leaving reality television which is what we were trying to do at the time and writing a script, you know, we wrote Zombieland as a spec pilot and we wrote it really inspired by Kirk. We intended him to play the part of Tallahassee. We kind of wrote the part to him based on some of his acting strengths and what he likes to do in his physicality and his sense of humor and things like that.
And ultimately when Zombieland became a movie it was impossible to cast Kirk because, you know, Hollywood wanted a star and they found that star in Woody Harrelson who was just amazing and awesome. And Woody left a very indelible mark on Tallahassee. But interestingly Tallahassee was never really intended to wear a cowboy hat and to talk with, you know, a more rural accent. He was supposed to be from a big city in Florida and was – he was supposed to be Kirk Ward originally. So much of what Woody brought to the role was Woody bringing himself to the role and it was awesome. He created this wonderful Tallahassee that was different from the Tallahassee we had originally envisioned.
When it came time to do the series we had a lot of actors come in to audition. We wanted Kirk and but we had to go through an audition process. And we had a lot of actors come in and we saw a lot of people essentially ape Woody Harrelson. We had a million guys come in with like shark tooth necklaces and cowboy hats and T-shirts and jeans and do the southern accent. And even, you know, our initial – you know, some of the initial people on our crew started to view Tallahassee through that Woody Harrelson lens like let’s go found the cowboy hat for him and let’s – for this new character and let’s figure out, you know, how to recreate him. And our immediate reaction was that that was a mistake. We didn’t want an actor to try to imitate Woody or to try to invoke Woody because we just thought that would have been playing an actor as opposed to playing a character.
And when we went to Kirk and we said, “You’ve got to come do this,” we told him not to try to imitate Woody, not to do a southern accent. We said, “We’re not going to put you in a cowboy hat or cowboy boots. We’re going to let you be the urban Tallahassee we originally imagined and you just have to be what you originally would have been in the character.”
Because of the series format are you really planning on exploring a lot of the country? Will we get to see a lot of this world that maybe didn’t quite make it into the original pilot and then feature movie?
Wernick: Well absolutely. I mean, we do envision this as a road show that we’re going to be heading east and traveling towards Detroit. Towards the East Coast and Fisher Island to this safe community. So absolutely. We feel that actually going on the road and shooting it on location, Vegas hopefully being the next spot. Then hitting spots along the way like, you know, Mt. Rushmore and Graceland. This inherently is a road show and I think we ideally would love to take the production on the road.
Why bring back the same characters from the movie instead of coming up with like a new batch of characters within the same Zombieland?
Rheese: I think the biggest reason we brought back these specific characters is to us Zombieland really is these characters. You know, if – without Tallahassee, Wichita, Little Rock and Columbus I think Zombieland really wouldn’t be much more than a title and a tone, you know. And it would be — I’m trying to think of, you know, something analogous — but it would be, you know, like bringing – watching the Odd Couple movie and then doing the “Odd Couple” TV show and not having it be Felix and Oscar, having it be two other random – another odd couple of two different people.
It just didn’t make sense to us. Like we always loved these characters. You know, they were the reason we wrote the movie in the first place. It’s about a dysfunctional family. It’s about a fearless guy paired with a fearful guy. It’s about two really live-by-their-wits con artist sisters.
With Amazon, the show is essentially being focus tested on the public. How do you feel about that?
Wernick: Well, I mean, again it’s the ultimate focus test putting in front of America and having them decide whether they like it enough to take it to series. I mean, it’s really a meritocracy and one we embrace. You know, often times pilots are, whether they go to series or not, are decided by a couple of executives in suits and a room full of 20 random people. that are selected for various reasons and, you know, whether they like it or not.
So I think putting it in front of the public is really an exciting way to decide whether to move forward or not on a project and ultimately we believe in our show and we feel America will embrace it enough to take it to series.
One of a lot of people’s favorite things about the movie is the kind of surprising appearance of Bill Murray. Do you have any plans or have you given some thought to perhaps a series of surprise cameos as part of your storylines?
Rheese: It’s a very good question. And the answer is absolutely yes. We will likely see a celebrity cameo down the road. It’s tough to predict who it will be because celebrities are notoriously hard to pin down and convince. And their schedules are always difficult and getting them in. And, I mean, getting Bill Murray into the movie was an absolute miracle. It was a Hail Mary that largely was a function of Woody Harrelson knowing Bill Murray personally and asking him if he’d be willing to do it and us finding a little window in his time and getting him the script. And it was crazy. It was very lucky. He got the script about three days before he showed up on set. It was that touch and go.