On Friday, October 29, 2004 I travelled to Toronto, Canada to "star" as a zombie in the new George A. Romero horror movie "LAND OF THE DEAD". To say the least, it was one of the most exciting times of my life. The man who made this possible was KNB EFX genius, Emmy Award Winner, and my friend Greg Nicotero.
I drove to Canada with a friend of mine, Matt Blazi, who would also appear as a zombie in the film. We left Pittsburgh that morning around 8am for the 330 mile trek. We had our directions from MapQuest, our snacks to eat, and plenty of George Romero soundtracks to keep us happy for the duration of the trip.
After several hours of driving we arrived at the US/Canadian border. We dealt with a very rude border agent for about 10 minutes, and then we were on our way. Welcome to Canada eh?
We drove to our hotel near the airport, the Courtyard Marriott on Carlingview Drive. We checked in and made our way up to the room to call Greg. I promptly woke Greg up and he told us to just sit tight and he would call us when he got to the set base camp. This was close to 2pm. So to kill time, Matt and I drove to a
souvenir shop to pick up a few gifts for family & friends and grab some lunch at Outback. Afterwards we drove back to the hotel to await Greg's call.
At around 4:45pm our call came. Greg told us to get to the set. We got in the car and headed to downtown Toronto to meet up with him. We were looking for the intersection of York & Bremner. This turned out to be an adventure all by itself. We drove
around aimlessly asking people how to find Bremner? All we got was a puzzled
look back and then "I don't know". Well after a few minutes of this we finally
found our destination. We parked in the lot next to the Air Canada Centre and
ran across the street to the production base camp.
As we made our way up the sidewalk, with
the CN tower and Skydome in the background, we noticed the names on the
trailers…The Butcher, Big Daddy, Number 9, Cholo, the producer, the director,
and then KNB EFX! We peeked inside and could see extras being made up as
zombies! It was an unreal feeling. Just then Greg came out of the trailer and
we flagged him down. Greg introduced us to one of the production P.A.'s and she
took us to the wardrobe trailer.
The wardrobe asst. picked out some truly
horrible zombie outfits for us (horrible in a good way that is). At first the
pants she gave me were so long I would have to be about 6' 9" to fit in them!
She found some a little closer to my length and I was set. My zombie gear
consisted of a dingy, brown argyle sweater and some severely stained tan pants.
Matt's was a dark grey sweater and dark pants. Now we were ready for makeup!
Greg took Matt to one trailer for his
zombie transformation. He then escorted me to my trailer for my very own
extreme zombie makeover. As we walked to the trailer I looked at Greg and
grabbed his shoulder with total glee. He just looked at me and smiled. He knew
that I was really excited to be a George Romero ghoul.
Greg sat me down in the makeup chair and
introduced me to the artist who would turn me into a flesh eating monster. CJ,
a makeup artist from Montreal,
had just arrived and this was his first day on the movie. The job he would do
on me was amazing.
At first Greg "experimented" by putting a
wig on me that made me look like some aging, burned out hippie from the 1960's.
He decided that we would go in another direction.
CJ applied a foam latex appliance that
started on my forehead and went down to my nose, covering basically all of my
face. He then taped my right ear back and applied a horrible wound appliance to
my ear, making it appear as if zombies had just torn my ear to pieces. And for
good measure he added one more to the back of my head. After reading about this
process for years in magazines like Fangoria, to be sitting in a makeup chair
having the same thing done to me was just amazing. As I was being made up,
flanking me on both sides, I noticed the teenage zombie couple from the film.
They were being turned into zombies along with me! CJ then covered my entire
head in flesh tone makeup. This made it easier for the makeup to come after
this, look more realistic. I was then painted by airbrush a putrid yellowish
color, with darkened reddish colors. After this CJ painted in the wounds on my
forehead, ear, and back of my head. The result was truly disgusting. And believe
me I loved it! The whole process took nearly three hours. Several times Greg
came thru to check in on the process of my makeup and added a few little
touches of his own to CJ's work. Matt had gotten done much earlier than I did.
His makeup was a little less gross than mine, but he looked like a zombie for
sure. We were now ready to head to the set.
We were loaded on a van, along with other
zombies. Actor Boyd Banks, who plays the Butcher zombie in the movie, was also
in the van. Boyd also appeared in the remake of DAWN OF THE DEAD and in
Romero's BRUISER. We drove a few blocks down the street to BCE Place, the location for our scene. We
were about to step onto the set of George Romero's 4th zombie movie.
How cool was this?
Stepping off the shuttle van to the set was
"pretty heady stuff man" (something I heard George Romero say before). I was
really gonna do this! Unbelievable.
So we were led into the building and
directed to hang out and wait for a little while. I actually was not feeling so
great physically. I had one of my infamous migraine headaches for most of the
day. It was bearable up to this point, but I was feeling like I should get some
food in me because I began to feel worse. I went down to the little gift/news
shop to buy a coke, chips, and a candy bar to get me thru the night. As I
walked to the shop I got lots of stares from curious onlookers who were waiting
outside a restaurant. When I walked inside the shop the Indian man behind the
counter looked at me and said "Hey, call 911". He then asked me if it was real (the
makeup)? I of course explained it was makeup for a movie. I then shuffled back
to my group of fellow zombies and munched on my goodies.
By this time they were ready for us to
film. We walked outside and stood along some cement steps and waited for our
direction. We were sprayed with water because in the story we had just come up
out of the river. In the scene we were about to film our leader, Big Daddy,
slumbers up to the front of Kaufmans' (Dennis Hopper) complex at Fiddler's
Green. In the scene he walks up to the glass window, with us bumbling in behind
him, and busts out the glass front. After that we invade the building. However,
the first part of that, as we would discover, would require many takes.
Everyone was bunched in close together on
the steps. We waited for our cue and started stumbling for the glass window. As
soon as we started to move…"Cut!" We moved back into place for another take. We
again are cued and we start to walk. "Cut!" This went on several times. I
looked thru the glass window and I could see George Romero giving direction to
a couple of security guards in the scene. He looked very annoyed and was really
animated with his direction to them. We tried our scene once more and again the
same result. Later we found out that George just scrapped the guys from the
scene all together. I guess they just could not find their motivation!
So we get the shot of us walking up to the
glass in the can. With that out of the way, we prepare to shoot the scene of
us pounding on the glass and eventually breaking it out. During this time Greg Nicotero
is walking around checking on the zombie makeups and trying to arrange certain
zombies to be in close view of the camera. Greg takes me off to the side and
inserts contact lenses in my eyes and pours fake blood on my wounds to make me
look even more hideous. He also takes some digital photos of me doing my best
zombie pose and profile. I should say he did this for lots of others as well.
Greg documents everything he does with photos and video. I hope to get some of
those pictures of me so I can always remember just how disgusting I looked.
For the scene of us at the glass window, we
all are given prop tools. Everything from pick axes, to hammers, to pipes. I
was given a rod iron bar for my weapon of glass destruction. They were all made
of plastic, so they were harmless. But they looked very real.
We got into position for filming. I was
standing behind the actress who plays Number 9 (Jennifer Baxter). Next to her
was the actor playing Big Daddy (Eugene Clark, I believe) and next to him was
The Butcher (Boyd Banks). Standing behind them were the "stunt" zombies. They
were guys who would smash out the glass when we busted thru. We were told to
basically pound our hands on the glass until Big Daddy raises his tool, a
jackhammer, and places it onto the glass. We did this good enough and were
ready to move on to the next part of the scene.
Next up we were given ear plugs. Why? The
huge pane of glass was going to be shattered with an explosive charge! How
cool! So we all get into place and bang our tools on the glass and POP!! The
charge goes off and the glass shatters into a million pieces. After this, Big
Daddy starts to shove the jackhammer thru the shattered glass pane. Then the
stunt zombies come to the front and begin to knock the glass out so that we can
enter the building. All of this is successfully captured. All the while I can
see inside and see the Panavision camera aimed our way. Greg is kneeling on the
floor taping this on his own video camera. People are standing behind video
playback monitors watching everything go on. And of course George is directing
all of this.
All during this time, I'm fighting my
headache as best I can. For a little while, the pain starts to subside, which
was fine by me. Another zombie on the set has been cracking me up most of the
night talking about what time we were gonna break for lunch and doing movie
quotes from STAR WARS and BIG LEBOWSKI (two of my favorite movies). All this
time, Matt has been right behind me soaking in everything as well.
Now comes the time to shoot the scene of us
entering the building. We are given some direction on what to do and we get set
to roll. Makeup people are coming by doing some last second touch up work and
adding dark food coloring to our teeth to make them look grungy. We get into
place and wait for our action cue.
The first line of actor zombies enter thru
the broken out glass frame, followed by the "stunt" zombies. Then we enter! I
let Matt go in front of me and we do our zombie shuffle. I'm clutching my rod
iron bar prop and stumbling around looking in every direction. Just like I had
seen other zombie extras do in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, DAWN OF THE DEAD and
DAY OF THE DEAD. We walked right across the view of the camera!
When we got off camera and stopped to watch
the other zombies walk in we heard "Cut!". Then the entire crew stood up and
applauded. It was the best feeling. We got the scene done in one take
perfectly! I spotted John Leguizamo (Cholo) on the set now. He was going to film
a scene later on after this. It was now lunchtime…at 2:45 am!
We went downstairs to the café area to eat
lunch, everyone except me that is. There was nothing that I would eat, except
for a piece of cake. Greg was nice enough to decorate the desert table with his
very own severed head (from GHOSTS OF MARS) and Rebecca DeMornay's severed
head (from IDENTITY). I went to a pay phone and called my girlfriend Renee', my
Mom, and my best friend Todd…at 3 o'clock in the morning! I just had to share my experience. Afterwards Matt
and I made our way back upstairs to hang out and wait for what was next. We saw
George Romero coming inside from a smoke break, headed right toward us. We of
course greeted him and shook his hand. We told him what an honor it was to work
for him on the movie. He was so nice and complimented us on our work. What a
After sitting for a few minutes I could see
that I was not gonna make it any further for the night. I was getting nauseated
and my head was just throbbing. I informed a P.A. and she got Greg to come
over. I could tell he was disappointed for me, since I would miss out on a
little more shooting. I told him I was sorry and thanked him for everything. He
told me to call him in a few days. He had two makeup artists, who were
unbelievably nice, take me back to base camp.
I was taken into the makeup trailer and the
process of removing my makeup began. This itself took about an hour and a half.
But it was actually very relaxing. They used brushes with oil to dissolve the
glue used to apply the latex appliances to my face and head. As I was sitting
in the chair I looked down on the floor and noticed a plastic bag filled with
latex intestines. Oh boy, I can't wait to see this movie!
After Matt got his makeup removed we were directed
back to the wardrobe trailer. We got our regular clothes back and took off our
zombie fashions. I even got to keep a piece of my makeup appliance! Great
After that, we were finished with our LAND OF THE DEAD experience. We walked back to the parking lot and got into the car
to drive back to the hotel. It was almost 6am now.
We got back to the hotel and slept for
about three hours. We got up at about 10am, cleaned up, and left for the long trip back home. The whole way
back was just nonstop talking about the night before. What a memory. We were
now a part of something we loved. That is an awesome and truly special feeling.
A side note to the weekend involved the
Steelers/Patriots game on Halloween Sunday. I was working the game. At the game
was Franco Harris, who had a long history with George Romero. I approached
Franco and told him about George filming a new zombie movie in Toronto. He replied that he had heard
about that and I told him that I was a zombie in it just two nights earlier! He
told me to tell George that he said "Hello!". I went home that night and
called Greg and asked him to pass along Franco's message to George, which he
promised that he would do. I also thanked Greg again for everything he had done
Land of the Dead is slated for an October
2005 release by Universal Pictures.