Recently I participated in a conference call interview with “World War Z” director Marc Forster. Read on to find out what inspired Forster’s zombies, the challenges on such a large and arduous production and the themes behind the film.
Press: There are reports that the back end of the movie was being completely rewritten. What challenges did you face by rewriting the ending?
Marc Forster: Basically when we finished shooting, we went inside the editing room to see what we had and we realized we could do better. We went to the studio and asked for additional photography to make the film stronger and the studio supported us entirely. So we did that and everyone has been very pleased with the outcome.
Press: Zombies are often used as a metaphor for problems in society. I’ve heard you say that the zombies can represent overpopulation and depleting resources. Could you tell me more about that and if that’s what interested you in the movie?
Marc Forster: I have often been fascinated by zombies because they’re, as you just mentioned, a great metaphor, going back to Romero in the ‘70’s where they were a take on consumerism. When I started working with zombies after reading Max’s books, it really resonated with me. We’re living in a time of change and I think every time the world’s been through such a transformation, zombies have been very, very popular.
As a child, I was fascinated with biology, with ants, fish and flocks of birds, swarming mentality – the feeling that a (swarm) has a brain of its own. Also as a child, I once witnessed masses of people at a soccer stadium in Europe as people were trying to leave after the game, trampling on top of each other. I sat there watching it, frightened from a child’s point of view, realizing how scary this could be.
Population is growing and in 2050 there will be around ten billion people on the planet. So overpopulation becomes more and more of a concern with less and less resources, and if you’re looking all around in regards to politics and economics, it seems like we are all going after the last resources. There is almost a mindlessness to it and I thought that would be a great metaphor.
The human pyramid is a very frightening image and I haven’t seen it in any zombie movie and as a filmmaker you’re always trying to create something new, which in this case is a tsunami of zombies coming towards you with no way to escape them.
Press: What’s the biggest difference that fans of the book can expect if they go see the movie?
Marc Forster: Basically, (author) Max Brooks sets the table for our film. But it is more of a template as it is not a standard linear narrative. And therefore when we adapted the book into a film narrative we extended into a different linear narrative. In Max’s book you have short stories told from the past and our film starts in the present.
And (Gerry Lane) the interviewer is the main character trying to find out where the origin started versus in Max Brooks’, he is interviewing different survivors from across the globe.
Lost In Reviews: This definitely seems to be your largest scale production and as far as action films go, you did Quantum of Solace before. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to adapt to in moving onto a bigger scale with so much CGI on this one?
Marc Forster: It’s what you point out. I mean, sometimes we are shooting for instance in Malta for three weeks. It’s almost a thousand extras every day and you try to create mass hysteria and at the same time you’re shooting with some real zombies – some CGI – sometimes it’s a mixture of both. So you have thousands of extras for two weeks and it’s constantly these sequences where you’re trying to create mass hysteria and it’s not just one day of filming. It’s week after week, and on top of the extras because you are dealing with (CGI) characters who are not present you have to create space for them, so it had to be very well planned and it takes a lot out of you, especially on a long shoot.
Press: There’s a pretty memorable sequence where the zombies are climbing on top of each other. How involved were you with the production process in deciding what zombies could and couldn’t do in the film and what was that like?
Marc Forster: We have – created our own rule book with what the zombies can do and cannot do and partly based on the book and partly through zombie history. So I studied all kinds of zombie movies in the ‘70’s to the present and you – look at all these films and see what other people had as rules and what our rules are. I knew that I wanted to set it all as very real. I didn’t want them to be superhuman and just grounded all biology. I wanted to create a feeling within the movie that this could happen “in reality” and thus we worked to make the film as real as possible. This “reality” is how I based all of my research on it when we developed the idea. I was involved in every step of the way because it was important to the foundation of my vision.
Press: Can you tell me if there are any films or styles of films that were particularly influential in making this movie or maybe any choices you made as the director?
Marc Forster: I looked at all the zombie movies especially ‘Dawn of the Dead’ and ‘Twenty Eight Days Later.’ But, I wouldn’t say I just looked at them as reference and then tried it– I said OK this is what existed before and people are watching, ‘The Walking Dead’ was on television so I knew I needed to create something that differentiates itself from those movies. I wouldn’t say I was looking for something that inspired me. I was looking more for films that were out there, I saw what was created before and then sort of created my own language visually and emotionally of where I wanted this film to go to.
Press: What is one of the greatest challenges you faced with directing World War Z?
Marc Forster: Sometimes when you’re surrounded by these massive scenes and you’re involved in this incredible time pressure and money pressure and so one, it can be a challenge to stick to your vision. Yet in the midst of all of that you have to remind yourself that ultimately you’re the director and you have to carry this vision and make sure that that vision gets communicated to everyone at all times. And in certain circumstances, whatever it is, in certain moments, you might lose sight but then you always have to come back and just work with everyone on that. I’ve been lucky enough to say I’ve walked away at the end of the films I made, with the thought of yes my vision was there. I think that’s the most important thing.
Lost In Reviews: On Machine Gun Preacher you explored some of those themes of socio economic crisis – third world countries – and the desperation of that. Did you want to continue some of that exploration with World War Z?
Marc Forster: Well I think that all of my films are somehow linked or connected in one way or another, but World War Z has different ideas than Machine Gun Preacher – there always is a link but interestingly enough, I wasn’t thinking about it that way. It was more of a theme that’s always in the back of my mind because it’s something I think we all need to think about as it’s just the facts of life that ultimately resources deplete and at some point our planet won’t be able to sustain the amount of people there are on it.
Press: It seems like the public is really fascinated with zombie stories, but even above that, a lot of people are really fascinated with this kind of disaster movie. Why do you think this catches the public’s imagination so much?
Marc Forster: I think that a lot of it is that with the circumstances right now in society there’s a certain fear about the economy and the state of the world in general. Across the globe there are issues everywhere and – I think that we as people are fear based – we go through changes and issues come up that I think topics like our film are more popular. As we are going through cycles, I’m sure it will change again.
by Alex Lamb
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