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Chords in Conversation: Christian James talks STALLED
After hearing the writer and star’s thoughts about making Stalled, a new fresh take on zombie horror, we thought we would take a few moments to get even further insight by chatting with the film’s director – Christian James.
Blood, zombies, comedy and toilets…here is what Christian had to say about his experience directing Stalled but not before he made sure the door was firmly locked and checked to see if it was a Zombie free zone!
So Christian, could you tell us a bit about how you got into film?
I’m not sure, I just wanted to. I would dick around filmmaking and such as a kid. I remember I REAAAALLLY wanted the Ewok Village playset from Jedi, but wasn’t allowed one (yeah, tough, gritty upbringing – I know) so I built one instead. I was always doing that kinda stuff. Add that to a burning obsession with movies and there’s a recipe for choosing this rocky career path.
As I asked the writer and star of the film, Dan Palmer, I am going to have to ask you – What would be the first thing you would do in a Zombie apocalypse?
Climb a tree?
Despite the majority of the film being shot in a toilet cubicle can you give us a bit of insight into certain techniques / set design you used to achieve such a set up?
Well, I was adamant that, despite our paltry budget, we would have to be able to pull out walls and shoot in all corners. It’s already a limited location, lets not limit ourselves any more than necessary. Our production designer purchased the entire set on ebay, the toilet was owned and dismantled by the army, then shipped to us. It would have been easier and cheaper to build as is but we had to modify it to behave as a movie set would, create space for the camera etc. I had a rule that the camera couldn’t go anywhere WC can’t see from wherever he is. There’s a payoff to this that I can’t go into without hitting spoilers but it was very important that the camera can’t go outside the cubicle, we’re in there with him at all times.
We shot chronologically so the set would decay as we shot. The first shot you see of WC entering the restroom is the first thing we shot. I think we stayed in sequence for the 1st 20 minutes or so of the movie.
Just out of curiosity how much of the film’s small budget went on fake blood? (After all there is quite a bit in on screen!)
Oh, I’m glad you think that. In fact, quite a few reviews have pointed out the gore level. In all honesty, I would’ve like twice as much. Whilst shooting, I had this nagging feeling that the movie wasn’t bloody enough. The budget was tight and we were very strict with ourselves, but the one area I went all Michael Cimino was blood. In the first week we used up our supply for the entire movie. You forget the amount you get through, just by applying and removing from the actors on a daily basis – for some reason they don’t like going home caked in sticky red shit. I hate zombies with clean mouths, so would insist everyone rinse/gargle a cup of blood before a take. I think there are a still a couple of takes where you can see a styrofoam cup full of blood that an actor assumed was off camera. Once again, with everyone doing that, you get through the red stuff at a rate of knotts.
Also I have to ask – How many takes did you have to do for the ladder sequence?
Oh, that was quite an efficient sequence to shoot. We did the entire bit in an afternoon. We shot Jeff from IT’s section in the morning. We had an issue with the blood gags registering on camera. After our elaborate pump rig failed for the 5th time, we opted to go old school and get as many bodies off camera, squeezing jets of fake blood out of Pepsi bottles (other soft drinks bottles also work). Issue is, all those failed takes and ad hoc solutions ate up hours of valuable time. I’d cut the time I had to shoot the ladder sequence in half so had to get very efficient and strip it down a tad. Brilliantly, Dan is up on that ladder, it doesn’t look high in the movie but it’s a fair ol’ drop in reality.
We didn’t have zombies munching on t (…er…better watch the movie). Underneath, we had a load of crew hovering underneath with a crash matt -as it’s known in the biz, or a dirty old mattress not fit for a junkie to you and I. So we digitally removed the crew and added in the zombies, quite a long VFX sequence that one, hard to tell, though. Our team did a great job.
So Stalled has got quite a lot of good press when it comes to film festivals, exactly how many awards/ nominations has it picked up so far?
Not as many as you’d think. Most of the festivals we’ve been at we’ve opted to be out of competition. One of the few we were up for, we won! The Melies D’argent at LIFF in Sweden. As a result of that, we ushered into official competition at the prestigious Sitges festival in Spain.
What’s your next project? Dare to team up with the writer again after this Zombie fuelled tale?
I’ve just created a little short/sketch with Holiday Grainger and David Oaks – all for a good cause too. Having been a year in post with Stalled, I hadn’t shot anything for fun in a while and a producer pal got a bunch of talented people together for a day.
Yes, I will 100% be back with Dan. We’re cooking up quite a few fun projects at the moment, just trying to park them with the right people. Fingers crossed the gap between film 2 and 3 won’t be as long as our first. Of course, if all else fails we can always Kickstart ‘Stalled: Number Two’!
Climb a tree? – I think I’m with on that one! Thanks again Christian for your answers and some great tips for any film maker out their also. Stalled is released on Monday 24th on DVD and BluRay. Get your copy at: http://tinyurl.com/StallOrder