Quantcast ICONS Interview with John Pata - Writer/Producer/Director BETTER OFF UNDEAD

Filmmaker
John Pata!

Who doesn’t love an up and coming filmmaker? John Pata, writer, producer and director of Better off Undead joins us today to talk about his very first zombie flick and his new project Among the Dead!You may recognize John of you’ve been to any of the last few Chicago Flashback cons or 2007’s Chicago Wizard World! You know, he’s the goofy looking red head manning the booth of this guys face on it…(See frame) - By Beth - 5/08


So John, many people have different kinds of horror genres to choose from when making a low budget, starter film. Why zombies?

JP: There are two answers to this. First, for me personally, I am crazy about zombies. I have been a huge zombie fan since I was a little kid, so zombies have always been my favorite subgenre. My close friends (who make up the cast and crew of Better Off Undead) and I sit around, watch zombie movies, and drink whiskey. That’s what we do, so there was no question about it. We were going to make a film to have fun, so obviously zombies would be in it.

I think that zombie films are extremely popular for first films because, let’s face it, anyone can do it. All you need is a bunch of people willing to get made up and bloody and you have your zombies. I think it’s safe to say that a bad looking zombie looks better than a bad looking werewolf.


ICONS: Speaking of getting everyone all bloody, how much time did it actually take each day preparing for the gore shots?

JP: The gore shots were planned and prepared enough before filming that it didn’t take all that long. The guts were nothing more than pantyhose stuffed with cotton, and then I applied to layers of latex to prevent the blood soaking in. Some of the bites just consisted of latex being stretched and pulled. When you see zombies eating and chewing, that is nothing more than the inside of Italian bread. This was an extremely low-to-no budget movie, so we had to be creative…and cheap. The longest prep for one shot was the scene where a girl is torn in two on a bed, with two zombies eating her insides. We had to clear out the bedroom (thanks to Amanda for use of her room), hall in two beds we cut holes in, set everything up, get the actress Mary (thank you Mary) situated in the pre-cut beds.
She was sitting cross-legged on some phone books, so just her upper half was sticking out of the beds. Then we brought in the fake legs and torso (cast from packaging tape and plastic wrap) and got those situated. While I was preparing this, the zombies were getting in make-up. Then I brought in the intestines and blood, mixed it all up on the bed, brought in the zombies and action. All in all, this scene took roughly 6 hours collectively to prepare, and ends up being 30 seconds long…if that. But, it was all worth it, it’s one of the best scenes in the film and gets great reactions.


ICONS: When making the film, how did you get so many people to participate?

JP: To be honest, it was just by asking. I wish I had some other crazy story, like oral sex for hours, but we just put the word out there we were making this low-to-no budget zombie film, and the people just started helping. We filmed Better Off Undead in Oshkosh, WI, a city of 70,000 people. One great thing about Oshkosh is that there are a lot of creative and dedicated people here. There is a lot going on in this city for its size. When we started telling people about the film, most of the time the response was, “How can I help out?” Some of the zombie extras are huge horror fans so it’s no surprise they helped out. But other zombie extras said they don’t even like zombie films, let alone horror in general. They thought it was awesome something like this was happening and wanted to help out regardless.


I fret to think of whether you would have been giving the oral…or them (laughs) But I have an idea…

What was the hardest part of making BETTER OFF UNDEAD?

JP: There were a lot of challenging aspects of making the film. First, this was not only just my first production, but everyone that helped make the movie had no schooling or training in filmmaking. Everything was new to us. But the hardest part was time. Finding time to shoot was so difficult. Shortly after filming began, Drew, who plays Marcus, moved out of Oshkosh. We knew he was moving and hoped to shoot everything within two weeks. Considering all of us worked, filming in two weeks wasn’t possible. So once Drew moved, weekends were the only time we could shoot.


Getting the actors and the “crew” (which consisted of myself, our DP Colin Crowley, and our First Unit Bitch Scott Dercks) available at the same time was tough. Not only that, but we had to film scenes involving zombies, so all those aspects made it really difficult to shoot. Filming only took 9 days, but that was spread out from May to September. Then post-production came. I never edited on a computer before, and Colin had some software, so we planned on sitting down and going over the footage. Our schedules were so different, I was beginning my senior year in college and he was wrapped up in all sorts of projects. It wasn’t until December that we finally sat down to edit. He showed me how to use the program for a few hours, and then I was off editing. The whole post-production took us until the end of March. When all was said and done, this little 30-minute film took 10 months from first day of shooting to the DVD being finished.

ICONS: That’s still pretty good I’d say, being that you guys were all going to school and working. By the way, what was it you were going to school for? Did you always have film in mind?

JP: I went to school to the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and graduated with a degree in Graphic Design. I went back and forth about film or art for a long time. I actually first decided on film and spent a few weeks as a college freshman film student. I had all general education classes except one intro to Comm. Arts class. For whatever reason, the very little exposure to the film department gave me a terrible feeling. I did not like the vibe I got at all. So I said fuck it, and switched over to art. When I entered school, I watched a ton of films and had all this desire to create art. Now that I was forced to create art for classes, I have no desire to make art; now my desire is in making films. Funny how that worked out.


ICONS: I keep seeing the BETTER OFF UNDEAD t-shirts popping up in pictures of horror fans all over the place! What cons have you attended promoting the film and where else do you plan to go?

JP: At this point, we have had tables at Flashback Weekend 2007, Wizard World 2007 and Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors 2008, all in Chicago. We have been to others conventions, Cinema Wasteland and HorrorHound Weekend as examples, just walking around promoting. In Oshkosh we have done multiple promotions, one including Tom Sullivan, the make-up and special effects artist of The Evil Dead. That was amazing for me personally because The Evil Dead is my holy grail, no other film compares in my eyes. Also, Tom is a fucking amazing guy, and if you ever get opportunity to meet him, do so.

As for the future, the only convention we are planned on being at is Flashback Weekend 2008 in Chicago. I have come to the realization that we have probably covered the Chicago area enough, and maybe it is time to start thinking of going to either West or East Coast cons, maybe both. Plus, we are getting ready to begin filming another film, so soon we will have two films to promote.

Yeah, Chicago’s where I was lucky enough to become acquainted with you guys! I was always wondering though when I was going to get the chance to meet up with you outside of the Midwest! I did see that Tom Sullivan’s heading up a horror con in Milwaukee called Milwaukee County Massacre on June7-8. Any chance you’ll be attending since it’s in your home state?

Yeah, that con sounds so great. Finally, a horror con in Wisconsin, and I will not be there! The day before the con I leave for Olympia, WA for a vacation. The vacation was planned long before I knew of the con. I truly wish I could be there, and wish everyone the best. I will have to see you next year.

ICONS: I love the drinking game feature on the DVD. And with all the rules, you're trashed by the end of this short film! Have the college kids in Oshkosh picked it up as a means to get wasted?

JP: To be honest, I couldn’t tell you. My guess is probably not too many of them have. I have however had multiple people, in Oshkosh and at cons, tell me how much they loved/hated the drinking game. I think that is the best way to describe the drinking game is with a love/hate relationship. People really seem to like it because it is fun, but you get really fucking wasted. I have done the drinking game twice so far, once for the commentary and another at a friend’s house. Both times have had the same outcomes…me drunk as hell. I did however, have two friends/classmates come to my Graphic Design senior show after attempting to play the game, with vodka. They had no idea was they were in for and thought vodka would be fine to use. They gained so much respect from me after that.


ICONS: You're currently working on a second film, correct? How is this film going to tie into BOU?

JP: Yes, I wrote a new full length script entitled Among The Dead. I started working on it last summer, and finished it in March of 2008. This film is going to be quite a bit different from BOU. Where BOU is just a fun, over-the-top, goofy zombie flick, Among The Dead is a much more serious and darker film. Will there be humor? Yes. The dialogue will be similar at times, but there won’t be the over-the-top humor. Among The Dead is a zombie film that takes place mainly in one house, but the threat isn’t so much the monsters outside but the monsters inside. It is very influenced by Night of The Living Dead and I Am Legend, and I do NOT mean the shitty Will Smith film, rather the novel.

The film starts out seven days after the outbreak, and then will jump to day one and show the events that lead to where the film begins. Among The Dead will tie in with BOU because this is the same outbreak. At one point in BOU there is someone yelling at one of the characters in the distance, now we will see who is yelling at them. So this is not a sequel but taking place in the same universe, if you will. Just like the Kevin Smith films.

ICONS: Can we expect to see any returning cast members?

JP: Quite possibly. To be honest, at this point there has been very little casting. I have talked with multiple people but nothing finalized yet. Gotta get my ass moving on that. But there will definitely be familiar faces, both living and undead, so keep your eyes open to what might not be directly in front of your eyes.

ICONS: When can we expect to start seeing you promote this second film at cons and so forth?

JP: Promotion already began. I have been advertising that we are looking for zombie extras. In BOU ,we have around 50 zombies in the whole film. For Among The Dead I want to have over 200 zombies. After all, the outbreak has been going on for a week, so the scale is much larger. In a perfect world, filming will be finished by the end of August and post-production will be finished by October. Meaning around Halloween is when the DVDs will be out. If that will happen, I have no idea, just hope. But I think it is safe to say that by year’s end the DVDs will be out, so expect heavy promotion around that time.

Well perhaps you can do some recruiting at Chicago Flashback or County Massacre! I know some of our Midwest ICONS readers would love to help out! Well, thanks so much for shooting the shit with me and the ICONS readers! I know there’s gonna be a ton of people anticipating this second film of yours…I’m one of them! Is there anything you’d like to add before signing off?

If any of this sounds interesting to you, check out Better Off Undead. It’s a little fun, vulgar, gory zombie film made for $700 by friends who wanted to have fun one summer. In the beginning we had no intentions to do anything with this other than watch it ourselves. Then we thought, “What the fuck, let’s make a DVD.” Now we have reviews from Australia, Germany, Italy and states all over the USA. We are not trying to be “ground-breaking” or have any claims to fame or greatness, we just want people to check out what some jackasses made in Wisconsin. One more final shameless plug, the DVD comes with 4 commentaries, a 30-minute making of, a built in drinking game including a commentary of the cast and crew doing the drinking game and more! To see the trailer, photos and ordering info, check out myspace.com/better_off_undead or email betteroffundead@hotmail.com.


In closing, support your local and independent scene. Whether it’s film, art, or music; just go out there and support it. If you don’t have an independent or local scene, make one. Don’t let your ideas go to waste; produce something positive with them.

Thanks Beth and Icons of Fright for acknowledging us and willing to throw some questions at me. Next time I see you I promise to have some of Wisconsin’s finest beer waiting for you…and your favorite pizza, which is? Oh yeah, DeZorno!!!

I’ll spare our readers that little inside joke (laughs)… you suck!


Interviewed by: Beth Puttkammer

BETTER OFF UNDEAD Teaser:

 

Visit: http://www.myspace.com/better_off_undead!

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