In our recent interview with Kane Hodder, he mentioned an upcoming project he’s involved with, the British horror comedy Shed of the Dead. The film is billed as a fast paced, urban comedy-horror, a geek-fest of a Zombedy, coming to screens in 2016. While detailed information on the film is still very scarce, horror fans should take note of the immense talent that has signed on to be a part of this project. We already mentioned horror icon Kane Hodder. He’ll be joined by the great Bill Moseley, as well as Michael Berryman. In addition, British scream queen Emily Booth and legendary actor and voice talent Brian Blessed are involved.
I was very intrigued and reached out to producer Nicholas David Lean to get the complete scoop on this exciting, upcoming horror film with a clever concept and a star-studded cast. Read my interview with Lean below.
Thank you so much for your time, Nicholas. Can you start off by telling me how the idea for Shed of the Dead came about?
Drew Cullingham (the writer/director), James Fisher (my producing partner) and I were at the Whisky club, Soho (good plug there) in London following a finance meeting, and we ended up spending a few more hours there in ‘debrief’ than we had originally intended. Discussions got around to the ‘state’ of horror films today, and obviously the proliferation of zombie movies in the independent sector. Increasingly ridiculous movie titles for funny zombie films abounded as the result of far too many malt whiskies! Shed of the Dead became the title of choice, and Drew staggered off to start laying pen to paper.
What appeals to you most about this film, and why do you think horror fans will love it?
I’m a huge fan of both The Walking Dead and, of course, Shaun of the Dead, as well as the movies of maestro George Romero. To get an idea on the table that could potentially give us an avenue to the creation of a “Shaun for the post-‘Walking Dead’ generation” was a hard one to resist. We knew it had to have all the ingredients that horror fans love and, in particular, what fans of zombie movies love – basically good zombies and scary, gooey stuff.
The chance to work with two people whose talent and drive is comparable to my own, on a properly funded production that would deliver something special, was motivation enough.
It’s been a long while since zombie fans had something to cheer about in the realms of horror comedy. There have been maybe three efforts worthy of note since Shaun first hit theaters way back in 2004. But each one has lacked the punch that fans of the horror genre have come to expect – whether that be in the narrative direction of the film, the visceral content, or just the faces on the screen. We hoped to appeal to fans broadly by delivering across all three facets – with an excellent and fun story, enough gore and goo to make the entire thing ‘messy’, and some iconic faces (and voices) to set our film apart from the plethora of others.
Horror comedies can be a tricky. It’s not always easy to strike the right balance between the scary and the absurd. How do you think this film handles that balance?
Good horror — and by that I mean clever, scary, mind-messing, spine-tingling horror — seems to be absent these days from many ‘horror’ stories. As a generalization, it seems a lot of audiences are desensitized and prefer extreme, gore-filled, obscene-as-normal depictions of violence. The success of franchises like SAW is clear evidence of that. I think that is actually far more disturbing, in a social sense, than anything that is shown on screen. So, in a way, I appreciate what we are doing with this film.
We are actually making a stand for a return to the darker and more suspenseful scares, diluted with ridiculousness and ribald, unclean humor. Shed of the Dead is definitely adult in context, but not shockingly so. It’s almost so scary it’s funny, and in stark contrast to the ‘it’s so bad it’s good’ response that permeates a lot of independent film. But as we all know only too well, with comedy you have to write what makes YOU laugh as a filmmaker. It’s very hard to gauge what every audience will find amusing.
Due to the nature of the film, it’s bound to draw comparisons to ‘Shaun of the Dead’. How does ‘Shed’ differentiate itself from ‘Shaun’ and other films like it?
I don’t think any horror comedy filmmakers can say, hand on heart, that Shaun of the Dead has not been a huge influence (especially in the zombedy subgenre). It’s one of the cult classics of the last twenty years. I look at that film now, even with its modest budget, and think that it really shook up the horror genre and demonstrated that dark could be light, horror could be amusing, and red really was the color of love – between Shaun and Ed at least – a real bromance for the ages.
Shed of the Dead takes that influence and puts it squarely into a darker, more niche setting – not the world of the ‘videogamer’ – but of the ‘wargamer’ – whose after-dark pursuits involves moving fantasy armies, across fantasy wastelands, and engaging in fantasy battles – all the while putting human hosts into the minds and bodies of the heroic figures that only their dreams could encapsulate. Shed of the Dead is darker, edgier, grimmer in its relationships, and touches a world that few know of, have seen, or frankly even care about! That to me makes it funny straight away.
Zombies are huge right now. Do you worry at all about over-saturation… or do you think the landscape is still ripe for another hugely successful zombie-related horror comedy?
Over-saturation is of course a worry… especially when that saturation, or need to create for many indie filmmakers, results in poorly conceived, poorly executed, low budget, micro budget, no budget straight to download movies that few will see, yet alone hear of.
I’m a writer and director by choice — and a producer by necessity. I try to create, as a screenwriter, movies than have a sense of familiarity and comfort to them. The goal is to instantly puts audiences at ease – even in some instances to have them think they know exactly what is going to happen in the next 90 minutes of story – only then to deliver the unexpected, in a way that is even more unexpected. That ability is craft, it is an art, and too many indie filmmakers fail to spend sufficient time in creating, developing, and fine tuning the script before setting off on the production journey.
The zombie genre, like all genres has the capacity to continue indefinitely if writers can adopt a positive, fresh, creative approach and to leave the old, the tried, the mundane and ordinary behind. The genre will only become saturated and lose interest for audiences when the stories cease to engage… unless of course audiences continue down this path of a ‘more gore the happier I am’ mentality of acceptance. Then we are all doomed I feel.
Well said! I read that this film should appeal heavily to fans of geek culture, which I definitely find exciting. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
Both the lead characters, Trevor and Graham. are war gamers – a 3D representation of a fantasy game that was big in the 80s – Dungeons & Dragons. These days Warhammer, Games Workshop et al are big business. I can’t honestly recall a comedy with lead characters with that particular eccentricity. And the fact it all takes place in a garden shed at the bottom of an allotment just adds to the stupidity that can, and does, ensue.
The film will star some serious horror heavyweights, including Kane Hodder, Bill Moseley, Michael Berryman and Emily Booth. Talk to me about the casting process and what horror fans can expect from this impressive cast?
Right from the start we knew we wanted and all-star cast, both British and foreign, that could bring a heavyweight presence to both the horror and the comedy. We knew that, in order to engage with audiences from both sectors (the horror fans and the goofy comedy fans), we would need to be considerate of the talent we put on screen.
I took a lot of time working with our casting director, Dominic Williams (Williams Bulldog Management) to piece together the ideal cast. Then it was a case of shouting out to them and trying to make all their respective dates fit the predicted schedule of the production… no easy task I can tell you. I met with Kane, Bill, and Michael’s agent, Judy Fox, here in London when she came over for a visit. We instantly hit it off. I’ve got an excellent rapport with all three guys, and now especially their agent. That’s a key weapon for any producer to have in their arsenal… make sure the talent’s agent loves you!
Bill takes on a vaguely ‘harmonica man’ role, Kane has green fingers, and Michael wouldn’t look out of place at the Grand National in one scene. Emily I had known for quite a few years, and it was merely a case of reaching out to her and being transparent about the role — very important in this case since Emily plays the ‘femme fatale’ and has moments where very little is left to the audience’s imagination if they look hard enough!
While those are the names most genre fans will quickly recognize, is there anything we should know about any of the other key cast members?
Brian Blessed has been one of my favorite actors since I saw Flash Gordon all those years ago. He’s an incredibly gracious man, intelligent, and the biggest personality I’ve ever met. Working with him has been an experience I will always cherish. Even though he’s getting on now, his voice is so distinctive. He really is one of those people you can’t fail to recognize. We also have three very funny comedic actors in the main roles: Spencer Brown (Trevor), Ewen MacIntosh (Graham), and Lauren Socha (Bobbie). These are all faces that will be familiar to audiences of British TV sitcoms (and some drama), and they were all absolutely hilarious to work with.
What can you tell us about writer/director Drew Cullingham? Why do you think he’s the perfect person to helm this film?
I’ve known Drew personally for about eight years or more. He’s an incredibly intuitive writer and director, very edgy and extremely uncompromising. He has a natural and easily followed thought process when helming productions, and he gets people gathered around him quite quickly. It’s never hard to understand where he wants to go with things.
When we came up with the concept for Shed of the Dead, Drew ran with it and crafted a first draft script within a matter of weeks. I had faith in the project and in him to lead the vision, from the get-go. I supported him as best I could creatively, whilst simultaneously putting the finance-raise show into overdrive to get us shooting as soon as we could. As with all things money related, that took us a bit longer than we initially anticipated. Three schedule postponements later, we were finally on set.
This all sounds amazing. Last but not least, where are you at with production of the film and what’s the distribution plan once the film is finished?
The film is currently going through fairly extensive post production. There is a good amount of VFX to include, some of which is really going to surprise audiences, and that is being coordinated by colleagues in New Zealand. Sound, dialogue, and score are all being prepared here in the UK – the home counties and London primarily.
We aim to deliver to market by October, in time for AFM (American Film Market) we hope, and that should see it hit theaters around Christmas or early next year. Our Sales Agent will be hitting all the major markets between now and AFM – Cannes, Fantasia, and Toronto — to ensure a growing anticipation for the film. Hopefully, we will all (Drew, James, and myself) be out in Santa Monica for AFM.
Thank you so much for your time! This was amazing. Before you go, is there anything else you want to make sure our readers know about?
Well, Drew is already working on a new project. It’s a mockumentary I think, set in the West Country. James and I are currently pushing ahead with our company’s, 7DM Studios, next project – a heist thriller called TDA:Taken & Driven Away. The film was written by me and will also, I hope, be directed by me. Although it is early days yet, we are hoping to entice Andrew Lincoln into the lead role for that (so yet another zombie link!) I’m also going to be in Canada at year’s end shooting a pure horror that I also wrote, back in 2012, called The Candy House. I’m producing the film alongside Rosanne Milliken, producer of the iconic Tucker & Dale vs Evil.
The Candy House is a really contemporary reworking of three of Grimm’s most famous fairytales into one dark, terrifying narrative with a host of major names from the UK, and Hollywood, both in front of and behind the camera. With one newly and uniquely conceptualized antagonist, it should serve as a refreshing addition to the werewolf sub-genre.