How do you make a better zombie movie? Keep it in the family, make it funny and follow Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero's rules.
That was the lesson learned by Kevin Hamedani, director of one of the Los Angeles Film Festival's audience favorites this year, causing a midnight madness of whooping, screaming and laughing: the comedy ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction.
In the film, a gay couple returns to a small town so one guy can come out to his mother. But he doesn't realize that her frothing at the mouth and green complexion mean she's been infected with a zombie virus. When they see her, her eye pops out of her head, and she promptly eats it. The guy's lover reacts with equanimity. "Yeah, my dad reacted the same way," he deadpans.
Director Kevin Hamedani said he was pleasantly surprised by the audience reaction after the film premiered at the L.A. Film Festival last week. He said he learned a lot about making zombie movies from his mentor, zombie impresario Romero. Like Romero's zombies, Hamedani's undead move slowly. Hamedani also involved his family in the movie, and he includes a social message, as Romero did.
"Yeah, I wanted it to be funny, but not campy," Hamedani said. "This follows an Iranian-American girl who gets blamed for being a terrorist because of the outbreak of this zombie virus. This is a lot like the reactions toward me, an Iranian-American, after 9/11. Yeah, there's a lot of social satire you can get away with, talking about the prejudices and things like that. Usually, when you [have] a gay character or someone like that, they get killed off early, and we change a lot of that."
He also keeps it in the family. His best friend from the University of Washington film school, Serve Sarkis, is the producer. "We did this for about a half million [dollars], and we wanted to reach a wider audience with it," Sarkis said. "We picked zombies instead of vampires because zombies don't have personalities."
Hamedani's real-life feather, Ali Hamedani, also has a role: He plays the Iranian father of the lead girl, Frida (played by Janette Armand). "I had a hard time convincing him to do it, but he had a restaurant, and I thought he'd do a good job, and sure enough, he did," Kevin said.
Special effects for a zombie movie are also important, and the director's favorite kill was "the scene where a guy's face gets ripped off," he said. "I was pleased with the way that came out."
At the moment, the film is seeking distribution. Most of the cast and crew appeared at the LAFF screening.