zombieland

The cult classic 2009 film “Zombieland” finally got a sequel after nearly 10 years on Oct. 18, 2019. The film was a character driven comedy that happened to take place during a zombie apocalypse, and was a breakout film for actors like Jesse Eisenberg, and Emma Stone. It was also the first large budget movie directed by Ruben Fleischer, who has since gone on to direct movies like “Venom,” and “Gangster Squad.” The Niner Times along with several other college newspapers were given the opportunity to interview him about his process of making the perfect sequel to such a beloved movie.

Q (Niner Times):

Hello. All right. So one of the big things I was wondering is that zombie genre has honestly quite a lot of competition. So I was wondering what steps you take to make your movie stick out during the production process?

Ruben:

Great question. I kind of operated like an Ostrich and just buried my head in the sand as it pertains to other zombie content. I felt like the best path for "Zombieland Two” was to really just try and harness the spirit of the first one as much as possible because it has such a distinctive talent and style. And I think that for fans of the first one, you know, they would expect us to maintain that same tone and style. And so I really kind of just kept my head down as it pertains to other zombie offerings and just tried to focus on capturing that magic of the first movie as much as possible.

Q (“Daily Californian” UC Berkley) :

So I know that in the first one many iconic lines were improvised, what kind of environment did you want to create for the actors to feel comfortable and did you want the second film to adhere strictly to the script or have the freedom to improvise as well?

Ruben:

I love improvisation and one of the joys of being a director is getting to cast these incredibly talented comedians to collaborate with. And so when you have, you know, some of the world's funniest people at your disposal, I think you'd be a fool not to take advantage of all that they bring to the table. So with Jessie and Emma and Woody and especially Thomas Middleditch, Zoe Deutch, like everybody, Luke Wilson just brought so much to the table as far as improvisation. And have you guys seen the movie or no?

 Well when you see the movie, I think it's in some of the trailers, there's a scene for example where Zoe Deutch’s character, Madison asked to look through some binoculars and she's holding them the wrong way. So instead of making things look bigger, they make things look smaller and uh, she has an exchange with Woody Harrelson and then she just goes on this full run about tiny, big, tiny big. She's adorable. And Jesse goes, yeah, I'm really lucky. And then Zoe keeps going,  tiny big tiny big. And it's like one of the funniest things in the movie in the entirety of that was it provides the same use to end, I mean as scripted, the scene ended there, like scoping out a new ride and they see that the ride and they're like, yeah, it looks good. Okay. And then cut to them, like approaching it, but just on the day, it kinda just evolved over the course. It takes that, she goes, she goes the way she says, can I see as she goes “K’i see?” and they're like, what? And she's like “K’i see?”. And then they hand her the binoculars and  just over the course of takes the ball to this like really, really funny moment. And the whole thing is improvised. And there's, you know, that's just one example, but there's so many throughout the film when Thomas and Jesse face off, it's like these two doppelgangers and so much of what they say back and forth are improvised, and there's some really huge laughs within that, that are all just improvised moments.

Q (“Daily Bruin” UCLA):

So it seems like “Zombieland” is one of these classic like cult scandals, films like “Donnie Darko” or “Scott Pilgrim”. What makes you guys kind of want to risk that legacy by making a sequel for the film?

Ruben:

It was born from a desire to work with those guys again, just cause "Zombieland" was my first ever movie. And so after doing a few others, I realized just how amazing that experience was. Like this cast is just truly wonderful human beings and so collaborative and so fun. And you know, the first "Zombieland" was big for all of us. I mean, I think it really changed my life and I think you could argue Jesse and to a lesser degree Woody’s lives. But we all had a lot of respect for the original and we didn't want to do anything to tarnish the reputation of the first film. So that's kind of why it took 10 years to get the second one out, because we want to make sure that the script was really great and that we all felt confident entering into the sequel. Knowing that we had a great starting place, which was the script. And it just took a while to get that script to a place. But when you see the film, I hope you'll just feel like this is at least as good as the first. Some of them even told me that it's better, but I'll leave that for you guys.

Q (“The Technique” Georgia Tech): 

One thing that I've kind of struck by doing research was how much change between Two has been made. Jessie and Emma are stars now. You've a few more films under your belt and Rhett and Paul as writers also have had a lot more experience. So I wanted to know if any of these outside-the-film narratives have influenced your approach to tone and the story, either through your own experience or what others are contributing?

Ruben:

That's a great question. I mean, it's funny. It kind of touches on a bit of what I said to the last one, but I think we all just had an appreciation for how special the experience of making the first movie was. And you know, certainly the cast has gone on to do some pretty incredible things. But for example, for Emma, she's one of the funniest people you'll ever meet, but she's been doing much more dramatic work recently. And I think she was excited just to go through a comedy and have fun and be with people that she likes and have a really positive experience working. You know, Jessie and I both became fathers off in the 10 years since the first one. So I don't know that that necessarily is informed or if it has real bearing on the film, but it definitely affects how I approached everything I do in terms of thinking about my family and I'm sure the same is true for Jesse and Jesse's family, and was with him when we're filming, which was really great. I think maybe just all being a little older and wiser, and appreciating just how special the experience of this maybe was.

Q (“The Cauldron” Cleveland State):

Woody Harrelson stated that this was like a family reunion. How were you able to set the tone for this film? Is there something specific you do as a director to sort of build that camaraderie?

Ruben:

Well luckily it didn't have to build it on this one because it existed from the first. It was like a family reunion in a real way. But I think when you're trying to make a comedy, I think it's really important to have a loose set environment where people feel comfortable to be able to do things like improvise or do whatever it takes for a joke. But one thing I think I can say safely that I did was to make sure that any new cast members that we brought into the fold would fit well with the rest of the gang. Because we do have such good chemistry already that we wanted to make sure that anyone who was coming to play a role in the film could kind of feel like they belong in "Zombieland". But also be the cool people to work with on set. And so we got  lucky because of all these additional cast members. Luke, Thomas, Zoe, Avan, were all just really terrific, and only added to that great experience we were having, and the chemistry that existed among all the casts.

Q (“The Observer”):

I was kind of branching off from the film. I was wondering if you had any input in the mobile game or video game that's coming out.

Ruben:

I was shown versions of it, but they were making those long before we started up the sequel, or at least they were pretty far along once I got shown them. So, I offered up a few thoughts, but I can take zero credit for what they are. They are definitely things that Sonny did independent of the filmmakers. Great.

Q (“The Emory Wheel” Emory University):

 I was just wondering, what are some of the biggest challenges that you've made while filming such a  large scale action be like "Zombieland" as compared to say like a more indie movie or a short.

Ruben:

For example, and it's funny, even though it's a large scale, budget is always a challenge. Like wanting to do as much as you possibly can, with the resources that you have. That's always a challenge. But for this one, I say the biggest challenge was that we have this finale, which you've probably seen glimpses of in the trailers where there's a monster truck driving around smashing zombies. And I just had never spent much time with monster trucks and they're very unpredictable vehicles. And so you can't really have any people in proximity. And the monster truck, cause you don't know what they're gonna do and they're so massive that they could really hurt people. So that entire zombie monster truck sequence was done with all CG zombies, which is something that in the first movie we didn't do any of. So just when you watch that sequence, just know that every one of those zombies that are chasing or getting crushed by the monster truck, they’re all built with a computer. And, that was just something that was a whole new level of scale for me. And it was a little daunting when you're watching the edits and you just see a monster truck driving around an empty parking lot and having the faith to know that someday there would be zombies there. But it definitely turned out better than I could have expected when they finally got the work done. 

Q (Niner Times):

When it comes to making a sequel, because sequels can obviously be very difficult to make. What steps did you take to make sure that it was stepped up from the original but not completely like overdoing it?

Ruben:

It's a fine line that you walk in wanting to go big with the Sequel, but not too big such that it feels disconnected from the original. So I think, like I said, that the tone was the most important thing that I feel like the tone of the originals are something that's really specific. And so nailing that tone was the key essential ingredient. And lucky for us, Paul and Rhett, the writers of the first movie who also created Deadpool and Deadpool two are just exceptionally talented writers. And I think the tone was very clear from the script. But then, you know, as we're shooting, you want to make sure that we always kept the performances grounded in real and that the chemistry between the characters is the most important thing. And so I think it was just through the script writing process, through the shooting process and then all the way through editing,  just making sure that it felt like it can have a consistent tone that was the most important thing. 

Q (“Daily Californian”):

I was wondering if you could give us some updated rules of survival for making a 2019 zombie film?

Ruben:

Great question. My first rule would just be to make sure you get the best cast you possibly can. I got so lucky on the first movie with Jesse and Emma, before people really knew who they were, and I feel like with Zoe Deutch, who was a bit of a discovery in this film, you know, people are gonna be blown away and I think that she's gonna go on to be a big star. And so, casting for me was the most important thing. Just trying to make sure that any new characters we brought in could hold their own, which is a tall order when you have Woody, Jessie, [Ivy?] and Emma as your baseline. So that was my primary rule, just get the best possible people I could bring in. And then my other rule is just, is true for any film that I would intern to is like make sure that all your collaborators, whether it's the sound guys, the cameraman, the production designer they’re such core and essential elements that just, I guess the rule can be expanded to be just always work with the best people because they'll make things like the most collaborative artistic medium there is. You know, there's no one person that does it all. It's such a group effort to achieve something like a movie. And so just make sure that you surround yourself with the very best people at all times and it just makes the job of the director that much easier.

Q (“Daily Bruin”):

So we got a really good sense of all the characters and  just the whole worlds in the first "Zombieland". And so for the sequel, what new aspects to each character and even the whole zombie apocalypse that you created, are we gonna be able to be introduced to in the second film?

Ruben:

There's two principle things that have changed. One is the zombies have evolved so that there's now kind of different types of zombies that Columbus tells us about. At the beginning of the film, there's a Homer zombie which is kind of a dumb zombie. There's a Hawking zombie which is kind of a genius zombie. And then there's Ninja zombies, a super sneaky zombie. But then over the course of the movie, they run across these new zombies that they call T-800’s,which are an even tougher, harder to kill, more relentless version. They represent a higher threat for Tallahassee and the rest of the gang. So that, that's the biggest change to the landscape. Actually, the landscape's changed a lot too. I should mention that it's 10 years later. And so part of the fun for me, I was working with a production designer to figure out what America looks like 10 years into an apocalypse. And so when you see the film, one of the things I'm most proud of is just the ways that, you know, like the White House is covered in vines and the South lawn is full of weeds, three feet high grass, all the roads have, weeds poking through and are covered in dirt and leaves because there's no one there to clean the roads and no one's driving on them. We worked really hard to find locations that looked really abandoned for 10 years. And then the other thing that's changed in this, maybe a lot is just Abigail Breslin’s character, Little Rock. Because last time, she was 12, and now she's a young woman who wants her own identity and wants to leave the nest and not be stuck with her family and is kind of going through those natural growth pains, and so, she kind of splits from the family with a boy. She wants to have her first real relationship. And so that's the biggest change is just, Abigail Breslin’s character, Little Rock, wanting to be her own person. And that's kind of what sparks the plot of the story. 

Q (“The Technique”):

I’m curious, prior to production, during the casting process, which addition to the cast were you most excited for? And what particularly did you admire about that cast?

Ruben:

Well, I mean, they all were, I don't want to single anyone out. Zoe was a true discovery. I had never seen her in anything prior to her audition. And in fact, while she was auditioning, she was so funny. In the audition, I Googled her  while she was, you know, it's probably a little rude, but like just while she was acting opposite me, I was like, who is this girl? I couldn't believe that there was someone that funny and that pretty, that I never heard of before. And so she definitely was the discovery, but Thomas Middleditch too, within the premise of the doppelganger for Jesse, he just seemed like a natural fit. And he's a world class improvisor he has performed at Carnegie hall, but his partner Ben Schwartz is doing an entirely improvised performance and he's just incredible. So having somebody like him come in and just be able to bring the eighth or fourth day of what I think is one of the most memorable sequences in the film. I just wanted to make sure that every single person that was new addition, could really hold their own and feel like they were a part of the "Zombieland" world. 

Q (“The Cauldron”):

Switching gears a little bit, I wanted to ask you about your last film Venom. Martin Scorsese recently had comments about how super superhero films aren’t cinema and I was just wondering if you had an opinion on that.

Ruben:

 I actually didn't read his comment. I've only heard some of the kerfuffle as a result of it, But it seems not really fair to make broad generalizations like that. That's probably what I would say.

Q (“The Observer”):

It's been a decade. Do you think that's going to affect sales or are you kind of branching out to a new demographic of people, or are kind of hoping to maintain the same fans?

Ruben:

One of the fun things about the first movie is that I feel like it had a real impact. It did well at the box office, but it's had that real afterlife on TV and DVD. . . and I guess streaming. I'm excited for people who discovered the movie after the fact to be able to come see the new one in the theaters. It is a movie that you should see in the theaters because it's just a really really funny comedy. There's nothing like watching a comedy with a full audience and just laughing with people; I've been lucky enough to see this every four times down with a packed house. It's so funny. The laughs are huge which makes think that it's something that definitely deserves to be seen in a theater. Hopefully, all the people who have discovered it, maybe since it originally came out, we'll have the opportunity to come see it in theater if they didn't say the first one that way.

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