Why make a Zombie Musical as your first film?
By Naysun Alae-Carew, Producer
I get asked this question a lot. On the face of it, a Scottish zombie Christmas musical as your very first project as a producer does seem like a reasonably silly thing to attempt. Making films is notoriously difficult at the best of times, and when you add in zombie prosthetics, practical effects, songs, choreography, action and bloody Christmas decorations, things start to look a little overwhelming, especially on an indie budget.
And the odds of making the film good let alone simply coherent are slim, even if your script, cast and crew are world-class – which they were.
I had deeply personal reasons for getting this film made, and Alan McDonald has already covered them in his own post better than I ever could [see Anna in the Park], so I’ll just say I hope we’ve done Ryan proud.
But aside from that, Anna and the Apocalypse has always made sense to me as a project despite the prevailing wisdom. First, regardless of the absurdist form in which it’s presented, the story is about the violent and dysfunctional world that’s being left for the next generation. Our society increasingly glorifies a kind of inward-looking hyper-individualism, but the problems we’re kicking down the line require collective and selfless action to solve. For me, Anna and her friends represent the best of what humanity is capable of when faced with disaster. Not to mention, in our current climate of civil discourse it was especially important that our hero was a young, strong woman.
The second reason is pure business. The film market is more crowded with content every year, and success is as much about being in the right place at the right time with the right project than it is about talent. With enough time and enough money, that success gets more likely, but we only had enough for one shot. It had to work first time.
Faced with that challenge, the only course of action was to make something that 1) was good, and 2) would stand-out in an unforgiving and saturated market. I was also determined to make it Scottish, although representing the kind of everyday, international Scotland I grew up in rather than the one you tend to see on screen. That’s not the most commercially-minded decision, but it does help people remember you. That makes me doubly proud that the UK premiere will be at EIFF in front of a home audience; I can’t wait to see what a Scottish audience makes of it.
The thing about a Scottish zombie Christmas musical is that even when people think it’s may be a stupid idea, people remember it, and that’s 99% of the battle won. That little bit of intrigue is all you need for the chance to prove them wrong. And when people start to whisper (or tweet) that it’s actually good, that the soundtrack is interminably catchy, and that it’ll make you cry and laugh and leave the cinema a bit more hopeful than you entered it… then the sceptics who only remember the silly log- or by-line decide they want to see what all the fuss is about. from there it’s a short hop, skip and a jump to theatrical distribution across the globe.
I’ve been told that the sheer ambition of trying to do this as your first film must speak of a kind of naivety but for me the choice was binary – either make Anna and the Apocalypse and succeed, or make something generic and find a day job. There was no question which option to choose. The bottom line is we needed to prove what we could do to everyone, and I had no interest in taking my time with it. Picking one of the hardest logistical and creative projects we could come up with seemed like a decent way to do it.
Don’t get me wrong, the making it good bit was hard and only possible because there was a huge number of people at home and around the world who believed in the project as much as I did. There’s so many more people who deserve to be mentioned by name, but in the interests of making this relevant to a wider audience – just know that it was an army of dedicated women and men who got this film over the line.
Beyond those main reasons, another one has surfaced over time. I, like Blazing Griffin as a whole, really want to craft worlds. That means telling stories that are bigger than any one medium and have their own life well after the first format – in Anna’s case the film – ends. It’s what I grew up with – where the story is larger than any single plotline. Because of the kind of story and genre it is, Anna and the Apocalypse can very naturally exist as a soundtrack, a book, video game, stage show, graphic novel, TV series or any number of other forms. And it will. We’re just at the start of what Anna’s world can hold and that is an incredibly exciting prospect.
So why make a Scottish Zombie Christmas Musical as your first film? The brief answer: 1) For Ryan, 2) to tell a story I care about, and 3) why be like everyone else?