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Given how drastically overcrowded the zombie field is,
writer/director John Geddes’ EXIT HUMANITY (out today on DVD from Vivendi
Entertainment) merits appreciation for trying something different, providing a
fresh take on a somewhat tired genre. Canadian filmmaker Geddes (who also
edited) leads us through an undead saga set in the days following the real-life
horrors of the American Civil War.
HUMANITY is the diary of veteran soldier Edward Young (Mark Gibson), who, after
returning from the conflict, finds his family turned into the undead and
embarks on a journey to take his son’s ashes to a waterfall, struggling with
his own sanity and acceptance of humanity. Young’s personal mission becomes
intertwined with that of Isaac (Adam Seybold), a man who asks Edward’s help to
save his sister (Jordan Hayes) from the clutches of General Williams (Bill
Moseley). Williams is a crazed ex-Confederate general leading a small band of
soldiers hell-bent on finding a cure for the plague, employing a weary surgeon
(Stephen McHattie from another inventive Canadian zombie movie, PONTYPOOL) to
experiment on kidnapped humans—letting them get bitten by the undead in order
to test the doctor’s dubious cure.
EXIT HUMANITY presents an alternative approach to American
history, with Edward’s journal entries narrated by Brian Cox, enriched by
beautiful cinematography by Brendan Uegama and animated sequences by Snezhan
Bodurov, and effective living-dead makeup by Jason and Jeff Derushie (a.k.a.
the Gore Brothers)—whose ghouls, in tribute to George A. Romero and Lucio
Fulci, stalk the forests of Tennessee (actually lensed in Ontario) slowly and
groggily. With strong performances by Gibson and its charismatic supporting
players (also including Dee Wallace), it’s a compelling tale of hope and
survival. And it was brought in on a modest budget of under $300,000 by Geddes
and his Foresight Features partners/producers Jesse Thomas Cook and Matt Wiele,
the team also behind this month’s MONSTER BRAWL. FANGORIA spoke with Geddes at
last year’s Sitges festival in Spain.
FANGORIA: What was the genesis of EXIT HUMANITY?
JOHN GEDDES: I’ve always wanted to make a period film and
I’ve always wanted to make a zombie film, so I thought it would’ve been cool to
combine the two, but make the story dramatic and poetic. I love classics like
JEREMIAH JOHNSON and wanted to do something performance- and character-driven.
I have always said this is not a zombie film, it’s a dramatic fantasy story
with zombies in it. This is not the kind of movie where hordes of the undead
corner our characters every 10 minutes, or the kind with loads of guts and
blood. It’s a character-driven story that delves into the history of the
zombies and how they have impacted these people, in a world already in so much
pain from the Civil War. So many movies today have to be fast-paced and jumpy;
I wanted to go back to some of my ’70s favorites and make it slow and real.
EXIT HUMANITY is the kind of film you can watch more than once and take in. The
zombies are certainly there—and when they are, they look amazing.
FANG: Did you intend to use the undead to comment on the
GEDDES: Not really. I just always thought: What if there
were zombie attacks years and years ago; would any of us know about them today?
The Civil War was a bleak time in American history, and I felt it would provide
a good foundation for the story. I also love fantasy, and that’s really what is
unique about this film: It has more magical curses involved, such as true
FANG: Where does your passion for Civil War history come
GEDDES: The Civil War was a fascinating time. So many men
were fighting for what they believed in, and there was an incredible amount of
politics and drama throughout those years. It was an incredible time in
American history, where so many lived in despair, yet showed amazing resilience
and kept hoping for a better world ahead. My dad is an expert on the War, so I
grew up with books lying around the house and also started to develop a passion
for it. There are endless stories to learn about; I would love to make a real
Civil War drama one day, but I would need a proper budget!
FANG: Even with that small amount of money you had, EXIT
HUMANITY looks amazing. How did you manage to get the best out of so little
GEDDES: We made this film on a microbudget with a group of
best friends. We really busted our asses to get magic-hour light, meaning we
shot many scenes during sunsets and sunrises. We shot on the RED camera with
the Mysterium-X chip, and the results are gorgeous. We all really tried to
achieve the best production value possible at every turn.
FANG: Where did you shoot the movie?
GEDDES: In Kimberley, Ontario. It’s close to our hometown,
so we knew the area and knew we could call on lots of friends to help out. We shot
mainly outdoors and in daylight so we could avoid lots of equipment and work
with a small crew, and did it during the fall season to capture the dying trees
and cloudy skies.
FANG: What is the situation with cinema in Canada? Is it
difficult to get movies financed?
GEDDES: Canada is tough for sure, though I assume it’s tough
to get financing everywhere in the world. For EXIT HUMANITY, we raised money
privately, which took us two full years. Many filmmakers seek government grants
and backing, but there are no guarantees with that, and we wanted to create a
company so we were in control of our creative choices and our own destiny.
FANG: You cast some great genre veterans in EXIT HUMANITY;
how did you get them involved?
GEDDES: We fought hard from the start to secure a great
cast. It was always our desire to work with strong actors who could create a
real sense of drama. I think the screenplay spoke for itself, and the
challenges in the roles were appealing to the actors. Once the script was
finished, I started to approach agents, and Bill Moseley and Dee Wallace were
at the top of the list. I was persistent in making sure they would read the
script, and I think that was what got us in the door with them. They both loved
the roles and the story, and then one thing led to another. The conditions were
hellish—Dee had to trek up a mudslide just to get to the set—but it was an
amazing experience working with these actors who have inspired me through so
many great films. All their performances are outstanding.
FANG: Mark Gibson is perfect in the lead role. How did you
GEDDES: Mark has been acting for over a decade; he has done
many plays in Toronto, and we’ve been great friends. We spoke for years about
making a film together, and when that time came, Mark put years of experience
and passion into the role. I can’t put into words how hard he worked and how
amazing his performance is. He truly put in 150 percent every day, and it’s
really a personal film for both of us. We also have an insanely good supporting
cast. Adam Seybold is striking on all levels; I like to call him a sleeping
giant of talent. Jordan Hayes, Ari Millen and Jason David Brown are also so
gripping. The great thing was that the actors respected my vision, and
understood how far they were going to have to go to achieve the right mood. The
location made it easy for us all to feel like we were living in the 1800s; if
it wasn’t mud covering our sets, crew and gear, it was freezing cold with rain.
A big shout-out to Jordan, who never once was the “female” on set; she was
first to sprint through forests and fall into mud and get soaking wet, and all
that makes the film feel real.
FANG: You took great care on the props and costumes—was it
difficult to find them?
GEDDES: I wrangled most of the props and wardrobe myself
through various websites in the U.S. It was pretty easy to find what I needed,
as there are so many antique shops on-line for this sort of stuff. I especially
enjoyed getting all the guns and holsters. I don’t like bad-looking props, and
it’s easy to fall into that trap on such a low budget, so you just have to be
picky. We did indeed receive lots of help from local groups who collect props
and recreate that period of American history at festivals. Tim Fretwell and Les
Peplinski made it all possible for us to create a battle that could stand up to
the real thing. I never thought it would be possible to shoot anything like
this on our budget, but one of our producers, Cody Calahan, said, why not call
on a reenactors’ society? Sure enough, they were all delighted, and came to our
shooting location, set up a whole camp and spent the night there. It was really
exciting, and we owe this group all the credit for our war scenes.
FANG: You also took great care in the look of the zombies,
which are very effective.
GEDDES: The Gore Bothers did a fantastic job, and they were
amazing for taking on this project, as the budget for their department was so
little that they wondered if it would even be possible. They pulled lots of
tricks to make it work, and I’m so proud of what they were able to do. They
literally worked 16 hours a day so this movie could happen, and always stayed
positive with our unpredictable schedule. They’ve become like family, and I’m
so grateful to them and their families for all their patience.
FANG: The animations which divide the story into chapters
are striking. How did you come up with this idea?
GEDDES: From the get-go, I wanted the film to be told
through a journal, and I thought it would be cool if the lead character was an
artist who illustrated his experiences, and to incorporate those drawings
coming to life and see some of the carnage from the point of view of the page.
The animation element was my first idea for the story, and I found an artist
from Montreal, Snezhan Bodurov, who was able to create classical animation and
whose art caught my eye. He’s a brilliant artist and we started collaborating
immediately, and he created the pieces over several months. He worked so hard
hand-drawing each frame, and I think viewers will enjoy this unique feature.
FANG: Did any funny things happen while making the movie?
GEDDES: Mark Gibson was in and out of cold rivers and swamps
throughout the film, and it became almost hilarious to see the guy taking on so
much pain and never complaining about any of it. Nothing really funny happened,
though, just lots of disasters: fires, car crashes and insane challenges from
all the mud and rain. No one was hurt, though, which is the most important
thing. It was an extremely hard film to make, and very exhausting.
FANG: How did you first come to be a director?
GEDDES: I’m self-taught on everything I know about films and
this business. I’ve always had a burning passion to make films, and one day I
just quit my day job, moved back into my parents’ house and started planning
and learning how to make a movie. The LORD OF THE RINGS boxed sets have so many
great features, and I literally watched those on repeat and learned quite a bit
from those alone.
FANG: What filmmakers have inspired you the most?
GEDDES: I love Terrence Malick films, but I love so many
filmmakers that it’s hard to pick just one. I think it depends on what mood I’m
in; I just saw Lars von Trier’s MELANCHOLIA, and I was blown away by it.
FANG: Producer, director, editor, screenwriter—which of
these jobs do you prefer? Did you do all these yourself in order to keep
control of your movie?
GEDDES: I really enjoy all those roles; they were forced
onto me because of the low-budget limitations, though of course it’s great to
keep control on the overall film. I would prefer to just direct and produce in
the future, though; that’s the most rewarding part.
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