Thursday, 31 October 2013

Interviews Robert Palmer & Michael A Weiss Production Team for I Am Alone

Interview with I Am Alone’s Robert Palmer & Michael Weiss

In the Spring of this year Project: Torchwood learnt that Gareth David-Lloyd would be starring in a zombie movie, this filled us with great interest given that Gareth’s Torchwood character Ianto had featured in the Torchwood novel Bay of the Dead by Mark Morris which involved zombies.  Although we haven’t as yet been able to chat with Gareth over his role as Jacob Fitts, we went one better and spoke to the two guys who put the idea together and made the film, Robert Palmer and Michael Weiss.

(Gareth David-Lloyd with Gunner Wright and Rory Zacher at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park)

The synopsis for the film tells of Jacob Fitts and his crew Mason Riley and Adam Levine heading out to the Colorado Rockies to film their 113th Episode of I Am Alone, a survivalist television show.  Jacob is to be left to fend for himself for 7 days while his team head into town to shoot footage and interview townsfolk.  But a viral outbreak is spreading rapidly across the globe.  Unaware of this news, Jacob continues to shoot his television show but at the end of day one, Jacob is attacked and bitten by an infected person.
As the virus spreads through the town both Mason and Adam have to fight the infected to save their own lives...

The film is due for release in 2014 but whether it makes it to the UK remains to be seen.  But here’s hoping!

Hi guys, could you introduce yourselves and your part in making the film, and about your background, how you got into filming and how many other productions you’ve been involved in prior to I Am Alone? How did you guys all meet?

Robert: Michael and I met way back in 8th grade in middle school, we realized early on we had a shared love of late 80’s/early 90’s cinema. Although, we were pretty young, our film knowledge was pretty well versed. This love of film viewing eventually led to filmmaking. Much through high school Michael and I made many short films, with little to no understanding of how films were actually made. We remained friends after college and eventually found ourselves on the west coast pursuing our dreams of being filmmakers alongside our idols. I Am Alone has brought our professional experience to our personal projects.

                                                (Michael A. Weiss with Robert Palmer)

I’m currently playing a zombie in a local produced film, it’s put together for a charity close to the writer/director’s heart and it’s all good fun and I’m also on the production team so having an opportunity of being both sides of the camera as it were, it’s fun to see something start at the beginning and have an input in the film. Infinity Films check us out!

Robert: Any production is an undertaking but for most no one wants to know how the food gets to the table they just want to eat it. Making a film is very similar, we all enjoy the end result but no one knows the steps it took to get it there. Everyone should try to make a film once in their lives…

How did I Am Alone begin, who thought of the idea and how long did it take from storyboarding to actually putting together to apply for funding?

R&M: Both our background began in reality TV since moving out to Los Angeles but we both followed different paths as our careers continued which eventually converged on I am Alone. (Robert) remains a Reality TV producer working on shows like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Gene Simmons Family Jewels and countless other shows. Michael segued from reality TV into Commercials and film production to pursue a career as an editor. Michael has been part of some of the largest commercial ad campaigns of recent years, working with clients Apple, Pepsi, Burger King & Hyundai. And working alongside directors like Michael Bay, Derek Cianfrance, Stacy Wall & Mark Coppos. However, our passion for filmmaking never waned and several years ago we realized we could merge professional and personal genres to create a unique horror film. In 2010, Michael edited and I directed and produced an award winning short Film “People of Earth that screened all over the USA.  People of Earth, was a great jumping off point for us and with all the excitement we wanted to challenge ourselves with our next project.

                                                                       (2013 Kickstarter)

I Am Alone grew out of that desire to push ourselves. Early on, the idea began as a horror film video diary, but as the story developed we realized we had a great opportunity to push the boundaries of both Reality TV and horror films.
We knew we had a different story on our hands. In early 2011, the first draft of I Am Alone was completed. We believed the story structure was something we could film ourselves with financing help via Kickstarter. Kickstarter had gained much popularity in early 2012, we ran our first Kickstarter campaign which ended after 30 days we didn't make our goal of 25k. We had learned some incredible lessons the first time round. Undaunted by the outcome, we knew we had to keep pushing forward, believing what we have is truly different. We regrouped and planned our second campaign for mid 2013. The second time around we went into the Kickstarter campaign even more determined. In April/May 2013 we re-launched our campaign with an amazing team behind us. 
In the midst of the campaign, we were fortunate enough to get mentioned in the May 17th, 2013 issue of Entertainment Weekly discussing Kickstarter. We also held a zombie walk and kickstarter party in the Town of Montrose, Colorado where we were going to shoot our film. Well over 300 people turned out to meet and greet us. Nearly 100 people of all ages dressed as zombies.

We weren’t done yet, towards the end of the 30 day campaign we were able to secure Gareth David Lloyd as our Jacob Fitts. Gareth was the final piece of the puzzle and it all fell into place after that. We reached our goal 4 days ahead of the deadline. We had raised our 25k in less then 1 month and now I Am Alone was truly a reality.

                                                              (Cast and crew of I Am Alone)

Although zombie films don’t often require a major storyline, an infection and then lots of blood and gore, does your film offer a different twist to the regular zombie blood fest?

Robert: Zombie films historically cantered around the undead ravaging a location and a group of mismatched people who must band together and defeat the undead masses. The premise has been beaten to death (pun intended). Zombie films have been so saturated as of late that the average filmgoer, Netflix-er… immediately assumes all zombie films are subpar to the bigger budget films, which in truth really isn’t the case. So, when Michael and I wrote the script we understood that our film had to differ in some way and we realized this story was about the characters, the infection cause would be far less important then the characters dealing with a “real life” scenario. One of the key ideas was to limit the amount of people in the story. The focus wasn’t going to be on the zombies, the focus was going to be on humanity. I Am Alone couldn't just be a title; it had to tell the audience what the theme was.  Although for all you horror fans we have some bloody good scenes.

How does your film differ from every other zombie film out there and is there ever a risk that your film covers something already used in another film, current or otherwise, and how do you combat that if it happens?

Robert: Few films if any, and believe me I’ve watched almost every zombie film I could, before we set out to shoot I am Alone. I was only able to find a few films that deal with the transformation aspect of a zombie film. Dawn of the dead (2004) has a very small subplot regarding transformation, Colin (2008) from the UK tells the zombie story from the zombie’s perspective but not exactly what we were going for. We knew we needed an amazing actor such as Gareth David-Lloyd to portray Jacob from both a living breathing charismatic Reality Show host to whatever he may become at the end of the film. We weren’t going for the standard sixty - second change over in most TV and films use.  We wanted it to be about a slow heart-breaking decline of a man. That's how we know we’re different.  Few zombies’ films ever try to deal with the impact something like this would have on you or those you love.


How difficult or easy is the process for applying for funding and do you have to reach certain criteria for it, and if you don’t reach the funding level can you reapply, or still use what funds have been donated? Can you explain the process?

Robert: Funding any film is a challenge; few people actually know how difficult it is. Most films never make it passed the funding stage, since they never make their funds. Most studios only release about 12 films a year and they have money. So imagine how difficult it is for everyone else out there trying to bring their project to life. It’s nearly impossible. I can’t say enough about the crowd-funding platform and Kickstarter.  For the first time, an artist can reach out to your market audience and collectively you can bring a project to life. With Kickstarter, it is a winner take all model. Meaning, if we don't reach our goal we lose it all, which was the case in 2012. When we re-launched we knew we had to start from scratch. There is nothing more vulnerable as an artist fundraising on a crowd-funding site, if you fail, you feel like you fail alone, but when you succeed… Everyone who supported you is part of the process. We owe everything to our Kickstarter supporters all over the world.

What cameras did you use for the filming?

Robert: We knew early on into pre production I Am Alone wasn't going to be shot as a standard narrative film. This film was going to fall more into the found footage genre so we had lots of cameras we could use. The style of the film required a special eye and we were very lucky to land Adrian Sierkowski as our Director of Photography. Upon first meeting him, I knew we were onto something. He understood exactly what we were going for with the style of this film.

                                                      (Adrian Sierkowski with camera)

Lots of hand held cameras, lots of security cams to show us a real time look to this infection and how technology could be used to track its destruction. The “towns” cameras would be telling the story as much as our cameras would be. We shot on at least 4 different cameras (not in every scene) We used a Panasonic GH2, Canon XA-20, Gopro’s and cell phones. We knew the cameras would almost have to be a character as much as the actors and locations would be.

                                                (Gareth wearing canoe cam with Robert Palmer)

I read somewhere that you got the use of someone’s land specially to shoot the entire film; did you have any issues with local wildlife?   And were they ok about you etching the name on the tree?

Robert: When Michael and I wrote I Am Alone we had no idea where we were going to shoot this film. We simply wrote what we wanted to see. We knew finding a location would be a serious challenge but as it happened it all fell into place. I had mentioned my location dilemma to my softball team and as it happened my teammate/friend Chayson Bean showed me several photos of a Cabin on a mountain and few other pictures, probably less than 10 total he just happened to have on his phone. I couldn't believe what I saw. A place I had never seen, looking nearly identical to what we had written. It seemed impossible but there I was staring at it. After discussing the location with Michael we put the wheels in motion to scout this location at some point in the future. We finally went out to Montrose in mid 2012 and immediately knew we had to shoot our film there. The scenario was unmatched and the people were amazing. The Beans/ Leonard Family were gracious enough to allow us to shoot on their land at Cerro Summit when the time was right.

                                          (Courtesy of Rick Bresett - Gareth on the Cerro Summit)

The Montrose area had so much to offer, mountains, rivers and everything in between. We connected with Suzette and Rick Owen owners of The Wild Bunch Ricer Ranch who also allowed us to use their property to use any locations we needed. It was incredible for us to have so many people want to be part of this unique film.  All parties signed off on our production and our locations were set. We had our locations, our actors and our crew in place. A rare thing to happen on such a small budget. 

As we got to know the land up on Cerro Summit we all learned the property has been in the Leonard family for nearly 150 years and as we explored the property we noticed lots of names carved into trees from over the years. It was a story of the past, and a story of our future. We didn't allow just anyone to carve their name, it represented us all. It wasn't our intention to deface a tree, it was our way of leaving our mark we meant nothing more than to remember our time on that mountain at 10,000 feet. Few people will ever know what that was like.

Was all the filming in Colorado or were you shooting in various parts of the country?

Robert: I Am Alone, began filming in Los Angeles In mid July 2013, we had elements we needed to film for our Colorado portion.
Colorado was the perfect location for us to tell our heart-breaking story of isolation. The Colorado shoot is also integral to the remaining scenes we need to shoot back in Los Angeles, in the coming months.

How many make-up artists did you have working on the set and how long did it take to complete the amount of zombies you had for the walk? Did any of the zombies muck in with the make up to help out? 

Robert: A film with our budget, we knew we had to be specific with our zombie intentions. We had enough experience shooting two Kickstarter videos to know what we would have to deal with out in Colorado. The major challenge would be to be prepared enough to keep the zombies bloody and our vision in tact. Those duties fell to our fearless make up team led by Rachel Sanchez who recently became a Montrose local but trained and worked in LA for years. She brought on her close friends Grace Fong and Laura Morton to help make up zombies.

                                  (Make up team - Laura Morton, Rachel Sanchez, and Grace C. Fong)

I assured them this wasn't going to be a typical zombie film and looks we’re familiar with. This was a story of the first hours of the viral outbreak; this was about blood and lots of it. The deteriorating skin that we associate zombies wasn't our focus. As we got deeper into the story the amount of zombies increased and Rachel was able to bring on more local talent in the Carles Sisters… Carri and Candice. The team of 5 dealt with upwards of 120 local zombies. It wasn’t an easy task but they “killed it.” The zombies looked amazing. Rachel and her team of 4 took on the task of making zombies and they succeeded.

What was the hardest part of the shoot?

Robert: We knew one the hardest parts wasn’t going to be the filming; it wasn't going to be the make up… It was all about the locations themselves. We filmed on Cerro Summit and The Wild Bunch River Ranch two amazing distinctly different locations, each with their own filming challenges. Cerro Summit was a major challenge since the singular road to the cabin was literally 15 minutes up a gravel road to man made cabin run off a generator. The cast and crew were absolutely amazing; they took this journey all in their stride.

 The cabin was referred to as “base camp” that was at around 9,400ft but most of our filming was on the actual summit up a steeper rockier road at nearly 10,500 elevation. I don’t think many films on any budget challenge themselves to that level (literally).

Cerro summit was a spectacular location and we barely touched the 3000 acres we had access to. The hardest challenge was getting our cast and crew up and down the mountain as well as our gear as safe and sound as we could. We were always fighting weather and we actually won that battle most of the time, but a few times it affected us. The Wild Bunch River Ranch was amazing; it wasn't nearly as high altitude. They had river access and amazing views and it was much easier for us to film there.

If it wasn't for our fearless security team from Accurate Intentions lead by Rick Bresett and his amazing team, with all honesty we’d never have been able to traverse the Colorado wilderness and make the film we wanted to do. They made what was going to be a tremendous challenge for us.

(left to right/Front Row) David Frank, Melissa Clishe and Bobby Morgan. Back row is Rick Bresett and Randy Bresett)

What is it about zombie films that you always get a good response at from people wanting to be a part of the filming, did you ever have to turn people away or were you happy to take as many as you could for crowd scenes?

Robert: Michael and I knew a zombie film for our first major project was going to be a tall order, so when we wrote the script we wanted to make sure the zombie film fans got their money’s worth. We didn't know how we’d get people to play zombies so we wrote the best story we could and let the pieces fall as they may. Once, we saw our turnout at the zombie walk last May we knew we could put our worries to rest.  As filming got underway we learned people from all over Colorado were coming out for days at a time to participate. It became one happy family. Friends and Family flew in for this once in a lifetime event. Michael’s friend Joe Orwan flew in from Virginia and my sister Rachel flew in from Philadelphia for a few days to participate. And by participate, they were put to work.(laughs) Those who participated both on camera and off have memories for a lifetime. We know, we do,
                                              (Candice Carles)

Since World War Z there appears to be a change in the zombie, it runs a lot now, whereas before they merely walked slowly and made a lot of noise, have you added any of this to your film, such as faster zombies?  

Robert: Zombies shifted from shambling to runners in 28 days later. In my opinion, as technology became faster somehow the undead too needed to became faster. With faster information, I think people would be able to deal with any sort of epidemic slightly quicker. At least manage to get information spread quicker much like the infection itself. That said what if technology didn't work… What then?  I Am Alone deals with that question first hand. Technology was a key element in how we shot our film but not its interconnectivity. A cell phone app and utilities can still work as long as battery life is present but communication would not. So a phone becomes nothing more then a digital multi-tool. As our story our zombie transition our zombies were recently dead/transformed so they would be more active but not necessarily runners like recent films, just more “active” and as the infection spread less survivors would be around to quench their blood lust. Fast zombies have their place in horror films as do the slow moving. This is a fairly new debate and will go on for years to come but as cine-philes we like to stay true to the Romero slow moving zombies.

When you began casting for your movie, did you know who you wanted for the role of Jacob Fitts and his team? 

Robert: Casting is essential to any Film and ours was no different. When we wrote I Am Alone we didn't have an exact model for who Jacob was. We wrote him as an American but in the back of our minds we felt we could have fun with casting.

                                          (Gunner Wright with Gareth David-Lloyd – Mason and Jacob)

We knew our lead characters of Jacob and Mason needed to be both equally strong and compassionate but two very different people. So Michael and I did extensive research for months for whom we wanted for these key roles. We had watched an amazing film called Love (2010), which starred Gunner Wright in a mostly singular role, and he was immediately on our radar. We started to chart our course for which actor we wanted in these roles and set out to try to get them. In July 2012, I happened to attend the Fright Night Film Fest in Louisville Kentucky. I was there to promote, screen my short film People of Earth. I was there for the duration of the film festival and I happened to meet Gareth there. As a fan of Torchwood and Doctor Who I was pleased to know Gareth is one of the most down to earth people I’ve ever met. We talked several times over the course of the festival and I left him a copy of my short film. Weeks after the event we chatted, he had viewed my film and enjoyed it. We discussed future projects and I Am Alone was brought up. I explained to him the status of the project and we left it there. Michael and I knew Gareth would be such an amazing Jacob. He’d bring so much depth to the character but we didn't know if we could get him and or if he was even interested.  As any project we had reached out to other actors across the world, we wanted to make sure we covered our bases but we always came back to Gareth and Gunner. Both had read the script and agreed to take this adventure with us. And now after filming the Colorado Portion, We couldn't see anyone else in these roles. They both made it their own and gave everything to these characters and It shows in every frame they’re on screen.

Will this film become part of a festival run or will it be available for all to watch especially in the UK?

Robert: We’re in the early stages of editing and we still have much more to shoot, so it’s too early tell what our official marketing strategy will be. First, we will be screening at any and all film festivals around the world. Then we are planning on a theatrical US/UK run (if possible) as well as the rest of the world. Finally, video on demand as well as streaming sites like, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Lovefilm, Blinkbox and any streaming sites.

Will there be a sequel to this or do you have another venture lined up?

Robert: We will be heavily involved in I Am Alone for the foreseeable future. We’re eyeing an August 2014 release and once we get this in the can, we’d love to continue to explore the I Am Alone universe. Michael and I have discussed future ideas/plans for our characters and adding a few new ones, but we’ll wait till we finish this one first.

I think there’s something far creepier when a child is heavily made up in zombie make up than an adult, but something we’ve seen on the set of Bad Blood is that the kids love to get involved in horror films, did you have a lot of kids join the zombie walk in the film, or were they in separate parts of the filming and is there as much call for kids in horror films as there is over here?

Robert: There is a history of scary kids in Horror films… The Exorcist, The Omen and so on. It’s always tricky as a filmmaker to work with children, children and animals aren't the most cooperative. But we knew while in Colorado we wanted to have everyone participate and most of the time the parents were more excited to be involved than the children. The town of Montrose came out in force, we had children of all ages come play zombies, they weren’t scared, they listened and most importantly they were scary.

                                                         (zombie kids)

Where did you find that freaky baby model chewing on its own foot, I almost screamed when I saw it in your photos on Facebook? That’s worse than Chucky! *shudders*

Robert:   “Zombie Baby” as we affectionately called it was first brought to our attention during the late hours of the zombie walk last May. A local brought it to show us and it was a hit. She told us she had received it as a Christmas present of all things. “Zombie baby” was quite popular at the zombie walk and it was fun to see it back out during our wrap party.

                                              (Robert Palmer with zombie baby)

Fans Questions

Kirsty Price: How difficult is it to apply make up for people who can’t sit still? (referring to Gareth)

Robert: We were fortunate to have shot the most of Gareth’s scenes in order, to limit the amount of time he’d spend in the make up chair. Our makeup team were brilliant and Gareth was at ease for the duration of the daily process.

Corinna Kalthoff: It's not a very original question, but being a huge fan of zombie movies (and games) in general, I'd really like to know: Were your ideas for the project influenced by any other zombie movies? And if so, which in particular?

Robert: This is a great question, as a cinephile we tried to find inspiration from anywhere we can. We envisioned I Am Alone as a character film rather than a zombie genre film. So we set out to study films like Into the Wild, Monsters, Love (which happened to star as yet casted Gunner) The Walking Dead, Dawn of the Dead (both versions) Carriers and  The River (TV series) which came out after we had written I Am Alone, it was nice to see what they’d done.

If you want to know more about the film, about the synopsis, about the cast and crew then visit:

It’s been a fabulous insight into the making of a horror film.  Be sure to visit their Facebook Page, as they’re releasing a teaser trailer on Halloween and you wouldn’t want to miss it.

Special thanks to Robert Palmer and Michael A. Weiss for the interview and the use of the photos from their Facebook and website Pages, including Gareth on the Summit by Rick Bresett. We wish you all the best with the film.

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