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If you’re a gay horror fan and you haven’t heard of Michael Simon’s romantic comedy GAY ZOMBIE, you’re just not paying attention. Having screened in almost every gay and/or genre film festival in the U.S. and abroad, as well as being omnipresent on Logo, GAY ZOMBIE is a well-made horror short that refuses to die.
Like most filmmakers, Simon is prepping his next projects while beating the bushes for indie film financing. He took a few moments to allow himself to be peppered with my silly inquiries.
SEAN ABLEY: Give me a little scoop on your background.
MICHAEL SIMON: I’m just the typical American kid: Born in Durban, South Africa, raised in the suburbs of Chicago, home by 4:00 in the afternoon for tea time. Didn’t all kids do that?
ABLEY: I think we’re about the same age. Were you reading Famous Monsters of Filmland as a kid? FANGORIA? (And no, you don’t have to say you read Fango…)
SIMON: To be brutally honest, I can’t really say I was a huge horror fan; a fan, just not obsessed. I was high school age when THE EXORCIST, THE OMEN and films like JAWS were scaring the bejesus out of everyone, including me. I loved these movies but didn’t pursue horror magazines or clubs and such. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD sort of stunned me. That was my first exposure to zombies and it was really terrifying—all those arms coming through the barricade—yikes! I really liked (later in life) that the zombie genre was rife for incorporating humor. I’ve always been a fan of movies that manage to scare and make you laugh; it’s a great combination. I see GAY ZOMBIE as a romantic comedy/coming out/zombie Pic. Gotta be original, right?
ABLEY: When did you realize there was gay horror out there? Was it before you started making films?
SIMON: When I conceptualized GZ and decided to call it GAY ZOMBIE, my big moment of truth was doing that first, tense, Google search. There was no matching title, TG, but I was shocked to see CREATURES FROM THE PINK LAGOON, which I believe was the first gay zombie pic. I could tell by the trailer, my idea was completely different. When GZ got into Outfest 2007, I met John and Doug from Velvet Candy Entertainment, that’s right, the producers of your movie, SOCKET. It wasn’t until joining their “community” did I realize there was so much queer horror going on. On a side note, my German distributor included GZ in the bonus material for the German release of HELLBENT, which I found to be pretty cool.
ABLEY: You’ve shot a handful of shorts, so let’s talk about shooting a short. My theory has always been, if you shoot for more than a weekend, and it’s longer than 30 minutes, you’re wasting your time and money and you should be shooting a feature. What are your thoughts on the short format?
SIMON: Yeah, I would tend to agree with you on that. GAY ZOMBIE was 18 pages and my “team” all thought it was too long. My short scripts were in the eight to 12 pages range. I really wanted GZ to be more of a minimovie than a short, if that makes any sense. I wanted it to look and read like a “real movie” and follow the proper structure of a feature, which I think I accomplished. When I watch it, it seems a bit long to me, but first time audiences seem to think it clips along. At 20 minutes, it is a bit risky.
I think the shorts genre is perfect for anyone who wants to cut their teeth at writing or directing, especially now that the technology allows projects to be done much cheaper. I didn’t go to film school, my background is in acting and some theater directing. I made my first short because two friends from an acting class approached me to write a script for the three of us for our acting reels. I pondered what would be right for the three of us and simply figured we would shoot it at my guesthouse to save money. I sat at the computer, wrote a 10 page script and nine months later it was playing at the ArcLight! [SEAN: An extremely swanky movie theater in Los Angeles.] Forget that the LA Shorts Film Festival accepts, like 500 shorts or something, but it was pretty exciting to see what we could get done with a little dedication.
ABLEY: Let’s talk about your previous shorts. THE ANALYST’S GOODBYE, which won an award at Dragon*Con. I’d say “It won an award at a straight genre convention,” but aren’t most genre convention pretty gay?
SIMON: Yes, THE ANALYST’S GOODBYE. That was my first stab at doing the writer/director/producer thang. I’m still not sure if it was a disaster or a beautiful thing. The first night of shooting was a nightmare. I had hired a full crew and a bar that would only let us shoot starting at midnight. Add in the thunderstorms and under rehearsed actors and I was numb by 4 a.m. It’s remarkable that the project was completed, that we got it all shot. A friend’s friend, who I didn’t know, told me it changed his life and he often screens it at his house for friends. That was enough to make that one worthwhile for me. Also, all the score/sound design/mixing/editing/post stuff was a world of knowledge that carried me into my next projects.
ABLEY: You actually appeared in THE NEIGHBORLY THING, which you wrote, but was directed by Samantha Light. Was it nerve wracking to have someone else directing your work, and you? Or did you just give up the control freakishness all writer/directors have and let Samantha take the reins?
SIMON: THE NEIGHBORLY THING was the one that I made with my acting class friends. I was definitely not up for directing that one and marveled at Sam’s technical knowledge in getting that thing done. The short is about an obsessed neighbor and it definitely has a dark comedy/horror feel to it. I really like the tone and look of it—sound design, score, cinematography were, I thought, very well done and, of course, it was a blast to finally be the lead in a movie! My biggest beef about that project is that my ending was rewritten “for me.” I was a bit green to take a stand about it and I let it go. That turned out to be one of the downfalls of that project; the original ending gave it much more depth. Lessons learned.
ABLEY: Is IS ONE OF YOU EDDIE? a horror short as well?
SIMON: IS ONE OF YOU EDDIE? is a gay short I made for Village Lighthouse/Alluvial Entertainment. I knew if I did a good job they would buy it, which they did and THE NEIGHBORLY THING as well! It is not horror. It is a sweet comedy about a gaggle of snooty gays who unfairly judge their “bearish” neighbor because he doesn’t fit the WeHo stereotype. [SEAN: “WeHo,” or West Hollywood, is the mostly-gay city bordering Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.] It is a classic take on the “Don’t judge a book by its cover” story and ends with the snoots groveling for a chance to be with him. That was the first project that I really felt like I was on my game. We shot the entire film, eight pages, in one day. It was a very smooth shoot. The setting was a lavish brunch and my production designer, Christopher Kinder, went crazy with the flowers, foods, juices, etc., and it looked great! Very fun and colorful.
Incidentally, I used music by a band called Dimitri from Paris for that one just to get the rough cut done. I generally have original scores done to make distribution easier, but this was a rush job. I was somehow able to find Dimitri’s email in Paris and told him about the project and he let me use the music for free! Dealing with his management was a hassle, but it was a real coup for the project.
ABLEY: In GAY ZOMBIE, the other gays are repulsed by the gay zombie until they realize he has a monster unit. Is that a comment on our obsession with penis size?
SIMON: Haha! Absolutely, I thought it would be hysterical to put the zombie in a yellow speedo with a huge package and then they love him! The tender moments with his love interest come right before that scene to show we are not all shallow size queens.
ABLEY: So GAY ZOMBIE has played in over 100 festivals around the world, it’s on Logo and available on DVD in multiple countries. Does that translate into your short actually making its budget back?
SIMON: If it was only that simple. GAY ZOMBIE proved to be quite an expensive project and thanks to my executive producer, Maria Montgomery, we were able to get it done. Our first big move was hiring Frank Ippolito to do the makeup FX. He works at the Chiodo Brothers studio and he is the real deal. He did an awesome job with the zombie and the gore effects. We recently won an award for outstanding visual effects, even beating out the features in the festival. Anyway, we knew he would be expensive and we also wanted to pay our crew, which was with me now for our third or even fourth project together. My DP/editor, Andy Bates, has been with me for all my shorts and it was surely time to compensate. But yes! It was very satisfying to have such wide festival play and distribution deals and it was very nice to have some money coming in from it. More like miraculous!
ABLEY: Have you seen this GAY ZOMBIE? Thoughts? Spoiler, I think it’s hilarious, but feel free to disagree.
SIMON: Yeah, I had seen this on YouTube as well and it is very funny. It’s strange to see GAY ZOMBIE in the credits though; that’s mine! Incidentally, all the traffic caused by their clip increased my traffic and internet sales. When OTTO; OR, UP WITH DEAD PEOPLE was having its heyday, that, too, really created more awareness and sales for me. And by the way, I really liked OTTO. I thought it was very well done.
ABLEY: Gay horror as a genre seemed to sort of explode a couple years ago, and now it seems to be almost nonexistent. Do you think this is just because gay film money has pretty much dried up over the last year, or is there another reason?
SIMON: Yeah, I guess it has kind of dried up. I would agree with you. People are having a tough time finding the money and time to make these projects right now.
ABLEY: You have some other gay horror scripts up your sleeve. Tell us about those. Is there no horror subgenre you won’t queer up?
SIMON: I think it’s hysterical to take all these horror staples and make them gay. I completed the script for GAY FRANKENSTEIN with my buddy, David Stanley. It’s a very funny take on the mad scientist creating the perfect gay boyfriend in his garage. John Carrozza, from Velvet Candy, has expressed interest in producing, but as always, funds are hard to come by. David and I are committing ourselves to refocus on the project and get things rolling in 2011.
I’m very excited to announce that my executive producer, Maria, and I are going to re-team and shoot my gay werewolf epic, MOON OVER GAY MOUNTAIN. We are going to take the opposite approach to GAY ZOMBIE and make it for as little as possible! It’s a very fun script and takes place mainly in the bear community of Silver Lake. So prepare yourselves now; any favors will be enormously appreciated.
ABLEY: With all due respect to your other shorts, GAY ZOMBIE seems to be the one that’s really broken out. Are you finding that when you’re out and about pitching projects, most people want to know about what your next gay thing is, rather than hearing about “straight” projects?
SIMON: Not necessarily. When you’re pitching to Regent, sure, but I’ve always crossed over. [SEAN: Regent is know heretv!, which produces THE LAIR, among many other gay genre titles.] I have two thrillers completed and a romantic comedy - all straight.
ABLEY: What’s a film we’d be surprised to know you love?
SIMON: [Laughs] THE BLIND SIDE.
ABLEY: I’m currently obsessed with knitting. What’s your current nonhorror obsession?
ABLEY: I’m going to be interviewing a very famous gay porn director who actually made several horror films under a different name. I also know a lot of crew people who moonlight in porn. Being in close proximity to Porn Central, a.k.a. The Valley, have you ever thought of dipping your toe in that industry to make money?
SIMON: No, I’ve never come close. But who knows what the future holds. Let’s see… THE MAN WHO GREW TOO MUCH. I think I’ll start working on that tonight! Let’s do it!
ABLEY: I can’t end this with a porn question, so let me ask: The first day on your first short, right before you called “Action” the first time, what were you feeling?
SIMON: Don’t faint, Michael, just don’t faint.
For more GAY ZOMBIE, click here.
To check out IS ONE OF YOU EDDIE? and THE NEIGHBORLY THING, click here.
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