FANGORIA PRESENTS: “GERM Z”—Getting the Bug Part Two
As a continuation of our previous discussion (see part one here) with GERM Z co-director J.T. Boone and producer Lynette Dixon about the indie zombie flick GERM Z, the fifth release on the FANGORIA Presents banner (see here for details; to find Fango’s Comcast collection on your VOD channel, search this way: Movies > Movie Collections > Fangoria), we also spoke with co-director John Craddock and editor Randy Paik. GERM Z is a character-driven study with a hint of romance and an abundance of zombies that spawn after the military unsuccessfully attempts to intervene when a satellite hurtles toward our planet.
So how exactly did Craddock come to be one half of the directing duo behind GERM Z? “J.T. and I have been friends since we were in junior high school—we actually went to summer camp together and remained friends over the years,” says Craddock, who currently teaches at SyracuseUniversity and is also the creative director of production company Many Hats Media. “When he wrote GERM Z, I had just finished producing two other features, one film called SESSION and the other LONELY JOE. He said, ‘Hey, since you’ve done this before, would you be interested in working with me on GERM Z?’ And I said, ‘Absolutely.’ So we put together a production team and got it made.
“I was sensitive that, obviously as the writer/producer of this, [Boone] had a lot of ideas of how this should be realized and his creative ideas were coming through, tempered by my decisions on set,” Craddock adds. “But the fact is, in a lot of ways this was his baby, so as a friend and colleague, I wanted to make sure that was realized.”
The director primarily on set for principal photography, Craddock goes on to explain the struggles of low-budget moviemaking. “Being in the independent film world, it’s never quite as clean and easy as it is when you have a big budget to work with,” he says. “There were times when I had to do things, like a couple of stunt falls out of a second story window. In order to convince the actors that it was safe, I had to jump off the top of a 12-foot A-frame ladder onto the stunt pad. Or when I had a 12-gauge shotgun fire a blank at me from about 10 feet away to show them that was safe,” he laughs.
“The film, as it was written, was a much more linear script, and [editor Paik] came up with the idea to sort of intercut the parallel storylines,” Craddock explains. “That was a really great idea; it absolutely improved the pacing of the film, and that was the biggest challenge. But in the original, as written, when you put it into a nonlinear narrative, you have moments of intensity followed by moments of less intensity, and to put that in a nonlinear way really keeps the energy of the film up. It’s a tremendous improvement.”
Paik elaborates on this, explaining his methods of crafting GERM Z into what it has become. “By the time you get into post-production, you’re working with a finite set of variables,” he says. “In the evolutionary process of making a movie, there are so many influences along the way—the writer’s work, the director’s work, the actor’s work. You have all the effects that happened during principal photography that pushed the production in one way or another, either making things easier or making things more difficult. What you end up with—from the smallest movie to the largest movie—is a film that will basically tell you what it wants to be, and if you fight that, you end up with something that doesn’t quite resonate. So the trick is to let the footage kind of speak to you and follow your instinct on it, and it’s kind of a push and pull, for lack of a better term, between your perception and what the footage allows you to do.
“I tried to let the footage dictate what I did, as opposed to myself dictating what I did with the footage,” adds Paik, who has 20-plus years of below-the-line industry experience, which he applied to his first editing gig with GERM Z. “There were challenges in principal photography, as with any movie—things you wish you had been able to do that due to time and resources you didn’t end up getting. The story is still in there, but sometimes it’s a little harder to find when you didn’t get everything you wanted originally. It’s kind of like working as a sculptor—you chip away at it, and eventually it’ll show itself to you. The thing about GERM Z that became the track that I was able to run on, so to speak, was the script that J.T. had written—a very strong set of tracks, and there was a very definitive path that the story was taking. And in his writing, that was undeniable, so no matter what happened, that was going to be there. Plus, there was the humanity that the actors brought to their characters. The performances were all very true, which is oftentimes unusual in a low-budget indie, and regardless of whether or not some of the actors had more experiences than others, their performances were nonetheless equally compelling; they really put everything they had into it. And that was a joy for me because I can’t ever remember a point where I had to cut a bit due to the performance. It was really more a matter of just developing a sense of timing; I spent a fair amount of time altering the sense of time with any given scene, and the actors really delivered a lot of good material to work with, in those terms.
“It’s a very character-driven movie to begin with, which is unusual for a movie of this genre,” the editor continues. “Most [horror films] are kind of cookie-cutter, and they’re just cutting for the elements that we’ve all seen in these movies, and they tend to be very stereotypical to a point, and the refreshing thing about GERM Z was it wasn’t written that way, it wasn’t directed that way. I don’t think you’ll find another movie in its genre that’s really like it.
“J.T. and I had numerous conversations about how to present events, or incorporate them into the story, without actually showing them. It’s the old JAWS approach, where the shark wouldn’t work at first and Spielberg had to suggest it without showing it. So we kind of did that with the concept of the zombies. In order to make the idea something, we decided to go with the idea of a menace as opposed to the more literal representation of the threat. It feels like a really literal movie, but if you actually break down the scenes of it, it’s more of a figurative essence of the story, and what bridges the literal gap are the emotional journeys that the characters go through. And what it really comes down to, that’s the core of any really good movie… In any narrative that really works in a movie, the things that stay with the audience are the paths and the journeys that the characters take.”
Boone, meanwhile, has mentioned the possibility of a GERM Z sequel, saying he wants to “satisfy his own curiosity about what happens next.” Paik confirms this likelihood. “J.T. and I are always batting around ideas,” he says. “The story is perfectly set up for a sequel; there are all kinds of possibilities.”
GERM Z is currently available for rental at Blockbuster and debuts on VOD June 4. Plus you can buy the movie on August 20. Watch for more GERM Z coverage right here.