Zombies take Red Zone to Dead Zone
Back in 2013, three good mates found themselves working side-byside on Gaylene Preston’s docudrama series Hope and Wire.
Set among groups of people trying to find a way to restore their lives in the immediate aftermath of the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, the still-devastated city provided the backdrop to the drama.
Peter Tonks was the show’s location manager, stand-up comedian Gabe Page was holding down his day job as unit/craft services manager and Jake Hurrell was a runner and production assistant. Hurrell was the only one of the trio in the central city for the 2010 and 2011 quakes. He lost friends and saw family members endure horrific injuries.
Tonks’ job had taken him into some lesser-known corners of the city, seeking out places that would work on screen to illustrate some of the agony the city had been through. The job was close to Tonks’ heart. He had lived and worked in Christchurch for years. Friends and family had lost their homes.
And yet, the friends are filmmakers to their bones. Despite the tragedies unfolding around them, they could also see that nature had handed them the greatest film set they could imagine, especially if you had been dreaming for years of making an otherwise completely unaffordable post-Zombie-apocalypse mini-series about the adventures of a middle-aged city council Zombie hunter...
Which is how Life in The Dead Zone, which premiered online this past week, came to be.
After weeks of talking and sketching out ideas for the show, arguing about how to get it right and still be respectful of Christchurch and its people, they hit on the plan. The show would be set in the fictional city of Kittworth, a few years after a disastrous outbreak of a Zombie virus.
‘‘Using such a familiar idea let us play around a lot more,’’ says Hurrell. ‘‘We weren’t out to scare people. We wanted to find a place where people could have some fun. To send up some of what they had to live with every day. The ruins, the council workers, the road cones...It’s a love letter to city we have all called home.’’
The trio recruited more friends from the film industry to join the production. Veteran TV and theatre actor Des Morgan arrived and immediately transformed lead character Stanley George into a warm and jovial city council veteran, all mugs of tea, builder’s crack and a dogged determination to do a decent day’s work. Page took the role of Stanley’s young offsider Mickey and real-life special-effects make-up technician Chester Dexter became Chester the scientist.
Behind the camera, Matt Sharp took time off from commercial projects to shoot, edit and also cowrite the series with Page. On the day, much of the dialogue was improvised between the actors. As co-producer, Hurrell was conscious of respecting the city and making the show a collaboration between the residents and the film-makers.
‘‘Each local we spoke to was thrilled the Red Zone was being used for something creative. That got to the point where, during our post-wrap drinks at a local bar, we secured extras wanting to play zombies who overheard our conversations.
‘‘Everyone except our leads are Christchurch locals and survivors, some of whom gave us amazing performances. The get-up-and-go-attitude and the willingness to be involved from the Christchurch locals allowed us to film more content than we could have asked for. We had a lot of people advising us of locations, characters, and even original ideas.’’
❚ Life in The Dead Zone is available now on its dedicated YouTube channel.
Christchurch’s Red Zone provided the backdrop for the recently released web series Life in The Dead Zone.