Zom­bies take Red Zone to Dead Zone

The Dominion Post - - Culture - GRAEME TUCKETT

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.

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