PORTLAND, Maine — A barista in a popular cafe turns into a zombie. Days later, a kindly grandmother, fireman and scuba diver morph into animated corpses.
Who is responsible for the zombification of Portland this time?
York native Kyle Rankin.
The film director, who made his first movie “Dorm” while a student at the University of Maine, returns to his roots this month to shoot “Night of the Living Deb” in Portland. We sat down with the 41-year-old between takes at Andy’s Old Port Pub to learn about the rise of zomedies, the pluses and minuses of filming in Maine and why the undead are storytelling gold.
Q: Why did you decide to film in Portland?
A: It’s been a dream since I left in spring in 2002 to come back and shoot in a city that’s so beautiful and excited about film. Out in L.A. they are pretty jaded about movie making. For instance, we are here in Andy’s Pub, a bar, and they are excited that we are here. They charged us nothing. They closed down.
Q: Is that pretty rare?
A: Not the way the town has reached out to us. In L.A. it would be $5,000 and everyone has their price. This wouldn’t have happened.
Q: How long have you been in film?
A: It’s all I’ve done since I was 14. I went to the University of Maine and they didn’t have a film program so I got a broadcast journalism degree. I wanted to just be near the equipment. Not having a film program and fighting for the opportunity was great. I shot a feature on three-quarter-inch video when I was there and we sold it to Home-Vision Video. It’s called “Dorm.” it’s on YouTube. It’s absolutely terrible.
Q: This move is called “Night of the Living Deb.” Great title. Tell me about it?
A: I was going off “Night of the Living Dead.” I immediately wanted people to know it has a female lead, that it is a zombie movie and a comedy. It’s a zom-rom-com. I’m a big “Shaun of the Dead” fan, “Shaun of the Dead” with a female lead is what I was going for … I have a 1-year-old daughter and I want to start making movies that she will remember when she is 16.
Q: The plot is about a couple trying to get across the city, which becomes infested with zombies?
A: Basically Deb wakes up in bed with a very handsome man and is a little unsure as to how she got here because she is very hungover. It’s a one-night-stand situation. He comes in and says, “You need to leave. It’s July 4th, I have to go see my family and you have to see yours.” She really doesn’t want to leave because he is very handsome. She thinks it’s the start of a relationship. He kicks her out. She drives away. He goes down to a coffee shop and the barista becomes a zombie, he trips outside. She pulls up in her car. They have to stick together because it’s a zombie apocalypse.
Q: Why are zombies hot right now?
A: I read something that said when people start to lose faith in the economy and in government there is something therapeutic about them.
What I love about it, as a filmmaker, is you always look for conflict. A lot of times in the writing of the scenes you have to do it with wordplay. Zombies are instant conflict. They are ready to kill you. As a storyteller, zombies are a situation that needs a resolution. You don’t watch “Night of the Living Dead” and say, “What was that about?” It’s a zombie movie. I think films should be entertaining.
Q: I’ve heard mixed things about Maine’s film industry. It’s not easy to film here because tax credits are not like other states.
A: This is something I tried to do for the last 12 years since I’ve been in L.A. — bring a film back here. I made a movie for Mel Gibson’s company that was a $3.5 million budget and I wrote it for Portland. There was just no way it was going to happen. The first thing they did was look up the tax credits and they said no. It is all about tax credits whether or not a movie is going to come here.
Q: So why are you doing it here now, because nothing has changed?
A: Now I am completely running the show. I am producing and directing. And the money is so low that I can just say where we are shooting.
Q: What is the budget?
A: It’s about $120,000, mostly raised through Kickstarter and a few investors.
Q: How many people from Maine have you hired?
A: We have a crew of 37 and at least half are from Maine. Spencer Albee, [formerly] of Rustic Overtones, is doing the score. I tried to hire as many local crew and cast here [as I could]. I had to trek some people in from L.A.
Q: What do you think will happen with “Night of the Living Deb”?
A: I will make the best movie I can. I think it’s a very commercial film we are making. Zombies are hot and it’s funny, it’s a comedy. A fun popcorn movie. Enter it into Sundance, Tribeca, Toronto film fests.
People always say, “Can I see it in the theater?” The answer is always, “I don’t know.” The theater is the holy grail, but the business is really changing. We could release it on iTunes and make our money back and come back and do another one.