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A Conversation with Dave Gebroe - Director of Zombie Honeymoon
Conducted between August and September 2005
Interview Conducted By: Matthew Dean Hill

Dave Gebroe's masterful, touching, and horrific indie feature Zombie Honeymoon is, in my mind, the best independent horror film of 2005...hands down. Recently, Dave Gebroe agreed to the torturous task of being interviewed by me, where he proves once again that he's got more inspiration and talent in his little finger than most indie directors have in their entire bodies.

Atrocities Cinema: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with Atrocities Cinema.com, Dave! So, can you give a little bit of background on Zombie Honeymoon and your production company?

Dave Gebroe: It's my pleasure! Hooligan Pictures was set up in the late 1990's to produce my first feature, a comedy called The Homeboy about white rappers in the suburbs. You can check out www.thehomeboy.com for more information. After that movie came out, I switched gears and started becoming interested in horror. My sister's husband died in a surfing accident, and I start reimagining their relationship within the context of a tragic love story as played out in a combination of styles, borrowing from John Cassavetes and George Romero. I felt it was a hybrid I hadn't seen before, and that it would probably engage people on an emotional level they had hopefully rarely experienced before. People sitting down to watch a movie called Zombie Honeymoon are probably not expecting to feel anything too profound, so hopefully, it'll be something of an emotional suckerpunch. That was the idea, anyway.

Atrocities Cinema: It's not too often that I hear horror directors...much less horror fans...invoke John Cassavetes as an influence on any level. It's true that there's something quite naturalistic and energetic about his work; not unlike Truffaut's early work, if you ask me. That said, who are/were your other cinematic influences when working on Zombie Honeymoon? Were there any distinct or direct acts of homage that you stuck in there?

Dave Gebroe: I have to agree there. I think Truffaut's early work is incredibly naturalistic and engergized to a point that it's almost maddening. In fact, the first ten minutes or so of Truffaut's Jules and Jim were a tremendous influence on the opening of Zombie Honeymoon...that locomotive, propulsive energy, self-perpetuating and infectious as fuck...that was the idea and the main influence right out of the gate! There are tons of homage points throughout my movie. There are moments out of Antonioni, Cronenberg, Romero, Bergman, Browning...you name it! The idea was to create a mishmash of high-art/low-art styles a la Philip K. Dick, to dirty up and kick around profound ideas in a pulpy setting so that the Flintstone vitamin effect takes hold and you wind up able to accept these ideas that would normally be fraught with tremendous "heaviosity" to slide effortlessly down an audience's collective throat.

Atrocities Cinema: It's actually refreshing to hear a horror filmmaker...hell, any filmmaker...talk about Antonioni, Cronenberg, Bergman...far too few genre fans-turned-filmmakers have influences and bodies of cinematic knowledge as broad as that. It's a shame, really. Still, it's important to consider that audiences will take what you give them. If you give them art, even if they don't realize it, you're doing your job as a filmmaker. That relationship exists outside the boundaries of "genre". What you've made here is what John "An American Werewolf in London" Landis has called, "The first truly romantic flesh-eating-corpse movie"! That's really something, coming from him, as he probably made the first truly romantic...and funny...werewolf movie. As with Landis' film, your characters are quite well fleshed out, due in no small part to the performances. How did you find and select your cast?

Dave Gebroe: I knew I wanted a particular sort of mindset from my actors. I wanted the willingness to jump in headfirst and really thrash around, trying out different methods of getting into their characters. Far too often, actors will spout off about their addiction to "being in the moment". Largely, that can be a load of horseshit. They're a hundred miles away, languishing in memories from their childhood of when their mommy or daddy was mean to them so that they can bring tears to their eyes during a sad scene, or any other kind of example you can imagine. I wanted this movie to have a Cassavetes-esque immediacy to the performances, a vivid here-and-now quality to it that is constantly lacking in horror films, as the Linnea Quigleys of the universe have propogated the idea of the scream-queen, doing away with the idea of great acting in horror films. Just look at Marilyn Burns in [the original] The Texas Chain Saw Massacre...that's as good a performance as I've ever seen in my life. Somehow, that's gone the way of the dodo. So, when I set up auditions, I handed out pages to the actors along with the script instructing them not to say hello when they walk in the room...there will be a severed hand on the ground, there will be a man eating that hand, and they're to walk in and just enter the scene immediately. I could tell right off who was put off by that idea and who found it exciting...the moment they entered the room. From there, it was a process of chemistry, of feeling comfortable going off the page and putting it in their own words, of throwing themselves into it with no reservations. And then, the rehearsal process...once I found Tracy Coogan and Graham Sibley...was several weeks long with no rehearsal of the actual scenes whatsoever. It was all guerilla theater experiements around New York City, throwing situations at them that they had to handle in character, so they had a bank of real memories to choose from that occured in the recent past once they were on set. There was no need for bullshit substitutions once we started shooting...they were living it. They [Coogan and Sibley] met, fell in love, and got to know each other both as actors and in character. What you seen onscreen is most definitely happening for the first time. And, as a director, working like that for the first time with absolutely no tightrope and no sense of recreating moments that worked in rehearsal, that was fucking scary. Who knew what the hell was going to happen? But, I had faith. And that faith paid off...I think they're brilliant in the film.

Atrocities Cinema: Yeah, there's "method" acting, and then there's a bunch of low-experience "why can't I be Brando" types...the kind of pretentiousness melts the paint off of walls, as far as I'm concerned. Being "in the moment" as far as acting is concerned, means literally to react to and deal with the situation at hand within the confines of the script/director's wishes or intentions, etcetera. In any event, it's wondrous that your two principals met and fell in love as a result of their involvement in this film. To me, that's just remarkable. Not to sound all fuzzybunny or whatever, but that really is a testament to a few things...the quality of the material, the quality of the performers, the quality of the direction, and the passion with which everyone involved came at Zombie Honeymoon. But, I agree...Marilyn Burns' performance in the original TCM was simply astounding...now that lady really suffered for her art! (laughs) So, were there any moments during the filming that either you, your cast, or your crew just wanted to say, "Ya know what? Fuck it! This is just too much..." or anything? Were there any particularly "bad" days you can tell me about? What about "good" days? Give me some insight into the production of Zombie Honeymoon.

Dave Gebroe: The entire production was an endless string of "Fuck it! This is just too much"-style moments. Literally from the moment we started...it was so damned hard all the time, it felt like we were pulling teeth! Of course, it didn't help that we shot inside a house where the family refused to move out. So, we had a brash Italian family...man, woman, three kids, pets, grandparents...it was nuts! It seemed like we were saving money, but it turned into the biggest nightmare ever. They would literally attempt to sabotage the shoot just to fuck around with us and have fun, to balance out the regret they were feeling at opening up their house to us. I tried to warn them early on how invasive it was, but they had glitter in their eyes...they thought they'd get involved in filmmaking and have their own little Hollywood in their backyard in "down the shor" New Jersey, not realizing that their lives were about to hit a standstill. Any they took it out on us. And that sucked. It really, really sucked.

Atrocities Cinema: Well, despite your difficulties, it's not apparent onscreen. So, I guess that's a credit to you as a director, not to mention the professionalism and general ability of your crew. People think that being involved with a movie on that level entitles them to something...and maybe it does, in a way, but there's a fine line between starry-eyed and outright obnoxious, as it sounds like you discovered! The movie seems to have escaped unscathed, though, and I guess that's the point. So, did you just look at that house and go, "That's it! That's the house where we must film Zombie Honeymoon? Or, was there an element of convenience to it?

Dave Gebroe: I liked the house the moment I saw it. It was set up and back a bit, reminiscent of the Psycho house to an extent, but not overtly "creepy". That was important to me, to have the locations be just that much "off" so as to make things seem askew but not completely nutzoid like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Because it's ostensibly a happy occasion..this couple's honeymoon...the places they go shouldn't bludgeon you over the head with how scary they look, but I wanted there to be just a hint that something was about to go awry. The house we filmed in did it for me along those lines, plus it was very close to the Jersey Shore, very close to where the real "Danny" died, actually, so there definitely was an element of convenience as well...in terms of housing the cast and crew down there and the location moves not being so backbreaking.

Atrocities Cinema: Again, I'm impressed by your knowledge of the "language of film", if you will. When watching Zombie Honeymoon, it's evident that your skill with angles made the house in turns welcoming and foreboding...kudos! I think a lot of directors forget that making a movie "scary" is more than just turning off the lights, adding a few "jump" moments, and sloshing a bit of red karo syrup around. But, it couldn't have been all backbreaking labor, could it? I mean, tell me the funniest thing that happened on the set of Zombie Honeymoon.

Dave Gebroe: The most surreal moment for me...the moment when the stress and the madness of our particular production problems came to a "head" and took a swing toward the comical, had to have been this one particular night. It was near the end of a twenty-one hour shooting day, and we where trying to get a very hypnotic, beautiful sequence down. I kept hearing this snoring noise. I went upstairs, trying to hunt down the source of the noise. Lo and behold, the goddamned family dog was dead-asleep in a doorway! I gently nudged him awake with the door, ran downstairs, and rushed into a take as soon as we could. And then...boom! There it was again! A deep, guttural growl. In between each frickin' take, I took it upon myself to race upstairs, wake up the family dog, run back down, and grab a take lickety-split before the thing was able to fall back asleep. That's independent filmmaking to a "tee", right there.

Atrocities Cinema: Too funny! While I think that most film sets are plagued with mishaps of one sort or another, I can't imagine that many of them have to contend with a snoring dog! That's gotta be one for the history books. It would have been funny if you had somehow incorporated that into the film, though I have no idea how you would have done it. Anyway, moving on...You're obviously a fan of cinema...not just genre cinema, mind you, but all cinema. But, on the genre side of things, what are some of your absolute favorite horror films?

Dave Gebroe: My all-time favorite is most definitely The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. It's just fucking perfect. So goddamned scary...shot on reversal stock, so it look dirty, scary, and straight out of your worst bad dreams...even when nothing's happening. Plus, Marilyn Burns' performance is the best ever in a horror film. She's so believable you don't doubt what's happening for a second. Then, there's Videodrome...James Woods' best performance. Dawn of the Dead is my favorite gore flick. Halloween...these are all standard choices, but they're still so effective. Another newer one that leaps to mind is Wes Craven's New Nightmare, which is far better than Scream if you like your horror self-reflexive and in-jokey.

Atrocities Cinema: I have strongly mixed feelings about the Scream series. On the one hand, they helped to revitalize a severely sagging horror industry, but they started to cannibalize themselves way too damned quickly, and only ended up hurting the situation in the grand scheme of things. On that note, how do you feel about the recent Hollywood trend of remaking horror classics and/or the latest hot Japanese horror property?

Dave Gebroe: It's bullshit...just pure laziness. Get some ideas and run with 'em, don't just fall back on the same old tried-and-true shit. It's going to wind up killing the genre yet again!

Atrocities Cinema: Believe me, I agree with you there, Dave. Now, I find that most director's to whom I've spoken have a "pet project"...a film that, since they were kids, they have always wanted to make. Whether that film would be based on a favorite book, a childhood nightmare, or what have you, it's something that often causes a noticeable wave of cause and effect throughout a filmmaker's career. Sometimes, that pet project ends up being most obviously manifested in the form of the first or second movie a director makes, but often...tragically...that film never gets made. Do you have such a "pet project"? Was it Zombie Honeymoon?

Dave Gebroe: Zombie Honeymoon was not a pet project in that sense. It came out of nowhere when my sister's husband died and I wanted to craft a "valentine" to my sister's strength and determination to move on with her life. One pet project I've had for about ten years that I believe I will never have the chance to do is a comedy called "All You Can Eat". It's about a depressed professional wrestler who decides to go to Las Vegas to eat himself to death. But, when he gets out there, he discovers an underground competitive eating scene that inspires him to become the best eater that ever was. Unfortunately, there's another film about competitive eating with the same title that's being directed by the douche behind American Pie 2. So, after nine years of developing that project, it looks like it's kaput. The other pet projects...I don't want to talk about them yet, because I'm sure I'll have the opportunity to make them. Keep an eye out!

Atrocities Cinema: Well, even if it wasn't your "pet project", Zombie Honeymoon certainly plays like a real labor of love for all concerned. I hope that someday, someone makes a film about my strength and determination. It would be a sad, short, boring movie, but there it is (laughs)! The film industry is, of course, highly competitive and challenging. Is there some bit of advice you can give aspiring young filmmakers? Some words of encouragement? Trade secrets?

Dave Gebroe: Don't even bother unless you absolutely have to do this. There is very little glamour in filmmaking...it's a lot of isolation and workaholism, and you're better off as an armchair dreamer if the thought of putting your entire life on the backburner to complete a film strikes you as anything but thoroughly desirable. It's hard fucking work, and it's not for everybody. People see the end result, and turn on "E! Television" and figure, "yeah, this is definitely for me". But they don't realize that the glitz, paparazzi, and adulation...that's less than 1% of the movie industry. The rest can be summed up by a panic-stricken independent filmmaker at a film festival freaking out because he hasn't yet sold his film...dark red circles under his eyes from lack of sleep and a chronic inability to stop working!

Atrocities Cinema: Not exactly cheerful, but probably the most accurate and honest description of the movie industry that I've gotten from a filmmaker so far. Still, hope springs eternal, as they say, but people should definitely be aware that making a movie is only about a fifth of the overall battle! So, what's on the slate for Dave Gebroe as a filmmaker? More genre pictures? After Zombie Honeymoon, we're pretty eager to see what you do next!

Dave Gebroe: Definitely more horror films! I'm interested in developing the idea of "emotional horror films", along the lines of Zombie Honeymoon. There's a lot to be said for the idea of establishing characters the audience actually cares about, then killing them off and letting the viewer actually feel the loss. I want to make movies that are entertaining and commercial, but novel in their approach and conceptual framework. I have several I'm working on right now. As Zombie Honeymoon winds its way across the country theatrically, I plan on setting up a project while I write another one. I can't wait to see what the next step is...after all, this is what I've been working toward my whole life, and now it's here! Whatever the end result is, I'm going to keep making films until I die. And, by that time, I'm sure I'll be a good subject for a horror film myself!

Atrocities Cinema: Well Dave, you've shed some valuable light on both Zombie Honeymoon and on the independent filmmaking procees, as well! I'm sure I speak for all my readers here at Atrocities Cinema.com when I say "Thanks, and best of luck!" Keep us posted and informed on all your future projects!

Dave Gebroe: The best way for me to do that is for all of you to go to www.zombiehoneymoon.com and sign up for the email update list. It'll be like me whispering sweet nothings in your ear on a regular basis! I hope I get to see each and every one of you at a Zombie Honeymoon screening in the coming months! Check the website to find out when it's coming to your town. Thanks a lot!

More updates to come very, very soon.

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