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Lessons on shooting a micro-budget Zombie film

Rob Savage talks about his latest short, Dawn of the Deaf!

Making any sort of film is almost always a daunting task where you've got to pull together all of your resources, time and efforts just to get your vision made. Rob Savage did just that and has recently been screening his latest film "Dawn of the Deaf" at Sundance Film Festival. 

Rob wrote, directed, shot, edited and co-produced his first micro-budget feature film "Strings" at just 18, which was screened at some very prestigious international festivals including Raindance. The film was acquired by Vertigo Films and won the "Independant Spirits" award at the British Independent Film Awards.

 

"When a strange sound wipes out the hearing population, a small group of Deaf people must band together to survive."

We had a conversation and a deeper look into the production process behind Rob's first ever Zombie film. Check it out below: 

What inspired the idea for this film? 

"The original idea for Dawn of the Deaf came from the beautiful, fucked up mind of Jed Shepherd who is a good friend and collaborator of mine. He's always pitching me great ideas and when he mentioned Dawn of the Deaf I knew that I had to make it. I've been a big zombie fan for years, but hadn't found the right idea until now".

What have been your influences for Dawn of the Deaf?

"Recently I've been influenced a lot by Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin and Green Room, which are amazingly visual and inventive in their storytelling. But I tend to watch a medley of different films and many different influences find their way into the films I make - for instance, there's a lot of Brian De Palma in "Dawn of the Deaf" which found its way in there subconsciously."

What sort of budget were you working with? 

"We basically had no money, and so had to rely on the kind favours of our cast, crew and extras. Still, we wanted the film to feel large in its scale and we managed to wrangle almost 500 extras to be our zombie hoard - we even hired an incredible 'Zombie Trainer' who put our extras through a day of zombie school, teaching them how to walk, sound and eat like a zombie!"

Could you tell me more about your crew for this film?  

"The film was shot by Sam Heasman, who created an incredible cinematic feel for the film on a very low budget.

The last three short films I've made have all been collaborations with producer Douglas Cox for Shadowhouse Films, who will always find a way to make our ideas come to fruition, no matter how ambitious. Production Designer Dale Slater is always doing wonders with whatever insulting budget we give him. Costume Designer Alexi Kotkowska clothed nearly 500 people for almost no money. Riccardo Servini has edited almost everything I've made.

It's an incredible team that I've built up over the past few years and who I plan to keep working with until they tell me to fuck off."

 

In retrospect is there anything you'd do differently regarding the film?

"There's always things that you would do differently after shooting - every film shoot helps you grow as a filmmaker and move closer to understanding your own style and tendencies. However, for the money we had, and how well the film has done, there's nothing I'd change about the finished product. People are responding to it, and whatever the flaws, that's what matters."

What camera and NLE did you use? 

"We shot on the Arri Alexa, which gives the closest look to 35mm film of any of the digital cameras, in my experience.

We used Final Cut Pro 7, which is what I've been editing on for years - however, since DOTD my editor and I have been using Premiere Pro which has been a fantastic and easy process."

Could you tell me more about the music influences for Dawn of the Dead?

"Patrick Jonsson is the incredible composer who scored for Dawn of the Deaf. Our early references were mostly Trent Reznor and his OSTs for David Fincher. Since the film features Deaf protagonists, we wanted the score to be very bassy - a score that is felt as much as heard."

What was the VFX process like for Dawn of the Deaf?

"Dawn of the Deaf features almost a hundred VFX shots, large and small - we have scenes of an empty, desolate London that required a lot of detailed work from our amazing VFX Supervisor Steve Bray and required many months of tweaking and re-shooting of elements. It was one of the longest parts of the process, but one that we knew was vital and worth the wait."

What future projects have you got planned?

"The end goal has been to make Dawn of the Deaf as a feature film. While the short is pretty self contained, we made it as a means of convincing investors and audiences alike that the concept had potential as a mainstream horror film that would engage with both hearing and Deaf audiences.

The main aim is to make a compelling, unique and pant-wettingly scary horror film. But we also firmly believe that the film could be a powerful means of bringing Deaf talent to the fore. Horror isn't driven by star power, but can still draw a large mainstream audience if it delivers the goods, so we are hoping that the feature film - which will be made with an entirely Deaf cast - will be a step towards greater diversity on screen." 

Find out more about Dawn of the Deaf here: http://www.rob-savage.co.uk/da...

Photos courtesy of Samuel Dore