Zombie: Reporter is loving life as undead

Writer gories up for Web series

By Sue Vorenberg, Columbian features reporter

Published:

 

On the Web:

"Zombie Ridge"

"The Haunting of Sunshine Girl"

"The ScreenPrinters"

"Black Eyed Kids film"

Zombie style

Zombie style:

You could almost fill a field guide with a list of zombie species out there in the undead kingdom.

The Web series "Zombie Ridge" predominantly uses "Romero zombies," the slow-moving, nonspeaking type made famous in director George Romero's films such as "Night of the Living Dead."

That style, which tends to climb from the grave and attack people, is probably the most popular, but there are many others to choose from.

Science zombies are made by disease or other scientific tampering gone awry, as in the "Resident Evil" films. The creatures sometimes have unusual abilities, strength and size.

Fast zombies, or runners, move at an inhuman pace, like those in the film "28 Days Later." They can typically be gunned down more easily than science zombies or other types.

Cybernetic zombies are dead humans reanimated with technology, as seen in the "Mass Effect" video game series.

Demonic zombies are typically created through some sort of witchcraft or spell, as in the "Evil Dead" films. They often retain the ability to speak.

Zombies in the upcoming Brad Pitt film "World War Z" use mechanics from the animal world, at times looking like super-fast ant colonies when they pile up and climb high walls.

And the list goes on.

Ridgefield. High noon.

The bloodied, slow-moving residents looked on hungrily as a band of newcomers trickled into town on the rainy Sunday.

Outside the Old Liberty Theater, the remains of what was once Yamhill, Ore., fireman Dave Wilken stood guard, his face gored and an ax hanging loosely from his right hand.

As new zombies emerged one at a time from inside the building, I knew that I would soon become one of them.

That was the plan, after all, to be transformed into a zombie extra in Vancouver director Nick Hagen’s new Web series, “Zombie Ridge.”

The series, put together by Coat Tale Productions and launched on the Web Friday, is one of two new offerings from Hagen, who is best known for “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl,” a hit YouTube series with 16 million views and 32,000 subscribers. Hagen’s other new Web series is a comedy called “The ScreenPrinters,” which launched April 10.

Hagen invited me to be part of “Zombie Ridge” back in February with a quick email asking: “Have you ever had the desire to be a zombie?”

Of course my then-beating, nerd girl, horror fan heart melted at the thought.

Not literally, though. That sort of gore would come later.

First I had to beg, plead, threaten and finally offer chocolate to my editors to get their approval. They gave in after realizing I might eat their brains if they refused.

So that’s how I found myself, after signing two waivers that I think said I wouldn’t sue anybody if I died, sitting in Terri Lodge’s makeup chair getting Elmer’s glue, toilet paper and oatmeal smeared across my face.

Lodge, a professional makeup artist who volunteered for the day, came up with the low-budget, non-latex version of the zombie makeup specifically for “Zombie Ridge.”

“I had to do a lot of research,” she told me, building up a ripped-skin wound by gluing three layers of toilet paper to my jaw and blow-drying them. “I’m allergic to latex. I’ll blister if I use it. So this was an inexpensive way to do this.”

She made another wound — a festering bite mark — on my cheek out of a mix of oatmeal and glue, covered everything with a grayish base and followed up with three types of sticky, dark-red blood.

Two of the blood types were commercially made. The third was a homemade concoction of pancake syrup, chocolate sauce and food coloring.

The total makeup budget for me and the 70 or so other zombies that day was about $500, which is actually very low cost compared with other productions, she said.

“You want gory teeth?” Lodge asked nonchalantly after finishing most of my face.

“Sure, why not,” I said.

Lodge handed me a dental-rinse cup with the homemade blood mix and told me to “swish.”

As I prepared to spit the remains back in the cup she said “oh, you can drool it down your face if you want.”

Feeling like a 3-year-old, I complied. The chorus of “ohhh, that looks so gross” from my fellow zombies made it well worth it.

Once I emerged from the theater into the grayness of the afternoon, Sunshine, the star of Hagen’s other series, took a long look at me and said, “That’s really nasty.”

“Thanks,” I said proudly.

Sunshine, a partner in Coat Tale Productions with Hagen and actress Mercedes Rose, doesn’t like to have her name used in print because the 19-year-old has had issues with stalkers from the “The Haunting of Sunshine Girl” series.

Through their company, the three are producing “Zombie Ridge,” which stars a new group of actors. They filmed six episodes — which are typically between one and five minutes long — over the first weekend in April. They plan to continue filming and release one episode a week for the foreseeable future.

“So the plot, it’s within hours of the zombie outbreak, and the people are relatively new to it,” Hagen explained. “Our hero finds a (hand-held) camera and starts filming, and it sort of goes along from there.”

When asked if she had passed along any acting tips to the throngs of volunteer zombies, Rose, who’s appeared on TNT’s “Leverage” and is a well-known voice-over actress, said she hadn’t.

“They all know,” Rose said. “They must all watch ‘The Walking Dead’ or something.”

Once the crop of zombies was ready to roll, the group headed out to a nearby ranch, which a generous Ridgefield family had offered to Coat Tale as a filming location.

With a grisly grin, zombie firefighter Wilken looked over at Hagen.

“So, uh, where do I set up the blood tarp?” Wilken asked, preparing to apply the final round of “splatter blood” on my fellow zombies and myself before filming.

The zombies, especially those younger than 13, lined up enthusiastically for Wilken to squirt a clothing-friendly type of blood from a spray bottle onto their heads, faces, skin and shirts.

“I think we should blood up the part in your hair, then go across your face,” Wilken said, somewhat like an artist looking at a gory canvas, when it came to my turn.

Not long after, I found myself standing in a field, trying to avoid cow dung with Trish Thomas, vice chair of the Clark County Arts Commission, and Trina Roberts, a Ridgefield mother of three. We were all decked out in our finest undead attire, waiting for a young tasty brain to cross our path.

Thomas learned about the series from her work with the commission and decided to participate because, “I thought, ‘this will really embarrass my son,’ ” she said.

Roberts and one of her children came because they thought it would be fun.

Wondering what my motivation was, besides an insatiable craving for brain tartare, I asked Hagen how I should move.

“You’re a Romero zombie,” he said, indicating the slow-moving version used in director George Romero’s film “Night of the Living Dead.”

So, with my compatriots Thomas and Roberts, we sluggishly limped toward Sunshine a few times as she ran past us repeatedly with a camera.

“Want more?” Hagen said, then directed me to hover over a 10-year-old character named Scout and look hungry.

As I imagined her head tasting like a plate of the corned beef hash at Sunrise Bagels, another actor came behind me, shoved me out of the way and chopped my head off with a shovel.

Well, at least he made it look like he’d chopped my head off with a shovel. I was actually just standing off-camera when he rammed his shovel into the dirt.

A few takes of that and my day was done, although I did hang around a bit after to take some cellphone pictures and videos of my zombie compatriots and me in a kick line.

I also got more than a few double-takes as I drove home in full zombie makeup.

The good news was the latex-free gore washed off easily in the shower, although I was sort of sad to return to human form again.

When I told a professional actor friend about the experience, he said I got lucky with the makeup.

“Sometimes that stuff never comes off,” he told me. “Zombie for life.”

Even with the makeup gone, though, my inner zombie remains. And I now feel like I’m part of the lifelong — or deathlong — brother- and sisterhood of the undead.