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Guy Pigden: The brains behind new Kiwi flick ‘I Survived a Zombie Holocaust’

Released just last Friday, I Survived a Zombie Holocaust is the work of Guy Pigden, Kiwi filmmaker, actor, director and NZ film devotee. We caught up with Guy to discuss filmmaking, finance and the state of the arts in New Zealand. It turns out making a Hollywood-style zombie film on a distinctly down-under budget has its challenges.

Idealog: The film spent considerably longer in post-production than was expected, didn’t it? When did filming wrap and what have you been doing since?

Guy Pigden: It’s taken us [Guy along with Harley Neville, or Pigville productions] five years to finish the film. We started post-production in 2011 and only finished it earlier this year. We were trying to do something very, very ambitious with not a lot of money, and that’s why it ended up taking so long. When you’re doing something like this, essentially what you’re trying to do is make a multi-million dollar movie with a budget of $250,000.

I: While perhaps not that impressive by Hollywood standards, $250,000 is still a pretty impressive chunk of change. Where did it come from?

GP: We were given that money as a grant from the NZ Film Commission as part of the Escalator scheme – a grant for new directors to make their first feature film. We presented them with a proposal and script – a very involved six-month process – and they gave us the green light.

I: The New Zealand film industry is very much grant-funded. With so little private investment available, how does that affect the kind of films that get made?  

I think that in many ways it makes it very difficult because every filmmaker is going to the commission with their hand out. The government allocates a certain amount of money, and not a huge amount in filmmaking terms, so very, very good ideas get rejected all the time.

In other countries there is more private investment going on and there are different avenues you can use to get a film off the ground that we don’t have over here. The way filmmaking is going though, is that it’s becoming cheaper, such as with the proliferation of good quality cameras that are affordable. So while filmmaking is still very expensive, compared to what it was like ten years ago, it’s now possible to take that power back, and self-fund or crowdfund stuff.  There are all these other ways that you can approach getting your story told.

I: You crowdfunded your current film, Older, which is now in post-production. Is it easier to get private investment at this stage? Does film-making have a kind of sexiness that makes people want to invest?

GP: I think there is a sexiness to it, to a degree. Filmmaking is not a very sure thing, especially now with piracy. It’s much riskier than other forms of investment, so you’re appealing to people through art; appealing to people through storytelling.

I: Peter Jackson. Yeah or na?

GP: Yes, on many levels. In terms of who he is and where he came from – he’s a huge inspiration for my generation and he’s the reason that big films are made over here. He’s put it all on the map and is the reason big budget filmmaking can be sustained here. It’s now common to say ‘Oh a big budget film is being filmed over here’, and he’s responsible for it all. He opened the door.  

I: Traditionally, indie filmmakers often would run into problems when it came to distribution. Is technology changing that?

GP: I think it’s both a blessing and curse. It’s certainly easier to distribute now, but the real challenge is making people aware of it of your movie in the first place – the marketing.The marketing of a film can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and a figure like that just doesn’t make sense if you’re a niche film like I Survived a Zombie Holocaust.

But awareness can be built up in different ways and these days, if the audience knows about it they can access it quickly – that’s the change. A smaller film like this would have struggled a few years ago. Now we can get it out there, make people aware in different ways, make or money back and have people actually see it.

I: Last question. What’s the best zombie movie of all time?

GP: I don’t want to say the best, but Return of the Living Dead had a big impact on me. Written and directed by Dan O’Brien – the writer of Alien – it was the first to do comedy in a Zombie film, that gross out horror, and it laid the groundwork for films like Shawn of the Dead. The first time I watched that film it really lit a fire under me. So yeah, Return of the Living Dead.

I: Good answer!

I Survived a Zombie Holocaust is in cinemas, out on DVD and available on iTunes now.

Jonathan has been a writer longer than he cares to remember. Specialising in technology, the arts, and the grand meaning of it all, in his spare time he enjoys reading, playing guitars, and adding to an already wildly overstocked t-shirt collection.

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