Zombieland Screenwriters Talk the Movie's Genesis, Celebrity Cameos, and More
08.20.09 by Ryan
The upcoming zombie comedy Zombieland follows an unlikely pair, Jesse Eisenberg's frightened Columbus and Woody Harrelson's gung-ho zombie slayer Tallahassee, as they drive cross country trying to stay alive in the wake of a zombie apocalypse. FirstShowing spoke with screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick and learned that the movie had a peculiar beginning, as Reese explained how Zombieland started out as a TV pilot:
That's indeed why we wrote it, because we looked at the landscape and there had been a lot of zombie movies, but there had never been a zombie television show. And so we thought very mercenarily, wouldn't it be cool to see zombies on TV? And it was ironic that now we're headed into theaters where we weren't sure we wanted to go at the beginning, but now we're thrilled to be there.
It took the blessing of a legendary horror director to start them on the path to making Zombieland a movie, says Wernick:
We sat in a room right at the onset of that with John Carpenter and he had read the hour long version, our pilot version, and absolutely loved it. I remember him sitting there saying — [producer Gavin Polone] said, "Well, what would you do with it?" And he said, "I'd go shoot it." And I thought, "Oh my god, how incredible!" Such an icon and he loved the script and we were so excited.
Now Zombieland is hitting theaters with a big cast, especially for a zombie movie, that includes Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin alongside Harrelson and Eisenberg, and even some big name cameos have been rumored from Matthew McConaughey and Bill Murray. Neither writer would announce who will be making a cameo, though they did say who will not.
The cameo was re-written "about 10 or 15 times" in an attempt to bring a celebrity to the project, with a wish list that included Joe Pesci, Mark Hamill, The Rock, Jean-Claude Van Damme, even Bill Clinton. Eventually, when no one would agree to appear in the movie, the writers asked Harrelson to make the call that helped them land "the best person of all" for a cameo Reese described as a "pretty crucial role." Wernick says the role will be "at least five to ten minutes of the movie,." Whoever it is, Reese says the celebrity is "better than any of the other names by far and the only reason we didn't go to him first or go to him earlier is because we thought we would never, ever, ever, ever, ever be able to get him."
Besides being a zombie movie with well-known actors and celebrity cameos, Zombieland sets itself apart from other zombie movies in other ways as well. Reese says the movie is a blending of genres:
It's a road movie, it's a buddy movie, it's an action-comedy.
Wernick also described it as a "romantic comedy" as well. Don't worry, horror fans, it's also still a zombie movie, but one that won't be the standard, run-of-the-mill, zombie flick:
I think the challenge when you're dealing with a genre that people know a lot about is to be able to tell it in a compelling new way. We didn't want to start with a General coming on TV and saying everybody stay in your houses and seeing scenes of riots in the streets and horses rearing up and balls of flame and all those things. So instead we jumped right into it and we used this device called the "47 Rules for Surviving Zombieland" to help drive the beginning of the movie. And you don't even have to meet the lead character right away. You learn some of his strategies before you even meet him. It's just a different way to go about it and I think we were encouraged to do that because the genre was so well known.
Some of the "Rules" have been displayed in a few clips that include tips on weapons and techniques that will keep yourself alive in a world filled with zombies.