The Director of Zombieland Speaks
10.09.09 by Ryan
Zombieland took first place at the box office last weekend with its blend of comedy and zombie-killing action. While a zombie movie at #1 is still a surprise, what's more surprising is that Zombieland is the first movie Ruben Fleischer has ever directed. Creativity asked Fleischer how a first-time director, who wasn't much of a zombie fan, ended up directing a movie like Zombieland.
I started out as an assistant to a director on two movies, Miguel Arteta. The movies I worked on were Chuck and Buck and The Good Girl. I didn't even know I wanted to be a director until I started working with Miguel. I just needed a job and it just turned out I really liked being on set and he was a great mentor. When I started trying to become a director, I started shooting low budget short films, 50-dollar music videos, making my own stuff. That eventually led to commercials. The goal I guess was ultimately to do a feature, but I wasn't in a position to do features, and since I wasn't a writer, I wasn't going to write my own movie that I was going to try and make, so I had to just keep working until I could realistically be considered for a film.
I had an agent and a while ago I was attached to direct this other movie at Paramount called Psycho Funky Chimp, which was a really funny, funny script, but Paramount basically just decided they were never going to make it so I had to start looking for other opportunities and I read Zombieland and loved it and went very aggressively after it.
Since Zombieland was still a TV pilot script at that point, Fleischer got the job by adding an ending.
Because it was a TV show, it didn't conclude in a very satisfying way. It was naturally meant to lead to the second episode. So basically I pitched the idea of having it go to an amusement park as the place the little kid character wants to go, which would give it a destination for the movie to have, and I also knew it would be a really cool place to have a giant zombie battle.
Fleischer admits that a huge part of Zombieland's success came from the cast, which assembled pretty quickly after Woody Harrelson was convinced to appear.
Definitely, Woody was first. I definitely had to convince him to be involved. I think he was a little reluctant about doing a zombie movie, but I put together a big visual presentation to show him what I had planned, and that was enough for him to sign on. It was print, but basically reference points for who I thought his character was like, the landscape. I really was thinking about this movie a lot in the terms of a western, like Sergio Leone, so I allowed him to see it was just not a straightforward zombie movie, but it could be something bigger and better. Once we got Woody on board, it was a lot easier to get everyone else.
Once on the set, Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg couldn't stop improvising.
We definitely did improv, both Jesse and Woody are amazing improvisers. It was really fun, once we got the script to let them just go and see what they came up with and they're both so talented that a lot of the lines that get laughs are improvised ones. I was a little nervous at first working with that level of guys, but they made it very easy for me and were open to doing whatever we needed to do. They were everything you could ask for, it was aweseome. And Abigail Breslin was incredible, like the most talented young woman in the world.
So after scoring a number one comedy, what's next for Fleischer? A possible pilot and loads more commercials. What, no blockbuster movie projects?
Hopefully at the end of the year consider another feature film, but I really want to go after commercials hard.
So far no word on Zombieland 2, but if the movie enjoys continued success, it Fleischer won't be working on commercials for very much longer.