World War Z, Marc Forster interview

With the film released on DVD, the Xtreme Entertainment Network talks to the director of World War Z to discuss Brad Pitt, zombies and the difficult but undeniably epic journey that was taken to bring the book to life.

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When Max Brooks’ book World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War was released in 2006, it swiftly climbed to the top of best-seller charts with its unique and highly inventive narrative of a planet battling against a zombie outbreak. A year later, the rights to turn the novel into a film soon became the subject of a hotly contested bidding war between Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company Appian Way, and Brad Pitt’s own production company, Plan B Entertainment.

With Plan B Entertainment emerging as the winner and eventually securing the screening rights, director Marc Forester (Quantum of Solace, Monster’s Ball) was approached to help bring the novel to life. Whilst it was always going to be a difficult book to adapt due to the many storylines that ran at once, what followed could only be described as a laborious and incredibly drawn out production process.

Where do we begin? An early script leaked onto the internet in 2008 which subsequently underwent numerous changes and rewrites. The final third of the film was changed because they were unhappy with the way it turned out, and so was reshot after the film’s main production had long finished. The film’s release date was delayed due to clashes with other releases. The Hungarian Anti-Terrorist Unit seized crates of deactivated weapons when they were shipped over to Budapest for filming. And, most worryingly, there were even rumours that surfaced on the internet saying how Brad Pitt and Marc Forster fell out at once point and refused point-blank to talk to each other due to creative differences.

But how much of this was accurate? Now with World War Z being released on DVD after a successful box-office performance and with talk of a sequel on the way, the Xtreme Entertainment Network sat down with Marc Forster himself to find out just what is the truth behind all those rumours…

World War Z has been a long time in production, having first started in 2007. How did you first become involved in the project and what was your overall experience of it like? There has been a lot said in the press about this movie, but it hasn’t been as fraught as people make out. I first became involved when Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B, contacted me. To begin with, Brad Pitt wasn’t planning to star in it, so we just developed the project with another actor in mind. When I developed the script and he looked at it, he decided that he wanted to do it himself. After he decided he wanted to star in it, everything just fell into place after that.

The book has numerous different plots that run through it, meaning it must have been quite difficult to adapt. What are the main differences from the film to the book? The biggest difference is the film is set right at the start of the zombie outbreak, and the book is set in the past with people telling their stories and recalling what happened. The book has multiple different storylines, and it is not your usual cinematic narrative. So we went back to a more conventional set-up, with the main character being the investigator trying to find out where it all started.

Were you worried about disappointing fans of the book by taking this direction? No because we have captured the spirit of the book. The idea was, if it all goes right, is to make a trilogy out of it. In that way the third movie can be almost like the book, with people recounting the war and how they survived it.

worldwarz2How much has the World War Z script changed from the original draft you saw? It just evolved. You know, it’s like a lot of these scripts; they are like organisms that evolve from one shape to the next. It took a while to get there, because it is not exactly like the book. We were walking a thin line, and it takes a little finesse to get there.

How much input did the books author, Max Brooks, have when it came to the movie? I walked him through it, and he basically said that he wanted us to make the movie we wanted to make. He just wanted to see it when it was done! He hasn’t seen the movie yet, so I am really hoping he will like it.

I’ve heard you decided to reshoot the ending of the movie. Why was that? Well I wasn’t happy with the ending. I wanted it to be more personal, and to make the ending more personal between Brad and the zombies. I included an important scene where he has an encounter between himself and a zombie, which made much more sense to do.

What makes the zombies in World War Z stand out from the other zombies we’ve already seen in films? Are they unique in anyway? Yes, because I always imagined them to be like a tsunami of zombies. Like this wave coming at you? They have a swarm group mentality. I thought as we are living in a world where there are more and more people, and it is overpopulated, there is a kind of fear factor to that. They all smell the blood and they are all going after the last resources. They are on top of each other desperately trying to get there first. They are on a feeding frenzy, like a shark that smells blood. Unless you get out of their way, it won’t be pleasant when they catch you.

 

So they are all scrambling for that last drop of blood. I guess in a way it could be seen as a metaphor for consumerism… Yes exactly! I just like these kinds of metaphors. I mean everyone can read into the film how they want. There are plenty of layers in here, but at the same time you can just ignore it and have fun watching the action. You can see it how you want.

Are you a big fan of zombie movies yourself? Which ones are your favorites? Yes I’m a big fan of the genre. I like the Romero moves, and I like Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later too. Also, 28 Weeks Later I liked as it was a zombie film with plenty of action in it.

How many zombie extras did you employ in the film? I heard there were hundreds of extras involved in a scene when you were shooting in Glasgow? Yes, we had a thousand extras in those scenes, and probably a hundred zombies themselves. We couldn’t have too many zombies because it took so long to apply the makeup, so at most we had about 100 zombies in any given scene.

How hard was it to transform Glasgow into an area of Philadelphia? What was it that made you choose Glasgow as a location? Glasgow was great. It looked a little bit like Philly, and also the local authorities were prepared to give us access to the downtown area. They literally closed down the city for us. I loved that city, the people were so nice and they really helped us out.

You had a run in with the Hungarian Anti-Terrorist Unit when they raided a warehouse of film props… What was that like to deal with? Yes, we shipped weapons from London to Budapest, and they were all confiscated when they entered the country. They were normal weapons, but were changed so they were safe. They were all deactivated weapons to be used on the set. The Anti-Terrorist Unit alerted the press too early, and realized later that they had made a mistake. It was embarrassing for them, but obviously being an anti-terrorist unit they cannot afford to look embarrassed.

After Quantum of Solace and now this, you must be getting used to working on big budget movies… There is a lot of pressure. The studios are on my back more than they would be with other lower budget films. They want to make sure their investment doesn’t get lost. You just have to communicate a lot to them. As long as you tell them what you are doing, you’re normally ok. We pre-visualize a lot of the movie, so they k now exactly what we are doing. It’s like an architect rebuilding your house; you are not just going to write the cheque. You want to know what they are going to design. They were usually very collaborative, so it was not such a problem.

Finally, there were some stories in the press that both yourself and Brad Pitt fell out during the making of this movie. How much truth was there to those rumours? No, that was not correct. We were always in communication, it was never like we stopped talking to each other, or anything like that. We never had a big conflict. It was a very positive, creative experience for both of us. We were just working hard to finish it and make the best movie we could.

Mark Pilkington

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