What fans of Zombieland may not realize is that the 2009 hit movie, written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, was originally imagined as a TV series.
“We wrote it in 2005 as a spec pilot and sold it to CBS and – this was pre-Walking Dead – and the idea was that zombies had been so successful on the big screen but they have never really been tapped on the small screen,” Paul said. “The success of Zombieland in some ways paved the way for The Walking Dead to be on-air, and The Walking Dead is obviously a huge success. We’re so happy to be back on TV.”
Zombieland: The Series, is one of 14 Amazon original pilots now playing for free at Amazon Instant Video and LOVEFiLM. Viewer response will help determine which of these shows return with full seasons.
We asked with Paul and Rhett about zombies, their cast, and what the future might hold for their characters.
There are a lot of zombie stories out there, but you but you guys have taken it in a direction that I think is more humorous than one might expect, post-apocalypse.
Rhett: Well I think what we wanted to do is to treat the post-apocalypse like an escapist fantasy. There are a lot of post-apocalyptic stories like The Road and similar movies that treat the post apocalypse as a grim experience as it likely would be in real life, but we thought we wanted to turn it on its head a little bit and imagine the post-apocalyptic landscape as a fun one, and one where you could be free and do the kind of things that you wanted to do. Maybe you were the last guy on Earth and maybe there was a cute girl who is also alive, and what would that mean? So we wanted to look at the post-apocalyptic world as a playground full of toys and full of zombies to bash over the head and full of fun experiences and that was a jumping off point for us.
Paul: It’s kind of like Los Angeles during the holiday season when everyone goes out of town, and traffic is a lot less and the air is cleaner and people are happier and we thought my God, that feels a little bit of what it would be like in the post-apocalypse, except you’re being chased by zombies. So the wish fulfillment of that world is something that we really wanted to tap into that really sets us apart from all the other zombie projects, the idea that again you can drive Lamborghinis. You can just go to the Lamborghini dealership and grab a yellow Lamborghini if you wanted to. And you could get the hot girl because, you know, there aren’t a lot of choices out there.
What do you say to those who are nervous about seeing Zombieland as a series?
Paul: Well I would say that they are in the best hands that they could be in. The reason this was and is an original idea, it wasn’t based on a graphic novel it came out of our heads and it is now in our hands where it belongs and we have the utmost respect for the world and the franchise and the fans and we’ve captured the tone and feel of the movie. We have cast wonderful actors who are playing characters – not replacements for other actors.
Rhett: It bears mentioning that when we wrote Zombieland, we wrote the character of Tallahassee based upon an actor we knew, a friend of ours and an actor we had worked with named Kirk Ward, and he really inspired the character. We wrote it for him intending for him to play it but when it became a movie, we needed a star and we went to Woody Harrelson, we found a phenomenal guy who left an indelible mark on that character and obviously brought it to life in a way that it will never be forgotten that will always set the bar of excellence. That said, when it came time to turn it into a TV series again we desperately still wanted to work with Kirk Ward and to have him be our guy and it was a long circuitous casting process but we got our wish so people will be seeing in him our original vision for that character and I think that the other cast members are equally wonderful and are wonderful discoveries. It’s true in theater that characters get passed on from one great actor to another and it’s almost like a legacy and we hope that it will be the case in this case. There are also a lot of good examples of movies becoming Television shows, something like The Odd Couple – you know Jack Lemmon, Tony Randall, two wonderful actors playing the same part. There’s Billy Bob Thornton and Kyle Chandler on Friday Night Lights. I think there is certainly precedent for what we are doing and we hope to catch lightning in a bottle again.
Rhett: We really believe that we are holding the standard of the movie and it will be up to America and the world to decide. It’s not for us to decide, but we have confidence in it.
Great zombie stories – like yours – have a unique way of helping people understand humanity. Is that kind of thing in your mind at all?
Rhett: A little bit. To some extent we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously. I do think that zombies are a stand-in for all of our collective fears; you know each of us fears different things in life. Zombies are a nice way within the world of fiction to embody those fears into something then bash it over the head with a baseball bat. I think there’s something to that; it’s a kind of cathartic kind of movie or TV show.
If the series goes forward, how do you envision it unfolding over time?
Paul: Inherent in the movie and in the pilot is this idea that they are on the road, it’s a traveling circus and we would like to embrace that. As we are heading out of California and heading east, these adventures will take place in Vegas and Graceland and Mount Rushmore. We want it to take advantage of the landscape and America and all the fun that awaits them on the road. That would be what I say most. They’re all looking for their own sense of home and peace and I think that Tallahassee is looking for love and hopefully will find it and Columbus will hopefully find it in Wichita.
Rhett: And a show like Battlestar Galactica a real endgame, that being let’s get back to Earth, let’s get back home. As they had that, and I think we also have the idea let’s ultimately try to find a place of safety, a home and a community for the future. That won’t be reached right away because then there wouldn’t be a show, but I think in the long run we’ll try to take our guys to that mythical place of safety and renewal.
- Stephanie Reid-Simons