Town of the Living Dead or How to Make a Zombie Movie 101

Interview with Town of the Living Dead’s Bryan Boylen, John Ware and Tina Teeter

I’ll admit that I avoid reality television, even those series that appear on Syfy. I just can’t be bothered with other people’s drama, you know? But after the Syfy Digital Press Tour, where I had a chance to meet the stars of Syfy’s Town of the Living Dead, I changed my mind.

Why? Because these are people I know: small town folks looking to do something creative. And honestly their endeavors remind me of my own struggles working with a small community theater group and trying to do something different. These are people I know and the things they’re wanting to accomplish? They’re real.

In case you’re clueless about the premise of Town of the Living Dead, it’s basically about a group of people in a small Alabama town trying to make a zombie movie called Thr33 Days Dead. And of course, it’s taken them years and years to get to the point where it’s almost finished. But Totter announced that the movie will be finished soon and that the group is finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

But just how does one decide to up and make a zombie movie anyway? For Totter, it sort of just happened. “Well, actually, I went into Radio Shack to buy a phone for my daughter for Christmas, and I met John there,” she said. “And he shystered me out of 400 and some dollars, and the next thing I know, I had done theater for many years and effects makeup, and he had a small bit part that he needed to fill which was I get to be zombie, so I loved it. And that’s how I got involved.”

However, Ware was sitting on the idea for much longer. “I had been working on it for about two years at the time, and we had just started getting into production,” said Ware. “And I was casting all the parts, and Tina was telling me how she was an actress. And I was like, “I’ve got a part. You want to do it?” It was the mom zombie, and she was like, “Yeah.” And the rest is history.”

The film, however has faced a lot of challenges, primarily financial ones. It, apparently, takes a lot of money to make a zombie movie. “Well, the biggest challenge, of course, has been budget,” Totter said. “Budget has been an issue from day one. At this point right now, I’m in it maybe $25,000, and we’ve been filming this – I’ve been producing it for a little over four years. So that’s just a drop in the hat to do a film on.”

For Boylen, one of the film’s actors, the greatest challenge came when Syfy started following them for the reality series. “The biggest challenge for me, this is my first time out,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of extra work and sort of paid my dues in that respect, and I was ready to move on to the next level and, you know, actually speak, have a role. And it was horrifying to me when I knew Syfy was going to do a show about this because, like I said, this was the first time for me. So now the whole world is going to see how awful I was as an actor. I didn’t get the chance to sort of cut my teeth like most people do, and that’s what I was trying to do with this movie.”

Although these challenges proved overwhelming, at times, though, the group never gave up working on the film, although they came close, especially after Ware had a stroke. Totter said, “John had had his stroke, and we were talking after he had just — just a day or two after it, and with both of us crying, we had decided we were going to stop. We were not going to do the movie. It wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth his health.”

But events that followed changed their minds. Totter continued, “And then, you know, people started showing a little more interest. And then one of our actors, a main character’s son, he was five, he came to me one day, editing — he was always with me editing. And he said, ‘You know, Ms. Tina, you got to get this movie made so I can get my daddy a new house.’ And I said, ‘I promise you, we will finish this movie.’ Well, Chop Bone died on us a few months ago.

“And so, for me, there was never a question. If I had to do this until I was 90, and these guys, too, because we’re all devoted to him and to what we set out to do, there was no question as to whether or not we were going to finish this movie. Who knows how long it would have took us, but we would have finished. I would have kept my promise.”

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