Finding Life in the Dead Zone
Aimee Jones Watson catches up with one of the team behind Life in the Dead Zone, writer and actor Gabe Page.
Life in the Dead Zone is a web series that documents the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. The mockumentary style show features a film crew, which shadows the show’s protagonist, Stanley George, a council worker turned zombie catcher. Stanley walks the film crew through the mundane details, in his role, hunting the undead in a comical manner that belies the true horror he faces in his job.
After a successful launch at Christchurch’s Armageddon last year, the show has had a successful run on the international web fest circuit.
In the 15 months it’s picked up selections and almost 20 nominations at festivals including Colombia’s FIS-MED, the UK’s Pilot Light TV Festival, Sicily Web Fest and US fests Ozark Mountain and Stareable.
It’s currently nominated for seven awards across the Minnesota and New Jersey web fests.
Turning Tragedy into Comedy
The series shot in post-quake Christchurch, which enabled the filmmakers to stage their scenes in a tragically realistic hell-scape. The show documents a community that is picking up the pieces after disaster strikes and, as such, is a funny and fitting tribute to the fortitude that Christchurch residents continue to demonstrate in the wake of catastrophe.
At the 2018 NZ Web Fest, Life in The Dead Zone won Direct Selection to New York’s Stareable Fest.
What inspired the initial idea for the show?
At the time half of the key creatives including myself, Jake Hurrell and Peter Tonks, were working in our usual day jobs as film contractors. We were in Christchurch for the filming of Gaylene Preston’s Hope and Wire, a TV miniseries about the city in the aftermath of the 2011 quakes.
How has the show been received by Christchurch residents?
We have had a lot of wonderful feedback from people from Christchurch. The majority of our views in New Zealand have come from there. For many, getting a tour of these suburbs and inside some of the buildings, without being told this was because of that earthquake, has made it easier to swallow.
Jake experienced the quake, which helped us to have an appreciation of the lives it affected, how to approach our goals with love and to ultimately show respect for the city.
How did you get access to the shooting locations?
Along with being a Location Manager by trade, Peter Tonks owned shares in a traffic management company that was working extensively down there. He had a lot of contacts with council and a private demo firm who had ownership of the properties we shot inside.
How long did it take to create the series?
We were lucky enough to have this project self-funded by our Director, Peter Tonks. We shot it over about ten days in total in 2013. We shot a lot of content, then spent the next few years juggling our day jobs and cutting many different versions to get what we have today.
The zombie genre has been rather played out recently, but your take on the genre was refreshingly original. How did you keep the concept fresh?
By ignoring it. At its heart, this series is a buddy flick about an underfunded council worker and his sidekick. They have a job to do… so we focused on the job and the council budget constraints. It just so happens that their job is catching Zombies, and they’ve probably dropped the ball a little bit because of the distraction of the film crew.
How did you negotiate the different roles you undertook in creating the show?
Being a group of headstrong, passionate and creative individuals, meant that it didn’t come without its challenges. Generally we all managed to slip into our respective areas of expertise. Everyone had his or her own individual attachments to the creative process.
The overall concept of a council worker mockumentary comes from Jake Hurrell and Chester Dextar. Matt Sharp and I scripted the base storyline; Des Morgan crafted Stanley George. We had to find the common ground to move the project forward. It’s important to challenge ideas and ensure they are needed. There’s nothing worse than unneeded content. Every aspect of visual media matters.
How did Des Morgan’s character-driven performance as Stanley enhance the show?
There is no one else in the world who could have brought Stanley George to life, like Des did. I’ve worked with Des on several different projects over the years and his work on Dead Zone really takes the cake. Des really made the semi-down trodden, but always optimistic council guy, feel real.
How does being a stand-up comedian inform your writing process for scripted content?
We scripted out the story and a lot of the scenes, but most of the dialogue was improvised, unless we had key story beats that needed to be hit.
Whether it’s comedy or drama it’s all about finding the truth, even in the midst of absurdity. That’s how you get by in front of the audience. If an audience can believe in the human side of the characters, it will be engaged and compelled to join the characters on their journey.
Will there be another season?
The idea isn’t off the table, but it’s probably unlikely.
With the rebuild in Christchurch well underway, our sets have gone and we wouldn’t wish for something bad to happen to create new ones. And creating a web series by committee can be hard work. We’ve also all grown a bit, and have families now. It would also be hard to re-create the magic of the first season.
Sometimes it’s important to know when to quit.
Check out the Life in the Dead Zone YouTube channel for the entire season and a few extra bites as well.
Published on 3 September 2019