Last week, the “Zombieland” pilot made its debut via Amazon’s pilot program. It’s not a secret that “Zombieland” started life as a TV pilot at CBS before the network passed on it back in 2005, ultimately leading to the 2009 film directed by Reuben Fleischer. During the conference call, Reese and Wernick say that the cast departures leading up to “Zombieland 2″ were a blessing in disguise, allowing them to pursue their original passion for bringing the “Zombieland” story to TV.
So what are co-creators and series producers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s thoughts about making the transition back to the small screen? And how has changing the cast affected the pilot? And will we see any special guest stars in undead America?
They say Amazon has been a good partner here, not restricting the original vision for the series or asking them to scale back the splatstick humor. At the same time, they say they don’t feel “Zombieland” is especially gory and that they’ve been deliberate in the way the zombie kills play out as comic instead of horrific beats. That extends to the show’s zombie rules which don’t follow the traditional zombie movie logic–we’ll see smarter and dumber zombies and most will simply die the way humans do. They’re infected, but the show won’t focus on the origins of the plague.
Why not recast for the feature film, though? Why not tell the story of other survivors? For the sake of the TV show, the creators of “Zombieland” feel that it’s about a dysfunctional family, and straying from that would simply make the franchise a matter of tone. On a personal note, I suspect another part of it is that the film set up a world where the big question mark is whether there are any other survivors left in the world–switching up leads would simply remove that element of mystery.
With that in mind, the series actors were asked to take their own spins on the characters from the film rather than ape the performances of the stars of the film. For instance, Kirk Ward, who plays Tallahassee (and was originally supposed to be the lead in the CBS pilot) was told he didn’t need to worry about a backwoods accent of pop a cowboy hat on his head in order to inhabit the role.
“Think of the movie as the pilot episode,” they say, or better still as the first two episodes of the series with the Amazon pilot acting as the third episode of the story of this dysfunctional family unit. In it, Tallahassee is the surrogate father to a cynical (yet impressionable) Little Rock along with the romantic undercurrents between Columbus and Witchita.
If the numbers are there and Amazon backs it, “Zombieland” would head east from California, with stops in Las Vegas all the way up to Detroit, allowing the characters to see more of the undead U.S. As for additional characters and celebrities we might see in the film, they’re not ruling it out: it’s simply a matter of timing for any of the celebrities they’re interested in for the show. They’re obviously keeping quiet about who they have in mind, but say that it’s often a last-minute process like Bill Murray’s participation in the film whose part was written within days of his time on the set.
The “Zombieland” pilot is available now on Amazon. The pilot will be available for a month and Amazon will make its decision on whether to take it to series sometime within that period.