Sunday Shorts #16: Waterborne – The Birth of a Zombieroo

 Waterborne Cinema Australia 9

“Rather than do a run-of-the-mill zombie short, we wanted do something that was out of the ordinary.”

Written by Marisa Brown (Producer)

Check out Waterborne below!

When Ryan Coonan and Richard Barcaracchio, the writers behind Waterborne, first pitched the idea of a zombie kangaroo to me in late 2012, I must admit that I met their suggestion with raised eyebrows and a fairly healthy dose of scepticism. At that stage I’d been working with them for about six months, coming on board as a producer after I’d heard that they were looking to get a low budget zombie feature film into production. The idea at that stage was to take whatever money we could get our hands on, head out to Ryan’s hometown of Numarkah, and just shoot the bloody thing on a shoestring budget.

However, after realising that we probably didn’t have the resources to do the film justice, we’d decided to make a ‘proof of concept’ short film that showcased our strengths as a team, and could be used as a marketing tool for the feature. With a well-executed short film set in the world of our feature, we hoped we could attract some investors, or more experienced filmmakers interested in teaming up to make the feature the best it could possibly be.

Waterborne Cinema Australia 8

Rather than do a run-of-the-mill zombie short, we wanted do something that was out of the ordinary; a set piece that would ordinarily be considered far too ambitious for a short film. In the original feature script (which has undergone many alterations and revisions in the last few years) there was a fairly minor scene where a cow contracts the zombie virus and attacks a ute as the characters try to flee the farm. Given that the idea of zombie animals had not been greatly explored at that time  – not with a serious tone, at least-  we figured a scene with a zombie cow would be the perfect starting point for the short.

And so we started planning – researching how we could make create the cow, consulting various puppeteers and special effects people, writing a self-contained story focussing on the zombie cow, storyboarding the attack sequence, and getting ready for production. But one afternoon, after clicking through a random assortment of indie horror fan pages, I stumbled across an unusual discovery  – a no-budget Irish feature from 2004 called Dead Meat, where a zombie virus arises from Mad Cow disease. And one of the film’s centrepieces – a scene where a zombie cow attacks a ute, in an almost identical fashion to what we were planning ourselves.

Waterborne Cinema Australia 2

For the writers, this threw things into chaos – if a zombie cow had been done already, then we couldn’t go over old ground. We needed our short film to be fresh and original – so what was the replacement animal going to be?

We’d long talked about the idea that an Australian zombie feature film would do really well in the American market, and so the writers came back to me with a new proposal – given that most Americans are already terrified of native wildlife, why not push that even further and create a zombie kangaroo?

Waterborne Cinema Australia 6

At first, I thought they were joking. A zombie kangaroo?! Surely that would just be comical – and whilst we weren’t adverse to having some laughs in the film, we really wanted to it to play as a drama, rather than a schlocky horror… and I couldn’t see how a zombie kangaroo could actually be frightening.

But when our editor / VFX artist / post-production whiz, Chris Tomkins, whipped up a bit of concept art based on a photo by a wildlife photographer named Sean Tomlinson, everything changed. For the first time we actually saw the potential behind this concept – kangaroos could actually be creepy. This was further solidified when the amazing Darren Close, the comic book artist behind the Killeroo series,  put together a series of custom-drawn zombieroo sketches for us. We realised then that this idea could actually have legs – big, hoppy, marsupial legs.  Had we not come across this turning point, I imagine we’d find ourselves in a very different situation today.

Waterborne Cinema Australia 7

And so we went back to the drawing board, completely re-writing the script for the short film, and embarking on a new mission – how the hell do you make a zombie kangaroo? After researching a number of options (which ranged from using actual kangaroos, to shipping in the animatronic kangaroo used in Kangaroo Jack) we decided that creating a custom-made zombieroo puppet was probably the best option.

We were lucky enough to team up with Larry van Duynhoven and amazing guys at 3rd Eye FX to construct our incredible zombie kangaroo puppet, which was then complimented by an entirely digital zombie kangaroo created by animators Brad Betts and Andrew Brown. Over 250 incredible backers contributed to our Indiegogo campaign to cover these elements – so whilst had our zombieroo, but we still needed to make the actual film!

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The production and post-production on this film was definitely the longest and most complex out of anything I’ve worked on. The filming itself consisted of night shoots in rural Victoria, working with puppets, VFX, SFX, guns, armourers, explosions, and freezing conditions. In post, we were faced with the challenge of balancing the animation with VFX augmentations of the puppet, and the new experience of having a constantly-evolving edit (given that refining the animation often meant we’d change the edit, which would then mean the score would change, which would in turn influence the sound design – but then often the sound design was so magnificent that we’d want to go back and change the edit to give it more room to play, which in turn affected the animation… and so on and so on).

It took over 12 months to finish the post-production, and it was with much anticipation and a fair amount of nervousness that we launched a (not quite finished) version to our crowdfunding backers in mid 2014. The reaction was hugely positive, and we felt confident that the film would probably get into a few festivals on the genre circuit – but I don’t think anything could have prepared us for the audience reaction to the film.

Waterborne Cinema Australia 10

Over the past twelve months, we’ve been screened in over fifty festivals around the world, including genre festivals like Fantastic Fest, Fantasia, and Sitges. We were lucky enough to be part of the opening night of the 2015 St Kilda Film Festival, where thousands of festival-goers laughed, screamed and jumped through the film. We’ve won a handful of awards (including Best Australian Short Film at Monsterfest) and we’ve found ourselves in a position where getting the feature film off the ground seems more and more likely – which, for a bunch of short film makers eager to finally move into features, is a pretty incredible place to be.

And along the way we’ve met some warm, supportive, lovely people who have gone from fans to friends, worked with some amazing new crew, and connected with a great network of other independent filmmakers around the world.

Waterborne Cinema Australia 4

In a competitive and often cut-throat industry, making these kind of relationships is what it’s all about.  It gives us the encouragement to keep going, to keep creating and finding new ways to connect with audience – and we hope that along the way, we’ve been able to inspire a few people too. Who would have thought that an undead, rotting zombie kangaroo would be so instrumental in bringing people together?

Visit the website www.waterbornemovie.com for more about the film. 

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