Dawn of the Dead
Production Information page 4
“There are fanatics about this particular genre in my industry and I knew I would have no problem pulling together a team,” says Anderson. In his designs, Anderson lifted both from nature (he and his team scoured forensic books and crime scene photos) and traditional zombie mythology (primarily from African and Latin American lore) to create an appearance of death and decay. The goal for all was the replication of what actually happens to the human body the days/weeks/months following deathwhether animated or not. “We wanted to create zombies based on absolute realitythe color schemes are real, the look of decomposition is realit was all about keeping it real.”
It was decided that a zombie’s deterioration would progress over the weeks of the mall siege, with the legions becoming more and more decomposed over time. For makeup and continuity purposes, Anderson broke decomposition’s degrees of decay down into three stages. Anderson explains, “The first stage looks like someone who was just in the ER pale, with lots of fresh blood. The second stage has moist wounds but the skin is beginning to break down. There is a lot of discoloration and mottling, mostly blues and greens. The third stage is the most intense, with the skeletal form coming through. The wounds are dried-up, the skin is sloughing off and colors are oily blacks.”
When it came to creating this frightening look, Anderson and his crew used all the tricks of the trade. “Since the original film, the industry has obviously developed a lot of new techniques and materials...and we are using a lot of them. However, it is still the same fear factor as before, it is just that now, we are able to make things that look more reallike something out of a morgue or a huge, possibly wartime disaster.”
The artists were just as particular about the blood as they were about the makeup used during the three stages. There was a standard red or normal-flowing blood for the first stage; a browner, drier version for stage two; and a blacker, oilier blood for the third stage.
Where the blood would be applied was also a factor (in an around the mouth as opposed to the type intended “for external use” only), in addition to the state of it (freeflowing versus clotted versus dried). So much of it was required on any one shooting day that production actually constructed a blood cart for transporting the buckets of the stuff to the set. In addition to setting the bar high for him and his crew, Anderson was also confronted with the challenge of creating hundreds of zombies (from the hundreds of willing extras) by the time the first cameras rolled nearly every day of shooting.
On certain days when the decaying masses required for filming swelled to top numbers, as many as fifty makeup artists were working to apply the gore and blood to the actors. By the end of production, a staggering 3,000 zombie makeups had been completed. The filmmakers and cast could not have been more impressed with Anderson’s zombies. Rhames recalls, “What I really liked was that Dave kept a human element to our zombies, which made it all the more disturbing when it came time to try and kill them.”
“It was incredible,” comments Polley. “To be brutally honest, there were times when I’d look at them, particularly up-close, and I’d be hit by a wave of nauseathat is how repulsive they looked.” “Yeah, you could almost smell the rot,” adds Snyder. “It was terrific.”
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Keeping true to the original production of Dawn of the Dead, our characters find refuge in a suburban mall. While working on the 1979 version, Romero and his crew had to shoot during a window from midnight until 6:00 a.m. every morning in a functioning Pittsburgh mall.
To replicate this shooting schedule would have been impossible for the filmmakers, crew and cast. So location scouted the 20-year-old Thorn Hill Square shopping mall slated for demolition in Toronto, Canada. Production designer Andrew Neskoromny (who had been researching different malls not only in North America but also in Japan and the U.K.) had only eight weeks to take this location (“...that had the ambience of a bus station,” recalls Abraham) and turn it into an upscale suburban Mecca called Crossroads Mall.
“In many instances, we merged a variety of aspects of different designs we saw to create one superb mall, a modern-day shoppers’ paradise,” states the designer.
In order to accomplish this, the approximately 45,000-square-foot location had to be stripped down to its steel support beams and completely remodeled.
The resulting “mall” included a welcoming common area (with high-dollar water feature); 14 fully functioning, individually designed stores; an open-concept coffee shop/bookstore; and parking structures and warehouse areas.
Snyder was particularly impressed with Neskoromny’s attention to detail and his ambition to create a high-caliber set.
“Andrew was always looking to take things one step further. If we talked about one design, he’d always come back and ask, ‘What if we take it a step further and do this?’ My reaction was always, ‘Great!’ I loved how much thought and effort went into his work.” Neskoromny explains, “Zack and I worked closely together. He had very specific ideas and requirements about what he needed for shooting in the mall. So we talked about all the stores and went through all the sketches. We discussed materials that would work well for lighting and for the camera. It was a completely collaborative process.”
While some of the retail businesses approached were reticent to participate in the production, three stores were glad to have their outlets in the fictional Crossroads Mall.
Producer Abraham says, “Nike, Panasonic and the clothing store Roots stood up and said ‘Hey this is cool. This is something we want to be apart of.’”
To fill the other spaces, Neskoromny and his crew created their own companies with names like Reflex Sports, Case Hardware, RPM Records, Concepts, Hallowed Grounds Coffee Shopalong with Wooley’s Diner and a clothing store called Gaylen Ross as tiny tributes to the 1979 film (Gaylen Ross was the actress who played Francine and Wooley was the character name of actor Jim Baffico).
“Andrew has done a brilliant job, these are not just the storefronts. We had to shoot inside all of these places so they all had to be completely finished, down to the last detail and fully stocked,” comments Abraham. “And he pulled it all off in eight weeks.”
Principal photography on Dawn of the Dead began June 9, 2003, and wrapped September 6, with a majority of shooting taking place during the day (with some additional nighttime second-unit lensing of the zombie crowd exploding the bus).
Some locations in and around Toronto were utilized (zombie devastation on Cherry Street, the interior of the gun store, Ana and Luis’ suburban neighborhood), with most filming taking place inside/outside of the newly created Crossroads Mall.
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n 1979, George A. Romero peppered his horror film with sly commentary on society and consumerism.
The issue of a “mall culture” had not yet been raised, as the shopping mall boom was in its infant stages. Today, malls are an accepted, integral part of a capitalistic landscape. “We have tried to tap into the themes that Romero explored...that our daily lives are often consumed with things like consuming. Zombies unconsciously feed and our society, at times, unconsciously consumes,” explains Newman. For Sarah Polley, a more intimate metaphor can be drawn with her character, Ana.
“In the beginning of the film, Ana is living a life that has almost a slowness to itthat you could almost call, as a figure of speech, zombie-like. She goes to work and then comes home to a loving relationship. They watch TV. They don’t need to say a lot. She has a good life. She is a good person. But there is something a little bit flat, a little bit automatic. I think it’s a very human portrait. And I think it’s a subtle hint to the bigger metaphor.”
Jake Weber sees the story of Dawn as a litmus test for humanity facing apocalypse. “What would you do if you woke up one morning and the world had gone mad? How would you react if there was another Holocaust, if there was a police state in this country, or if there was an environment that you had to survive that was brutal and blind and savage?”
For director Zack Snyder, it’s simple. “A kickass movie with zombies.”
Polley closes, “Zombies have always been fascinating to me. I always feel like every movie should have at least one zombie in it.”
Universal Pictures Presents A Strike Entertainment / New Amsterdam Entertainment Production: Dawn of the Dead, starring Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Jake Weber and Mekhi Phifer. The music is by Tyler Bates; the music supervisor is G. Marq Roswell. The editor is Niven Howie; production designer, Andrew Neskoromny; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti, A.S.C. The executive producers are Thomas A. Bliss, Dennis E. Jones and Armyan Bernstein. Dawn of the Dead is produced by Richard P. Rubinstein, Marc Abraham and Eric Newman. It is based on a screenplay by George A. Romero, with a screenplay by James Gunn. The film is directed by Zack Snyder.