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Mindhole Blowers: 20 Facts About Zombieland That Might Make You Want to Hunt Down a Twinkie

By Cindy Davis | Seriously Random Lists | March 26, 2012 | Comments ()


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Even if zombies aren't your usual thing (or Woody Harrelson, or Jesse Eisenberg) chances are you were pleasantly surprised by the sweetly, sentimental Zombieland. In between bashing, smashing, shooting and stabbing the undead, the film's antiheroes stole whatever lighthearted moments they could, and did their best to follow Rule #32 (enjoy the little things). Ruben Fleischer's haphazard career path took him down a strange road to the place he clearly belongs; the film was a stylistic commercial and critical success and more importantly, just damned fun.


1. The first shot was filmed in a parking lot in Georgia, with graphics added to make it look like Washington D.C. The graphics (including the opening credits and the rules) were done by Logan, following Director Ruben Fleischer's (30:Minutes or Less) vision, which included slow motion photography and using Metallica's For Whom the Bell Tolls.

2. The rules list started with "about a hundred" and through a "belabored process" were pared down (the exact end number reported varies) to 32 (or 33). "Beware of bathrooms" was a last minute addition.

3. Fleischer's favorite scene opens with the little girls; he thought it was great to have five year olds with zombie contact lenses. But what he liked best in the whole movie is after the crash, when the woman flies out through the front of her windshield. The shot is "a combination of a real accident and a woman on a ratchet (against green screen), composited with fake glass and beanie babies." The woman actually landed on the (padded) ground; the pads were painted out to make it look like she landed on pavement.

4. The beginning slow motion scenes were shot with a digital Phantom camera that shoots 1000 frames per second. Fleischer said he loves opening title sequences and thinks (David) Fincher does them best; he's very proud of the Zombieland opening.

5. The screenplay was written by Rhett Reese (Clifford's Really Big Movie, Cruel Intentions 3) and Paul Wernick ("The Joe Schmo Show"). It was written as a spec pilot for CBS--which is the reason its ending feels a bit cliffhanger-ish--but didn't get picked up. The film is what was intended as the first two hours in a series of 23 episodes and includes the "zombie of the week." The writers felt they should thank CBS for turning them down because as they spoke (the commentary), Zombieland was the number one film in the country. Rhett Reese appears in the title sequence, wearing a white suit jacket and shooting zombies.

6. Fleischer spoke of the elaborate ground plan (of where the cars would be on the highway) done in miniature with matchbox cars; then to see it in real life was "one of the coolest experiences he ever had. Georgia was very generous in shutting down the roads--it was incredible to get entire highways--which highlights the emptiness and desolation." Extras were hired to come with their own cars (filled up with stuff to look like they were packed to leave the city) and just park them. Woody Harrelson (Tallahassee) quipped that the extras should do their own "car-mmentary." In this scene where Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and Tallahassee meet, Eisenberg (who Reese called "Charlie Chaplin," saying he is great at physical comedy), improvised throwing the alcohol out the window. Harrelson wanted to keep on his sunglasses the whole film but Fleischer wouldn't let him cover up his "baby blues."

7. Eisenberg's "go to interview question": "Was your mother really a birthday party clown?" (She was.) The actor said that she didn't wear the shoes or the nose though, so she wouldn't be scary. In his scene with 406 (Amber Heard), Columbus wears a mustard yellow hoodie because Fleischer has one and thought it would look good on Eisenberg. The actors joked about Eisenberg's shirtless scene that it would "be up on Mr. Skin in three days...Eisenberg said, "and I'll be masturbating to it." The toilet tank lid Columbus hit 406 with was really only half a lid--the other half was added with digital effects. Fleischer explained that many items were only half (a bat) so that actors could swing the object closer to an intended victim. The director said that the shot of Columbus hitting 406 looked "exactly like the storyboard" and he was "so happy that he jumped up and down." Remarking that it was his first time going through the process of scoring music for a film; Fleischer felt David Sardy's (21, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance) score really amped up the scene.

8. Producer Gavin Polone ("Gilmore Girls, Curb Your Enthusiasm," Panic Room) "fought hard" for the tagline: "Nut up or shut up." Fleischer thought it was crass, but was later glad that it became the slogan.

9. Woody Harrelson plays the banjo himself--he studied hard at the last minute to learn and make sure he could play the song in this scene.

10. Fleischer revealed that every bit of blood, down to the drip on the scissors, is fake--visual effects added by a company who "filled in the splatter."

11. Saying they were "lucky to get her," the director loved Emma Stone from seeing her in Superbad and The House Bunny. Stone was originally cast as 406, then elevated to Wichita. Fleischer noted that at only 20 years old, she had such poise and was great, really stepping up to the role. Eisenberg called Stone "the funniest person you'll ever meet in your life," and Harrelson said "she is really funny, such a joy to work with." Stone's favorite kill was "...in that slow motion sequence at the end where I hit him three times with my gun. I don't like it any more because I just heard about the repercussions afterwards. It's horrible because I apparently accidentally gave the stunt man eight stitches. They kept saying, 'Hit him hard because it doesn't look real' and he's like, 'It's okay, it's my job' and I butted him and he got sort of hurt."

12. Fleischer was amazed at Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, Nim's Island), who at 12, "you could talk to like she's a peer--so mature and talented." Harrelson said they cajoled her into saying "fuck" a few times (after getting permission from Breslin's mother); "she was so uncomfortable saying it, but it was funny." The scenes were later cut. Though other dogs were auditioned, Tallahassee's dog belonged to Abigail. She found "Sully" during shooting, fell in love and adopted him.

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13. The empty town scene was shot in Newnan, a small town outside of Atlanta that was shut down for filming. The tank was not added in post-production, it is real and privately owned.

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14. The flashback of Wichita and Little Rock was "in and out several times." Fleischer thought it slowed down the film, but that audiences want to know more about the characters and it was important to show who they were before the zombie apocalypse. So "despite the director's best efforts," the scene stayed in. The original version of the script had the flashback occurring first, but Fleischer said it completely spoiled the grocery store scene so the order was flipped. Another of the director's favorite shots was the glass door reflection of Wichita crawling on the ground at the gas station. The Indian Trading Post sequence was "on the bubble;" with the director feeling all the smashing may have been gratuitous. Saying it "went back to his music video background," Fleischer wanted to have a scene of something you could only do in a post apocalyptic world. The store destruction was shot in one night--17 hours--and the director "is proud of it."

15. The director and Editor Alan Baumgarten (30: Minutes or Less, The Lawnmower Man) spent a lot of time in post production accentuating the relationship between Columbus and Wichita and building in "something that wasn't really there." They added in a lot of meaningful looks and gestures so that at the end, when Columbus brushes aside Wichita's hair, the audience applauds. Conversely, Tallahassee and Little Rock's relationship was scripted.

16. Los Angeles was shot in one day. Fleischer said it was exciting to shut down the 4th Street Bridge and to do such an iconic shot of Hollywood Boulevard and Grauman's Chinese Theater--"it made the scale of it (the picture) huge." It was a "big day" for the director.

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Fleischer transformed Hollywood Boulevard again for his next film, The Gangster Squad, which also stars Emma Stone (and Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte and Giovanni Ribisi ).

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17. Patrick Swayze was in the script as the intended celebrity cameo, but because he became ill, the offer was never made. Among the others considered were: Joe Pesci, Mark Hamill, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone and The Rock. Matthew McConaughey was supposed to do it but backed out at the last minute and the writers/director almost gave up on the cameo idea. Wernick finally went to Harrelson and asked if there was anyone "in his Rolodex" that might be willing to do it and the actor came up with Bill Murray. Murray, who doesn't have an email address and is notoriously difficult to reach, had to pick up his copy of the script from FedEx/Kinkos. The actor liked the part but asked if there could be more for him to do; the first version of his character was a zombie and therefore didn't talk. Murray came up with the idea of still being alive but wearing zombie make-up and the writers re-wrote the scene. He showed up on set two days later. Eisenberg said he "always hated celebrity cameos" (doesn't like popular culture) and that he never understood the tone of the movie until he saw it the first time. Now he loves Murray's cameo.

18. Murray's film house is actually a privately owned mansion in Georgia, it's "3000 feet shy of an acre" (over 40,000 square feet). Harrelson was actually dancing to Kenny Loggins' I'm Alright from Caddyshack, but the song was cut because there was too much going on with the horror music and Ghostbusters already playing. Wichita and Little Rock were "in their own world" during the buildup to Murray's appearance; extra footage was shot to build tension like a classic horror film. Harrelson wanted Tallahassee's POV (when he first sees Murray) to be blurry and Fleischer regretted not listening to him. The director said that if you spent any time with Woody, you'd see how many people come up to Harrelson and do to him what he gets to do to Bill Murray. Harrelson said he really feels exactly as he acted (about Murray). Fleischer added that "Woody murders the scene," which is all improvised and "a true testament to the hilarity of Woody."

19. A set was built for the Playland lights, they made fake boxes to turn the switches on. Reese said he teared up as he watched all the lights come on. Fleischer felt very lucky to be able to shoot at the amusement park (Wild Adventures Water and Theme Park) in a small Georgia town (Valdosta). It was the best option because it was "so cinematic and the people were agreeable." (Fleischer noted that the haunted house scene--shot at a different location--was the hardest to cut and wished he'd done a better job shooting it.) They shot at night in February in the freezing cold--"everybody stepped up" and Fleischer said he was thankful for the hard work of all the people in Georgia. Filming was done on day three or four of shooting and it was their first time shooting the zombies (and the director's first time shooting with Harrelson; Fleischer was nervous). The number 3 on Tallahassee's car was a reference to Dale Earnhardt Sr.; writer Reese loved him and thought Tallahassee would too. Fleischer rode the tower drop ride (on which Wichita and Little Rock get stuck) the first night of shooting and said every time he watches that scene, he can feel in his stomach what he felt on that ride. The original script had a ride that went up and then slowly came down, so they had to accommodate for the ride they had. Some people complained that two smart girls would jump onto the ride and put themselves in that situation--the writers were disappointed by that. The shot of the zombie flying off the ride was done first with a real dummy, then replaced with a digital dummy. The director loves the score during the scene.

20. Rhett Reese said he wrote the hair sweeping scene because as a virginal young man, it's something he always wanted to do. Reese gets choked up every time he watches it. Fleischer spoke fondly of the staging of the final shot of the amusement park, with the blurred twinkly lights and said it was shot perfectly. When all the actors came walking back, Abby was in tears, saying someone walked up to the car and scared her. The director fell for it and started getting upset, but she was just playing a joke on him. As the end credits rolled, Fleischer said that previous to working on a film, he would never have thought that anyone would know all the people listed. Even though a lot of the people never work directly with each other, he knew every single person in the credits and thought everyone should feel proud. Being a person who always sat until the end of the credits, Fleischer would always be frustrated when there was no reward at the end, so he made sure he did it himself (the extra scene). Harrelson said when his wife went to see the film, everyone was leaving and she yelled at them to stay. Fleischer is proud of the soundtrack--lucky to have Jack White do the song--but the music will never be released as a soundtrack.

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Cindy Davis always knows her way out.


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