On Thursday, zombies will creep, crawl and cruise around central campus — before they hit the big screen.
Zombies will storm campus as a final promotion for “Love of the Dead” — a short film co-written and directed by Michael Sarnoski ’10 and produced by film studies student Jeremi Szaniawski GRD ’10. The film, also called the “Yale Zombie Project,” has been in production for over two years, and will premiere this Friday at the Whitney Humanities Center as part of an “Evening of the Living Dead,” organized by the film’s producers, which will feature other zombie attractions in conjunction with the screening.
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“Love of the Dead” tells the story of Robert, a survivor of a zombie apocalypse, who struggles to keep his relationship going with his zombie girlfriend, Marcy. Classic zombie movies and Yale’s Gothic architecture inspired the idea of shooting a zombie film on campus, Szaniawski said.
“I was teaching a class on horror film during Yale Summer Session [two years ago], and a group of students, inspired by films such as ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and ‘Dawn of the Dead,’ got really excited about the idea of making a zombie film at Yale,” Szaniawski said.
The following semester, Szaniawksi formed a group that met weekly to brainstorm ideas and watch and analyze films in order to crystallize their own idea. Though originally inspired by Yale’s architecture, the crew was faced with the complexities of shooting scenes on location, Sarnoski said. While the film was shot between Sprague and Harkness halls, at Payne Whitney Gymnasium and at Anna Liffey’s on Whitney Avenue, in addition to having some sound captures on Science Hill, Sarnoski added that viewers should not look too closely for obvious signs of campus architecture in the film.
“During production and the planning stages, the film slowly became much more confined, so we ended up not using all the great locations we originally considered,” Sarnoski said. “There are still some amazing sets in there, just not ones that scream ‘Yale.’ ”
The group decided to cast only Yale students in order to keep the University’s name in its production title.
Lead actor Brian Young ’10, who stars as Robert alongside Vanessa Block ’10 as Marcy, got involved with the project when he was taking a class for which Szaniawski was teaching assistant.
“It wasn’t really clear that I would get the part at first,” Young said. “During the writing process I got attracted to the main role. I’ve never been one to publicly display myself, but this role just seemed like a lot of fun.”
Young said playing a zombie meant trading in hipster garb for pasty makeup, costumes, suspenders and tight retro pants. He added that the film is captivating because it is a quirky, unique approach to a classic genre.
“It’s a complex film, very different from the regular horror genre,” Young said. “It’s a romance and a zombie film at the same time. You don’t really see that in this genre very often — nor a zombie girlfriend for that matter.”
The production process involved long days and tough work — writing, casting, filming, editing — for the director and producers.
“I had to balance work and school and bills,” Young said. “On top of that, it’s very tough to act just in my underwear in certain scenes on very cold nights.”
Szaniawski said he is astounded that they were able to produce the film within the cramped time that they had.
“We worked on a very tight shooting schedule, three days and a half,” Szaniawski said. “And for that type of schedule, the film really looks amazing.”
The producers said that, as student filmmakers, they learned about the process of shooting in their attempts at making a professional short film. But they added that they hope their viewers take away more than just the “professional prowess” to be witnessed on the screen.
“Maybe, if we’re lucky, it’ll even inspire other people to get together and shoot their own film,” Sarnoski said. “But I mostly hope that we can make someone laugh, someone feel sick and someone feel anxious about ever being alone in a room with us again.”
“Love of the Dead” will be screened at 10:30 p.m. on Friday.
Correction: 19 August 2012
This article originally misstated the title of the film “Love of the Dead” as “The Love of the Dead.”