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Interview: Matthew Kohnen, Writer & Director Aaah! Zombies

It's people like Matthew Kohnen that really make me love what I do. Matthew really appreciates the little creeps like me, and that makes a ghoul feel especially warm inside - like I've just ingested a nice yummy pile of guts. Matthew is the example of what a filmmaker should be like: talented, intelligent, modest, and appreciative of those around him. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next, but I am sure it's going to be just as good as what he's done thus far. Make sure to watch his brilliant Zombie flick, Aaah! Zombies. It has some very clever lines and great scenes, and I really enjoyed it. On a Lili's Lair brains scale, I give it 4 brains. I must go now, all the talk about warm guts and brains has made me hungry, and the meat train is not just going to stop at my front door. And you, my minions, must go now as well and read my little interview with Matthew. Lili's Lair: Did anything in particular inspire you to write Aaah! Zombies? Matthew: There wasn't some sort of existential epiphany about 'how do Zombies see the world', if that's what you mean. 'Aaah! Zombies!!' came about because my brother Sean (Co-Writer/Producer) and I decided we'd had enough of fruitlessly developing scripts or treatments for other people to make that never happened. We wanted to make our own. We knew we had very little money, and wanted to do something genre (Horror or Comedy) that was unique. 'Shaun of the Dead' had come out, and we loved it, thought 'maybe something like that', but not the same. We started riffing, came up with the 'Zombie POV' concept, and it seemed cool. But it wasn't until we hit on the Black and White/Color shift visual thing that it really took off. We did that because I kept saying we needed some way for the audience to be very, very clear what they were watching, and when we said 'what about color?', it just clicked that we could do a real parody that riffed off classic Romero films and yet did something totally new. Lili's Lair: How long did it take you - from inception to distribution - to create the movie? Matthew: It was a remarkably short time frame, actually. We had gotten money for another, slightly larger project that was entirely different from this one, more of a family drama about a kid and his dad, and we were darn near ready to roll on that. We had a nice cast, locations back in the Midwest, all good stuff, but a tragedy with our main financier's family made it all go away. Or, most of it, at least. We had a little money left from some investors who still believed in us, and they said, 'You got anything else?'. To which we, of course, answered 'Yes, give us a few weeks to get it into shape.' We had NO IDEA what we were going to do, but like I mentioned above, we started riffing, wrote the script in a scant three weeks, and were up and running a few months later. Overall, I'd say from beginning to end, if we go from the Screamfest premier which ended up being a rough cut, it was about a year from conception to finish. Maybe closer to 10 months. Fast... Lili's Lair: What was the reasoning behind switching from black and white to colour in the movie? Matthew: It's like I mentioned before, it started as a way to work out the issues of how to visually clue the audience into what we're seeing, which POV is it, and as we started to riff, it became clear that if we stuck with that, we could parody something like the original 'Night of the Living Dead' and it's classic look of B&W Zombies, and use that not only as a visual cue, but as a real piece of the movie, something to add to the comedy not only for the average public, but for the Zombie-phile's who really know their stuff. Lili's Lair: IMDB has Aaah! Zombies titled as Wasting Away. Why was the name changed? Matthew: For Domestic Distribution reasons we had to change it. It's still called 'Wasting Away' in Europe, but here it's 'Aaah! Zombies!!' The old title had two things working for it. It referred to the fact that the main characters are introduced sort of 'wasting' their lives, in that hard to figure out zone between school and professional success that hits a lot of us, and the idea was that getting Zombified was actually the best thing that ever happened to them. I gave them purpose on some level. And of course, the fact that they were Undead meant they were decomposing, so that fit, too. But our Distributors felt it was too serious, and maybe a bit too intellectual for a screwball Zombie Comedy in the Domestic market, so we changed it. I like the way it works with the DVD art, showing Tim and Cindy in a loving Zombie embrace, and then the idea that we are still screaming just because they're Zombies works with the whole theme of the film. Besides, it's high on the alphabet, and we all know that when folks look at a list of Zombie movies, we will be the first one there… Lili's Lair: Do you think that because you wrote the movie it was easier to direct it as well, or more difficult because you had created it? Matthew: Probably a bit of both. Obviously I wrote it with my own sensibilities in mind (with help from my brother), so when it came time to direct it, there was a seamless transition of tone and style. But that said, there were some things I was too close to, and had I developed it with a writer, might have had them change it before getting to set and post-production, where it was harder to deal with some of the issues of over-writing. But generally, I like to direct what I've written, and vice versa. Lili's Lair: Most people with brothers and sisters have a sort of sibling rivalry going on. What was your experience working with your brother Sean on the movie? Matthew: Excellent. Good enough that he's hiring me again… We have the great fortune of being very, very similar in what we like and our vision of things, so it's kind of like having a second brain in the room when I'm working. I couldn't imagine going through all of this without him there, because it's hard to find a real confidante that you not only share a vision with, and get along with, but that you trust completely. I consider myself very, very lucky to have him to work with, and we're in pre-production on another film right now, co-written, produced by him and directed by me. Can't wait... Lili's Lair: Are you personally a horror film? (A typo in my interview questions. I meant to say "horror film fan." Matt is a funny guy.) Matthew: You mean horror 'fan', right? Or fan of horror films? I'm assuming so, because I'd hate to describe myself as a 'horror film'. I'm much more of a screwball comedy in my own life… I tend to think that the genre labels we give movies are really just for Distributors, so they know what section to put a movie in. For me, it's about the story and the storytelling. If that's good, then it's a good movie, period. I like the 'Horror' genre when the focus is more on the story and characters, what tends to be called a 'Thriller'. I particularly distaste the direction Horror has taken in the last decade or so in some circles, where it's all about what I brand 'Torture Porn'. Basically, the continuing infatuation with how horrible can we show people being tortured and killed, and why exactly that should titillate us. I'm not a fan of that kind of film, and don't really consider it a challenge as a film maker. As an FX Designer, it's difficult to make that level of reality, but as a director and a storyteller, it seems cheap and rather lazy to me. So many of my favorite Horror movies tend to be the classics that stuck to the story aspect, 'Silence of the Lambs', even 'Alien' are ones that really do it for me. Lili's Lair: Is there anyone in particular that inspired you to become involved in movie making? Matthew: I'd love to have one of those bios that say 'he started making films with a Super-8 camera his parents bought him when he was five years old, and won a preschool Academy award…', but I didn't. I came to it all kind of late, getting into theater and them moving to film when I came out to California for school. I've been working, writing, and directing ever since, scrabbling to get up the ladder. I've met a lot of great folks since doing so, but no one who really inspired me in that way towards film making, since they all seem to realize I don't need a lot of inspiration to begin with. My brother inspires me by being awesome, my dad inspires me to be a better person, I had a great high school teacher that inspired me to continue with theater, Larry Marsh (I wonder if he'll read this), a buddy I met out here a few years ago who went on to become a big producer inspired me to do better stories, Palak Patel. Those kind of small inspirations keep you going and help push through the solid fog that is the Movie Business. Lili's Lair: What projects are you currently working on? Matthew: Sean and I are prepping another film right now, it's in the Horror genre (if you need such labels…), shooting in Indonesia. I'm looking forward to it a lot, keep an eye out. It's called Carrier. Lili's Lair: Where would you like to see your career headed to in the future? Matthew: Since the job of 'Deep Space Explorer' seems to be getting further and further off the table for me, I suppose I'd like to finish 'Carrier', and have that move me to getting another film, a bit bigger than that one, and then another, a bit bigger, etc. I'm not sure I'm interested in the Studio model (although it would be hard to turn down an offer), I like the Independent way Sean and I are working, but of course, the money is slow and small. Ideally, I could do a film every year or two, write in between and direct TV or commercials. It's slow in coming, but I think it's possible. We have a few scripts that, if we could do them right, would be great projects to break us out, but it's always about getting a chance at bat. I've got another one, and I intend to make the most of it. I would just like to close by saying a big thanks to you and all the other Independent sites and podcasts that have embraced us. It's hard enough competing with the Majors when they have all the money and Press. Without folks like you, we wouldn't have a chance. And I hope everyone checks us out, so that more Indy films can get made and keep moving forward. Thanks much!