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Zombies on the Brain

7 Jun, 2013 By: Ashley Ratcliff

‘Warm Bodies’ director labored to achieve the right balance of humor and romance

You find yourself living in a post-apocalyptic world — much like the zombie comedy-romance Warm Bodies — and all you’ve got is time on your hands. Quick. How do you keep yourself busy?

“I would spend a lot of time breaking into places and grabbing stuff,” said writer-director Jonathan Levine. “The problem is the food would get really bad really quickly. I think I would go to an airfield and try to teach myself how to fly a plane, or I’d go to a marina and find a boat. The thing is it’s really hard to walk around because there are people trying to kill you. I would go to the movie theaters and get free movies. I would get free soda. That probably would be fine for the first three months.”

Thankfully, that scenario is fictional.

Warm Bodies, based on the novel of the same name by Isaac Marion, centers on Julie (Teresa Palmer) and a tight group of survivors fending for themselves in a society overrun with zombies. Things take an unexpected turn when one of the walking dead, R (Nicholas Hoult), spares Julie’s life during an attack and falls for her, setting off a chain of events that alter the current state of affairs.

The extremely likable zombie’s speech initially is limited to grunts and moans, but through voiceovers audiences get a better glimpse of who R truly is.

“I tried to look at that character as though he were kind of a shy kid who was around a beautiful girl, who was trapped in his own shell, for lack of a better word,” Levine said. “That’s how I often felt in my younger years. I thought it was a really nice metaphor for growing up and coming of age. That was the part of him that I really identified with.”

Warm Bodies is available now on Blu-ray Disc and DVD from Summit Entertainment, a Lionsgate company.

Being that the film blends comedy, romance and even a little bit of horror, Levine said finding the perfect tone presented a challenge.

“While shooting [I thought], ‘Why couldn’t I just do a comedy?’ or ‘Why can’t I just do a romance? Why am I doing a romance with zombies?’” he pondered. “But the degree of difficulty really appeals to me, at least in the pre-production process. Once I get on set I’m kind of cursing myself. For this, the tone was difficult to strike. It was definitely found in the editing room. We found the right balance between comedy and romance.”

Levine said it was important for him as the screenwriter and director to bounce ideas off of people whose opinion he respected, such as Seth Rogen (The two worked together on 50/50, with Levine directing and Rogen starring and producing), and filmmakers such as Chris Weitz, Matt Reeves, Bill Condon and Ryan Johnson.

“Their feedback was completely necessary to making the movie better,” Levine said.

“[In the past] I had great producers but I wasn’t using them as a sounding board, so it became this very undiluted vision, for better or worse,” he added. “What I learned from 50/50 as well is, if a vision is strong from the very beginning, it can benefit from the incorporation of other people’s feedback. The best filmmakers are the people who can balance their own personal vision and an interest in incorporating other’s opinions — not to the point where their vision is diluted.”

Viewers get to see some of the results of those constructive criticisms in the deleted scenes, with optional director commentary.

“It’s very valuable for people who are aspiring to be filmmakers to see how closely a lot of filmmakers come to complete disaster,” Levine said. “I think it’s nice to show the things that you did that were wrong so in the future people can understand that when they make mistakes that every single person makes mistakes. Why are they mistakes? And how did you make them better? That’s really an important skill set to learn.”

Bonus material also includes nine featurettes, ranging from a comparison of the main characters to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to zombie acting tips with co-star Rob Corddry; a commentary with Levine, Hoult and Palmer; and a gag reel.

“We got even more content for that than I’d ever anticipated, which is great,” Levine said.

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