Interview with Dead Rising: Watchtower Director Zach Lipovsky
GotGame.com recently had the opportunity to interview filmmaker Zach Lipovsky, the director of the new digital film release Dead Rising: Watchtower. Based on the hit Capcom video game franchise, the film marks the first film release from Legendary Pictures’ digital film division. The film also marks the first original feature-length film release on Sony’s Crackle platform. Here is what Lipovsky had to say about his new zombie, action-adventure film, Dead Rising: Watchtower.
Jeffrey – When did you know Dead Rising: Watchtower would be your next film?
Zach – It happened pretty quickly, actually. It was back in September, I believe, that we started prep; and I was able to pitch on it. All the powers to be thought that I was the man for the job, and it’s coming out now in March.
Jeffrey – Had you already finished Leprechaun: Origin at that point?
Zach – Yeah. Leprechaun was just coming out. It was coming out, I think… around Halloween I think…or just around then. So I was able to show that to them and show them what I could do to help get this job for sure.
Jeffrey – This film is based on a huge video game franchise, and there can be a stigma for films based on video games. But it’s also a zombie story. So, did you have to think of it in that way of the film being a zombie story; or from the outset did you want the film to overcome the stigma of bad video game movies?
Zach – Yeah, I mean I think all video game movies have a huge stigma. I think most people expect them all to suck because most of them have sucked. I don’t know. I think I wasn’t really worried about that because the script was so solid, and I had the support of all the people involved. Capcom was involved. And Tim [Carter], who is the writer and producer of the film, is a big part of the video game industry. He writes a lot of video games himself. I think everything about it was coming from the right perspective of making something that was really true to the material with the creators involved, but also was really unique from all the zombie content out there. I just felt like I could bring it to life in a way that fans of the game, but also people who weren’t that familiar with Dead Rising. And we’ve shown the film to a lot of my friends as I was editing it to people who have seen Dead Rising and to people who haven’t. It seems like we were able to achieve that balance that is always tough when you are adapting something.
Jeffrey – In the past years, there has been a huge rise in zombie in TV film, between things like The Walking Dead or World War Z. Was there something you wanted to give this film to give it a certain edge or make it stand out more from what we have seen on TV or in the theaters lately?
Zach – Thankfully, Dead Rising itself is really unique because it has this crazy, off-the-wall, fun adventure feeling that I think is missing from a lot of those properties you mentioned. Most of the zombie stuff that’s out there is very serious and very dark and dramatic, whereas the Dead Rising world is kind of an adventure film and has quite a sense of humor about it. So, we were really able to go with that and bring a kind of joy to all the action scenes and silliness to them; and it was fun because in this world, zombies are a regular thing. People act all mysterious about what those creatures are over there. Everyone’s like, “Ahh! It’s a zombie run!” They know how to deal with them because it’s a regular part of their world. And just kind of all the other parts about Dead Rising that make it unique, I thought would be really fun to explore in the film.
Jeffrey – The film has an all-star cast of thespians and veterans here, between Dennis Haysbert, Virginia Madsen, and your lead, Jesse Metcalfe. And to have Rob Riggle as your mascot of sorts as Frank West, you must’ve been ecstatic to have this lineup.
Zach – Yeah and they all sort of amazingly fit. Keegan [Connor Tracy] does an amazing job as one of the reporters in the film. She plays a partner with Jesse’s character. And Jesse just had such a passion for this film. He really wanted to be in this film. He fought really hard to get the role; and it really shows in the movie because he really wants to show people what he can do as an action star. I kind of told him, just like Harrison Ford in Indiana Jones, he’s not always perfect. He’s often screwing up, and that’s what makes us love him so much more. Just like Dead Rising, when you’re playing that game, you run in there feeling really badass, but it can quickly get out of control. And you’re just basically throwing anything you can to try and save your ass. That’s the kind of energy that Jesse brought to it. He did almost all his stunts and was just throwing his body into every action scene. It was awesome. And having Virginia, who is an Oscar nominated actress; she plays this completely heart-broken, completely dramatic, amazing character that she really loved because her son is really into zombies and stuff. She ended up having the time of her life with a shaved down broom, slicing zombies down in a role that she’s never been able to have. And Dennis has a great role too. I won’t get into it because there are a lot of spoilers around his role, but he was very excited to take it on.
Jeffrey – How did it work out getting Rob Riggle as your Frank West?
Zach – They were looking at a bunch of different comedians that are similar to Rob Riggle. At one point, Bruce Campbell was talked about and people like that who could have been really fun. But Riggle has that perfect mix of being a comedian, but also having that experience on The Daily Show; even his experience as a soldier and having been out to the craziness of war; because what I love so much about Frank West is, sure he’s this over-the-top character who is really funny and all this stuff, but he’s also kind of hiding this darkness because he’s been through some really crazy, scary things and had to kill a lot of people. Rob was really able to do both, and his improv was outstanding. We have hours and hours and hours of Frank West that we could barely fit into the thing.
Jeffrey – Is Frank West’s role in the story essentially a talking head providing updates on the zombie outbreak?
Zach – Yeah. We used him basically because on Crackle, the film is released with commercial breaks because Crackle is free. They put commercials into it because we want it to make money. The way that it’s structured is that we come back to Rob in that newscast after every commercial break, basically as a way of reintroducing us, getting us a good laugh and then back into the story. It ends up working quite well.
Jeffrey – The launch of this film is very interesting to me. This is the first digital film release from Legendary Pictures; and it is released in a digital format. It is being released on Crackle. A few years ago, a project like this might have been a web short series, but now it is a whole feature-length movie. As a filmmaker, what does this new era of digital media mean? Because now we are seeing whole films like this from Legendary in strictly digital formats.
Zach – Yeah, it’s been very cool. This is a very one-of-a-kind project in that it is probably one of the lowest budget things Legendary has ever made, but at the same time, one of the most innovative because we’re releasing it online for free, which is something I’m really excited about. Basically, anyone who is a fan of this gets to see it. Also, we’re using a huge franchise, so the fact that we’re using these elements to put something online for the fans is really cool. And because it’s online, there are no rules. There are no ratings boards; there are no bad words you are not allowed to say. … We can make whatever the best adaptation is. It needs to have zombies cut in half laughs spraying blood everywhere. It needs to have people saying, “You’re basically f***ed.” We can just do that, and there is nobody that’s worried about it.
Jeffrey – So when the film comes out on March 27, this will be the unrated cut we’re seeing?
Zach – Exactly. And not only that, just running time wise, there’s no restriction really. So it’s been quite a freeing experience where everyone sees it as an experiment, and they were very willing to let us go and just make the best movie we could. I basically had complete creative freedom for the film to whatever I thought would make the best film.
Jeffrey – But what do you think of this new digital media era, because it seems there are more opportunities than ever before to get your content directly to viewers and also opportunities for new visionaries to deliver their content?
Zach – I think it’s so exciting. The other thing is, that because it’s online, you’re able to go straight to the people who want to see it at the budget that makes sense for that. Before, if you were making a Dead Rising movie, it would have to be made at such a big budget to go to all the theaters that they would have to kind of not necessarily water it down, but change it so a large audience could accept it. Whereas because it’s online, because online is made up of all these different niche groups and followings and fans, you can just make it for that group and then just release it to them. I think that’s really the future that you’re able to just kind of follow the fanbases and follow the interest groups, and make the stuff that group wants to see. If it spreads out wider, that’s awesome. You don’t have to change it to fit a mass audience.
Jeffrey – You mentioned that your film has a fun sense of humor and adventure similar to the games, but one of my favorite aspects from the game are the combo weapons. From the look of the clips and images, it looks like the film will have some fun combo weapons. It looks like Jesse Metcalfe has a weed whacker/ax. Can you give us any hints or insight on some of the crazy combo weapons we might see in the film?
Zach – Totally. One of the first things when I was talking with Capcom, I was like, “The combo weapons are so iconic, there’s got to be a whole bunch of really great ones that you haven’t used, that you can tell me that I can put into the movie.” Basically, trying to steal their great ideas. They were like, “Dude, coming up with great combo weapons is the hardest thing to do. Every good one we ever came up with was in the game, so good luck.” We used some of the iconic ones from the game, obviously. The sledge saw has this huge, five-minute, one-take action scene right in the middle of the film. We came up with some really cool ones. That one that Jesse has that you were talking about that has the hedge trimmer with the weed whacker on the end; and there’s one that I really like that is a katana with a saw blade on one end and a shovel on the other. So you’ve got slicing and bludgeoning on both ends. And there is a really fun one that I came up with called the roto-shield, which is basically a garbage can lid used as a shield, with a drill through it. And on the other end, on the outside edge of the shield, it has a bunch of lawnmower blades that extend. Then you have like a motorized slicing shield.
Jeffrey – What about an air strike, where you can just call in an air strike and just raze a highway full of zombies back to the stone age?
Zach – It wouldn’t be Dead Rising if there were not a little firebombing at the end.
Jeffrey – And it looks like Meghan Ory gets to wield a chainsaw in the film?
Zach – Yeah, well chainsaws–really the whole saw family–is a big favorite of mine laughs. She gets to wield dual chainsaws in the film.
Jeffrey – That must’ve been fun to give her a kind of Ash from Evil Dead moment?
Zach – Absolutely. That same Sam Raimi style, those kind of hip-hop montages of building the weapons and stuff was a big inspiration.
Jeffrey – How has it been working with Legendary as a production partner; because they have their hands in the biggest projects in town right now, so it must have been fun doing this new experiment with them and their first digital film?
Zach – Yeah, first digital film and the first time Crackle has put a bunch of money into a big film that they own. I have to say, this is the third film that I’ve directed, I’ve never had as much freedom as I’ve had with Legendary. They’ve been totally supportive and hands-off and just kind of encouraging to the point that I’ve been very surprised at how much they let me get away with. I have nothing but great things to say about them. It’s been kind of cool because they are used to making $100 million movies. This is not a $100 million movie. This is probably the budget of like, their catering budget usually. They were very supportive of us going at it and making the movie we wanted to make. A big reason the movie turned out as well as it did was their support.
Jeffrey – What’s ironic is that Crackle is owned by Sony, and yet the latest game in the franchise, Dead Rising 3, is an Xbox One exclusive. I think you mentioned this film is premiering on Xbox, which is interesting, since Sony, who owns the PlayStation, also owns Crackle. As a filmmaker, do you see the fun irony there?
Zach – Totally, we talked about that a lot. I think it’s kind of an example of what you were saying about where the future of digital content is going. In the same way that Dead Rising was an exclusive Xbox game, not a PlayStation title, Crackle is a distribution platform that needs to be on Xbox. You know what I mean? To be successful, it has to be on every platform. So both PlayStation and Xbox and Crackle; everyone has to be supportive of each other, because otherwise the online streaming content or gaming content or the digital platforms will fail if each one is just a little island unto itself.
Jeffrey – Any other Easter eggs fans of the game might find in the film?
Zach – One of the cool things in it that you might like if you’re a fan: in Dead Rising 3 there are the Frank West statues hidden throughout the game, that if you find them, you get extra points. In almost every set of the film, we hid a Frank West statue. If you watch the film, you can almost as a mini-game try to spot all the Frank West statues, which should be pretty fun.
Jeffrey – Well, if you can get that, I would think if you were to direct the Uncharted movie, you would be smart enough to have someone find the Strange Relic.
Zach – Exactly. If you could get me on the Uncharted movie, I would have your children laughs.
Jeffrey – Well, if you can get that Easter egg from Dead Rising, does Seth Gordon know that Easter from Uncharted? Does David O’Russell know that? Doesn’t sound like it. Just saying. Thank you so much for your time Zach, and good luck with the launch.
Zach – Great, thanks.
Thank you to Zach Lipovsky for taking the time to speak with us. Dead Rising: Watchtower launches on Crackle on March 27. It will run a week earlier for Xbox Live subscribers on the Crackle app starting on March 20.