By Andrea Beattie
When I was a young teen, nearly every kid in my class wanted to be a teacher, nurse, chef, hairdresser or parent. I wanted to be a zombie.
Sure, watching my first horror movie at age 8 might have had something to do with my fascination for all things macabre, horrible and, well, undead, but I thought watching The Walking Dead and every zombie movie I could get my hands on was probably as close as I was going to get to zombiedom.
And then along came St Kilda screenwriter, director and actor Leigh Ormsby and his big, beautiful vision to make a zombie movie in Melbourne called The Last Hope with his mate, actor and producer Glenn Ellis.
The story was refreshingly original too — Australia’s tough border and quarantine restrictions has made it the last hope of a world devastated by a virus that has reanimated the dead to consume the living.
And, as if a cool zombie movie being made in my hometown wasn’t exciting enough, Ormsby put out a call on Facebook and local media for extras to play zombies in The Last Hope‘s massive horde scene.
Along with 11,000 other zombie wannabes (yes 11,000, from as far away as Queensland and New Zealand) my partner Cathy and I applied. I reckon I broke the world record for the number of inbox refreshes in 24-hours waiting for an email back from their casting department — but the RSI was worth it; we made the cut!
After celebratory viewings of 28 Days Later and Dead Snow, we were ready to meet our cast and crew mates at zombie training, which was optional — were they kidding!?! I’d have ditched my own birthday party to be there.
Ormsby, who’s the friendliest, most inclusive and down-to-earth guy you’re ever likely to meet, laid down the ground rules for being in his movie; be respectful of everyone on set, put safety first and don’t actually bite anyone.
The training itself was way more fun than the rules and local actor extraordinaire and lead The Last Hope zombie Peter Smith helped us channel our inner “rage” zombie. I’ve never been so happy trying to be pissed off and angry.
There was definitely none of the slow, shuffling, moaning zombie action you see in black and white movies (sorry and RIP George A. Romero!) — we were to be my favourite kind — the fierce, ravenous undead who ran at and attacked their victims faster than you can say ‘Subway — Eat Flesh’.
After an hour or two of learning how to fall down and not break an arm (or neck) if your zombie character happens to take a headshot during filming, we were ready to hit the set the following weekend. And what a wonderful, magical and terrifying place a movie set is.
First stop was the makeup production line where dozens of makeup technicians from Makeup By Belinda worked tirelessly to transform hundreds of extras with foundation and eye makeup, latex sores, cuts and gashes, pulsing veins, faux-yet-realistic blood and a tonne of hairspray.
Next it was off to costuming where the op shop clothes we’d carefully chosen and paid $7.50 for were ripped, shredded and saturated with sticky, thick, fake blood. Excellent.
About 45 minutes later we were all made up — but we had no idea what we looked like. The wide-eyed stares, slow nods and smiles from other cast and crew members were encouraging but I couldn’t wait to see how I looked.
A quick reverse camera selfie revealed the transformation — and HOLY, I looked like I’d just stepped from the set of the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake.
Massive gashes covered my nose, cheek and forehead, yellow pustules had popped up on my chin, my teeth were brown and I looked like I hadn’t slept in a year.
I’d never looked, or felt, better.
Surrounded by my zombie brethren, I’d found a new happy place. But it was about to get even better — the time had come to not only look the part, but BE the part.
Smith revved everyone up while Ormsby made sure everyone knew what they had to do and where they had to be; not so easy when you’re trying to safely coordinate hundreds of people running in the same direction at the same time.
The hardest part was actually trying to look angry and threatening; no one is scared by a happy, smiling zombie.
After a few trials, we were off; a terrifying horde of infected charging towards their next meal.
The crew filmed the scene from a few different angles, Ormsby yelled “cut” and just like that, that teenage dream became reality.
And I wasn’t the only one who had a dream day — Ormsby, who never expected his little movie would attract such interest from so many people, was overwhelmed by how well we’d all done; the crew gave themselves a well-deserved pat on the back for pulling off what was likely to be the biggest shoot of their careers; and every zombie who volunteered their time was ready for a celebratory beer.
On the way home, I couldn’t resist calling into our local cemetery for one last photo shoot because well, I’ll probably never get the chance to “be” a zombie again.
And it might just be the perfect shot for this year’s Christmas card.