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Z Nation

Wingman Wednesday

Keith Allan

KeithAllan
Z NATION — Season:4 — Pictured: Keith Allan as Murphy — (Photo by: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy)

* Feature originally ran 9/29/17

It is no easy feat for a television series to maintain a fandom (and time slot) for four seasons, especially when you’re a show that takes such creative risks as rolling a giant cheese wheel over a group of bloodthirsty zombies. And yet therein lies the genius behind Syfy’s genre mashup “Z Nation,” a post-apocalyptic episodic adventure that is often compared to “The Walking Dead” but is more closely related to “Gremlins” or “Young Frankenstein.” Yes, there is a group of humanity’s leftovers, wily in their ways, attempting to survive a never-ending army of the undead, but they’re doing it with punchlines and visual gags, making the journey more about escapism than realism.

With season 4 set to drag more rotting corpses into your homes starting tonight, we sat down with series star Keith Allan to discuss his surprising journey as Murphy, why “Z Nation” is not your average zombie apocalypse show, and what his first experience directing an episode was like.

TrunkSpace: As a series, “Z Nation” takes a lot of twists and turns. How much of Murphy’s overall journey was present creatively in those early days when you were just diving in?
Allan: Well, I knew the overall idea for the character. The basic idea was that Murphy carried the cure and there was a road trip involved. That was pretty much all I knew – and that he had a chip on his shoulder, but that was the extent of it. It’s just been a thrilling surprise. You’re kind of like, “Oh, now I get to put on a pimp outfit and mind control zombie strippers?” How fun is that? And unexpected.

So, yeah, it’s great but it’s certainly been a surprise to me, every few weeks, about what’s coming up next for the old Murph.

TrunkSpace: Were there any performances choices that you made in those early days of the character that have sort of paid off in ways that you never expected they would given the surprises you’ve come upon with Murphy over the years?
Allan: Yeah, for sure. The great gift I was given with this character was that he’s truly evolving. Not only as a human being, but as a half-zombie. He’s a character or a species that we’ve never seen before. So, luckily it’s given me a lot of leeway, I feel, in what I can do with him. We’re sort of in uncharted territory because he’s not really a human. He’s part animal. I take a lot of liberty that I wouldn’t with a regular human being.

At the very beginning of the show, I approached him as a very sort of damaged, timid animal who’s been through a lot, and certainly was not considered a force to be dealt with. But as Murphy changed and as his circumstances changed, and as he grew stronger, it was really easy for me to move into that without having to really justify a lot of it because it’s sort of built into his DNA. It’s just who he’s becoming. So that’s been a great gift because I’ve been able to morph from one version of Murphy to another fairly fluidly.

TrunkSpace: And what’s great about that is that the viewer is in on the physical change just as much as they are the emotional one.
Allan: Oh yeah. And it’s not only the color of my skin, but it’s also the texture of my skin and what my scars are doing because I have this whole series of scars on my chest from the zombie bites. So yeah, he’s morphing and changing and I, quite frankly, think that’s one of the reasons the audience has gravitated towards him, because you don’t know what’s next for him. And luckily, it’s been written in, and I’ll take some credit for it, that the audience has some partial empathy for this guy. I mean, in spite of everything, the bad decisions that he’s made in his life, he’s truly a victim of his circumstance. I think people, in a sense, see that he’s justified in being a dick. He’s kind of got the right, you know? He didn’t ask for any of this.

TrunkSpace: You talked a bit about the surprises you discover week to week, from the pimp outfit to being able to control the minds of zombie strippers, but has there been anything that has surprised you from a performance standpoint? Something where you went, “Whoa, I never thought I’d be going here with old Murph?”
Allan: Well, I have to say, without giving too much away, I get to go some places in this upcoming season that I really wasn’t expecting to go. And so that’s been exciting for me to explore a whole other side of this character that I didn’t really see as part of the overall story when I initially got on board.

The season has been interesting. There’s a couple of really powerful things for my character, and really dark things, too. And one of the things that I can talk about that was a little unexpected was Murphy’s empathy for the zombies. We hit on that early in season 1, that Murphy was the only one who’s saying, “Wait a minute, maybe they’re not as bad as you guys think they are. Maybe you’re taking everything at face value. Maybe there’s someone still in there. Maybe there’s still a consciousness. Maybe, you know, there’s some humanity left inside of these people.” He’s able to connect with them in a way that no one else was. And so, I think that was a really interesting take on my character, who is very selfish when we first come across him, and then all of a sudden, he’s the only one who’s saying, “Wait a minute, maybe you guys are the assholes!” He’s really sort of throwing up a mirror to these people who think they’re doing good just by slaughtering these people and he’s the one who’s saying, “Maybe you guys are the monsters.”

I think it’s a great social commentary in the bigger sense of in that we look at the disenfranchised and the way that they are judged solely based on what people’s perception of them is. And it’s a limited perception of them, I should say.

Z NATION — Season:4 — Pictured: Keith Allan as Murphy — (Photo by: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy)

TrunkSpace: It’s also a classic theme, going all the way back to original Frankenstein.
Allan: Exactly!

TrunkSpace: The show is tonally so different than anything else you’ll find on television. Do you think that’s part of what’s drawn such a loyal fan base, the fact that it feels unique compared to anything else they can find on other channels?
Allan: For sure. We’re definitely bringing much more of a graphic novel feel to this show. And I hear it constantly from fans that they were prepared to hate our show, simply because they thought we were doing another “The Walking Dead” knock-off. I think they clued in early on that we were, sort of, playing in a whole different world. I mean, you couldn’t miss it. Once a giant wheel of cheese rolls over a bunch of zombies, we ain’t the same show. (Laughter) And so it certainly became part of what people were drawn to because they didn’t know what to expect from us next.

We really struck a nice balance between the humor and the horror and the drama. We get to play in all of those worlds, which is great as an actor. I’m not on a straight show – it’s got all kinds of wacky twists and turns and different styles within it. Even within some of our seasons, there’s one episode that will just be a goofball episode – the whole thing is goofy – and then there are some that are more heavily dramatic. And for the fans that I talk to often, it’s the humor. “The humor just keeps bringing us back. You guys crack us up and then you break our hearts.”

TrunkSpace: In a lot of ways “Z Nation” is the indie band that they discovered and sort of view as “their” band.
Allan: Right! For sure. I love that.

TrunkSpace: We know that you’re also a writer and a director. Is there an interest or opportunity for you to step behind the camera and helm an episode of the show?
Allan: Brother, I’m glad you asked that, because actually, I got the opportunity to direct an episode this season.

TrunkSpace: Congtrats. That’s awesome.
Allan: Yeah. I got to be in the writers’ room for the creation of the episode, and the writer who actually penned the script, her name is Delondra Williams, is someone whom I have collaborated with on a couple of zombie movies for Syfy. I got to really help shape and mold the episode, which was great for me because I really know the characters. And she’s very talented, so it was great to get to collaborate with her because I love working with her. And then to get to direct something that I had an integral part in creating – I love that. I’m already envisioning it in my head when we’re chatting about it and when we’re writing a scene, so I think it’s super helpful to have the chance to play in both of those worlds.

So, yeah, I got to direct episode 4.4 this season, and in fact, I was just looking over some of it now for the color correction and looking at the finishing touches on this thing. And of course, you’re never quite done with it.

Z NATION — Season:4 — Pictured: (l-r) Keith Allan as Murphy, Russell Hodgkinson as Doc — (Photo by: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy)

TrunkSpace: It’s a big undertaking, especially when you’re also starring in the show.
Allan: I have to say, it’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. This season, especially, we are shooting super fast. Because of budget constraints, we’re now shooting five-day episodes, which is insane for a show that has special effects, special effects makeup, fights, a substantial cast, and you know, these goofy gags that we pull off. And initially when I had been given the opportunity to direct, it was decided amongst the producers and myself that it would be an episode that I would not be heavily featured in. Well, I don’t know where that idea went out the window, because I’m in about 75 to 80 percent of this episode. (Laughter) So I’m not only acting in it, but I’m directing. I was running around behind the camera and in front of the camera and behind the camera and… it was very, very challenging.

TrunkSpace: And yet at the same time, it was probably super addicting and you want to jump right in and do it again, right?
Allan: Yeah! I totally want to do it again because now I learned so much from doing it. I’m like, “Let’s just do it one more time, because now I know what the hell I’m doing!”

Season 4 of “Z Nation” kicks of tonight on Syfy.

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Wingman Wednesday

Tara Holt

TaraHolt_Wingwoman_wednesday

Even though our slowly-shrinking jack-o-lanterns are still sitting on our stoops and our various Halloween costumes are slung over the backs of chairs, the changing of the calendar from October to November means only one thing for those particularly festive people like us… it’s the unofficial start of the holiday season!

Thanks to Hallmark Channel and Hallmark Movies & Mysteries, our inner inflatable, oversized, holiday-themed lawn decoration is being filled with seasonal wonder from now through December as a magical series of Christmas movies pump our holiday spirit to maximum capacity. Premiering this Saturday on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries is “The Perfect Christmas Present” starring Tara Holt and Sam Page.

We recently sat down with Holt to discuss going blue, why people love Holiday movies, and what her version of the perfect Christmas present would be.

TrunkSpace: You went from “Z Nation” to Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ “The Perfect Christmas Present.” That’s a pretty diverse year, which as an actress, must be part of the fun of the job, right?
Holt: Yeah, you know, it’s been interesting, for sure. It’s definitely all sides of the spectrum. The role on “Z Nation” was something that when I was going out for it, I actually didn’t know that my character was blue until I’d gotten the part.

TrunkSpace: Surprise! (Laughter)
Holt: (Laughter) “Surprise, you’re blue.”

So that was really interesting, spending the entire summer as a blue half-human/half-zombie. It’s something I’d never done before, and I’m not so sure I’ll ever do again, necessarily. So I mean, I take it as it is, you know? It was a cool, different experience, and totally on the other side of the spectrum from “The Perfect Christmas Present,” which was just so fun. It was just totally different from any sort of dramatic role that I’ve done. It was lighthearted and easy to shoot, and it was a pleasure to be on that set. I didn’t have to go to any deep, dark crazy places emotionally, so that was nice. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: On a project like “The Perfect Christmas Present,” it’s really about the human connection side of the performance, right?
Holt: Absolutely. It’s so fun because they were so easy to connect with. It made my job so easy, and it was just really a breeze. Sometimes you get off of shooting an overly dramatic thing, any sort of horror, or any sort of extremely emotional thing, and to hop on a comedy or something like “The Perfect Christmas Present,” it’s such a relaxing situation because you just get to connect with the other person.

TrunkSpace: The makeup is barely dry on our Halloween costumes. What advice do you give us to transition our brains from spooky spirits to finding our holiday spirits?
Holt: It’s gonna happen very fast. You get four days to figure it out! (Laughter)

What’s nice about it is, I think Christmas is a great representation of all the holidays as a whole, so as soon as the holidays are approaching, Christmas is kind of a staple to that. Halloween and Thanksgiving are the buildup, but I think Christmas is the overall umbrella for it all. I don’t think there’s any time to start… you can’t start Christmas too early. In fact, I have friends who have their Christmas lights up all year round. I’m a huge Christmas person. I don’t think there’s any harm in starting it November 4, or earlier.

The other thing is, it’s nice because I’ve been going into some stores, and they’re already in the Christmas spirit. I was like, “Whoa, okay… we’re there.” In our society, as soon as Halloween is over, you better believe that it’s switching to Christmas.

TrunkSpace: The movie is actually kicking off the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Most Wonderful Movies of Christmas programming event. That has to be pretty exciting that they chose your film to launch such a big event for the network?
Holt: Yeah, we knew we had something special going on as we were filming. After each day we just knew we were surpassing what was expected, and doing it more justice than I think any of us knew we were initially going to do, so I’m actually very pleasantly surprised that they chose it for this position.

Holt and Sam Page in The Perfect Christmas Present

TrunkSpace: Why do you think this type of seasonal content continues to resonate with so many people?
Holt: I think there’s something very heartwarming about this kind of thing, because you get your family together, everyone sits down, you’re all together on the couch, you’re probably having some snacks while you’re watching it, having some laughs, having some feel-good moments and you’re with the people you love. It’s a moment to get lost in another world, and obviously there are some fantasy elements to all of the Christmas movies, and it’s a really fun world to escape into, especially before everyone’s really geared up and ready for Christmas. It’s such a great moment for everyone to start and sort of slip into that element early on. So that’s why I’m excited – to be the first one to start off the holiday season.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, was it easy for you to discover who Jenny was? Did you have time to absorb the material and discover her as a character?
Holt: Yeah, I thankfully got a few weeks beforehand where I was really able to dive into my own character and kind of answer all those questions for me and make sure that I knew her inside and out before I stepped onto the set. I didn’t, however, get a chance to meet Sam Page, who plays opposite me, and Blair Hayes, who’s the director, until the day before filming. Thankfully, they’re lovely and such a great crowd to work with. It was really, really easy to fit in with them. When Sam and I started off, our first scene was kind of an argument and it was interesting because we had to break a connection there that hadn’t really quite been built yet. But thankfully, he’s so amazing to work with and such a great actor that it was really easy for us to have had that relationship built, for us to be in that place, to break it, even just in a day.

And overall, in comparison to some of the other roles I’ve done, this one didn’t require some crazy, dark niche and extreme studying to do beforehand. She’s such a sweet, loving person, and works for the charities, and does have some pain in her life that involves her family members and her upbringing, but overall, I didn’t have to get into the mind of, like the “Z Nation” show, where I’m like a half-human/half-zombie and I’m actually mentally five-years-old in a 28-year-old’s body. That was complicated. This one wasn’t so complicated. That was what was so great, the simplicity of her.

TrunkSpace: And in this one, you didn’t have to have blue skin!
Holt: I do not have blue skin, thankfully, in this one. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: It’s an obvious question for the star of “The Perfect Christmas Present” but we have to ask it… what would the perfect Christmas present be for you this year?
Holt: Wow, you know, surprisingly I haven’t gotten to that yet, so I haven’t really thought about it. I am very fortunate right now in my life to say that I have mostly everything that I’ve ever wanted, but there is something I’m working toward as an adult. “As an adult now…” (Laughter) I’m working towards purchasing my first home, so that is something that I would like to give to myself.

But as far as the perfect Christmas gift that somebody else could give me… I’m way bigger on life experiences over an actual tangible item, so I would have to say the perfect Christmas gift for me would be a trip somewhere – somewhere that I’ve never been. Hands-down, life experiences over anything for me.

The Perfect Christmas Present” airs Saturday on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.

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Wingman Wednesday

Russell Hodgkinson

RussellHodgkinson_Wingman_wednesday

It is no easy feat for a television series to maintain a fandom (and time slot) for four seasons, especially when you’re a show that takes such creative risks as rolling a giant cheese wheel over a group of bloodthirsty zombies. And yet therein lies the genius behind Syfy’s genre mashup “Z Nation,” a post-apocalyptic episodic adventure that is often compared to “The Walking Dead” but is more closely related to “Gremlins” or “Young Frankenstein.” Yes, there is a group of humanity’s leftovers, wily in their ways, attempting to survive a never-ending army of the undead, but they’re doing it with punchlines and visual gags, making the journey more about escapism than realism.

With season 4 set to drag more rotting corpses into your homes starting on Friday, we sat down with series star Russell Hodgkinson to discuss his own unique journey, how acting became a therapeutic escape, and why he never expected to have a fan following.

TrunkSpace: Doc’s fictional story aside, you have a fascinating story of your own. The first thing that came to my mind in reading about your journey was just how different your path has been from other actors. What has that path, especially having enlisted in both the Army and the Coast Guard, done to help you not only as a person but in your career as well?
Hodgkinson: I can tell you that I’m probably one of the only actors who ever earned their Actors’ Equity card while still being in the military. I was fortunate enough to perform regularly at the Fort Bragg Playhouse while I was a soldier at Bragg. Luckily for me it was peacetime, so it was a safe place to be. After my divorce, I lost custody of my daughters and I was kind of lost – kind of heartbroken. One day I saw an audition announcement and went in. That led to about three years of solid on-stage acting experience at this really wonderful, semi-professional theater that unfortunately no longer exists.

I tell you, I learned more about acting during that period working with seasoned performers than I probably would have learned anywhere else. I did have a scholarship in high school to go to a theater, but I turned it down after my girlfriend got pregnant. The military was an obvious choice for me since I came from a military family. All three of my brothers have served. It was a safe place to be. It kept me independent and taught me discipline and responsibility, which I think every actor needs.

TrunkSpace: Did you carry the training mindset into your acting – the idea of always being prepared for whatever comes your way?
Hodgkinson: No, I never was that guy. I definitely didn’t focus on training. And I’m sure it’s super useful to study the craft and all that, but I just like on-the-job training. I would just do shitloads of community theater and whatever I could get cast in, and then that’s when I would dig in. I had child support payments and I didn’t have any extra money to take acting classes. What money I did have I soon realized would be better spent in therapy – learning about myself, processing my pain, and confronting my demons. I think that prepared me as much as any acting experience did.

TrunkSpace: So in a way the acting itself became the therapy?
Hodgkinson: Well honestly, I think for me, especially my 20s, it was an escape. I was really kind of a mess and acting was a way to mood alter. I could be somebody else. I didn’t have to be me, you know? And it was also where I found my tribe – my people. Artists, and not just actors, but technicians and set designers and just all the people involved in theater and film. I just found those to be the people that I gravitated towards. I did it for social reasons, and I did it to mood alter, and then it just kind of morphed into being something that I continued to do throughout my life.

TrunkSpace: Is it a surprise then to be sitting here, all these years later, talking about it from the perspective of heading into the fourth season of a television series?
Hodgkinson: Oh completely! I mean, seriously, if I wanted to be in television I would’ve moved to LA years ago. I just have always possessed this kind of culty ambivalence about acting. I guess my life experiences have really kind of prepared me for this moment on the show, but because being an actor has never really been the most important thing in my life, it doesn’t drive me in the way that it may drive other actors. That doesn’t mean that I’m not fiercely loyal to my character. I feel like I really know who Doc is and it’s super important that I stay true to him.

Z NATION — Season:4 — Pictured: Russell Hodgkinson as Doc — (Photo by: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy)

TrunkSpace: In many ways, “Z Nation” has had its own unique story, much like yourself. It hasn’t exactly existed in the same way that other shows have, and tonally, it’s very different than anything else on the air. Do you think that has helped shape the audience and fan base?
Hodgkinson: Well no, I think the fans are really responding to our dynamic as a group. Compared to other zombie shows out there, we have a clear cut mission. We try to put the fun back in the apocalypse. I think you can genuinely see that we have a real fondness for each other. I think that may be what they’re responding to – not having to take the apocalypse so seriously.

I also love the fact that we are introducing different kinds of zombies that they’re not used to seeing. If we had better merchandising, we could sell a zombie 12-pack, because we’ve got the Blasters, and the fidos, and the one’s with the bling that had the jewels all over them.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that TV wasn’t necessarily on your radar. Has being on “Z Nation” changed your perspective of the medium as a whole?
Hodgkinson: Well, it’s really clear to me that it’s definitely not the actor’s medium. I mean, coming from theater, theater is the actor’s medium, and television is the editor’s medium. It’s wonderful to see what they make out of our stuff. We’ll shoot for five days and they just get in there and make us look great. It’s all just cutting this and cutting that, and then of course the FX, adding the splatter and the gunshots, and just bringing it all to life. That’s really where the magic happens, I think, behind the scenes really.

TrunkSpace: From a performance standpoint, has the tone of “Z Nation” allowed you to take an approach to the character that perhaps you would not be able to take while on another show? Are you able to take things a little further with Doc than you would with a more straightforward network series?
Hodgkinson: I typically play a lot of cowboys, drunks, and rednecks. For me, the opportunity to be comedic has been really fun. I mean, film-wise and television-wise, I’ve only really done serious roles, nothing very comedic. And you know, as a guest on a TV show, you’re going to come in, you’re going to do your thing, and then you’re done. But as a series regular, there’s so much more opportunity to explore as you get to help develop this role over a period of time. That adds a whole other element to it really.

Z NATION — Season:4 — Pictured: Russell Hodgkinson as Doc — (Photo by: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy)

TrunkSpace: This may seem like a loaded question based on how season 3 ended, but can you sort of give us an idea on where things are going this season and how Doc’s story is going to play out? What are we going to see that’s different and exciting, two things that “Z Nation” is always known for?
Hodgkinson: Well, I think you’re going to really like the new cast. Everybody died but Doc, so…

No. I’m just kidding. We actually pick up the show two years later. You’re going to see who survived and who didn’t. We all kind of separate, and we have a moment where we come together, and then the team’s back together on a new mission. What’s left of the team, I should say.

We got some wonderful new guest stars as well, Henry Rollins being one of them. I think it’s going to be a really fun season for everybody.

TrunkSpace: As someone who never expected to be here talking about starring in a television series, what has been the best experience for you thus far throughout your “Z Nation” journey?
Hodgkinson: Well, I think the best part of the “Z Nation” experience for me has been the opportunity to connect with people all over the world. The fans have really made the experience worthwhile. And the ability to bring laughter and entertainment to people has been super rewarding. In fact, I could travel to 10 different countries and I would definitely know somebody who would let me sleep on their couch. (Laughter)

I had no idea I was going to have a fan base. That doesn’t happen in theater, you don’t get a fan base. You also don’t get any respect from your family either. I’ve been a theater actor for 30 years. “Oh yeah, he’s doing that acting thing, you know.” But the minute you get a role on a TV show, suddenly it’s, “Oh my God, you’re an actor!” Then they care.

TrunkSpace: And isn’t that funny considering we just talked about how television isn’t the actor’s medium.
Hodgkinson: Oh yeah. It’s very ironic. I’ve had amazing roles on stage – big leading, fantastic roles and it was, “Eh, whatever. He’s doing his acting thing.” The first time I was ever on a TV show, I think I maybe had two lines and it was, “Oh my God!” Everybody’s calling everybody. “He’s going to be on TV! His dreams have been realized! He’s now an actor officially!”

TrunkSpace: Finally, we read that you once worked at Carvel Ice Cream as a professional soda jerk. With “Z Nation” being such a mix of genres, what kind of flavors do you think would make up a drink in its namesake?
Hodgkinson: If I had to pick an ice cream that would encompass “Z Nation,” it would definitely be Rocky Road.

Season 4 of “Z Nation” kicks off Friday on Syfy.

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Wingman Wednesday

Karl Schaefer

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Z NATION — Season:4 — Pictured: DJ Qualls as Citizen Z — (Photo by: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy)

It is no easy feat for a television series to maintain a fandom (and time slot) for four seasons, especially when you’re a show that takes such creative risks as rolling a giant cheese wheel over a group of bloodthirsty zombies. And yet therein lies the genius behind Syfy’s genre mashup “Z Nation,” a post-apocalyptic episodic adventure that is often compared to “The Walking Dead” but is more closely related to “Gremlins” or “Young Frankenstein.” Yes, there is a group of humanity’s leftovers, wily in their ways, attempting to survive a never-ending army of the undead, but they’re doing it with punchlines and visual gags, making the journey more about escapism than realism.

With season 4 set to drag more rotting corpses into your homes starting on Friday, we sat down with series co-creator and showrunner Karl Schaefer to discuss how we’re all in on the “Z Nation” joke, the Spokane experience, and why he considers the show do-it-yourself filmmaking.

TrunkSpace: The humor and tone of “Z Nation” is not only so different than what other zombie shows present to viewers, but it’s so different than other shows in general. How much of that do you think plays into not only its initial success, but ongoing success as well?
Schaefer: Well, I think the humor and quirkiness of the show certainly is part of the secret sauce that makes it work. It’s kind of an organic thing that comes from me and my writing. If you look at my other shows, they all kind of have this tone to them. At the same time, the goal of this show, from the very beginning, was to make it the people’s zombie show and give everybody just what they wanted and cut out all of the rest of the stuff. We wanted to make it feel like when you watch the show, you get the feeling the people making the show are laughing their asses off, just off-camera. You’re kind of in on the joke with them. If the viewer at home had the tools to make their own zombie show, this is the kind of stuff they would be doing. We wanted it to have that feel to it.

TrunkSpace: At the same time, there’s also a specific mission that the characters are on, which gives the show some parameters within that wacky tone that we all love. With lot of post-apocalyptic shows, there’s always that vibe in the first season, but then it sort of disappears after awhile.
Schaefer: Right. I think that’s one of the things that was baked into the idea from the beginning, was that there was a sense of hope to the show, that there’s some actual thing the characters can do that might result in their well being at some point. So that gave it some sense of hope, and a reason to travel, and to keep pulling yourself from place to place. Most zombie shows, they kind of hunker down somewhere.

TrunkSpace: And that traveling aspect of the show allows for some great visual differences week-to-week.
Schaefer: Yeah, and that’s why we shoot in Spokane. There’s so many different looks within the 30 mile zone that we have to shoot. That’s what made it seem like we’re traveling across the country and is a big part of the fun of the show too.

TrunkSpace: We read in a previous interview that you did where you said you wanted the show to be the anti “The Walking Dead,” which makes complete sense from a creative standpoint. That being said, do you think “Z Nation” would have made it on the air had it not been for that show and the success it had?
Schaefer: That’s hard to say. Certainly before “The Walking Dead,” the idea of a zombie TV series seemed dumb. (Laughter) I mean, they did elevate the genre with it. That was sort of the genius of “The Walking Dead,” was it took the genre seriously to start with. Then it was sort of like, after a couple of seasons, it seemed like they took it too seriously. So my joke is, “The Walking Dead” is kind of like zombie church, and we’re sort of like zombie bowling.

TrunkSpace: Neon bowling!
Schaefer: Right. Do you want to go out to church or do you want to go bowling on a Friday night?

So that’s sort of where “Z Nation” lives because our driving question we ask about everything we do is, “Is this fun?” Our show is just purely about giving people an hour to forget and just distract them from whatever is bothering them.

TrunkSpace: Which is pretty timely with all of the chaos going on every time you put on the news. Distractions seem very welcome.
Schaefer: There’s a lot of TV you watch and you go, “What? How is this entertaining again? Why am I watching people in prison? Or sick in a hospital?” (Laughter) So we’re just trying to make it fun, and because we’re kind of so low budget, and we’re way up in the heart of darkness here in Spokane where nobody pays that much attention to us, we get away with a ton of stuff that you could never do on a regular show. We get network notes and it’s like, “Sorry, I don’t have the money to do that. That’s shot, there’s nothing I can do. Sorry.” And because it keeps working, they leave us alone.

Z NATION — Season:4 — Pictured: (l-r) Tara Holt as Lucy, Anastasia Baranova as Addy — (Photo by: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy)

I just walked out of a mix to do this, and the director and I are sitting there watching the mix going, “We could have never done this show anyplace where executives were paying tons of attention.” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: And that’s not a bad place to be!
Schaefer: I think they sort of just let us go at this point. There’s been so many things where we’ve had a meeting going, “Is this really gonna work?” and then we kind of pull it off and they go, “All right, I guess they can throw 10,000 zombies into the Grand Canyon!” or, “I guess a cheese wheel is funny running over zombies, and you can actually make it look good!”

Syfy has been super supportive. I do have to say that. They’ve been great.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned budget, which got us to thinking… so often in the horror genre, great things come out of when creative people have to think outside the box because of budget constraints. Has that been the case with “Z Nation” through the first four seasons?
Schaefer: Oh, absolutely! This show is kind of like one of those cooking shows where they give you 10 ingredients at the beginning of the episode that don’t go together, and you gotta make a meal by the end of it. That’s sort of my challenge every week with this. We write all the scripts ahead of time down in LA, kind of knowing what we have up here, but then you get up here and see what we really have in locations, because we don’t have the money like on most TV shows to make the environment fit the script, we have to make the script fit the environment. So every script is rewritten to fit what we find so that we maximize what we find.

You don’t know that we were planning to do something else entirely. The audience just knows, “Oh, this seems really good what they did.” It’s because we changed something to fit something really cool that we found. There’s so many interesting, weird locations up here where we shoot, so it’s a very dynamic process that goes on, finding the locations and making it all fit. Having to be clever about the filmmaking of it – that’s what makes a show really fun to work on.

We have a great group of young filmmakers here in Spokane, and a great visual effects department that are just local guys that started out on the show, and then after working on the effects, started their own company and now they’re doing all of it. We do everything. We do models. We do forced perspective. We do lots of camera tricks, as well as good digital effects. It just makes it fun.

TrunkSpace: Like a giant cheese wheel for example!
Schaefer: With a gag like that, we actually built a giant cheese wheel. There’s a 35 foot cheese wheel that’s now in a museum in Spokane where we have a “Z Nation” exhibition here in town. We’re actually shooting a lot of the show at the museum as well, so people could come and watch us film.

We use every trick in the book to make this look as good as possible each week. There’s so many good people that just won’t let it be bad. If you saw our first cuts you’d be like, “Yeah, that looks like a cheesy, cheap, Asylum movie!” But by the time we’re done with it, there’s just so many good people adding little bits and pieces, and fixing things, that it looks like a real show by the time we’re done with it.

Z NATION — Season:4 — Pictured: (l-r) Russell Hodgkinson as Doc, Tara Holt as Lucy — (Photo by: Daniel Sawyer Schaefer/Go2 Z 4/Syfy)

TrunkSpace: Just by the excitement in your voice, it sounds like a heightened version of when you’re a kid and you grab the video recorder and then go out with your friends and try to shoot something cool.
Schaefer: That’s actually part of the appeal. One thing about the zombie genre is, it’s a do-it-yourself genre. People like to be zombies. They make zombie films. The original concept for the show, which we had to sort of drop because I think we just wound up with more story than we thought we were going to originally have, was going to be people sending in their own zombie videos that they made, which the Citizen Z character was gonna be receiving and playing as part of the interstitial stuff. It was because of that feeling of, “Let’s just go out and shoot this and do it with a couple of pie tins and homemade blood!” It’s part of the fun of the show, I think – the fact that it has a little bit of that handmade, do-it-yourself quality to it.

TrunkSpace: Prior to “Z Nation” you had a hand in the creation and development of a number of cable shows that sort of got the entire cable world rolling – “Eerie, Indiana,” “The Dead Zone,” and “Eureka,” to name a few. Now that everyone wants to be in cable, does it kind of feel like, “Hey, this is my turf!”
Schaefer: (Laughter) I wish it was my turf. My turf is pretty big at the moment. What is there, 400 something scripted TV shows now?

I’m glad to be working. We’re having a lot of fun up here. We’ve kind of hit that sweet spot where we’re pretty much left alone. We’re just getting to make a crazy zombie show. They give us money to make a crazy zombie show, nobody bothers us, and people like it. I’m gonna hang in here as long as I can. It seems like a pretty sweet place to be.

Season 4 of “Z Nation” kicks off Friday on Syfy.

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