In a post-apocalyptic world ridden with zombies, the goal is always not to become one yourself. But c'mon, who hasn’t wondered what they’d look like lumbering around decked out in grimy zombie garb? Well, my day in the living dead spotlight finally arrived! I got the opportunity to hit the set of Jonathan Levine’s Warm Bodies, have the life sucked out of me and join R (Nicholas Hoult) on set for a run-in with the Bonies.
Things kicked off bright and early with a group of nice, clean reporters congregating in a hotel lobby, waiting for the production van to arrive and take us to set at the Montréal-Mirabel International Airport, a location you might remember from The Terminal. However, Hugo Boss and Viktor Navorski’s home sweet home, Gate 67, are long gone and the location has been transformed into the Isaac Marion International Airport, named after the author of the book Warm Bodies.
“We try to make people look like these are the clothes they wore when they died ..."
But before we trekked through the airport ruins, it was straight into wardrobe. For those of you who’ve met me in the flesh, you know I’m more of a jeans, T-shirt and Vans type of girl. Apparently nobody informed the Warm Bodies wardrobe department because there was a low-cut shirt, skirt and high-heel boots waiting for me to slip into. As costume designer George L. Little explained, “We try to make people look like these are the clothes they wore when they died, not just a costume, so try to dress to the face before the makeup.” I don’t know what it is about my face that says business lady, club-goer crossover, but hey, I’m about to become a zombie -- might as well go all in!
Next up was a trip to the hair and makeup department. My hairdresser, Colette, normally works at a traditional hair salon in Montreal, but in honor of Warm Bodies, she and her coworkers opted to get their hands dirty. Colette does 25 to 30 zombie-dos a day, so it was no surprise when she went right to work, gave my attire a quick glance and decided that a messy bun on the top of my head most suited my semi-work/semi-play character. She even joked, “You had a long night!”
Once the general look was complete it was time to mess it up even more, and I don’t mean by rustling it up a bit. With zero explanation, Colette went to work dumping what looked like globs of mud straight on my head. I knew showering would be priority number one when I got back to the hotel that night, but it was still rather comforting to hear that my head was a dumping ground for moist powders and gels mixed with brown coloring, and not actual dirt.
"While the hair process may take a mere five minutes, zombie makeup eats up about 45 minutes of time."
Then it was time to buddy up with my makeup artist, Olivier, because we were in it together for the long haul. While the hair process may take a mere five minutes, zombie makeup eats up about 45 minutes of time.
Apparently I’m not naturally pale enough because the procedure began with a layer of foundation to make me even more devoid of color. After the groundwork was laid, it was time for the fun stuff. He explained the need to stick to his superior’s guidelines – not too much makeup around the eyes, make sure the lips aren’t too green, and “punch out” with subtly – but also told me he’s got a thing for gore makeup and hopes to make it a full-time career, so I obliged him and insisted we go gore to the max.
Olivier kicked things off by working on my veins, an intricate process via hand painting and airbrushing that took a particularly long time courtesy of that lovely dip in the neck of my shirt that left quite a bit of skin exposed. Naturally we passed the time by talking about movies until he was ready to move on to my eyes. I warned him I’ve got contacts in to which he warned me the stuff he’s using is 99% alcohol, so I better keep my eyes shut. I obeyed, but wouldn’t a little alcohol-induced eye irritation be a nice, free makeup effect? OK, maybe not.
"Olivier convinced me it’d be way cooler to paint some rot right on my teeth ..."
Just before he sent me on my way, Olivier had a special little something for me, or, more specifically, a special little something for my teeth. All of the other press popped these tiny pills that dissolve to give your mouth a black hue. Nice and easy. However, Olivier convinced me it’d be way cooler to paint some rot right on my teeth. This was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, why not, right? Yes and no. But before we got to the conclusion of my teeth-rot trauma, a little more dirt was a must. Little himself did the honors, led me over to a tarp and then basically doused me in dirt-colored powder. Dirtier? Yes. Disheveled enough? No. Little proceeded to hack up my outfit with a scissor after which he took hot wax and dripped it down my clothing for an extra grimy effect. Now that my hair was sticky and gross, my teeth were covered in decay and my costume had been torn to shreds, off to the sent I went!
As someone with a producing-centric brain, you just don’t get better than the Warm Bodies set. Not only did the filmmakers get to shoot the film in an actual airport, but they basically had the run of the entire place, which meant makeup, wardrobe, holding and shooting location, all in one convenient spot. So, for us zombie extras, it was a simple escalator ride from hair and makeup up to set, which was a terminal inside the Montréal-Mirabel International Airport.
We ascended into a main hallway, littered with dirt, trash and long-forgotten luggage. Before we hit the hot set for our scenes, it was time for a quick lunch break, something that very well might have been the highlight of my day, not just because I was hungry, but because the food court basically consisted of dozens of zombies chowing down on fresh fruit, cake and pasta salad. Got to love the irony of that sight.
For our big moment, we made our way into baggage claim, an area filled with the same dirt and set design elements, but a space that was abuzz with zombie extras and crew. We got a little preview of the material we’re involved in courtesy of R himself. Nicholas Hoult stepped in front of the camera, action was called, R lumbers around a bit until a dog zipped through the baggage claim followed by a group of Bonies that nearly knocked poor R off his feet. While the dog was real and adorable, the Bonies were not. Rather than watching evil skeleton creatures make their way through the airport, they were simply actors in grey body suits.
You get a better sense of the airport scene and the Bonies by watching the first four minutes of the film, available below.
After a few more R close-ups, it was our turn. We were each hand-placed throughout the area for a much wider crane shot. I nestled in comfortably with a couple other reporters in the back, behind a baggage carousel. From there, it was as simple as slowly stumbling from one place to the next, giving a zombie-speed glance in the Bonies’ direction, zombie-speed bolt in the other direction, reset and do it all over again. You can actually catch a glimpse of my brilliant zombie gait in the latest Warm Bodies’ trailer.
Next up was our close-up – or a shot that’s a little closer than that first wide. Again, each and every journalist was designated a particular spot. I took my new position near the barrier that separates the baggage claim entrance from the doors and, to my delight, R himself took his place nearby. This time around it was the same exact thing, but from a new angle. In came the dog and then the Bonies, all while we did our now well-rehearsed shuffling and staring.
We got through a bunch of takes, but trouble came in the form of the setting sun. One entire wall of the baggage claim was made of windows, so with the changing light, the crew had no choice but to put this scene on hold and tackle another out in the hallway.
"You’re on your feet for hours on end, your hands are covered in grime so you can’t really touch anything and going to the bathroom is a bit of a pain ..."
When they called wrap, it was a relief. It’s an incredible honor to have had such a unique and memorable experience, but let me tell you -- being a zombie extra is no joke. You’re on your feet for hours on end, your hands are covered in grime so you can’t really touch anything and going to the bathroom is a bit of a pain, to say the least, and, you know what? Call me crazy, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
Well, almost all of it. Remember the paint-on tooth rot? While every other journalist’s mouth was free and clear of black grime by the end of the day, my teeth were still freshly caked in yellow. Even worse? It didn’t wash off, even with vigorous mouthwash swooshing. I had to have each individual tooth hand cleaned using a Q-tip and rubbing alcohol. Not much fun for someone with an intense fear of the dentist. So, in conclusion, the only stipulation in my zombie-for-a-day contract will be no paint-on tooth decay.
Catch Warm Bodies when it hits theaters on February 1, 2013.