Just when you think the zombie craze has hit its peak, someone comes up with a way to put a unique twist on the horror subgenre. For Jordan Rubin, a stand-up comic/comedy writer turned director, it was a brainstorming session with his writing partners Al and Jon Kaplan that led them to the solid gold idea of merging zombies with lovable beavers into their first feature film venture.
In Zombeavers, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, three girlfriends hit the road to a cabin on the lake following one of the girls’ boyfriends cheating on her. But before long, the scantily clad gals are joined by the boyfriends and quickly learn they’re not the only ones around when a beady-eyed beaver shows up and ruins the party. Before they know it, the friends, and yes, even their dog, are in danger of crazed zombie beavers.
Never shying away of its B-movie antics, the film has some impressive gore and entertaining one-liners. And it doesn’t hurt that Rubin, who has made his bones doing everything from writing for roasts and even the MTV Movie Awards, has some friends in high places (who have Twitter accounts). The film had already made a splash before its TFF premiere when the trailer had over two million views online in three days.
We chatted with Rubin on the Upper East Side following the film’s premiere to talk about his rise up the comedy ranks, Judd Apatow’s influence on him and how he got John Mayer in his film.
Movies.com: Thanks for talking.
Justin Rubin: No. Thank you for coming up to this diner where I think they shot Kramer vs. Kramer. I thought this was apropos because similar issues are explored in Zombeavers.
Movies.com: Yes, we’ve come full circle in movie history. But seriously, give us some of your background.
Rubin: I did stand-up for 10 to 12 years out of college and slowly got into writing. I wrote for a lot of roasts. I’d go over to these houses in the Upper Eastside, these creepy places. Those early writing jobs were for their acts and it was basically just to plug in a younger feel.
Movies.com: Does that play well?
Rubin: At the time it was $200 to write 10 jokes and that was a lot. I was doing stand-up and waiting tables. Then I got on The Man Show on its first season. That was my first job so I went out to L.A. And once you get your first writing job it’s easy to continue getting them so from that I went to Crank Yankers while doing stand-up on the late-night circuit. I got a half hour special on Comedy Central. And at a certain point I realized I’m not going to be a great stand-up because I don’t have the drive and I don’t want to be on the road. But I felt I could get somewhere as a director. This was basically my film school, this film, but for better or worse I think I’ll learn from this.
Movies.com: How did you get to that point of wanting to make a movie?
Rubin: Eventually I started head writing a lot of awards shows like the MTV Movie Awards and the European Music Awards and the stuff I was getting involved in was writing sketches for the Movie Awards. I would end up directing them half of the time. Even though there was a director on it, because I wrote it I was directing how the actors should do the sketches. So it was a close collaboration with the director. I always wanted to direct even back in high school and stand-up kind of sidetracked me.
So I started writing scripts with the guys that I wrote Zombeavers with. I ended up working with Judd Apatow on this video that went viral, it was called “The American Jewish World Service," which was this celebrity comedy thing and we sort of codirected it. I was there for all four shooting days, he was there for a few and was overseeing it, but more of a producer on it. So he was very supportive of me. Then this script came up called Gianni Goes to College, which was going to star Simon Rex, who’s a buddy of mine. They hired us to write the movie and I ran into Judd Apatow and I told him what I was doing and he asked who’s directing it and I said, "I don’t know, they will probably get a director who’s never done anything before." And he said, “Well, why don’t you direct it?” And I was like, "Why don’t I direct it?" And I guess I needed to hear it from someone I respected before moving forward on this, so I went to the producers and said, “Why don’t I direct it?” And they were like, “Fine with us,” but the project fell apart. But now I had this idea of directing in my mind. So my writing partners and I were writing scripts and I knew they were huge horror fans so I said, let’s write a horror movie next.
Movies.com: The comedy seemed to be a mix of the horror-spoof style but also Zucker, Zucker and Abrahams.
Rubin: Yeah, I’ve actually written with them before. And though we tried to play it straight the beavers made it tough to do that because the animatronic beavers looked scary and real but then you had the puppet ones which weren’t as convincing. When you’re behind schedule it’s basically you have to wait to get the animatronic beaver ready because it takes four people, or do you want the puppet beaver right now? So it was a little camp.
Movies.com: But it’s supposed to be fun.
Rubin: Yeah. And in regards to the Zuckers thought, they always taught me their whole thing was playing straight even with the most crazy stuff. That’s what Frank Drebin is.
Movies.com: What kind of influences did you have when making the film?
Rubin: I’m a big fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing. I actually had everyone on the film watch it. We’re such fans of that kind of horror, there are a lot of Easter eggs throughout.
Movies.com: How have people reacted to the dog being killed?
Rubin: They laughed at the right beats and every time we’ve shown that dog scene it works. The YouTube comments [for the trailer] run the gamut and a lot of them focus on the dog. "You don't throw that dog," and "I was going to see this film until I saw the dog." People have a real visceral thing with the dog. But I think we did it the right way because we attached the act to the character that's a douchebag. But it was amazing the reaction because that scene has played really well.
Movies.com: John Mayer's cameo is great. How did you get him involved?
Rubin: I originally wrote on a special he was doing for network television. And I only worked for him for a day and thought he was really funny. But it's John Mayer, I didn't know how to approach him. Then coincidentally a month later I was having a party and had some comedy people over. I know B.J. Novak. who was coming over, and he asked if it was okay to bring John Mayer over. And John and I joked around the whole night. Then we started hanging out a lot. So when it came time for casting I thought it would be fun to get friends in who are bigger names. I asked John if he wanted to do it. He said, "I've never done a movie before and I've been asked a bunch of times but I'm on board as long as I can approve the other guy in the car with me." And I wanted Bill Burr because he's a friend. John said he loved his act. So the two of them in the car was great.
Movies.com: Did you write any of that or did you improv a lot?
Rubin: They did all the lines that were scripted and then from there forward it was just me on a walkie-talkie riffing with them, then them going off on their own. It’d stop them and directing a little. It was very much on the fly. They were both so funny.
Movies.com: It was interesting to see in the credits that you have one guy listed for the voice of all the zombeavers. What's the story behind that?
Rubin: I realized that the zombie noises needed to be vocalizations and not just simulations or animals, especially seeing we didn't have the budget to say use Industrial Light and Magic. I remember for the X-Wing they recorded a real lion and reversed it or something. So I play this video game Left 4 Dead and I'm not a big video game guy but I'm a big zombie fan so playing a first-person game and blowing zombies away is great. The sounds in that are amazing. I went online and searched the credits for the game and this guy Fred Tatasciore, he was the main voice on there. He'd also done the Predator voice in a game. When we were working I actually asked him to do the Predator voice, I have it on my phone. He does a lot of movies and games, and his rate was way too high. Thankfully, he was into the project and did it for scale or nice version of his rate.
Movies.com: What's next for the film after Tribeca?
Rubin: We're going to play a few more festivals. And I think it could have a theater life, that's what we all are aiming for.
Movies.com: What's next for you? Will we continue seeing you doing this kind of comedy?
Rubin: I think my primary obsession with movies is big action comedies. And really action first and comedy as part of it. Like Die Hard, Midnight Run, the movies that are action and character driven. I find that's what I'm interested in. And hopefully people see in Zombeavers that, though with a limited budget I put a lot of big action sequences into what we had. We just completed this script that is very Commando in tone. I want to go bigger but also I'd love to do a straight horror and not do jokes.
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