'Crazies' director's crazy for genre movies

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Genre movies do well with moviegoers but usually don't get much respect from filmmakers for whom they're just bill payers.

Exception: "The Crazies," a re-imagining of George Romero's 1973 horror thriller, opening today (26) from Overture Films and Participant Media.

Indeed, director Breck Eisner and stars Timothy Olyphant and Rhada Mitchell all enthusiastically embraced making this genre film about a virus infecting residents of an idyllic town who start killing their friends and neighbors.

Asked why after making his directorial debut in 2005 with "Sahara," an action-adventure starring Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz, he'd chosen a genre project for his second feature, Eisner confided that he's crazy about genre movies.

"When I get excited about seeing a movie that comes out, it's a genre movie always."

What he really wanted to make was a genre movie that was "intimate and human and yet intense and active and scary and dynamic."

He came on board after being approached in '06 by Michael Aguilar and Dean Georgaris, whose production company Penn Station was then based at Paramount. They'd acquired the rights to "Crazies" from Romero and had Scott Kosar ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre") write a screenplay.

While Eisner had ideas for changing the script, he felt good about it right away: "I loved the concept of the movie and it was one I remembered seeing on an old VHS tape as a teenager and liking back then."

"The Crazies"
 

Another positive was that the rights came directly from Romero: "It felt to me that that meant he would have a hand in it and more importantly was signing off on the concept of the movie being made."

He was right. Romero executive produced the remake with Aguilar, Georgaris and Rob Cowan producing.

Like so many indie films, "Crazies" took years to reach the screen.

"It went from Paramount -- which decided the movie was too small for it to bother with -- to Rogue. And then Rogue changed ownership. And then it went to Overture and Participant."

While all that was going on, Eisner worked with Ray Wright ("Case 39") to reshape the script.

"When you have a really strong talented writer with a voice and a sense of character and story it makes my life a lot easier. It's nice to be able to meet with a writer and discuss ideas and let him or her bring their abilities and talents to the page."

One of their challenges was trying to remake a cult film, but not wanting to make exactly the same movie.

"It's a really complicated added element to moviemaking that doesn't exist if you're making an original movie," he observed. "You have to ultimately make the movie for the modern audience -- a movie they want to see that they're going to connect with."

At the same time, however, there's something about the original that inspired wanting to remake it.

"You need to figure out what that was and make sure that that's true to what's happening in the movie."

Filming took place in the spring of '09 over 45 days of mostly night shoots in two rural towns -- Perry, Georgia and Lenox, Iowa -- that Eisner and Cowan found after scouting locations in 12 states and Canada.

"We had to have a place that had a tax incentive for budget reasons and we needed a place that worked for the weather," he noted, putting the budget at just under $20 million.

It was a tough shoot because there were many locations and they could only afford 10-hour days.
"We couldn't do overtime. It was like a road movie. There are very few locations that are repeated." And those few repeats involved action or horror set pieces, which take a long time to shoot.

As for horror stories from production, Eisner recalled a car wash sequence where more money would have helped: "If this were a bigger budget movie, we would have built the car wash and had it all controllable. But without that budget we had to find a real car wash, which we did in Macon, Georgia."

Great as it was, he said, their '70s car wash wasn't in great shape and kept breaking down: "It was a really treacherous place to be shooting with these spinning wheels of death, as we called them, and water and soap on the slippery concrete, four actors in a car with broken windows and glass and three or four stuntmen made up to look like Crazies in the water with makeup and explosions and gunfire."

"Crazies" was the first movie ever filmed in Perry or Lenox.

"I'd shot 'Sahara' in rural Morocco in the middle of nowhere and these Berber villages had been shot 10 times before," he told me, referring to visits by Ridley Scott ("Black Hawk Down") and Stephen Sommers ("The Mummy" franchise).

"We'd be in these Berber villages and they'd know about 10K lights and 10-ton grip trucks. But in these small rural towns they'd never had a film come in before."

See Martin Grove's Zamm Cam movie previews on www.ZAMM.com.
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