Happy Cloud History – The Saga Continues

Bill Homan covered in special HCP blood.

INT. MEDICAL AMPITHEATRE – NIGHT

That was the setting the original script for The Resurrection Game (then-titled Necromaniac) called for. We had wanted our ridiculously action-packed climax to take place in a large open space where the villains could observe from above. Godcorp (TM) would have an awesome building at their disposal. Neat, clearn. I’d expected we might be able to take over a classroom or something at Pitt or Carnegie Mellon. No big deal.

Major big deal. Locations are essential to production design. Keep a movie bound in a single room surrounded by four white walls, unless you’re exploring the unrivaled mundanity of existence, it’s crummy set dressing. Due to creative set dressing dreamed up by Amy, our living room became one set, our dining room another – all by the grace of opening or closing our house’s pocket doors and adding/removing furniture. Lighting differently, using different angles and screen direction, no one to date has noticed that both Campbell and Emily Zarkoff have the same tile in their kitchens and the same pattern of woodwork on the floors.

So we needed a place big enough to stage the climax, whatever it was, and we could rationalize however it looked. Bill Hahner came to the rescue for the second time.

Bill got us into the Munhall cemetery to shoot our Night of the Living Dead opening (with Gina Preciado and Dan Franklin standing in for Judith O’Dea and Bill Hinzman respectively – and we learned later that Bill would have happily reprised his role for us!). Bill also shot all the B&W footage that opens the film, relying on his love and expertise on NOTLD.

Just prior to this, he’d shot his own student film with Bill Homan playing…Bill Homan. We stalked Bill through alleys, up wrought-iron stairs throughout Dormont and Munhall. Then we wound up in the top floor of what would appear on film like a burned-out squatter’s building. It was either left unfinished or had been abandoned during a renovation period. In any event, it was a warren of disused offices, contractor’s notes on the walls, and a huge central space in which our heroes and villains could face off.

It was actually the disused third floor of the American Mattress Company in Homewood. Bill’s father had a friendship with the owner, Seymour Farber, and he was amenable to our using his top floor for our shoot, so long as we cleaned up after and stayed out of customers’ way.

The Make-up office in the American Mattress Company set.

The only catch was we could only shoot there on Saturdays, on their short day of the week. Basically, we had to show up at 9:00 on the dot, lug a hundred pounds of film gear up three flights of stairs, and then get everyone into make-up, rig the blood effects, Bill made up the squibs, we loaded the cameras, had costume areas and craft services – both manned by Amy even though she was the co-star and producer. There are were multiple cubby/office rooms for these places, and we had no trouble staying out of each others’ way. Parking around the area was pay-only, so we came armed with $20 worth of quarters for our crew. By 2:00 pm, we had to start breaking down and cleaning up. Say that we really had our asses in gear, we had about four good hours of shooting time.

We used a bit of dialogue to explain this was a disused facility in Godcorp’s “Wharfside” labs. That would explain the run-down nature of the central room. For the other scenes, the burned-out building aspect worked well and required no explanation. So instead of my clean and spotless ampitheatre, I got a hauntingly “real” feeling location. We like to let our locations breathe as separate characters, and this area really breathed.

It would take us six trips to the Mattress place to get the climax shot. All of the explanatory dialogue, the film’s big twist, the bloody shootout with eight malfunctioning cyber-zombies, a sword fight, some of the juiciest squibs you’re likely to find in a pre-2000 indie.

Nick Sportelli lit the villain’s side with a primary red, the brightest red gel we could find, so that the frames would look like comic book panels. On the heroes’ side, it was colder, starker, with zero hope that they’ll survive. This is also the sequence wherein we learn just how shoddy NOE’s hiring processes are. By the end of the scene, Amy and Bill have pulled weapons from every conceivable hiding place – we purposefully shot Bill’s drawing of his sword in a framing that implied he was literally pulling it out of his ass. We imagined the conversation went like this:

Guards: “You guys got weapons?”
Amy and Bill: “Nope.”
Guards: “Good enough for us.”

IN ADDITION, there was a day where it was just Amy, Bill, our Chief Cyber Zombie, Mike, and me. We ran all the lights, equipment, sound, etc., ourselves – we even had to give Mike a crash course in running the Nagra sound recorder. This day also included exposition and stunt work.

FINALLY, we went back an eighth time after Amy was approached by a Girl Scout Troop eager to earn a filmmaking badge. She put together an epic publicity shoot wherein we had over a dozen girls (ages 9-14) in zombie makeup, getting shoved around by our Sound Guy (Brian Kohr) and NOE Guards (Scott Lear and Mike Athey). This would also be our massive publicity shoot day, headed by a pro photographer who’d also befriended us from Pittsburgh Filmmakers. (Whose name momentarily escapes me because this was 20 some friggin years ago.)

We accomplished miracles on these days. Though he had great assistants in Don Yockey, Jenn Nutter, and Ryan Storm, Bill had to be on hand for acting, stunts, and all the technical stuff (squibs, gun shots, etc.). Amy was in charge of damned near everything else when it came to the production – ON TOP, again, of starring in the film and having stuntwork of her own, though for most of the last bit of the film, she’s wounded (great squib and a terrific shot captured by Nick Sportelli – that whip pan from Sister Bliss to me as Adam in the doorway! Lovely.) And, of course, Charlie Fleming and Tim Gross played completely different zombies.

Blurry pic of Adam’s final entrance, shooting Sister Bliss.

(When Allen Levine, Emily Zarkoff’s partner, is revealed at the end to be the sell-out responsible for the mess, we anticipated that audiences would recognize him as a number of background zombies. This is the day we decided that Charlie’s character is obviously creating clones of himself and then zombifying them. Tim changed his appearance all the time so he self-camouflaged.)

On these days, we had anywhere from a small army of help to just a few of us, working with ancient equipment, where anything could go wrong. Often, as these days wrapped, Bill or Amy or both would have to go immediately downtown to work. One day in particular, I remember Bill heading off completely carmelized in red blood. He added tempra paint to his mixture to give the blood a brighter Taxi Driver color, so he looked ghastly.

Another blurry pic of the McForman/Adam swordfight.

Bill and I rehearsed for months, so this scene was going in, goddamn it.

On the other hand, the day we shot McForman leaping through the candyglass window (which Bill had only made an hour before), a neighbor of ours happened to be walking by, saw Bill crash and land on a mattress pile… and then shrugged and kept on walking home!

By this time, most of Pittsburgh was aware of us, and we’d strike at odd times. For some shoots, we’d drive around until we found a street sufficiently deserted-enough for our purposes, as when we shot stuntwoman Jasi Lanier’s (The Walking Dead) cameo at the beginning. That was just a rail street in South Side, right down the hill from the house. Bill Hahner did a quick make-up on that day’s sound guy, Casey LaRocco (now a pro medic on shows like The Avengers and Perks of Being a Wallflower), we jumped in the car, did the scene, ran back. An hour all told. That’s the best part of filming anywhere outside of New York and L.A.

Amy and Jasi Lanier

And that sort of odd good will translated to the folks at the American Mattress Company. For a whole summer or so, they got used to us showing up every couple of weeks with a small platoon of lunatics, and then crashing around in what was basically their attic for six hours. I’m almost positive we helped sell mattresses. They seemed to like having us around.

On these days, again, the help we had was always miraculous. Josh Baker, who was my 2nd AD on these days, grabbed a mop and bucket to mop up the remains of Francis Veltri’s Executive, who gets his throat shot out by Sister Bliss (spoilers for the 22 year-old cult movie). My camera guys, who early on succumbed to weird toxic masculinity until Amy and the rest of the crew knocked them into humanity, were scrubbing walls and holding doors for little old mattress-shoppers. We may not have been a family at this point, but we were a unit. Nobody ever slacked off, no matter how little we were paying.

And by this point, when it was mentioned around town that an “indie zombie movie” was shooting, it wasn’t said in any kind of condescending tone. It was the ‘90s. There was every belief that we could make it big!

McForman and the first Cyber-Zombie

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