This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
So, I was a zombie on Sunday. (I know, I know, what else is new?) No, not from a hangover, although that's always possible, but because I was an extra on the downtown Salt Lake City set of "The Rising," a TV pilot about flesh-eating zombies who overrun an unnamed American city.
A Utah-based crew filmed the pilot, which they hope to turn into a series on a cable or satellite network. I heard about it through an open casting call on the Internet, which said producers needed 400 extras to play zombies in a crowd scene. Wear dark, muted clothing, it said. Makeup was welcome but optional, because the camera would only zoom in on the zombiefied part of the crowd.
Zombies! How could I resist?
The two-week "Rising" shoot wrapped Sunday afternoon with the scene, filmed at the intersection of Main Street and 100 South. I showed up to find more than a hundred zombie wannabes milling about, many of them still applying pale makeup or fake blood. One guy, waaay into character, wore contact lenses that turned his irises a ghostly white.
Every once in a while, glassy-eyed men shuffled through the crowd on the way to someplace else. They looked like zombies to me, but they may have just been Republicans. It was hard to tell.
As we zombies chilled on the sidewalk, the director set up the camera on the roof of the seven-story Crandall Building. In the scene we were shooting, "The Rising's" human survivors are trapped in the building by a horde of hungry undead.
"There's been a virus that's killed most of the population. And then they [the zombies] start to rise from the dead," explained co-director Dave Sasich, who developed the project with his brother, co-director Eli. No wonder they chose to shoot in deserted downtown Salt Lake on a Sunday - it's lonelier than the men's room at an Indigo Girls concert.
Before we could shoot the crowd scene, however, we needed to learn how to walk like zombies. So producer Jack Allred and second assistant director Maxwell Morrill gave us a tutorial.
"There's a specific body motion we need for this scene," Morrill said. "It's not the typical Frankenstein, arms-straight-out walk. It's more of a rigor-mortis-setting-in, joints-stiffening, leg-dragging shuffle."
Got it. But what's my motivation?
"You're hungry for the scent of human flesh," he said.
By 3 p.m., the crowd of zombies had swelled to more than 200, thanks in part to Allred, who recruited random pedestrians with the line, "If you guys want to be in the scene, go over there and walk like a zombie."
It wasn't the 400-plus the filmmakers wanted, but it would have to do. Eli Sasich leaned over the roof with a bullhorn and ordered us to spread out across the intersection. On cue we were to shuffle slowly toward the building, moaning.
Then we waited. And waited. (Nothing ever happens on time on a set.) We amused ourselves by watching the stunned faces of the occasional passerby. One guy strolled up Main Street, looked around at all the zombie faces and said loudly, "What the f---?"
Finally, the cameras started rolling. Most of the best-looking zombies were in the front of the crowd. I placed myself in the back, because I wasn't in makeup (I look scary enough on Sundays without blackening my eye sockets). When the director yelled "background action!" I lurched toward the Crandall Building with the other zombies in a pigeon-toed shuffle, dragging my right leg.
Then we did it again. And again. By the third take I was really into my character, letting my tongue loll out of my mouth for dramatic effect.
After eight takes, though, I'd had enough. I think they kept shooting, but I doubt they missed me. It was hot and I'd worn out the sole of my right shoe from dragging it across the asphalt. Plus I had a strange but powerful craving for raw meat.
I hope "The Rising" is a smash. There are no zombie shows on TV, which seems to me like a gaping omission. If it ever airs, I'll be watching. But I'll be the first to admit: I made a lousy zombie.
* BRANDON GRIGGS can be contacted at email@example.com or 801-257-8689.