Dying is easy. Outrageous horror comedy is hard, at least according to Zombeavers director Jordan Rubin, whose viral phenomenon has its final screening tonight at the Tribeca Film Festival. The micro-budget effort was conceived by stand-up comedy vet Rubin and co-writer/composers Al and Jon Kaplan based simply on the title. “They were leaving my apartment one day and I said I’d like to do a horror movie,” Rubin recalls. “Al Kaplan said, ‘What about Zombeavers?’ I could immediately see that I wouldn’t mind living with that premise for a couple of years. I’m a huge fan of ’80s horror. One of my favorites is John Carpenter’s The Thing.”
Rubin says he screened that seminal movie for the cast and crew before shooting began. When I mention that The Thing is perhaps slightly more serious than Zombeavers, the director explains that that was the point. “You really have to treat this like it’s Oscar material,” Rubin says. “Everyone will think it’s either Roger Corman stuff or a porno based on the title.” The deadly seriousness with which the cast treats some of the broader situations led to some belly laughs on set. Rubin elaborates on Hutch Dano’s reaction to Lexi Atkins’ transformation: “She’s gonna be on medication for the rest of her life.” “He just nailed that so well that we all just fell off of our chairs,” Rubin recalls. “He’s treating it like it’s a real medical condition, and she has a giant tail whapping up and down and teeth growing out of her face.”
Rubin and his team conducted an open casting call for the movie, seeing “a few hundred people” before narrowing them down and making selections based on “chemistry reads” and improvisation exercises. The process yielded such notables as the hilarious Peter Gilroy, Rex Linn, who Rubin says is “about to blow up” thanks to a supporting role in Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West, and even John Mayer (!) as a dimwitted trucker. “I met him writing for a CBS special that he was gonna do,” Rubin reveals. “He’s such a talented, funny guy.”
As for the main attraction-- the beavers themselves-- Rubin broke with modern day trends and employed practical effects and puppets for his creatures. “The CGI that’s available at the price point we could do is SyFy Channel kind of stuff,” he explains. “It’s so computer-y. I’d rather watch something practical that doesn’t quite make it, but at least they tried. [Doing it practically] helps the actor, [too]; it plays like another actor in the room.” Rubin points to classic ’80s films like Gremlins, Re-Animator, and The Thing (naturally) as key inspirations.
But achieving the FX turned out to be the least of Rubin’s problems on set. “This whole experience was like film school for me,” Rubin shares. “You’re seeing my thesis film, but I’m not college age.” The low budget and lack of time created a number of surprising headaches. “One of the people in our wardrobe department showed up 4 hours late, hung-over, and ended up fighting with our assistant director so much that she quit about halfway through production,” he remembers. “One of the people on our production moved away and joined a convent afterwards. I don’t know that our movie was the cause, but I wouldn’t be surprised.” A crucial prop wreaked its own havoc when it went missing. “Losing the ‘toxic waste’ barrel was a big thing,” he laments. “Homeland Security flew in because of it.”
Still, Rubin enjoyed the process, as stressful as it was. “I had a great experience, it’s just that time is always your enemy. With our kind of production, you never get more time. You get what you have. . . . [But] I’ve never been more comfortable than when I’m on set.” Rubin would like to do “a more full scale horror movie, with maybe 50% less laughs,” as well as an action comedy. “I’ve been able to do some big set pieces [on Zombeavers] despite the budget. Give me some more money and I’ll ruin your shit. Wait, if you run that, put that ‘I’ll ruin your shit in the best way possible.’ I don’t want it to read like I’m going to just break stuff.”
He means it, but his next comment is more tongue in cheek. “I want to get back to my first love, which is doing modern adaptations of Shakespeare on stage,” he deadpans. “You can see from Zombeavers that that’s what I really want to do.”
Zombeavers screens as part of the Tribeca Film Festival Saturday, April 26 at 11:30pm at the AMC Loews Village 7. Arrive early for rush tickets, as the previous showing was sold out.
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