Interview with Matthias Hoene from "Cockneys vs Zombies"
First time director Matthias Hoene was gracious enough to sit down with us here at Movie Room Reviews and talk all about his new horror/comedy “Cockneys vs Zombies”. Matthias told us all about making the film and his cinematic inspirations.
Matthias Hoene: Hey there, how are you?
Nick Leyland from Movie Room Reviews: Hey, how are you doing?
MH: Very good, thank you.
MRR: Alright, what's going on today?
MH: Well, I've survived the New York heat wave, and I'm excited to be here talking about, "Cockneys vs Zombies." [laughter]
MRR: Cool man, well I just watched the film today, and I had fun watching it, I had a lot of fun.
MH: Oh, God bless, thank you.
MRR: Yeah. So let me first ask you, you know, about the film, and if you could give our audience just a run down or just tell us about it?
MH: Of course, to me it's... I call it, not a zomedy as such, but more like a zombie adventure, or a zomventure, how I call it. And it came about... I've lived in East London for the last 12 years actually, and I was working with a couple of Cockney actors on a short film project, and there was... It was so hilarious to see those two characters who... I don't know if you... How many Cockneys you've met in real life, but they just never show fear, they're never fazed by anything, they always have a joke on their lips and a shotgun in their hand, and any supernatural enemy that steps into their way, they'll kind of go, "Alright handsome, back off." Chh Chh Bang! And blow them away. And I love that sort of, that attitude of Cockneys, and who also in history over the last decades or centuries have defended East London against anyone who tried to step on their turf, whether it's the Zulus, or invading armies, or the, "Old Bill" AKA the cops, but they've never defended East London against zombies, and that's why I wanted to make this film. To show the world how tough Cockneys are.
MH: I worked with the Screenwriter, James Moran, who is a great comedy, horror-comedy writer, and we kind of wanted to also show how East London is changing and kind of... A lot of those old, beautiful hangouts where the Cockney gangsters used to hang out at, they're sort of being torn down and redeveloped. So, we developed this idea of the pension home where all of the old Cockneys are sort of about to be moved out and having to move somewhere else, leaving their sort of turf that they'd grew up in. And, having them being caught up in a zombie outbreak, where the zombies are slow, where the Cockneys with their Zimmer frames and their wheelchairs are slower. So, I thought it was a really good sort of concept, and giving the viewer something they've never seen before in a zombie film, basically. Because that was the other really important thing to me, that this film not only tonally has a niche of showing us something that we haven't seen before, but also that there's lots of things that you just wouldn't get in any other zombie film, like the slow motion Zimmer frame chase, and things like that. We tried to put lots of moments in it that were sort of different and unique.
MRR: Cool. Well, it's a comedy/horror movie, but I want to ask, which one were you going for more, and which one do you think it ended up being? More of a comedy or more of a horror movie?
MH: Well, I didn't make it that scary on purpose. I wanted it to be a fun romp, but I kind of always thought it's an adventure movie. I wanted it to be fun, and action-packed, and a little bit scary. But I didn't think I could make it really, really scary and funny at the same time. So, I went for the sort of romp feeling, fun romp, and to be honest, it's very difficult to cross the tone on a horror-comedy, because you know, you want to have real genuine feelings and moments, and you need to have action beats, and horror beats, and comedy beats, and it changes really quickly all the time.
MH: I kind of went for fun, I think.
MRR: Well, one thing I wanted to ask you with that, on that topic is, to me there's a distinct difference between English comedies and American comedies. Why do you think that is? What do you think is the difference between American comedies and English comedies?
MH: Okay, so I mean, with Cockneys, I was sort of... In terms of the tone of comedy I was inspired by a British film called, "Withnail and I." Withnail and I is sort of a legendary comedy where all of the characters are sort of playing it straight, but because of who they are, it turns out to be funny. And I think it's sort of a dry subtle humor, I suppose. And it's bits of that, and we also went a bit further than that in, "Cockneys vs Zombies," but it was all informed by the characters. We didn't try to be funny or put them into any kind of hilarious constructed situations. Everything needed to be truthful, but then it's funny because of who the Cockneys are and how they react to those things. American com... I mean, it's difficult, isn't it?
MRR: It is.
MH: American comedy is sort of... I mean, first of all, I guess you have to be more specific, because there's lots of different American comedy, isn't it? Whether it's gross-out or there's "Hangover" style comedy, and I think at the end of the day to me, comedy is all about truth. So, like what I tried in this film is truthful observations of pensioners caught up in a zombie invasion and what funny situations could come from that. So, there's people, with false legs, who are bitten but then survive because they have a full strap-on leg, those sort of things and I kind of feel, with American comedy, the truth comes from observing American culture and American situations and characters. So I think that's kind of the main difference.
MH: And there is different shades, you know, it can be really broad American comedy and British comedy and then it can be really subtle comedies on both sides of the ocean, so, I wouldn't differentiate in that way.
MH: I guess, maybe British like, British are better at understatement and subtlety and kind of, we're always a little bit humble and kind of, don't like to shout out loud and things like that. So, maybe that's the difference in general, kind of character, I think.
MRR: I agree with that. Well, the film had good special effects and I was wondering how you went about doing them on a more limited budget than let's say, the $200 million "World War Z" that came out?
MH: Well every time you hear how, I guess, the re-shoots of something like that, had probably 10 times the budget, of our movie. But I think, what I did with this film is, we had a tiny budget but we had a really enthusiastic crew and everyone chipped in. It was sort of big days, every day was a big day on Cockneys vs Zombies where you'd have five to 10 lead actors in an action sequence with 40 background zombies and two cameras, guns fighting, those sort of things. So, it was really difficult, big scenes I had to choreograph but I prepared like thoroughly before every action sequence was story boarded. So, everything was pre-planned, so I didn't waste a lot of time being indecisive, basically, trying to get all this to happen.
MH: So, that's to be the biggest time saving factor in film making, a decisive Director, who goes out just this one thing exactly the way it should be and that's what we did. That saves you 400% of your budget or something, just by you being really clear all the way through and never changing your mind on those things. And then, with the special effects, we kind of had, we worked with a company called Molinare, who did a lot of the visual effects and they were just really helpful in terms of allowing us to have as many shots as we had. I shot really specific elements for everything, blood elements, making sure everything looks real and it's filmed specifically per shot. So, sort of putting that effort into really making those shots easy to composite but be also looking real and not feeling like they have been composited, I suppose was important to me.
MH: And then, we had a great prosthetics artist called Paul Hyatt, who is now actually also directing and has just done his first movie and he just put his whole team on it and made all those great real prosthetics effects happen. So, that was amazing. He has like a warehouse of limbs and body parts and all those sort of things, so helped us out kind of achieve everything.
MRR: He's ready for a zombie apocalypse in terms of filming, right? [chuckle]
MH: Yeah, yeah exactly.
MRR: Well is there an aspect of the film that you're particularly proud of?
MH: I think, to me, what was the most difficult of the film was controlling the tone, I think controlling the comedy and making sure that this come from two... I'm proud of that and I'm proud of the level of actors that we got involved in having the opportunity to work with legends like Richard Briers and Alan Ford and Honor Blackman. Literally, every actor in the film, you sort of fall in love with them as a director, while you're working with them because it's sort of great to see how they interpret their characters off the page and become that person. And that was, sort of to me, having the opportunity to work with so many great actors in a zombie film. That was just one of the best moments about it.
MRR: Did you dress up as a zombie and be an extra?
MH: I wanted to, I didn't have time on the shoot itself 'cause it there was so much to do and then, when we did visual effects elements I thought I would film myself on green screen and then, compose it myself into every shot but I didn't even have time to do that. So, I'm not a zombie in the film, but I'm on the soundtrack, I'm groaning. So, when you hear one of the, "Wooaah," in the background of the soundtrack, and that's, unfortunately, is my only contribution to it, in terms of being cameo but that's okay. I'm happy that so many others zombies got to be on screen and we had so many fans who wanted to be zombies and who got the chance to be on there, so, that's great. I don't have to be on screen as well.
MRR: Well, tell me about the awards that the film's won. I believe it's won a few, right?
MH: Yeah. I mean, it's won quite a few audience awards, which is amazing, around the world also, so with different audiences who might not know Cockneys; one in Toronto, in St. Sebastian, in Belgium, in Trieste. And for me, it was amazing to travel to all these festivals. This is sort of a fan movie. It came about when I received my first copy of Peter Jackson's Dead Alive on VHS in the '80s and fell in love with the horror comedy genre. I wanted this to be fan film, and for me, it was sort of amazing to just see the film with fans, and hear them laugh, and hear the reactions. And then it was amazing to win those awards. It's really meant a lot 'cause it was made for the people and it was great that we got love back from it and we put a lot of love into the film. So yeah, it was exciting that it won so many awards.
MRR: Well, it's one of your first films, correct?
MH: It is my first film.
MRR: It's your first, so how much did you learn during this process?
MH: How much? I learned that maybe next time either... Well, my next film is gonna be a tiny little bit more contained. [chuckle] I think... To me, it was great doing this film because it has character moments, action moments, prosthetics moments, my camera man said to me, "Matthias, I've never been on anything as sort of involved and sort of specific as this in terms of staging lots of actors," and it was just sort of a big film done on an indie budget. So, I learned tons about tone, and how to craft scenes, and how to craft comedy scenes as well and then... I think I could probably talk to you an hour about what I learnt about the film, but I think the truth is, what I learnt... No. Actually the real lesson I learnt is that for all the hard work that we've put, that one puts into making a movie. It is years and it's a long process to make a film, but then the real magic of making a movie happens when you then go to a screening, and the lights go out, and the curtains part and your movie comes on, and you watch it with an audience and then you realize that's what you do it for, because kind of that's the amazing bit, when you feel all that great reaction to it and that makes it all worth all the hard work. So that's what I learnt. That's why you make movies.
MRR: Well my last question for you is, if you were to suggest for anyone to rent a classic horror comedy, what movie would you pick for 'em to rent and watch?
MH: I would be torn between Peter Jackson's, "Dead Alive" or definitely Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead 2", I think is amazing. But even "Warm Bodies" I love, a very recent film, of course "ZombieLand" is great. I think there's a few very good ones.
MRR:Well, I think your film's great and I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. Have a good day and I hope everything goes well with the film.
MH: Thank you. the film came out on the second of August in the cinemas and VOD, and can't wait to share it with everyone here in America.
MRR: Cool, well thank you so much.
MH: Thank you.