An Interview with Director Declan Shrubb by Ashley Lister
Declan Shrubb is the writer and director behind the hilarious zom-com-romp Me and My Mates vs the Zombie Apocalypse which stars the amazing talents of Jim Jefferies, Greg Fleet and Alex Williamson.
UKHS: You do a lot of work in the comedy genre (M.I.P.S.T., Risk, Me and My Mates vs the Zombie Apocalypse, etc). What’s your fascination with humour?
DS: I’m just a big comedy nerd. Huge fan of sketches, stand up, improv, sitcoms and comedy films. The first DVD boxset I bought, when I was 13 and got my first job delivering junkmail was ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT season 1! That’s why getting to work with world-class comedians like Jim Jefferies and Greg Fleet – guys I’ve been a fan of for years – was such an incredible experience for me! Getting to riff jokes with them and see them perform my lines is something I’ll never forget.
UKHS: Given that you’re trying to simultaneously amuse and shock audiences in Me and My Mates vs the Zombie Apocalypse, how difficult was it to create a comedy horror?
DS: Getting the tone right is really hard. We decided early on that this was a comedy film first and a zombie film second, so we really focused on character over plot, knowing that the comedy would come from the interactions and responses to the situations that we put our characters through. I always knew that the movie would have basically no “scares” or true horror moments, and that was the concept from the beginning: how do blue-collar funny Aussie blokes react to being in a situation as horrific as a zombie apocalypse. The answer we came up with was that they sit around, talk shit, drink beer, play cricket and try to forget about their impending doom.
UKHS: Aside from being a writer and director, you’re also a musician. How much influence do your musical tastes have on your film-making?
DS: I think it gives me a heightened sense of pace and rhythm, particularly with editing and joke timing. I wrote all the music to the film with my best friend (and band-mate) Morgan Quinn, and we got to use music in totally different ways to the way we do with our band Pleased to Jive You. Suddenly we’re writing pieces to help tension, or undercurrent emotional beats, or even to help jokes hit. It was really fun writing music which is different to our usual funk-rock-pop-hip-hop hybrid stuff.
UKHS: You had some highly respected comedians and comedy actors in the cast of Me and My Mates vs the Zombie Apocalypse. What’s it like working with such a broad array of successful comedic talent?
DS: I really enjoyed it and would love to work with more comedians. They’re interesting people, because they spend most of their time analysing the world and communicating its odd intricacies, so they’re very introspective but they also tell the most hilarious and gripping stories. Because they come from a live performance background, they’re all great at understanding audiences, they have comedic timing down and they really get what you’re going for with a joke straight away. They can also really act their asses off. I was surprised at well they could all learn lines and add new bits as soon as I’d suggest them. But it makes sense when you know their history: Greg Fleet studied at NIDA, Australia’s premiere acting school. Jim Jefferies just came off starring in his own TV show LEGIT. And Alex Williamson has really perfected his comedic acting through making hundreds of great, short little YouTube, Facebook and Instagram videos.
UKHS: What makes a great film for you? What qualities do you look for in a movie? Which films would you cite as the ones that, for you, are outstanding classics?
DS: I really do like a bit of everything, but I primarily love seeing stuff I haven’t seen before. I love twists on conventions and flipping tropes on their head. And I also love filmmakers who take chances and even though they’re rich and successful and could easily keep making the same film over and over, or take paychecks doing studio films they don’t care about, they keep taking risks and generating their own work. I really admire people like Quentin Tarantino, Christopher Nolan, James Wan and Kevin Smith. I’m sure their influences bled through me on the making of ME AND MY MATES VS THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE.
UKHS: You’ve worked as a writer, producer, director, editor, composer, cameraman, to name just a few of the roles you’ve taken. How has the broad scope of knowledge you’ve gained from these different roles impacted on the way you approach film-making?
DS: I think that it stems from the necessity of making your own stuff when you first get into film. As a kid, when you get a camera and a bunch of friends together, you don’t really think about the specific jobs, you just get out there and come up with ideas, shoot them, edit them, put music underneath.
After a while, you realise that each one of these is a specific job you can specialise in. On smaller projects, I’ll do a lot more of the jobs myself, but on a big project like this, I love working with people who I know are better than me at each job. I know Morgan’s a musical and production genius, so I liked to give him the music responsibility while I sit next to him and help come up with ideas, grabbing a guitar if I needed to.
Same as editing, I normally edit my own stuff, but I worked with an editor for the first time and it meant that I could focus on production while he logged all the footage and started assembling scenes, then after production I sat next to him and we cut the movie together for months. If I hadn’t edited my own things before, I wouldn’t have developed my taste of rhythm or pace and it also meant that I could jump on the avid and move frames to help illustrate my vision.
UKHS: What do audiences want?
DS: It really depends on the genre. I’ve learned a lot from ME AND MY MATES, especially about audience expectation. They want the promise of the premise. If you give them a genre film, you better show respect to the other great works of that genre, and give them what they expect. If it’s a zombie film, they want gore and creative kills. If you make a zombie film and don’t blow up some zombie heads, audiences will turn on you! If it’s a comedy, there has to be consistent laughs. It’s been very interesting to see the amount of horror blogs and reviewers that have watched the movie, because there just isn’t that same kind of fan out there for generic comedy films. We’ve been seen by many people who would never care about a low budget Aussie comedy, but because there’s zombies involved, fans are suddenly interested. If we ever did a sequel, I would work hard to satisfy the audiences expectations.
UKHS: What’s the next project we can expect to see from you?
DS: I’ve got some half hour comedy scripts I’d love to make and I’m developing a couple of new features at the moment, neither of which are comedies. One’s a suburban horror, in the same vein as THE BABADOOK. The other is an indie-sci-fi-thriller that I’m really excited to crack. Here’s the basic pitch: In a world where aging is cured and people can be regenerated from a baby, a tenacious man must traverse a dark societal underbelly with his 6 year old son-father to find his long-lost sister who could now be any age from 7-40.
I’m also working on are a new record with Pleased to Jive You and a collection of original radio sitcoms that I’ve been writing, directing and performing in. They’re these little 10 minute comedy anthology episodes that we’re probably going to put out on Soundcloud and iTunes for free. We’re still figuring it all out, but it will be under the name “Quippurb” and we’ll have the first five episodes out before the end of the year.
Thanks so much for the questions, it’s been great talking to you.
- Huge Thanks to Declan for his time and for some amazing behind the scenes photos!