MTV is going back to their 90’s roots with a show that might actually be geared at people, plain ole regular people with a sense of humor and no interest in the lives of specific youths either real or fictional (or some disturbing hybrid of the two).
I’ve accepted that if I want music I’ll have to turn on the radio, navigate to a website, or tune into those weird channels that play music and rotate still frames of trivia about the current artist. If I want music videos, I have to go to YouTube or specific artist websites. Moreover, if I want quality television, I’ll have to look around, but never directly at, MTV.
Wait–What’s that? MTV has a new mockumentary style series about dopey local cops… RENO 911? Nope, this show is about the fictional Undead Task Force (UTF) of the LAPD. The Undead task force is the unit that now exists to respond to the new threat of supernatural activity.
Huwat? Now, I’m interested.
The premise, as explained by Wikipedia, goes like so:
A year prior to the opening of the series, vampires, werewolves and zombies mysteriously descended upon the streets of California’s San Fernando Valley. The newly formed Undead Task Force (UTF), a division of the Los Angeles Police Department is created to combat the emergence of monsters in the San Fernando Valley. A camera crew is embedded within the task force to document the zombie, vampire and werewolf encounters.
At New York Comic Con this past weekend, I, and a few other journalists, got the chance to speak with some of the cast/crew of DEATH VALLEY (specifically Charlie Sanders who plays Officer Joe Stubeck and co- executive producer and creator Spider One (Yes, the lead singer for Powerman5000 and brother of Rob Zombie)) in a round table interview panel situation.
I also a watched a few episodes on MTV.com and was pleasantly surprised. It’s funny and different and does not feel like RENO 911 with monsters. DEATH VALLEY actually, and genuinely, feels like something new and different and entertaining.
Trailer for illustrative purposes:
Q & A with DEATH VALLEY’s Charlie Sanders and Spider One at NYCC:
(it was kind of a conversation between 10 people at around table so some questions, though illustrative, aren’t answered).
Question from the group: In most movies and shows you see the zombies are slow and slothful, in [DEATH VALLEY] they run and they climb. So what made you decide to go that route? And how to the actors feel about having to run so much?
Spider One: Well I’ll let you [Charlie] take the actor one. Traditionally there have been two kinds of zombies: fast zombies and slow zombies. The old traditional George Romero lumbering, and them we start moving to more modern zombies like in 28 DAYS LATER where they’re [zombies] fast and rabid. Each version is really fun to deal with, so I was like, ‘Why don’t we just have both?’ and the idea is that as they get older, they get slower, as rigor mortis is setting in. So when a zombie gets turned initially, they’re super rabid and fast and extra dangerous; and then maybe if it’s been hanging around a warehouse for six months and nobody’s discovered it, it becomes slower and, in our case, more comical to deal with. So that was our reasoning behind the versions of zombies.
And the fact that we get to talk about the for a living is pretty awesome.
Q: So, there’s kind of a controversy in the horror community about fast versus slow zombies. Just personally, where do you sit on that issue?
SO: I mean, I love—I’m a huge fan of the original Romero stuff, so I love that. But there’s something much more terrifying about the fast zombies. I mean, it didn’t really hit home until like 28 DAYS LATER how scary that version can be, so I don’t know if I have a favorite, and that’s why ultimately we decided to try to use both of them. Because I think that there’s the sort of nostalgic cool factor with the slow ones and the fast ones are where we can create more horrifying moments.
Q: would you say that the slow ones are better for horror and the fast ones are better for humor?
SO: I would almost say the opposite. I think there’s something funny about a less dangerous zombie. We’ve had a few moments where – you know these guys are dealing with this stuff on a daily basis and a lot of the humor stems from how mundane some of this stuff is for these guys. And that’s the lifestyle of a cop. You take the monster versions out of it and cops deal with crazy stuff that would freak most of us out, but for them is just, ‘Meh. Gotta get lunch…’
So, I think it’s a challenge for these guys [the actors] to try to figure out how to play that humorously.
Charlie Sanders: Yeah, just as far as being a zombie fan, I’m a traditionalist. You know, the Romero’s, the original Dead trilogy are among some of my favorite movies ever. Love ‘em. I mean, I like the fast zombie movies too, but those are what I grew up on, the Romero movies. And from the character’s perspective, I think it’s exactly how I thought about it. I mean right here in New York City, you see cops deal with the craziest—one homeless man is hitting another one with his didgeridoo and the cops are just like, ‘Alight, guys. Let’s get you moving.’ So, I approached it just like that, you know, these guys deal with it every day so it’s no big deal to them.
SO: And that was kind of the philosophy behind the show. You know most horror stuff, whether it’s movies or—not too many TV shows, generally speaking, people are running away from this stuff. It’s the zombie apocalypse and everybody’s hiding and running, running, running. And I thought, ‘you know, I don’t think that would happen. ’ I really think that we live in a society, where the most insane shit happens to us and we go. “Meh.” It freaks us out for a day and we still gotta go get milk and we still gotta got to work and I think that is exactly what would happen if werewolves started popping up in your neighborhood and zombies and vampires. I really think that we would just slightly alter our lifestyle and carry on. And I just think that that’s the kind of world we live in, which is ridiculous. And that what makes it such a funny idea.
Q: I love the idea of vampire prostitutes…
Q: I have a question about that actually, about the sexuality on the show. We have very sexy vampires and that sort of overdone, we know that vampires are sexy. I was wondering, are we going to get sexy werewolves? Are they going to get in heat or anything like that?
CS: there is a sexy werewolf moment. I’m afraid I might give something away. But, I’m pretty sure it’s from episode two when we lock—Bryce like winks at a sexy werewolf or something.
SO: Right, Right.
I just… Look, maybe you find werewolves sexy I don’t know, but I… I don’t think we ever consider the werewolves being our sexy characters but that oddly do pop up in porn shoots and… I don’t know, we’ll see.
Q: Underworld had sexy werewolves…
SO: I just think that’s too much hair to get through.
Q: so, as an actor getting into the role, did you do any sort of preparation research or ride along or since it’s so fanciful, did you just kind of go with the situation on the page?
CS: I more went with the situation. We did have a police office on set who gave us a few tips on how to hold a gun, how to approach the car, stuff like that. And then, I had a buddy back in Minnesota who had been a security guard and he drove and armored truck. It’s a little bit based on him. I just tried to go for that rather than a hardened—though I feel like Stubeck is hardened and he can obviously fight and her kills people. I went with more of that I’m from Minnesota, what are my buddies who turned into cops like, so I went with that kind of angle.
Q: I love how he plays to the camera and changes his voice.
Q: And the cameramen are all involved…
Q: Do you guys play any zombie video games?
CS: Honestly, no.
SO: Yeah, we were talking about this. I’m not a gamer and neither is Charlie. It’s weird, I don’t know that it is, what divide there is between people who are obsessed with games and people who aren’t.
CS: for me it was that we never had videogames growing up. I briefly had a Nintendo and it was like old and used and then it was like broken within a month. So I never really go used to it. I played video games at my friends’ houses but I myself never had them. So I never got into the gaming world.
Q: so the reason we brought it up is that LEFT 4 DEAD is a cop kind of game where it’s about cops and zombies. So I feel like there’s kind of ties in there. It’s really cool actually. I feel like LEFT 4 DEAD fans would become instant DEATH VALLEY fans.
SO: Video game culture has really dominated people’s attention. It’s really become a bigger platform than TV and movies. It’s insane. So if we can somehow appeal to those people that would be amazing.
Q: You brought up before how Stubeck plays to the camera. Is it especially difficult playing a real character in a semi documentary? Does it add like an extra level of challenge to the part?
CS: Ummmm, not really. I actually saw it more opportunistically, in that as a comedian, you can use that camera. And you see that all over. There’s ten million mocumentary shows now and you see on all those shows you can kind of use the camera to connect with the audience. Here’s what the character’s thinking, here’s what he thinks is funny, blah blah blah. Not me, but here’s what Stubeck is thinking, when you get a chance. Stubeck tries to crack a joke and he fails terribly. Stuff like that. I really like having it there.
Mainly it’s a challenge. Like, ‘don’t look at the camera every time you say a line.’ Try and limit those.
Q: How do you guys come up with the thing you say, like on the cards: We have reason to believe you are infected with the zombie virus. Who comes up with the thing that the cops are going to try to use to regulate?
SO: It’s a process of… Earlier I made a joke that we sit around and talk about things, but that’s really, what it is. And it hits you sometimes sitting in a room with six other people talking about this stuff. It’s just a creative process. You hire a staff of writers and producers get together with the writers and we sort of map out the season and things we want to do and then we write these crazy ideas. And the advantage to this show is that we have a cast that are all schooled in improve. So, we have this script but we let them sort of go off.
Q: so they can say, ‘My character would do this…”
SO: Yeah. And I’ve said this before, we start with these hilarious scripts but really some of the funniest stuff on the show was never in the script. It’s just stuff these guys come up with on their own. And we’ll have the best—if we ever put out the dvds—the best commentary.
CS: Oh yeah, the commentary! That’ll be fun.
SO: Because Charlie and Bryce, who plays Billy, his partner, we’ll just let them go and they’ll just improv for a ten-minute scene which we know we’ll never be able to use.
CS: there’s a whole second season [worth of footage] that’s all improv.
SO: Meanwhile, we’re all watching the monitor trying not to laugh because it’s so absurd.
Q: You hired at least one of your directors out of the short horror film world; did you also look to feature directors or were you specifically looking for people who were practiced and had made an impression in the short form?
SO: It’s a challenge finding directors, because we knew we wanted a lot of basically new directors. We wanted to make a show that felt unlike any other show that was on TV. So, we didn’t want to go the standard, ‘well, this guy’s directed 50 episodes…’
We found people who came from really weird places. Eric Appel, a friend of Charlie, came from making Funny or Die shorts, things like that. Drew Daywalt, the guy you’re talking about, was making three-minute horror movies online. And so we found these really unique people that were just beginning, not beginning, but these were the people who [we thought] we going to be the next Judd Apatow’s the next George Romero’s. and also the balance between finding people who understood scary stuff and funny stuff, because those two worlds don’t always work together.
Q: Who are some of the directors coming up, are there any new ones who have episodes coming?
CS: Jordan Vogt-Roberts who’s also a comedy director. and then we’ve got Austin [Reading], who’s also a producer on the show. And then we have Peter Lauer, who’s probably one of the most seasoned of the group going all the way back to STRANGERS WITH CANDY where he directed eighteen episodes of that.
Q: Does that philosophy stand for writing too or are there veteran writers that we really want to work with?
SO: For me, nothing’s ever about credits. It’s about who understands the show the most, and that’s what we tried to find with our writers. And again, it’s a challenge. If you’re making a straight comedy, you probably have a pool of people that you go to. Or, if you’re making a straight horror, you have a pool of people that you go to. We tried to treat each genre with equal respect so it’s a challenge finding people who understand both worlds.
CS & SO: Thanks. It was nice meeting you guys.