So you love a video game a whole lot. You have it, you’ve probably beaten it multiple times, and maybe you even own some merchandise from the game. Perhaps you’ve even gone as far as cosplaying one of the characters at a convention, or participating in internet discussion boards? This is all within the realm of normal fandom. Sometimes, though, a game is more than just a good time, or something to talk about with your friends. Sometimes, a game sparks to life an inspiration and imparts a desire to create. Such was the case with director/producer Daniele Bellucci and screen writer Bryan Schulz.
Allow me to provide a bit of context. A few weeks back something very interesting appeared on the official Left4Dead facebook page; a Youtube video. Cut to an ancient radio, an old man cutting his face, and then a helicopter view of…Mercy Hospital!? A fan created Left 4 Dead movie. A spark of inspiration. But why? I spoke to Daniele and Bryan to find out.
It’s pretty obvious you must love Left 4 Dead even more than I do! What inspired you to start work on this project?
Daniele Bellucci: Well, for sure Marco [who is no longer with this project] and I loved this game. All the campaigns in the game are movie structured and presented as such. Marco and I used to work together for a long period, and pretended to be movie makers since we were children. Both of us were interested in cinema and wish to work in that field. One day we said this thing to each other, “Why can’t we make our own movie? We can, we know how, it would be very interesting to create a Zombie movie that would recall the sytle of the movies in the 80’s.” In a minute the idea of a zombie movie translated into a Left 4 Dead fan movie. We had two thoughts in mind when doing this. The first one was to honor a videogame that we loved, and seeing it come to life in a live action movie would be great for us. The second one was that making a movie based on a hit videogame would interest lots of people. We thought the four survivors from Left 4 Dead were incredible characters for a screenplay, even if the game doesn’t go deeply into their back stories.
Bryan Schulz: I found out about this project on a L4D modding forum. I’m a huge fan of the game. I’ve played as Zoey from pretty much day one and Ellis from day 1 of L4D2. I have my co-op team of 4 friends that have played countless hours in both 1 and 2, have played the best of the 3rd party stuff out there, and continue to enjoy what the community is releasing. I have always wanted to write a Zombie movie and when I saw this project, I had to try and see if they’d let me write it. I emailed them on 5.21.09 about the movie, the size and scope they were going to take on, their take on how things should be from video game to movie screen and overall vision for what this short could be. After that we came up with a general outline together and after a few drafts of that, I went off to write the pages.
Valve made an amazing game in Left 4 Dead, the one thing of course is that it was not that in-depth story wise. Along the way we would hear this and that about the characters, but I wanted to know more. This short allowed me to enter this world and explore some of those ideas. I love the dynamic of these 4 strangers being thrown in together and trying to survive, not only the zombie outbreak, but their own quirky personalities as well. In the real world with no outbreak, they probably would have never met, but because of this disaster, they are forced to deal with each other whether they like it or not. That is conflict, and conflict is drama. Without conflict there cannot be story.
Has it been challenging , thus far, to adapt a video game with very little in the way of plot into a movie? What do you consider the biggest challenge?
Daniele Bellucci: When we started this project in Spring ’09, the idea in the beginning was to create a sort of maxi trailer; about 6-10 minutes of clips, to be used as a fund raiser for a full length movie. But when we launched our first blog on Splinder, we received a lot of word of mouth around the web. During this period a fantastic guy sent an email to us, and proposed to work on the screenplay for the movie: Bryan Schulz, who is a really skilled writer at the beginning of his career. We took this opportunity and ask him to write a 40-45 minutes long screenplay for us. I’ll never be able to thank him enough for been so patient with us. We asked him for a lot of changes and he always worked with us, even if he was busy with his own work. In the end, we decided to go with a 40 minute short, hoping to find funds during the way, and starting with our own money. Honestly the game has no particular plot, so with Bryan we decided to make a completely new storyline, that would let us to get into the depth of the characters. Any more than that would ruin the surprise!
One of the biggest challenges, though, and perhaps the greatest, is dubbing. We are based in Italy, our actors speak Italian. Not all of them are fluent in English, and playing a role in English would be highly difficult for them. After shooting we have to find actors who give their voices to the 4 survivors. It’s a really hard task, even because dubbing is expensive work and few dubbers would work for free. I fear that the post-production of the movie will take a really long time due to this factor.
Bryan Schulz: Adapting was easy for me. I know these characters because they are me and my friends. I’m sure each player out there feels the same way. By Valve not having much back-story and character embedded in the game, it allowed the user to create this on their own. The issue will come up that not everyone will see them the same way I do. A perfect example is the L4D comics Valve released. My L4D characters that I know so well were not those people in those comics. I enjoyed them for what they were but it will not change the way I view my L4D universe.
Bryan Schulz: My personal favorite bit? It might not be something that’s 100% in the game, but I love the Zoey-Bill dynamic. I see them having this bond, a father-daughter type connection. Bill is always there and will always be there. He can be strong when she is weak. But at times she can be the optimist when everyone else is seeing nothing but negatives. Zoey is young and she’s needs this family dynamic more than any of the others. They really complete each other and will enable the other to survive. I always felt that without Zoey and maybe the other 2, Bill wouldn’t have anything left to fight for and might just throw in the towel and call it day.
What is the most rewarding part of this project for you?
Daniele Bellucci: There are lot of reasons for working on this project. First and foremost, is turning into real life, something that existed only on paper or as pictures; this, to me is an incredible thing. I feel a similar sensation at the end of a shooting day, when I go back home, feeling really tired, but knowing that we have done something great. These are the “moral” rewardsI can obtain from these kind of projects. Then, having seen all the fans loving and keeping up with this project I also consider it as an opportunity for my professional path.
And finally, any parting words?
Daniele Bellucci: The movie will be about 40 minutes long, but I can’t actually estimate a release date. To other film makers, I can only say to follow what you like to do, till the end, even when things are at their worst. Continue to be creative. Don’t stop, because people will always need entertainment. To Valve, who posted our Pre-Outbreak File #A on the Left 4 Dead official facebook page: We were very happy to see that!
Bryan Schulz: I don’t have much to say to the others that might be making their own movie except for good luck. Any labor of love, such as these fan films, is worth-while in my eyes. I do have something to say to the movie going audience as a whole. Ive been behind the curtain and have seen how movies get made. If we want to stop some of the garbage that gets made today, stop going to see it. Bashing it later online, giving poor reviews, or what have you, it’s all too late at that point. They already got your money. You all have a vote as to what gets made. It’s very simple. Vote with your money and vote for the good stuff!