A(nother) Day in the Life of an Astro-Zombie (Victim)
Regular readers of this column will recall about a year and half ago when I had the opportunity to play an Astro-Zombie in Ted Mikels’ third installment in this cult film series. While I would not trade that experience for anything, I did swear after wearing an all black costume and barely ventilated whole head mask in 115 degree Nevada heat that if I ever got in front of camera again it wasn’t going to be dressed like that. Thankfully Richard and Gary Lester of Blue Heron International Pictures took pity on me this time out and I got wear regular clothes in much more hospitable weather to film scenes for the fourth chapter in the saga of these synthetic psychos, Astro-Zombies M4: Invaders from Cyberspace. The story for this sequel is a closely guarded secret but the skull headed super beings have returned and they are deadlier than ever.
I found out several months ago that fellow Jacksonville Ted Mikels fan Alex Ojeda and I would have roles in the new movie and from that point forward I was never less than extremely impressed with Blue Heron’s professionalism throughout the entire process. We found out about a month in advance that we would be shooting on Sunday, February 27 in New Smyrna Beach, Florida and we were provided with an excellent outline that Richard had written clearly detailing the proper etiquette for being on set and appearing in a film. A few weeks later, we received a one page treatment describing the scene we would be in and the characters we would play along with the other actors we would be working with. According to this, I would be playing one of three sports fans who exit a pizzeria with some tasty take-home and pass by three homeless people, one of whom would be Alex. In route, I get a call on my cell phone and the resulting cyber carnage leaves all six of us fried to a crisp! All I could say was it sounded like a lot of fun and this time I didn’t have to leave the state.
Sunday’s cast call was for 1PM and Richard had provided us with directions on where to be including parking. Alex and I left Jacksonville at 11AM anticipating an hour and forty minute ride to the filming location so we planned to arrive with plenty of time to spare. The majority of the trip was smooth and we spent the time catching up since we hadn’t seen each other in several months. Alex and I have crossed paths many times for many reasons during my twenty plus years in Jacksonville and he knew Ted Mikels even before I did. He goes back to the second AZ film, Mark of the Astro-Zombies, which he designed artwork for and then he created the Lotus cat food labels for the infamous Corpse Grinders II. We were making great time until we exited off the Interstate on our final leg into New Smyrna. No more than a mile away from the exit we got stuck in gridlock traffic that was going nowhere fast. As our remaining time began to rapidly dwindle, we turned around and Alex managed to guide us on an alternative route with the GPS in his cell phone. We ultimately arrived about twenty minutes late but thankfully we weren’t holding up the production.
After we parked and apologized for our unavoidable tardiness, we conferred with Richard and Gary on our wardrobe for the scene. I had previously informed Richard that I was born devoid of a sports gene and therefore had no clothing with any team logos on it. Instead I brought a variety of T-shirts with images of everything from Mighty Mouse to Charles Manson! We initially settled on one with a full color image of the poster for Ted’s original Corpse Grinders but then I found out there had been some modifications to the scene we had been sent. Apparently there were now to be only two homeless people, who were already there and dressed, and the pizza group had been similarly reduced with Alex now playing one of them. I begrudgingly loaned Alex the Corpse Grinders shirt since he only worn a plain one and went with the closet thing I own related to sports – a Phantom Fireworks’ Rocket Hockey shirt. I also donned my official ZAAT baseball cap just to support what I consider the “home team”.
Our first scene was us leaving the pizza restaurant which was conveniently located across the street from where we were parked. There were a couple of other passers-by on the street as we walk out excited about the game we are about to watch. Director Gary Lester blocked the scene with us and the other participants and gave us our marks and timing. It was obvious he had this whole thing pieced together perfectly in his head long before we ever got there. After only three takes to fine tune our positions and timing he was happy with the shot and we headed back across the street for the remaining filming.
Most of the next scenes also involved two homeless people hanging out by a dumpster. These parts were played by Scott Marlow, host of the Internet show Monster Quest, and Dean Geier. Scott’s character was named Wheelchair Willy due to his inability to walk and I was shocked to see him looking so into the part when got to the set. Back when I thought that Alex would be one of the homeless people, I had made the suggestion to him that we bring along a can of the Lotus cat food he had designed and which I just happened to have a couple of in my collection, so he could use it as a prop and in-joke at the same time. Richard and Gary loved the idea but the honor of chowing down on kitty cuisine went to Scott and Dean instead. In case anyone has ever wondered, the random can that we had to open for the scene actually contained some pretty rancid sauerkraut that not only stunk up the place but proved what good actors Scott and Dean really are!
The first part of these scenes had Alex and me walking down a street towards where the homeless guys are camped out. I was trying to talk to someone on my cell phone while Alex yammers away enthusiastically and makes my conversation almost impossible. As we walk by the dumpster, my phone is zapped by an unearthly force that fries my brain and sends me to the ground dropping the pizza. The energy blast then jumps from my body to Alex’s and kills him too. Surprisingly, we managed to get this shot in just two takes and I was told afterwards by Richard that Gary had assembled the scene into a rough cut later that evening that had him laughing all night.
I was finished filming at this point since the last shots had the homeless guys grabbing our no longer needed pizza. Alex’s body was closer to them when we dropped and I was out of shot so I took the opportunity to run around and take a few pictures while these scenes were filmed. I was initially a little jealous of Alex getting to be in the picture longer than I did (you will probably get to see him on screen for about forty-five seconds while I only get thirty!) but after I saw how long he had to lay face down in the dirt while the rest of the action was filmed, I quickly changed my mind. After we get zapped, the two homeless gentlemen put aside their squabble over who gets the Lotus cat food and scramble for our pizza. Unfortunately, a young man cruising by on his skateboard, played by cinematic newcomer Ryan Rainey, wheels right through the pie before they can snatch it. After a few shots of this from different angles, Gary called a wrap and Alex finally got to spit the dust out of his mouth and wipe it on my shirt!
Just to show what consummate professionals they are as well as all around nice guys, as soon as we wrapped Richard and Gary presented Ryan with an award for being a new actor. This “award” was actually an Astro-Zombie bobble-head figure signed by Ted Mikels which is cooler than any old trophy in my book. I offered Ryan ten dollars for it but he wasn’t biting! He also got a copy of Richard’s new book on the life of actor Johnny Duncan, Hollywood Legend: The Johnny Duncan Story, which I made a point of picking up too. Even though I have only had time to flip through the book, which has a great photo of Johnny as Batman’s side kick Robin leaping through the air in the 1949 serial Batman and Robin, it looks like a great read. Richard also got the cast and crew, which included author and local legend in his own right Charlie Carlson, to sign my pizza box prop and thus provided me with a nifty souvenir from the day’s adventure.
As originally outlined, the shoot was expected to run about three and a half hours but we were wrapped and ready to roll in less than ninety minutes. Everyone present was overflowing with enthusiasm and couldn’t do enough to ensure a successful shoot. Afterwards I asked Richard if getting done this early was a typical Blue Heron filming practice and he was proud to say that it was, due mainly to Gary’s ability to plan everything out in his mind and then guide the actors toward creating that vision. Astro-Zombies M4: Invaders from Cyberspace with eventually have scenes filmed all over the world and truly be a global Ted Mikels’ film venture but Alex and I were honored to be one small part of the Blue Heron second unit work done right here in our home state of Florida.