Today, Write On! interviews writer/director Kevin Hamedani, whose film—ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction—is in the “Guilty Pleasures” category at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Hamedani describes ZMD as “a post 9/11 political satire (Dr Strangelove meets Dawn of the Dead) about an Iranian-American girl living in a small town, who is blamed for causing a zombie epidemic and has to battle her racist neighbors.” ZMD was chosen for “Best of Fest” screenings, 2009 Minneapolis-St. Paul Int’l. Film Festival, and 3rd runner-up, Golden Space Needle Audience Award, at the 2009 Seattle Int’l. Film Festival. The film screens at 10 pm on June 25 and June 27 at the LAFF.
How did you come up with the idea for ZMD?
I never really identified with being as Iranian-American. After 9/11, it wasn’t outright prejudice, but people started acting differently toward me. So, I started looking at myself in a different way. I wanted to discuss that—my identity—but I didn’t want to make anything serious. And I’ve always been a fan of the horror genre, so I decided to make [the film as a satire]. One morning it just sort of clicked.
What was your process writing it?
I wrote it myself for about 6 months. Then, I put it away. Then Shaun of the Dead came out, and I got upset, because the film is so good. So I put the script away for a few years and dug it out and finished it in 2006. Then I hired a co-writer to flesh it out. And, lo and behold, we had a script and we shot it.
How did you approach the script? Do you outline?
I always do extensive outlines. And I don’t begin writing until I know the beginning, middle, and end of the film… So there’s months and months of brainstorming and outlining, and then about one month of everything coming out on the page.
Is writing satire different than straight drama?
This is the first satirical thing I had ever written. Everything else has been semi-autobiographical, serious dramas…. I had done some very low-budget human dramas, relationship dramas. The only part [of ZMD] that is semi-biographcal is that the main character is a little bit like me in that she doesn’t identify herself as Iranian-American, even though everyone else does.
Writing satire was different in the sense I had to maintain the balance of keeping the integrity of the characters while at the same time trying to make people laugh at the characters.
How did you get the film made?
I found a producer named John Sinno, who specializes in political documentaries. I called him up and I mailed him one of my older films. He liked it and wanted to read the script. He read it and said, let’s do it. It’s one of those stories.
What was your favorite part of the process?
Working with the actors is my favorite part of shooting a film. But I’d say also—there’s a lot of action in the film—watching the action cut together correctly, knowing that my intuition and my storyboards were correct, because I had never done action before. So that was quite exciting and fascinating to watch in the editing.
I did storyboards, shot lists, and we rehearsed a month prior to the shoot. We took it very, very seriously. Don’t be fooled by the zombie aspect of the film.
Any advice for writers?
I made a film at least every 6 months since I was 17 and I’m 26 now, so you can imagine how much I’ve shot. And a lot of it is terrible – a lot I haven’t shown. But the ones toward the end, got better and better. And one got me the deal for Zombies of Mass Destruction. It’s very easy to say, I’m going to make a film and you write a script, but I find most self-proclaimed “filmmakers” don’t actually shoot that much. And you need to shoot. Even if no one sees it, you need to shoot.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started your career?
How you can tell more with visuals and less with dialogue. From Zombies and this last film I shot, I am becoming more and more literate with my visuals rather than dialogue.