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INTERVIEW: Filmmakers Robert A. Palmer and Michael A. Weiss On ‘I Am Alone’

Robert A. Palmer and Michael A. Weiss are the director and writer of the found footage zombie film I Am Alone, currently in release. We caught up with them recently and had a chance to ask them about their unique film and what it took to get it made. Here’s what they had to say.

Michael A. Weiss, Robert A. Palmer on the set of I Am Alone © Abstract Forces

DAVID: Your latest film in release is I Am Alone, a unique found footage zombie movie. How about a quick spoiler-free summary?

Robert: I Am Alone tells the story of one man’s journey from living to dead. He just doesn’t know why this is happening to him and to those who interact with him. 

It’s a clever twist, but let’s talk about the found footage aspect first. This technique has become a sub-genre all its own, especially in horror. Perhaps tell us about the challenges of filming this way and furthermore, was this something born right from the start in developing the story?

Robert: Found Footage has found a solid home in horror for sure. The moving cameras require less set up and a more verite style. “This is happening now” in the moment and you’re in the midst of it. Well to be honest, we knew even in 2013, found footage was dying a slow death. But we knew we had something unique with unique characters and that will always win . Michael and I wanted to challenge ourselves as writers and filmmakers. The cameras would tell the story and be a character almost as much as any actor in the piece. We knew horror fans always found issue with the battery time or why would people keep recording so we set about addressing these issues. What if the story unfolded in “real time” cameras would be charged and if you pay attention in the movie we lose cameras as the infection spreads (not a spoiler). So for us, to achieve the feel of real time we needed to construct a world that cameras everywhere would make sense in every situation. Practicality was always on our minds.  We ended up using about 7 different types of cameras to achieve the look. That was a challenge for sure but the bigger challenge was in the edit. Michael had to scour though multiple cameras with no time code and match everything and find the best shot to the the story. I don’t know how he did it but, he killed it! 

Michael: From the start we wanted to use multiple cameras, we knew from go in order to make this work we’d have to stay more focused on one character. And as we wrote the script it was just was in our mind the entire time so we were very conscious of what and how many cameras the Character of Jacob would use. 

READ MORE: Our review of the found footage zombie film I Am Alone

Some of the early scenes where the outbreak begins are really cleverly done, with CCTV footage and film from the reality show crew as events unfold. I don’t really have a question here, but would love to hear about the participation from the people and town where you filmed.

Robert: Montrose Colorado was our 12th man! When we first visited the town in 2012 we explained to them what we were looking for know we may have a serious challenge if the town didn’t embrace us we were in trouble. So during our 2013 kickstarter campaign the town decided to hold their first Friday Zombie art crawl and to our amazement hundreds of people, kids, parents, grandparents all dressed up as zombies. We realized then and there this was going to work. When it came to shooting a few months later, the town supported us in so many ways. People made food for the cast and crew, they lent us vehicles, a  pop up camper tent almost anything we needed. If you go to our website you can see all the photos from our first location scout to returning in 2015 to play the final film for the town at the Star Drive in to 3 sold out nights. We can never say thank you enough to everyone who helped us along the way. especially in Montrose. 

Michael: Well also the mountain we lived and shot on was a challenge, as we had an amazing town in Montrose, Colorado behind our film. We had 5000 acres at our disposal and you don’t realize especially at our budget where you’re going to get power from. It’s not like we had a AC truck, we had to run multiple long long power cords miles away attached to generators. It was indeed a challenge keeping batteries charged. The town brought us generators and we needed a lot of them, pop up tenets, food, ATVs. The town became apart of our film as they helped us as crew or cast or even just came out to support us. We couldn’t have completed our shoot without them. 

As Independent filmmakers, you filmed with a very small budget that certainly left you with limitations, and yet from my perspective, freed you of putting focus on zombie gore clichés in favor of developing characters. Could you tell me how the budget had impact on the production?

Robert: Michael and I are huge horror fans, although strangely I know I don’t love gore for gore’s sake. What your mind fills in can be just as scary. When we conceptualized I Am Alone we wanted the characters to speak, really speak to us. We wanted words to actually have meaning not just  to move us to the next scare. We also knew gore would be expensive and we knew it would be a challenge to focus on blood and gore and then emotion. Looking back I think we treated the violence secondary and the emotion of violence primary. What would you do if you were trained or if you weren’t trained for a situation like Jacob (Gareth David Lloyd) was in. We also made sure our cameras were flexible to maneuver. hence the use of gopros. We shot the movie in 2013 when few films attempted to do that. Now it’s common practice.  

Michael: So this was a Kickstarter film, we raised 27K for our production which obviously to make a film you’d think you’d need more. That’s where creativity came in. While writing the film we realized as Rob said we didn’t need to show the gore, we needed to figure out a way to touch upon it but more so let your mind fill in the blanks. Which I think is where our set dressing came in, we chose to create an atmosphere that would invite your mind to imagine the horrors as we entered a scene. Then as the scene plays out our character of Jacob would draw you even further into the horror with his words and actions. I’m laughing about this now but originally we had thought 1 gallon of blood would be fine, so we drove out with 1 gallon. We ended up with over 7 gallons and that too was hard to find, a five hour drive!

You mention Gareth David-Lloyd, who stars as the main character. He carries a majority of the story and is very effective throughout. Again, without spoilers, could you talk about this, especially you Michael, as the writer. What was the inspiration of the character and how involved was he in developing it?

Robert: My background is unscripted TV producing, so i’m familiar with many different tv hosts and their shows. So as a director and co writer i wanted my perspective to focus on a character that we’ve never seen before in these types of films. Let’s follow one man from being a very charismatic host to a slobbering “infected’ person. Michael and I watched almost every zombie film we could get our hands on and it always came back to a few things that affected those films from achieving a stronger story. They didn’t know what to do with every character. If you try to make 7 people all interesting you’re battling for screen time. Especially in the edit. If you focus on one man, or woman with limited idea of what’s happening… Their story becomes much more linear and easier for them as actors to focus and for us to follow in edit. Finding an actor  or actors to carry the load of scene work was always going to be a challenge for a micro budget film like ours and we were so fortunate to find our leads in Gareth David-lloyd and Gunner Wright. Gareth was terrific in Torchwood’s – Children of Earth series and had worked in the States before. His emotional range was exactly who Jacob needed to be. Then we found Gunner watching a terrific Low budget Sci Fi film Love which Gunner played an isolated astronaut stuck in space. Gunner’s performance showed us the balance we needed for our characters. We were so lucky to have the 2 leads we wanted. 

Michael: We had many conversations with Gareth before shooting and although he was in Wales I think he put a lot of trust in us and the character we created and believed that all of us as a creative connected unit would be able to tell a singular story whether it be Jacob or Mason or ever Dr Marlow. His trust is what allowed our freedom as filmmakers to focus solely on each character and give them the time they needed to evolve. Gareth had freedom to inject his ideas when needed, we’d have lots of talks before scenes, working out dialogue, were things redundant or should we hit the nail hard with what we’re saying. He was very vocal but again when Rob would put his foot down that’s where the trust came, he understood that we weren’t going to take Jacob is some crazy direction. When writing I Am Alone, Rob and I had many conversations about should this only be about Jacob or should we add other characters. And I remember talking specifically about what if we had three or four characters and they all interacted in the opening of the movie and then went their separate ways, whatever that would be. This would evolve into a small film crew and a Dr. it allowed us to focus on each characters story and not be throwing the audience an abundance of information for everyone. We got to focus on important bits and allow the audience to also learn with our characters.

Gareth David-Lloyd — I Am Alone, 2017 © Abstract Forces

I mentioned in my review that the film embraces the standards of the traditional zombie film and puts efforts into the characters rather than trying to establish some larger message, which I think was smart. Care to comment on my reaction?

Robert: No one will ever out-zombie George Romero (my idol) he understood that behind the chomping and biting was a message no one else saw. After 40 years of all sorts of zombie films it was tough to find the right angle but telling the story in the matter we did as a journal of sorts made it a much more personal story. A group of people stuck in a location is beyond a cliche. In our mind, we viewed the infection as something more practical.  Jacob could’ve been bit by a bear and struggled the same way. we wanted humanity to be the focus. What makes us human. That’s probably the closest we got to a message. If you knew you were going to die what would you saw and how would you want to be remembered. I think down deep we all want to be remember for something. 

Michael: We called this our Omega Man meets The Shining. Zombies were the background which allowed our characters to shine through.

On location with I Am Alone © Abstract Forces

Let’s talk a bit about the journey of I Am Alone. You filmed it in 2015 and put it to festivals, before finally getting a VOD release, September of this year. That’s all in the press materials. How about some further insight into what it takes for filmmakers like you to get a film to the public.

Robert: This is a terrific question… As a filmmaker you will never have enough money, no one will love your film as much as you do. No one. You will find amazing collaborators to help you make your film but it’s your responsibility to carry up that boulder up the mountain to its pinnacle and then let it go. Releasing the film I think we reached its pinnacle. Now its on its way for everyone to see it. The key is to hold onto your vision. Your vision is what got the project to this point but always listen to those you’ve surrounded yourself with. It’s always going to be an uphill battle for your spot on the shelves but if your project has merit it will find its way to the masses. 

Michael: Great PR helps too. But like I said earlier this was funded by Kickstarter backers (as well as our own pockets) we raised the money in 2013, had a Zombie walk in the town of Montrose in 2013 to raise more money and to introduce ourselves to the town, then shot the Colorado portion in 2013, Interrogation scene in 2014, festivals in 2015, distribution in 2016 and we sit here today in 2017 with a film release. Every step an uphill battle. Like Rob said you have to hold onto your vision and not let anyone compromise it. The journey in making a film is never easy and you’re always fighting to hold onto your films vision but regardless of how much money it makes or how many people see it, I’m proud of what we accomplished, we stuck to our guns even after everyone said making a found footage film was crazy.  

What’s next for the both of you? Any projects you can discuss?

Robert: At the moment I have a few others projects. I have a few horror screenpIays I’m finishing up and I have a short experimental film based on a famous writer’s short story I may tackle. It will be to challenge myself before the next feature. However, If the audience tells us they want a sequel, we’d gladly venture back up the mountains with Gareth and Gunner. #iamalonethemovie2 anyone?

Michael: For sure we have ideas of where the story of Mason and Jacob go next. That would be exciting to get to do another. I think we have about 6 movies in the I Am Alone cannon! Currently I’m writing a Western called The Big Dirty and Rob and I have collaborated on a few other scripts we’re currently pitching to production companies and financiers. The more people who see I Am Alone only helps us be able to bring more engaging stories into this world. 

On location with I Am Alone © Abstract Forces

We at write a lot about great moments in film and their impact on cinema. What is your favorite moment in I Am Alone and are there other movie moments in other movies that have had influence on your careers?

Robert: Oh Man! How to answer this question. From the point of influences John Carpenter is all over this film from the music we had composed by Adam Sanborne to Carpenter’s film references. There are few people should recognize. As well as Danny Boyle’s opening in 28 days later comes to mind for Gareth early on when things get weird. As for my favorite scenes in our film, I’d say Gareth on the mountain working out what to do after being bit…The editing and music and performance all bring the situation to the forefront  Emotionally Gareth realizing the end is near. Really his entire transformation. its so hard for me.  Same with Gunner. Gunner in the cabin is a terrifically emotional scene and shows their friendship with little screen time together. You feel they had adventures but nothing like this.

Michael: There’s a moment around the end of the film, Jacob is lying in his own filth, a video message from his wife comes in, after watching it he’s sitting there in an immense amount of pain, confusion and frustration taking over and he says… I Am Alone. The way Gareth played this scene was beautiful and my favorite. It’s the way we wrote it, the way we saw it in our heads and it just encompasses everything he’s gone through. I’d have to say the main two influences Rob also said Carpenter and Romero, those two played a huge part in this film. We’ve grew up in their era of films and just wanted to take what they’ve done and honor them in our style.

Thanks again for talking with me. Best of luck with I Am Alone and your future. I hope our paths cross again. Anything you’d like to say before we end?

Robert: Thank you guys for giving us a platform to speak and tell our story. The making of the film is just as interesting as the film itself. We love telling our story. It’s not like every movie goes up a mountain on a shoestring budget and pulled off what we did. I can’t thank the cast, the crew for taking this adventure with us and we hope the audience feels our passion and shares the love to other fans not just horror-philes.  

Michael: I hope people see our film and don’t dismiss it as just a found footage film, it’s so much more and deserves an audience. I’m really glad you all liked it at Horror-Philes. With your support we are not alone. Thank you.

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