SXSW 2010: Exclusive - 'Zombieland' Director on Sequel & Cameos


On Saturday, March 13, Ruben Fleischer and a group of contemporary horror filmmakers gathered in Austin, Texas to participate in a panel entitled "Directing the Dead" (which, incidentally, was moderated by FEARnet's own Scott Weinberg). Fleischer stuck around for a few days afterward to soak up the atmosphere of the South by Southwest Film Festival, and I caught up with him earlier this week to talk about his work on the upcoming Zombieland 2. In addition to elaborating on his comments during the panel about the use of 3-D in modern moviemaking, Fleischer offered a few hints about what's in store for Woody Harrelson and co., and indicated that while he wants to one-up some aspects of the original film, including its iconic cameo, he's mostly interested in just making it as good a movie as possible. Read my conversation with Fleischer after the jump.

All modesty aside, at what point did you guys start thinking about a sequel to Zombieland?

It was really "Wait until the movie comes out." I don't think anyone knew… The movie didn't cost that much – well, it was a lot of money for me – but it was like $22 million dollars, which is the same budget that Superbad had, and obviously I think we delivered a lot more bang for the buck than they did. But I promise you, there was "Hypothetically it would be great," but Woody was at a preview and it was the first time he'd seen it, and I swear to God that he had serious doubts going into it. He was like, "Man, [I don't know]" – because he came up to me and [said], "I really didn't know what to expect, but it's awesome." He actually for the first time talked about a sequel that night; "When are we going to do the next one?" I think it was only then, once people had seen it and it played with an audience.

You know, the amount of money we made was not that much relative to when you look at big tentpole movies, so it wasn't a given that they would let us do a sequel. It's like if we'd broke $100 [million] or something, I think that's kind of where they make the sequel mark, so they're actually being pretty generous in letting us do another one. But I believe that the movie will find a broader audience on DVD, because not everyone heard about it; I mean, so many people I know just in my life, friends of mine, didn't make it to the theater and who have since seen it on DVD. I hope it connects to a broader audience through DVD so in addition to the theatrical release it will, like, fuel an audience and people excited to go see another episode. The movie started out as a TV show, and so it was always intended to be more stories with these people, and so it ends and they drive off together and you kind of wonder, "Where do they go next, or what happens next?"

[But] it's certainly not forced like some sequels are, like if the movie does well and they go "We've got to do a sequel!" That's not the case; this was always intended to lead to the next episode, so we're just thinking in those terms as far as these characters getting up to more mischief in the post-apocalypse. But we'd love to introduce some more characters to the world and kind of broaden it out; the first one's just literally four people the whole time with the exception of, God rest his soul, Bill Murray, and Amber Heard. But really it's just the four of them, so this time we want to maybe broaden the world a little bit.

Do you want the second film to be a bigger movie, or make it on a similar scale?

I don't think we want to change it in scale significantly. I think, by introducing more characters, a bigger perspective into the world will open it up, but we're not going to go make Armageddon or something. It will be familiar for sure, because ultimately why I think people like the movie is because they connect to the characters and the characters' journeys in the film. So we don't want to do anything but deliver personal stories of their struggles in this landscape.

How far into the process are you?

It's pretty early yet. We have a great treatment that they are now writing, and the cast is all excited to return, but we don't have anything in terms of start date or anything like that. But once the script is done we'll be able to focus on it and hopefully fast-track it relatively soon for release.

At the panel you mentioned you're excited about 3-D and constructing Zombieland 2 to maximize its use as a format. What does that mean to you as a director?

This is a thing that I don't think a lot of people appreciate or agree with, but I don't see 3-D as a gimmick. I see 3-D just as like a more thorough experience. I think 3-D is just a greater [immersion] in that world; it's much more of an experience seeing it [in 3-D]. And it's not about sh*t flying in your face, and that stuff's great – I like it a lot – but why I think Avatar works is because it wasn't like that; you felt like you were there, and I think that's what a movie aspires to do, no matter what the subject matter is – to make the audience feel like they're part of the story. So for me, 3-D isn't limited to action movies or tentpole movies; I feel like you could make My Dinner With Andre, just because I like the way it feels when you're watching a movie and you feel like you're a part of it. So I'm kind of, I think, in the minority, but I just love it – like any movie: I saw Jonas Brothers 3-D. I think it's awesome and to me it's cool, so we're writing it with things in mind.

[In] certain set pieces, there are going to be things that fly into the camera, and it works really well in wider frames, which is kind of how Zombieland was shot to begin with – that Sergio Leone just kind of big, wide frame. It works well in those formats, so that was our aesthetic to begin with. You know, the rules, which were kind of a 2-D 3-D, we tried to make them feel like they were in the world, and you can only imagine how cool those rules look when they're actually in 3-D or whatever. As a music video director, I'm very proud of our opening-credits sequence because it feels like a music video to me, and in feel like we can make the sickest opening-title sequence in 3-D with really rad sh*t. I think just seeing the world a little bit more clearly; I'm really proud of the set decoration, just like the burned-out stuff, tanks and cars that are all wrecked on the freeway, I think that would just look amazing in 3-D. So I guess I feel like you don't really have to do anything special but just consider when you're shooting the framing and making sure that it looks good in 3-D. But I love it, and I would prefer to shoot in 3-D than have it done after the fact, but I would be psyched if someday God-willing they made Zombieland in 3-D. I think it would look incredible.

Do you feel a responsibility to build another cameo into the second one like you did the first?

Yeah, I do, and I think we will. I mean, I think it's hard, but there are people in the community that have seen it that are pumped to be a part of it.

Have you figured out who you want for the next film?

No. There's people we talk about, but again I'm sure we're going to have to go through the process of [asking], "Do you want to be in this?" Now we have the Bill Murray to show, hey – it could be pretty cool, so I feel like it won't be as hard a sell, but it's all kind of hypothetical at this point. But I don't know – it's just kind of fun to think about the possibilities. Like, it doesn't have to be an entertainment celebrity; it would be funny if like Bill Gates – and we've never discussed this, it's just off the top of my head – what if that guy was so rich he had some pod and survived the apocalypse? So like Bill Gates has some like crazy super-high-tech, billion-dollar bunker, and they're like, "What's up, Bill Gates?" Sh*t like that makes me laugh, so I think it's wide open and we'll just see who we can cast or what ideas we come up with.