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Talking with Matthias Hoene of "Cockneys Vs. Zombies"

With his film releasing in limited theaters and VOD this weekend, I had a chance to sit down with Matthias Hoene (pronounced: who-na) to talk about his zom-com Cockneys Vs. Zombies. Following a clan of bumbling Cockneys trying to be cons, Horne frames the zombie genre in the light of a first-time bank heist. For all their trouble robbing a bank, the real trouble lays outside as Terry, Andy and Katy are trapped by a horde of brain-gobbling zombies.

The synopsis, per Fandango, as is follows:
"Two Cockney siblings lead the residents of a quiet retirement community in a bloody war against the undead in this horror comedy from director Matthias Hoene. Andy (Harry Treadaway) and Terry (Rasmus Hardiker) were in the middle of robbing a bank to save the rest home where their grandfather lives when the zombie apocalypse struck East London. After arriving at the nursing home heavily armed and with cash in tow, the two brothers prepare to fight their way out with the assistance of some trigger-happy seniors. Michelle Ryan and Honor Blackman co-star."
Horne talked about what inspired him to make the film, the biggest hurdles and challenges he faced, his upcoming sci-fi project, and our cultural affinity for the supernatural.

Obviously the whole zombie sub-genre is really at a pinnacle of popularity right now. What did you feel that you could bring to that sub-genre in order to distinguish it from the rest and put your own spin on it?

Matthias Hoene: Well, of course, making a movie takes a long time and I came up with the movie in 2008 or 2009, a few years ago. At the time, everyone was doing vampires so you do zombies and everyone was doing fast moving zombies so people were telling me I couldn’t do slow moving zombies because they aren’t scary and cinematic and no-one likes them and I was like, “No, we have to go back to the original - Romero. I’m also a big fan of Peter Jackson’s “Dead Alive”, those kind of films. It’s gonna be perfect. I was very aware of the “Walking Dead” comic books and I’m a big fan so I was very excited when that got made. Even before that got made, I mentioned to my producer that we should do a “Walking Dead” tv series and he just laughed at me and said, “Yeah, you’re not big enough for that.”

Yeah, it took a talent as big as Frank Darabont to bring that to life.

MH: Yeah, it needed someone like Darabont to make that happen. I’m glad it did happen and turned out so well though. Really the crux to me was how to make this really unique because I kind of felt that there was “Shawn of the Dead” - which was like a rom-com-zom set in middle class, Northern London that was very twee and British. What gave me the idea was working with a bunch of Cockney actors on a web series involving vampires and they were so funny. They were only side characters but the way they face this supernatural enemy is so funny because cockneys never show fear. They don’t go, “Oh my god! It’s vampires!” They go, “What? Fuck, vampires? Shoot them then.” They just face the supernatural threat with literally no fear and no bafflement to it. That sort of gung-ho, don’t-take-any-shit-from-anything kind of attitude that cockney’s display. Mind you, they have been defending East London for many centuries against the Zulus, the Germans, the old bill [police]. Anyone who tried to invade their turf, they fought off valiently with a stiff upper lip and a big shotgun in their hand. I felt that they’d never felt zombies before and that was the kind of niche tonally that I felt we could do something that was a little bit different in the genre that we haven’t seen and gives it a tone that might be fresh. I call it a “Cockney adventure with zombies” or a “zomventure”. The other one, of course, was the idea of the zombies being slow but the pensioners [retirees] being even slower. You have your walkers and your wheelchairs and I wanted to show like that slow motion chase between a zombie and a pensioner because we haven’t seen that anywhere. Throughout, James Moran, the writer, and I tried to put in as many scenes that you hadn’t seen before in a zombie film as possible to give it something in a well known genre that is fresh and everyone can enjoy. On top of that, we tried to develop a script for the characters to ring true. It’s the story about a family coming together- the old cockney who can’t express his feelings softening to his younger siblings and learning to respect them in their own ways. Also, it’s a story of over-development of urban structures and gentrification in the East London area and also, the story of people robbing a bank and shooting the shit out of someplace.

As you mentioned, there is obvious similarities to “Shawn of the Dead” here. To me, it felt like a mashup of that film and “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”. You even have the same actor in Alan Ford. Were you a little skeptical about following in the footsteps of “Shawn of the Dead”, which was such a monumental popular achievement, and were you afraid that people would see it as too similar or was that just something you wanted to fly in the face of?

MH: To me, that was a romantic comedy with zombies and this is a gangster movie with zombies. My references were “Dead Alive” and “Evil Dead 2”. Those ones were the ones I loved and were trying to reference. I think everyone has the same popular culture odes in films. There’s also “Zombieland” which is a great zombie-comedy and now there’s also “Warm Bodies” which is also fantastic. I think there’s a lot of good films in the genre. I say, go and watch “Dead Alive”. No-one thinks that it’s a zombie-comedy like “Dead Alive” but it is. I think it’s always been there. I did feel like if I was to do crazy, whip-pans all the time then people would think I just wanted to be Edgar Wright but I tried to avoid that but sometimes you need to have that energy in a film like this. I did try to avoid certain stylistic tropes on purpose.

What for you was the biggest challenge of making the film?

MH: I stubbornly refused to adhere to the budget that we had which should of been like a contained horror movie, like most horror movies on that budget-level. I said, “We’re gonna do a big, epic action movie that’s gonna go all over the place and shows London with wide shots outside with zombie crowds.” That was what made it difficult because every day was like a big deal. We had five to ten actors, forty background zombies, shooting, fighting, prosthetics. We had big movie days but very little time to do it so it was quite stressful to put it together and quite complicated as well. Every time you’d get into squibs and prosthetics and it’s difficult on set to put all the bits together and get all the angles right. All those sorts of things were difficult. Horror comedy is the most difficult genre to film in because the change from funny bits to heartfelt real bits, action bits, scary things, it switches so quickly and more so than any other genre in a way and that’s difficult to coordinate. I didn’t make it that scary but just moving from a joke to hopefully a genuine moment between two people is really quite difficult. It moves quickly. There was a bank heist so we had the caper genre in there. Just mixing those things and keeping it together was the most difficult. Making sure that the jokes aren’t just jokes for jokes sake but come from the character in their situation. Hopefully they don’t make you question the reality of the situation.

Speaking about genre, what is your personal favorite genre in film? Is horror the place that you’ve always grown from and drawn inspiration or do you like other genres more or just as much?

MH: Well I do like horror comedy like the Sam Raimi school but I feel like what ties all the films I like together is that they’re adventure movies in a way. “Cockney Vs. Zombies” is kind of a like an action-adventure with zombies, my next project I’m developing is a man-on-the-run thriller adventure story. That’s what I like, developing a fantasy story, an action thriller. I’m not gonna do a horror movie next because you get typecast as a filmmaker quite quickly. I love horror and I wanna dodge everyone’s expectations for a little while and say, “Look, I can do this as well.” I think what’s gonna tie together what I love is something that is fun and adventure packed. I like big rides cinematically.

Can you talk some more about your next feature?

MH: Well I’ve been developing a science-fiction screenplay with an American writer named Ian Shaw and we’ve had the great fortune to set it up at 20th Century Fox last month. The producer of “X-Men” and “Wolverine” is onboard. It’s exciting but it’s only one step of many.  You never know. It’s down to us now to develop it and get it greenlit within the system. It’s a great team to be with and all the people there are amazing. I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hoping I can live up to expectation.

What stage are you in on that project, are you still on the first draft or have you written a couple versions?

MH: We’ve done a few drafts and now we’re having our meetings with everyone at the studio and doing a few more drafts now. It’s sort of the next few drafts that really matter.

Can you boil it down to a brief synopsis?

MH: Well the capsule of the story is that there’s an inventor who starts receiving chrome capsules containing holographic messages from his future self. His future self helps him turn his life around, make better choices and become a better person and undo a lot of the mistakes that he’s done in his life and his life takes a turn for the better. One day, he receives a capsule saying, “You need to take $800 to this guy who will give you a Glock 9mm, file the serial number and go kill your boss because he will be your biggest enemy in the future.” When he refuses to do that, he becomes the target of other people who are trying to kill him and realizes that other people have been getting these messages as well. He has to figure out the conspiracy of the future to protect the present.

If there was a zombie apocalypse, how do you think you would fare and what would be your weapon of choice?

MH: I would probably call up Alan Ford and say, “Alan, come over and protect me” and I would give him a shotgun for the hard work and an AK47 to disperse the crowds a little bit. I would probably also use a shovel...actually, I think I’d go for the flame thrower. Especially if you’re stranded with the last woman on Earth, you want to have something that’s impressive.

Personally, I’d be an ice pick man. Just an effective one-and-done to the brain. Finally, if you had to prognosticate, where do you think the whole zombie genre is going from here? Do you think it’s going to continue on this slant of popularity or do you think it’s reached a cultural pinnacle and is going to start fading away again for now?

MH: I think all these genres, whether it’s zombies or vampires, and no-one goes, “Oh no, we have another action thriller”... I think if you do a good film in a genre, and we’ve seen lots of good zombie films, the genre is just a backdrop to play a story against. If there’s good characters and a good story, like everything, I think people will like it. Same with vampires and aliens and werewolves and all of that.

While do you think our culture has this professed obsession right now with the supernatural? It’s been around forever but in the last ten years especially, they’re like superhero movies in that they are dominating our entertainment culture right now.

MH: I think everyone loves escapism. We’re apparently in a great economic recession, even though it doesn’t really feel like that, we’re not lining up to soup kitchens yet, but it’s the escapism aspect. Zombies are interesting because it’s a fate worse than death in a way but, at the same time, you can identify with the shuffling, mindless nature of the zombies because sometimes real life feels like that to us. We’re kind of stuck in this repetitive cycle. Vampires, I think are the romantic choice between eternal life and cold blood or a short life lived in a human, full kind of way. Those kind of questions are always going to be dramatically interesting. At the end of the day, the drama is in answering those kind of questions that people are interested in. Also, you want to believe that there’s something else in the world and more to it than just our mundane existence.


If you're a fan of zombies, horror, comedy, zombie comedies or...zombie horrors, be sure to check out the trailer for Cockneys Vs. Zombies.

Cockneys Vs. Zombies is directed by Matthias Hoene and stars Rasmus Hardiker, Harry Treadaway, Michelle Ryan, Jack Doolan, Alan Ford, Georgia King, Ashley Thomas, Tony Gardner and Honor Blackman. It hits limited theaters and VOD on August 2.

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