Director Breck Eisner

Director Breck Eisner Unleashes The Crazies

Small towns are meant to be America's last bastion of hope and freedom. A place where "love thy neighbor" is strung throughout the green yards of harmonious living. Ogden Marsh was that type of place. Happy, safe, and free from the atrocities facing the outside world. Until a biochemical weapons spill dripped into their water system. And turned the town into its own insane version of a horrifying nightmare. On February 26th director Breck Eisner will unleash The Crazies, a remake of George A. Romero's under appreciated 1973 thriller that is set to up the scares and the gore factor one hundred percent. The story follows David Dutten (Timothy Olyphant), sheriff of Ogden Marsh, who arrives at a middle school baseball game to witness an attack by a man carrying a loaded shotgun, ready to kill. Soon afterward, another man burns down his own house with his wife and their young son trapped inside. Within days, Ogden has transformed into a sickening asylum. People who used to live quiet, unremarkable lives have now become depraved, bloodthirsty killers, hiding in the darkness with guns and knives. As Sheriff Dutten tries to make sense of what's happening, the horrific, nonsensical violence escalates. Something is infecting the citizens of Ogden Marsh...With insanity! And its up to the Sheriff, his wife, and his deputy to figure out what is going on.

We recently caught up with Breck Eisner to chat with him about his latest project. Here's what he had to say about The Crazies:

How hard was it to orchestrate the set pieces in this film? You basically constructed a real contamination center with real helicopters flying overhead, and had the entire state of Georgia serving as extras. What was that experience like?

Breck Eisner: We had a big military unit and a contamination village that was really challenging. We were on a night shoot. It was freezing. And we only had one day to get everything we needed. That was coupled with more than a hundred extras, trucks, and helicopters. And there was an important performance at the center of it all. I felt like my brain was oozing out of my head. It was complicated. I would have liked more time to do it. That's a challenge on a picture like this. Sure, we had a bigger budget than what Romero was working with back when he made the original. But we are considered a low budget film next to big budget Hollywood movies. The key was figuring out how much we could get in a short amount of time. How far we could stretch that dollar. We want to impress the audience. We had to try and get everything on the screen. The set pieces were the biggest challenge in making this movie. There is a car wash set piece. And it was far and away the hardest thing I ever had to do. Especially when you add water, four actors, a car, a bunch of stunt guys, monster make-up, gunfire, squibs, and explosions. Well? It takes a lot of time.

You have that scene in the car wash. At the time you were filming this, Final Destination 4 had yet to come out. Have you had a chance to see that film's car wash sequence, and how does your scene compare? Were you a little disappointed that they beat you too it?

Breck Eisner: My movie has a wax and shine! (Laughs) We were well into shooting our car wash sequence when I heard that Final Destination 4 had one as well. I wasn't able to watch it before we did ours, because the movie came out after we wrapped. I did get to finally see it. I can't comment on the whole movie, because I didn't watch all of it. But I can comment on their car wash scene. And our car wash scene is about one hundred times more intense. Their scene was made up of just a few little pieces. Ours is a major scene. It is the key set piece of the entire movie. And it goes on for a while. It is one of my favorite parts about making this. And it's pretty intense.

Were you one of these kids whose parents used to drive them through the automated car wash? Was that something that scared you as a kid?

Breck Eisner: The funny thing about the car wash is that I grew up on the West Coast. All of my friends from the East Coast went to car washes where you could drive through them. You were allowed to be in the car as it went through the machine. For some reason in Los Angeles, it was against the law. Or they didn't have the right insurance. They wouldn't let you stay inside your car while it was getting washed. As a kid, I always had these fantasies about riding through one. I wanted to know what it looked like. I was never able to do that. The first time I rode through one was when I scouted the location for this particular scene. Its something that came from my own desires as a kid; and the mystery of what would happen while riding through one of these giant car washing machines.

I hadn't been in one of those since I was a kid, and I just recently went through one out in Nashville. It was old and really scary. It was a horrifying experience. Worse than a ride at Six Flags.

Breck Eisner: It's intense, isn't it? It's the sound that gets you. When we scouted for this film, we checked out all of the car washes we could find in the Mid-Georgia area. Most of them have been updated in the last five years. Most of them are more mechanical, and much more quiet and reserved. But we found this old car wash that had been built in the 1970s. It was a dark and dingy, loud and intense place. It truly was a horrific experience going through there. We could have just shot the scene with them going through the car wash. And we would have gotten the tension we wanted, but we ratcheted up the craziness.

What do you think practical effects bring to a film like The Crazies that a CGI replication might not give you?

Breck Eisner: I love being able to have the real deal on set. Its used best for motivating your actors and your extras. Its one thing to say to a group of extras, "Imagine a tent with a bunch of soldiers, and there are helicopters landing outside. Now imagine gunfire." Unless you work at it for a long time, you're not going to get a great responce. But if you build the actual containment zone, and you fly in real helicopters, and add in those elements, you do get a real reaction. That comes from the actors and the extras. It certainly helps every single scene. Especially when you have limited time to shoot it. And when you have limited post money. When you have less money, the visual effects don't come out as good. They are more expensive and less realistic than the real thing. They never look like you want them to.

A lot of people in Georgia were out of work at the time you shot this. Was it easy for you to get so many extras? And what was it like for them to have to be there the entire night, basically going through the same ordeal we see in the film?

Breck Eisner: The extras were amazing. In Los Angeles, on a very long, freezing all-night shoot, you'd have a lot of trouble with the extras. They are jaded. They've been doing this for a long time. They are good. That's what you get when you shoot there. You get people that know what they are doing. But they definitely can get surely after awhile. I found that, without exception, all of the extras in Georgia and in Iowa were so happy to be a part of this process. And to have work. They were obviously paid. One of the great things about doing a movie on location is that you bring a lot of jobs. Even though they are jobs that last for a short amount of time. They are jobs. And they're not just jobs. People are excited to be working on a film. This is a life experience. They have fun. I found that all of the extras, in these very tough situations, were a pleasure to work with. And they were a great benefit to the movie.

There were a lot of families out there, together.

Breck Eisner: Sometimes the kids were so young. They are all bundled up. And the parents are holding them. Its nearing 4 in the morning. I have children, and this was really nerve wracking for me. We made sure they were warm. That they were fed and comfortable. It definitely added to the realism of this movie. That we were able to have these families all together. This latenight, scary situation gave it a lot more realism.

This seems to be a pretty accurate account of what would actually happen in this situation. What particular instances did you look at, and how realistic did you want this to be?

Breck Eisner: As far as the procedures, we wanted to make it as realistic as possible. Especially within the confines of the movie we were making. Early in the process, we did a lot of reading and on-line research. As we got closer, we had several meetings with the CVC in Atlanta to talk about the disease itself. How it would be engineered. How they would use it. How they could accelerate the effects of the disease theoretically. We wanted to know about the engineering of these military grade weapons. Also, we talked to the CVC about containment protocol. What type of bio-containment wear the people would be using. How it would spread. We went through all of the procedures from a military and a humanitarian point of view. It helped us to know what the reality would be.

The infected. What sort of research went into perfecting their look? What were you hoping to bring to the screen that we haven't ever seen before?

Breck Eisner: The process of creating the look of the Trixie-infected people was something we spent a lot of time on. Again, the first thing we did was research in images. We looked at medical books and journals, and on-line. We looked at different diseases, pulling from Tetanus and Rabies. Johnson Syndrome. Diseases that bring physically manifestations to the face. Then we created computer 3D animations of what this stuff would look like when applied to human faces. We did this with Rob Hall, the creature designer. Once we got that, we would bring in an actor and make them up. We would go through the process and see how it turned out. We hit a couple of dead ends. We had certain ideas about what we wanted them to look like. With the lesions formed around the mucus membranes. We looked at how this stuff would form around the eyes and the mouth. We would do up the design, then step back and look at it. We thought it looked too much like a zombie. Which wasn't right. We would have to start over. We went from these open sores to a different kind of idea. Which was this propensity to have red, flush skin. And to have the veins popping out of the head. The blood's pumping at an incredible speed. We played with this idea of tightening the muscles. And the neck. It was a long process. But one that paid off in the end. The infected have a distinct, signature look. But its not one that is very zombie-like.

In your eyes, what is it about Timothy Olyphant that makes him the perfect man for this character? And the perfect leading man in general?

Breck Eisner: I never thought of Timothy in the connotation of a sheriff. Because his body of work is so much more diverse than just that. That's what he's well known for playing, though. But this time out, he is a sheriff in a much different surrounding and situation. Working with Tim is great. He is an incredibly smart guy. He's not just there to do his lines and go home. We worked on this before we even got to the set. Then once we got there, we talked for hours and hours about everything we were doing. On set he was a co-captain. He was there for the good of the movie. He wasn't there just for the good of his role. Because he is an intelligent actor, he studies everything. He comes prepared. He comes with ideas, which was very useful for me as the director.

Tim was wearing an Officer Big Mac shirt on set. Did that somehow work its way into the film? Was he basing part of his performance on the sheriff of McDonaldland?

Breck Eisner: No. That was his own personal shirt that he was wearing under his wardrobe. But it's weird. We had this inside joke. We have a mayor character in the film, and he gets one scene. For some reason, because he was only in that one seen and didn't have a character arc at all, I called him Mayor McCheese. Tim, by chance, had a shirt on that said Mayor McCheese on it. He would wear that every once in a while, because I was calling this guy Mayor McCheese. Which really had nothing to do with the movie at all.

So there are no McDonald's tie-ins in the movie?

Breck Eisner: There are certainly no McDonald's connections, other than that both Tim and I loved the name Mayor McCheese.

This doesn't seem like the type of movie you'd see, then rush out to east fast food anyway.

Breck Eisner: I'd say most definitely not. (Laughs)

The Crazies opens this Firday, February 26th, 2010.