Saturday, July 5, 2014

When zombie filmmakers attack

Wyoming natives creating zombie film; some scenes shot by Heart Mountain  

If ever faced with a zombie apocalypse, aspiring filmmaker Kaiya Rodriguez knows where she wants to be: Wyoming.
"Zombies don't have a chance out in the remote mountains of Wyoming with the crazy weather, long distances between populations, and lots and lots of guns and the people who know how to use them," Rodriguez said.
Based on that premise, Rodriguez, a Powell native, is writing, directing and acting in a zombie film. Brooke Benson of Gillette is a co-director/producer/actor in the film.
Titled "FatEATERS," the feature film is about a diet pill that affects consumers' brain chemistry, turning them into body-conscious cannibals. Three roommates living in Los Angeles return to Wyoming, but find their hometowns are overtaken with “cannibal-turned zombies.”
Benson came up with the idea of the fad diet gone wrong. Rodriguez and Benson live in Los Angeles and have seen the health and exercise fanaticism of residents there.
"We combined the fanaticism with zombie-ism and planned an escape from L.A. back to Wyoming, with ourselves as the main characters," Rodriguez wrote in an email to the Tribune.
“We're having an absolute blast,” she said while filming a scene in rural Powell on May 24. “Though there are challenges certainly, we're all doing this because we're artists and love film and want to pursue it. It's like a dream come true for me having my first feature length film come to life, and being able to make that happen myself, along with an incredibly talented group of some of my closest friends. It's an amazing experience.”
Seeking to break the stereotyped roles of women in film, the makers of FatEATERS are casting women in the leading roles.
"In zombie movies specifically, women are rarely something worth cheering for, and that's what we want to do," she said.
Cast and crew members filmed in Wyoming last month (see related story). While many film productions film wherever is cheapest instead of where the story is actually set, Rodriguez said they lucked out by choosing a state that is inexpensive for filming, since most locations are owned by friends or family.
"Basing the film in Wyoming was mostly a nod to our home state, but its key benefits are being able to film on location, specifically ones that we already know, or know the person who owns it," Rodriguez said.
However, filming in Wyoming also has its challenges. Rodriguez said the Wyoming Film Office has offered good advice about contacts for filming permission and helped with some ideas for locations.
"The biggest challenge I think is that we are actually filming on location in each of the towns/places set in the script, so it involves a lot of travel," Rodriguez said. "Also, it partially inhibits us in getting the crew we need, so the crew we do have will end up taking on multiple roles."
Wyoming friends and family members have stepped up to help with the film.

Artist Susie Fish Rodriguez of Powell, Rodriguez's mom, is serving as the creature designer, fabricating zombies for the movie. In a blog on the film's website, Fish Rodriguez said she had no idea how much fun it would be.
"I jump every time I see one out of the corner of my eye, thinking someone is in my studio!" she wrote. "People stop by to check my progress and tell me how gross it all is, so I must be on the right track."
Rodriguez said it's the first time she and her mom have worked together on an artistic project of this scale.
"I think she's been enjoying coming up with different ways to make them and making them come to life, so to speak," she said.
Danyon Satterlee, a Powell High School grad, is doing web and graphic design and publicity for the project. All but one member of the principle cast and crew involved also have ties to Wyoming, Rodriguez said.
There's opportunities for others from Wyoming to get involved. The filmmakers are inviting musicians with Wyoming ties to submit original songs for their soundtrack contest. Folks also can donate to the project, which is billed as “an ultra-ultra low budget independent feature film.” For more information about how to get involved, visit
The budget goal of $8,000 is purely covering the costs for the film, such as equipment, wardrobe, props, food, gas and other expenses for the project. Rodriguez said all of the support they've received is appreciated.
"Everyone on this project is totally volunteering their time and talents," she said, adding that they've given up workdays to be involved and have spent hours on the project already.
“Without these people, we wouldn't have a film, and for that, we sincerely thank them!"
It’s been a frightening flight for the living. Dodging zombies, that is.
But the undead are omnipresent, even Wyoming as the living seek sanctuary in pastoral Powell.
It’s a movie of course, called, "FatEATERS." Kaiya Rodriguez, formerly of Powell, now living in Los Angeles, is writing, directing and acting in the horror movie with a little help from her homies, alive and undead. The Tribune caught up with Rodriguez and her motion picture posse on May 24.
Samantha Lewan, a makeup artist, completes the final touches on Brooke Benson’s face. Benson looks worse for the wear with a nasty bruise on her cheek thanks to Lewan’s cosmetic magic.
The actors are on the run, seeking zombie-free asylum in a scene set at the farm of Paul Rodriguez, the grandfather of the film’s star/writer/director. Their van breaks down, but then they spot a pickup truck that has apparently been abandoned. They approach the truck warily. It looks OK, but ...
“All clear,” said actor Chloe King.
Famous last words in too many slasher movies to count.
Duane Fish of Powell has morphed into a zombie. His face is a deep purple and white, looking like macabre military camouflage paint. His mouth is rimmed in grisly red, as though he forgot to use a napkin after devouring his last victim.
Like a rattlesnake with an attitude, Fish lurks beneath the truck, awaiting his prey.
Lightning-fast, Fish grabs King’s ankles, dragging her beneath the truck before her comrades can save her.
“Grrrrr, grrrrr,” snarls Fish, acting a savage zombie impeccably.
“Ahhhhhhhhh, ahhhhhhhh,” King screams, portraying a woman terrified and in pain with hair-raising realism.
Fish’s acting days are numbered too, at least in "FatEATERS." He gets the ax, literally.
In another scene, Rodriguez and Benson drag Fish from his undercarriage lair.
Down swings the ax amid fountains of spouting blood. Fish the zombie is history, but who knows what wretched distress the surviving characters will face. Zombie movie aficionados will have to see the flick to find out.

Kaiya Rodriguez (left), who is writing, directing and acting in the zombie movie, "FatEATERS," takes a breather with local zombie Duane Fish while shooting west of Powell.

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