Interview with Director/Producer Gary Ugarek

ED- The Eerie Digest is always happy to get behind the scenes in one of our reader’s favorite film genre- Zombies. We like to introduce someone that has made that all possible, Writer/ Director/ and Producer Gary Ugarek. Gary you have your hands in every part of your films, including composing the music for them. Tell us about this aspect of your work and what got you started in your musical compositions.

GU- Wow… Ummm, My father is a musician, not by trade, but by hobby, and I found a huge fondness for music during my very formative years. I was so enthralled by the disco music scene, funk, and rock, that I hounded my parents to let me take piano lessons. Now not being one for patience that didn’t last too long because I wanted to move faster than the teacher wanted to move so I just picked it up on my own after learning the basics and began buying sheet music to songs I liked and kept practicing them until I had them down cold. However, it was and will always be the disco craze of the 70’s that really got me pumped into music, and of course who can deny the 80’s synth music movement… a lot of which I reference quite a bit in the musical scores I piece together and write for the film. Composing for the films is probably my third favorite part of the process. I enjoy directing, editing, then composing… writing is dead last. Anyway, once I have the footage shot I actually write temp tracks to cut the scenes too. In Hollywood most films are scored after the fact, but I actually write a lot of the music first, cut the footage to the music, then co-composer Brian Wright and I get together to finish it off. 90% of the time the music written is just polished and mixed and finalized to the movie, but a few times we have replaced tracks altogether. Sometimes what originally worked in post doesn’t work in a screening atmosphere.

ED- We understand that your early career centered around being a DJ. Can you tell us about this ?

GU- Yes I was a DJ. Because I love Music so much I was very fond of anything with a beat you could groove too. This could be rock, dance, punk whatever. In 1988 or 1989 I can’t remember exactly I bought my first set of Turntables and taught myself how to mix. Around the early 90’s I was Dj-ing in night clubs throughout NY and Pennsylvania. At one point during my DJ Career I was awarded the Lehigh Valley Dj of the year for 1999. I ended up hanging up the turntables in 2002 because my heart just wasn’t in it anymore and I wasn’t exactly happy with the direction the music scene was going in. In fact to this day I haven’t listened to the radio in my car since 2002. When I purchased my newest car I never even programmed the stations, they are still all factory set, and all static. Dj-ing was great because it allowed me to interact with many different people, but when you don’t feel the music anymore… it is time to call it quits.

ED- What was your original influence in creating movies about Zombies?

GU- The Godafther of the modern Zombie film… George A. Romero. I had seen Dawn of the Dead at such a young age and from that point I knew someday I wanted to make a movie. I was so obsessed with this world he created, and while today DAWN of the DEAD is really a campy romp, back in my youth this movie scared the hell out of me. That film started my obsession with Zombie films and as of today it is really the only horror genre I am interested in, but throughout the years and after watching countless other zombie flicks I kept wanting to make my own film. It wasn’t until 2002 before the bug really started biting. It is when I had heard about the remake of Dawn of the Dead. I ended up wanting to find out whatever I could about it, and back then I ran an online radio station called WETNWILDRADIO.COM. After about a year of working to get information I finally was able to get some pics from the set in Toronto and my website became the hot spot for anything Dawn Remake related. At that point Universal Pictures saw the potential and started inviting me to the set. Once there and seeing the process, and meeting Zack Snyder the 20 year urge to make a movie just grew bigger and bigger. After that encounter, I was invited to the films World Premiere in LA, then was invited to do what any zombie fan would kill to do… Play a zombie in a George Romero film, and that occurred with Land of the Dead. Between the Dawn remake and Land of the Dead that was all I needed to say… You know what… I am going to make a zombie film.

ED- You have actually produced a Zombie Trilogy known as ‘Deadlands’. Tell us about the first film, ‘Deadlands- The Rising’.

GU- Deadlands: The Rising aka Deadlands 1, is about a bio-weapon terrorist attack on 5 major US cities that turns the citizens into blood crazed killers. The original concept idea was to do something involving everyday people, not the superstar, celebrity hotties normally associated with horror. Just your average everyday Joe you would meet on the street. We follow a Mother and Son, A stranded Motorist, and Two friends who try to navigate through the chaos of the nights events. My biggest strong point was to focus on the mom trying to protect her child, but my other goal was do something on a low budget but with a serious tone. Something a lot of guys making indie films within the zombie genre don’t do. They usually goof on it, or turn them into over the top splatter comedies that in my opinion ruin what the genre was about… The End of the World. So I just wanted to do something that was of a serious tone, large in scope and hopefully entertain zombie fans. After the $10,800 we spent to make it I was proud of the film and still am, but I wish I could go back and re-do a few things, but hey… first time out you have to expect errors. However, my proudest moment of that film was staging that 100+ car traffic jam sequence… something normally reserved for Hollywood flicks. Deadlands 1 is real trial by error filmmaking. We had a crew with little to no experience and basically we spent a year of our lives trying to make the film and get it to work. In the end I feel we succeeded. The film is out on DVD and is known within the horror community. It may not be a very well liked movie, but it has its fan base.

ED-Who was the cast in this film and the characters that they played?

GU- There was Dave Cooperman whom played the stranded Motorist.

Michelle Wright – Played the Mom

Brian Wright – Played The Hubby and My characters friend

Connor Brandt – Played the Son

And I played – myself.

Because none of us were experienced actors (Myself and Dave Cooperman being the only ones in the cast to ever be in front of a movie camera) I kept things simple and just told everyone to use their real names. I figured why go through all this BS to create characters, just have people I know trying to act out a response to a zombie uprising.

ED- Your second installment in the Trilogy was ‘Deadlands 2- Trapped’. Did you use the same cast, and can you tell us how this worked as a sequel ?

GU- Deadlands 2: Trapped is not a sequel at all. It is a brand new story and reboot of the zombie outbreak. The use of the number 2 in the title is more or less a chapter marker. Some of the actors from Deadlands 1 return, but in smaller cameo based roles. This installment I went with actors from the local DC/MD/VA indie community and just charged ahead with what I consider a reboot of the series, sort of like how Evil Dead 2 is a reboot of the Evil Dead movies. Deadlands 2: Trapped didn’t start off as a Deadlands film at all, it was originally created as a short subject matter film for a project called ZOMBthology, a zombie anthology project being produced by Art Held Hostage. Trapped as it was originally titled, was to be the first segment of four short films, but when the other three films were completed and the wrap around story added ZOMBthology was running over 2 hours long. Add in Trapped and we would have been nearly 3 hours long. So Trapped was separated from ZOMBthology and released separately. During filming of the movie I was shooting an extended version to be released separately, but it just so happened to work out that we never had to use the short version of the film. As we got closer to release of the movie I determined there were already too many films titled Trapped, so I tried different titles such as Nation of the Living Dead, Ascension and a few other titles before I found out that Deadlands 1 was a sleeper hit for release Label TEMPE ENTERTAINMENT. It was this information that made me decide to re-name the film Deadlands 2: Trapped. Yes it was simply a name recognition business decision.

ED- We understand that you are in production with the third installment of this popular horror flick, ‘Deadlands 3- The New World’. Could you please give all of us a peek behind the scenes of this production ?

GU- At the moment we are trying to get our ducks in a row. Since 2007 we have been trying to get a larger budget version made and the screenplay has been in and out of the Hollywood studio system. When a zombie film does well the studios want to jump on the next property so in 2007 and 2008 we had a lot of buzz because of the success of Resident Evil 3 and some other flicks, then another zombie films comes out and flops, the studios run from your project faster than evacuees from a building fire. Recently because of the success of Zombieland and some connections I have been making, Matt Parker of Angel Motion Pictures was able to get the screenplay over at 20th Century

ED- Do you already have your cast picked for this film?

GU- Well yes and no. We will be holding Auditions in January 2011. I do however have the screenplay out to notable names in the horror genre and I have already asked Brinke Stevens to join the cast and she has agreed, so in a way we do have some cast, but not the key players the story revolves around yet. I have asked a very notable name in the zombie genre to join the cast, at the moment he is reluctant saying he doesn’t see himself as the character but I asked him to give the screenplay another read and to re-consider. The character is out of his normal range, but I want to work with him very much and I think he would be perfect for this role. He likes the script but, again I think was a little reluctant because he had never played this type of character before so I hope my recent communication with him will change his mind and he jumps aboard. He will make a great addition to the cast.

ED- The Eerie Digest is a neighbor of yours, and we originally hailed from New York. As a transplanted native I am whole-heartedly promoting East Coast shows, films, and actors. Please tell us the venue that you plan in filming this movie and where our readers can obtain the first two releases of your trilogy ?

GU- I lived in the Syracuse NY area… so we have been neighbors all along. We hope to film Deadlands 3 in PA, MD and VA starting April 2011. Pre-production began this year, albeit at a very slow pace, but I have been busy securing locations for the shoot. Folks can grab the first film, Deadlands: The Rising, through Amazon.com and some FYE mega stores carry the film in the store. Deadlands 2: Trapped is having a re-release in October 2010. Fans can find and purchase the OOP (out of print) version via a AMAZON and I am also selling copies on eBay, but the newer Extended and Unrated cuts hits the street October 19th 2010 and contains 2 minutes of additional footage not in any prior release including the HD DVD release we did in March 2010. Yes you read that right, we did a limited run of the film on the defunct HD DVD format and it sold out quickly. There are still fans of the format, myself being one of them. I will be doing a self release Blu-Ray October 26th 2010, 1 week after the TEMPE VIDEO re-release. This will boats 3 extra features the DVD version doesn’t have including a work print cut of Deadlands 1 with an alternate ending.

ED- What is the next production that you are planning on and are there any other genres that you would be interested in producing ?

GU- Well Deadlands 3 is next, no doubt about that, but I am in talks with some local Baltimore filmmakers to helm a low budget actioner based in the martial arts genre. They presented me some story ideas and I said I would be willing to direct it and edit the flick for them, but right now we are just hashing out a story for the project. Originally they had planned a basic all out kick everyone’s ass flick, but I had suggested they go the vigilante route using a female hero. I have always loved films like Death Wish and The Exterminator, but I would really love to see a Female Vigilante. I don’t think there are enough flicks like that… I know of a few that go off the real deep end, but I wanted to keep it grounded in reality as much as possible and have a real human interest story to go along with it. I told them to write it, and we can polish it before we shoot it, but I am looking forward to doing that. Nothing like a good Chop-Socky flick to keep the ole blood pumping. Then at some point I want to bring horror back to VAMPIRE films. I am not against the twilight flicks, I mean everyone needs a film or book they can be a fan of, but I want to see real horror brought back to the vampire genre, so that will probably be my next foray into horror after Deadlands 3 and the martial arts film.

ED- Gary, we want to thank you for your time with us and wish you all the best in all your films. Please stay in contact with us and let our readers know about all your upcoming projects.

GU- My pleasure, and Thank You.