The Social Movie
Three Australian tradies get trapped in a telephone exchange during the onset of the zombie apocalypse, and they're running out of beer!
Filmed entirely in Canberra, and staring some of the country's biggest and most popular comedians, Australia's first ever zombie-comedy is about to hit Australian cinemas with a bang.
Directed and produced by UC alums Declan Shrubb and Daniel Sanguineti, 'Me and My Mates vs The Zombie Apocalypse' is the culmination of the three year journey that has seen the duo have their fair share of tears, stresses and more importantly laughs.
But without the big budget of a Hollywood epic, Declan and Daniel have had to be creative and strategic in the development, filming and promotion of their feature.
Unlike any Australian film before, the duo have used the power of social media to bring their film from a dream to reality. Everything from the selection of actors, raising of capital, sale of tickets and promotion has involved harnessing to incredible reach and influence of social media.
For someone who is only 24 and less than a year out of university, director Declan Shrubb is already making big waves as a filmmaker.
A graduate of UC's Bachelor of Media Arts and Production in 2014, he is the youngest Australian filmmaker to receive feature film production funding.
Declan wrote, directed, produced and edited his first feature film "People Sitting and Talking" in 2012, and in 2014 completed two short films which had festival success.
Three years ago for his 21st birthday Declan's parents paid for him to attend a workshop run by ScreenACT. It was here that the seed was sown for Declan's second feature film 'Me and My Mates vs the Zombie Apocalypse', which will premier in July after three years in production.
For Delcan it has been a journey that was not only enjoyable, but one where he would gain valuable experience as a filmmaker.
"The most rewarding part of the experience, aside from seeing my dreams literally come true every day, was getting to share the experience with other young, emerging Canberran filmmakers."
It may seem as strange as the movie itself, but the concept for 'Me and My Mates' came from Declan's own zombie apocalypse planning.
While working as a telecommunications technician during his gap year, Declan had the opportunity to visit many of Canberra's telephone exchanges. Always with one eye on contingency planning for the future, Declan noticed that the exchanges had many of the life preserving requirements needed for any good zombie apocalypse plan.
"I thought that telephone exchanges were the perfect place to hide out in case of zombie apocalypse" explained Declan in a joking, yet serious way. "They are secure buildings, with access to running water, toilets, electricity and telecommunications lines. We made serious plans to meet at an exchange whenever things went seriously sour."
With the perfect location in place, Declan also drew on his time as a tradesman to flesh out the film's characters.
"It's a film about blue collar Australians. People that value hard work, sports, beer and their friends. There's a bit of them in all of us, so please stop eating them."
While 'Me and My Mates' is a zombie flick, Declan considers the focus to be more comedy than zombie/horror in the style of 'Shaun of the Dead' and 'Zombieland'.
"The characters, their relationships and the Australian themes explored were of the utmost importance to us, rather than traversing the zombie genre.
This film is meant to be over the top, stupid fun. The type of film made by young adults, for young adults. The type of film I wish was made here more often."
Now with an idea firmly in place, Declan turned to local film producer and fellow UC alum Daniel Sanguineti to help turn the concept into reality.
At only 30, Daniel has been making films for over 10 years through his own production company Sanguineti Media, and is also a casual tutor at the University of Canberra teaching the next generation of film and media production students.
With producer credits on comedy 'Love Struck' and another zombie feature 'Theatre of the Dead' he was the ideal candidate to bring Declan's vision to life.
"The best way to put it is that I go out there and make films happen" said Daniel explaining the much misunderstood role of the producer.
"I guess the producer gets confused a bit to be the money guy who has a lot of money and pays for films. In fact it's quite the opposite. I don't have much money, but I love making films.
My job is to simply take a brief and go 'what do we need to make that happen, what resources do we need, what people need to be involved', and then make the filming happen and the post-production and deliver it in the end."
They had the man with the vision and the man to bring it all together, now it was up to the duo to begin putting all of the pieces together to make their zom-com happen. They needed actors, they needed a crew, and more importantly they needed money to pay for it all.
So how exactly do you sell the concept of an Aussie comedy set in a telephone exchange in the midst of a zombie apocalypse?
"We tried to keep it simple" explained Daniel, "at the initial pitch it wasn't quite comedians vs zombies, but by the time we had made a few steps forward in reassuring the support from Screen ACT and the ACT Government, we had decided that the movie we wanted to make was comedians vs zombies. And essentially stand-up comedians vs zombies."
In choosing the actors who would appear in 'Me and My Mates', Declan and Daniel took a very strategic approach, not only considering acting and comedic ability, but also each actor's online following and presence.
"We used the idea of getting leads that had massive social media reach" explained Daniel, "we were going to market the film through social media which is slightly untraditional for an Australian film."
While hiring name actors to sell movies is a concept as old as cinema itself, leveraging the social media profile of those involved in a film is relatively new for an Australian feature.
"The way that American Hollywood films are done is through highly engaged social media campaigns. In a way we wanted to mimic that and we saw there was potential for that reach. If we made the film funny and appeal to these comedian's fan-bases, then they should want to see the film and we can tell them about it through social media."
A worldwide YouTube sensation with his alter-ego 'The Loosest Aussie Bloke' and regarded as one of Australia's leading online comedians, Alex Williamson fit the bill perfectly to be the film's lead character 'Daryll'.
With almost half a million YouTube subscribers, 83,000 Twitter followers, 440,000 Instagram subscribers and more than a million likes on Facebook, few actors have the social pull that Alex could bring to the project.
The film's second lead, Jim Jefferies brought a similarly impressive social following. Star of the five comedy specials and TV series 'Legit', Jefferies brings his own army of online fans including 200,000 Twitter followers and 330,000 Facebook likes.
Add Australian comedy legend Greg Fleet, and up-and-coming stars Adele Vuko, Andy Trieu, and Max Mackinnon (aka Eso), from Aussie hip-hop duo Bliss N Eso and the little Canberra zombie movie had a ready-made fan base before a ticket was even sold.
At the conclusion of his ScreenACT workshop, Declan pitched for and won $120,000 of production funding from ScreenACT and the ACT Government.
However with more money required the team ran a 2-month crowd funding campaign which would eventually raise over $41,000, an Australian record for a feature film.
Daniel credits much of the success of the crowd funding campaign to the popularity of the film's lead actors, and their ability to promote the project through social media.
"Alex [Williamson] was keen to be in the film, he wanted to star in his first feature film, and the fans wanted to see that. That was essentially the strategy that made the crowdfunding work.
We didn't have any footage to show, we didn't really have anything to show what the movie was going to be about, all we could say was it was Alex and his involvement."
The crowd funding would not only help with money to make the film, but also help to build an eager audience for when the film was released in cinema.
"The great thing is through that campaign we built up a great list of supporters. We've been sending them updates, we gave them the first opportunity to buy tickets. So for their support they are getting special treatment."
Despite the government and fan funding, 'Me and My Mates' still required further investment to bring the concept to reality.
"In the end, we broke the biggest rule of filmmaking; never invest your own money" explained Declan.
"If it wasn't from the substantial investments from Daniel, Christian, Mike, Chris Wiseman and our families, including my girlfriend's wonderful family, the film would have never been made."
Spreading the Word
"Sometimes I'm sitting at the dinner table and people say 'get off the phone!' but I'm working" laughs Daniel speaking about engaging with fans on Facebook.
Just like their crowd funding campaign, it is this engagement which has been crucial to spreading the word about the upcoming release of the film.
To further facilitate engagement the duo has been working hard to develop content to appeal to the film's target audience.
"It was about things that can be a bit of clickbait and also things that are shareable and that they can tag their mates in. Because every tag we get means a voice saying 'Me and My Mates vs the Zombie Apocalypse' so hopefully that will build more people wanting to watch the film.
We've created the trailers, a shorter trailer and a longer trailer. We've got small 15 second trailers that we will be releasing. We've got images, we use images and add text to make jokes"
With upcoming releases on iTunes, DVD and potentially Netflix, there will be no rest in promoting the film in the short term.
"We've got to come up with jokes for the next year or so I think" says Daniel laughing with a hint of dread "It's all about building a continuous awareness."
Without the budget for a traditional cinema distribution, the duo again turned to people power to lock in screenings and sell tickets to upcoming for their film.
Through the use of on-demand distribution site Tugg, Me and My Mates has screenings scheduled in all corners of Australia including cinemas in Perth, Robina, Morwell, Hobart, Bunbury, Gawler, Innaloo, Indooroopilly, Albury and even the Crown Casino.
"Just like you have crowd funding, this is like crowd distribution, or cinema on demand" explained Daniel.
"So an individual can nominate to be the host and Tugg negotiates with the cinema a screening date and pick quiet days where they wouldn't normally make as much money. So we're actually filling up cinemas that might not normally make any money."
And with hosts receiving a commission on tickets sold during their session, there is an additional incentive for them to again promote the film to their networks through social media.
"It's a very mutual, beneficial approach that Tugg has come up with."
If you and your mates would like to take on the zombie apocalypse you can visit the film's official website for all the details about upcoming screenings, or join fellow survivors on the official Facebook page.
Words by Daniel Murphy, images courtesy Me and My Mates vs the Zombie Apocalypse