If you’re not watching a lot of foreign horror, you’re really missing out. There’s the French and their love of literal bloodbaths, the exquisite torture found in so many Asian horror classics, and good ol’ zombie chomping action a’la the Spanish REC, and Denmark’s Opstandelsen. The United States have, by no means, cornered the horror market. With that in mind, I was stoked to check out the new trailer for the new Russian film, Meteletsa (Translation: Winter of the Dead). The film’s director, Nikolai Pigarev, was kind enough to sit down and answer a few of my questions. I learned a lot about Russia, post-production, and that Trololololol Guy from YouTube.
If you’ve not seen the trailer, you can find it at the end of this interview!
WLF/ZZN: Hey, thanks for taking the time to answer our Q’s. Let’s begin with an easy one: Why zombies?
In 2006, Michael Borzenkov and I were working for a small tycoon. He was keen on arts and we were setting up a fashion TV channel, making horse racing videos. We had a fairly good, but reasonably boring time. We started a devious plan, convincing him to finance movies. We came up with an idea for an epic cyberpunk post apocalyptic film. We met for lunch and Misha said “Look… forget cyberpunk for now – but how about zombies?!” I immediately got a shiver… I get it when I feel something is right. That day on the way home I see a huge man making errrrr hhhggggg sounds – he is trying to enter the subway station but he is using a master card instead of a regular metro card. At that moment I knew we were on the right track. So we began looking for what other Russian zombie movies were out there… and guess what NONE–not one!
I could not believe that no one made a freaking zombie movie. Our tycoon eventually got jailed for ripping off Belarus armed forced – big surprise! And we all started doing our own thing but we never gave up on that idea. In 2007 the script was ready and we started saving for either a zombie movie or buying a flat… HELL A ZOMBIE MOVIE IS SOOOO MUCH BETTER.
WLF/ZZN: Did you make this film with a worldwide audience in mind?
Absolutely! I have lived half of my live somewhere other then Russia. In general, I am an advocate for globalization. Yet, we felt the need for some local color. I mean it’s a country full of secret soviet bases, KGB magic, and nuclear spill. I am surprised there are no real zombies here. ☺
For the title we are using the word METELETSA – its Russian for a snow storm or blizzard… may be it can become the next sputnik or perestroika.
WLF/ZZN: How are Russian zombies different than those that we encounter in the US?
You know we are behind the US by a few years. You had a depression in the 30’s we had one in the 90’s.. you got your zombies in the 60’s; and now they finally reached Russia. Our zombie are very fresh – just born. They are slow but very angry and totally lack any motivation but hunger. Once near, they first go for the throat! And absolutely no chance for redemption! Once a zombie, forever a zombie. But what we see are just the first few hours of the story unfolding so who knows what they might evolve them self into on such a good soil.
I heard Danny Boyle is planning the next 28 Months Later to be set in Russia. So, Russian zombies might learn to run…
WLF/ZZN: The trailer (which is badass, BTW) seems to show a few fast zombies. Yet, they strike me as Romeroesque. Comment?
Romeroesque is certainly the way we want it. But as I said they are just sooo hungry that at times of flesh being soooo close – the poor guys conserve their energy for a few fast moves. But trust me its not what they would choose to do if they did not have to. Senseless and Merciless, remember?
WLF/ZZN: Please tell us about some of the location shooting you did.
Location shooting! We thought long and hard and at the end decided not to set the movie in an abandoned warehouse in the middle of nowhere, and go full on! Middle of a city, crowds of protestors, oil factories and anything else what we could just think of… hell, we sooo stretched our budget it’s not funny.
But to at least have a chance of shooting what was in the script we took a small team to Belarus and shot everything there in the middle of Minsk. Oh, the looks we were getting when in front of the interior ministry we had gangsters shooting zombies. I love the train factory. It was functional all the way while we were filming and at some point we had a group of workers walked past – they saw our zombies and went “holy shit… which department are these boys from…”
Another good one was a building in the middle of an army camp. We were using it as a government building but had to put a Russian flag on it and we shot a few of the larger scenes. The military wasn’t impressed by that. Funny thing that while we were shooting in Minsk, Moscow was covered in smoke/smog and had 40C heat wave… pretty much what was in the script. It looked just amazing, but was impossible to work in.
WLF/ZZN: The trailer hints at some religious themes, which are currently very trendy in contemporary zombie mythos. What’s your philosophy on the connection(s) between religion and the undead?
Well, it’s an interesting topic–and certainly not an easy one. Russia is mainly an orthodox country and we were getting funny looks for even thinking of having a priest cutting heads! But nevertheless we went ahead. I mean what would a priest do when zombies arrive? How about don’t kill? or turn the other cheek? What about the soul?
Our take on that is that he is actually making that major sacrifice his soul for killing zombies to save maybe a few lives… what else would he do? To run away or stand by and watch as evil spreads is NOT in spirit of an orthodox monk.
In all the US films we know a Catholic church is a good space to hide. There is always a good priest to the rescue (the ones not occupied with young boys). In recent years, with the resurrection of the Russian church the only thing we hear is that the church kicked out another museum to get its property back, that they have a tax rebate for selling cigarettes, and that many of the church administrators have Swiss bank accounts. Most of the young Russian population would not even consider a church in times of a crisis. We decided to take a risk and introduce an orthodox priest in less common role–one wielding two axes!
WLF/ZZN: I understand that post-production took a long time on Meteletsa. When I saw the trailer, it was evident why that was. The God’s eye views are particularly amazing. Was that in the script, or did that come later?
Thanks. I am glad that time isn’t wasted. We actually filmed everything very close to the script but certainly polished the look and clarified many ideas in the Post process. When we shot it, it was just cool looking but later it became God’s Eye.
Another reason for the long Post is the fact that we first had to pay off the shooting stage. But luckily now everything is in place to finish the movie ASAP. I am actually happy with the way it went. We put together the trailer with all the great shots we had done at the time – but many more were not finished yet. We hope the audience wont be disappointed!
WLF/ZZN: As a Russian, how do you feel about the “Trolololololol Guy” from YouTube?
Now I am offended! Kidding.
Eduard Hill is from Smolensk! Now the same town Gagarin, the first cosmonaut is from, as is our script writer / lead actor Michael Borzenkov. If you look at the cars in our movie – the license plates read 67 region – that’s right, Smolensk. We never say that but pretty much this is the town where the sh*t hits the fence first.
That and the fact that Trolololololo is just hilariously funny. I am proud to be Russian!
WLF/ZZN: Did making Meteletsa have any impact on your personal zombie defense plan? Please elaborate.
We certainly started thinking about a few escape routes–be it a revolution, a nuclear strike or zombies. In Moscow I live in the MGU (Moscow State University) building–One of Stalin’s “skyscrapers.” It has a huge bomb shelter for 50,000 people under it and it is said to be actually one of the stops for the secret subway line. In case of a nuclear strike warning we have 7 minutes to get to the shelter. I hope someone is actually maintaining it and not just subletting it to students.
So if not a defense plan, I have certainly came up with a few more movie ideas!
WLF/ZZN: Am I correct in thinking that this film is set circa 2007? What in particular led you to choose that time period?
No not really, the script was written in 2007. But it is not set in any particular year, just the month July–a very hot one.
WLF/ZZN: In the trailer, I’m seeing a variety of zombie weaponry used. What do you consider to be the most effective anti-zombie weapon?
In a short run the AK-47 (with an grenade launcher attached) then when you run out of bullets, go with an AXE. It’s always good to have an AXE can be a handy tool in the post world… but again I would not forget the good old NUKE THE SH*T OUT OF THEM!
WLF/ZZN: Do you think Russians will have an easier time living through the zombie uprising than say, Americans or Europeans?
This is a hard one. Two sides of me battle for which one it is…
On one hand if zombies arrived this Sunday, Russians would not have a clue what the hell was going on and how to deal with them. To tell you the truth the government probably would not notice the zombie spread until it reaches Kremlin and Lenin rises and by that time we would have to agree it’s all over.
On the other hand, Russians have it fairly hard. The climate is not a friendly one, the country went through so much turmoil that it would not surprise me that the zombies decided to migrate to Europe or California.
Russia is a dormant country but once its people wake up – better take care… so I’ll go the patriotic way, and say we would kick zombies ass!
WLF/ZZN: When can fans get their mitts on a copy of Meteletsa?
We are looking at being at Cannes this year with a fully finished film! So hopefully this summer people around the world will get a chance to see it!
WLF/ZZN: Do you have any advice to your filmmakers who want to work in the zombie genre?
JUST DO IT! I keep saying it again and again. Hell, it is a wonderful time to be making movies! Cameras are cheap! Youtube tells you how to do everything from makeup to a dirty nuclear bomb… I mean a small fire ball. So, really there is no excuse not to get on to it!
As promised, here’s the trailer!