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Arts and Entertainment Thursday, Mar. 26, 2020 2 years ago

Just what we need right now — zombies!

Filmmakers start 'World's Largest Zombie Movie' project for kids to battle boredom
by: Klint Lowry Arts + Entertainment Editor

With much of the U.S. hunkered down at home, medical experts continue to advise us that we won’t have a clear idea of just how widespread the COVID-19 virus is in this country for another couple of weeks.

But one thing is for certain: Cabin fever is setting in at an even faster rate.

The prominent symptoms are pouty faces and whiny voices repeatedly saying, “I’m bored, there’s nothing to do.”

And the kids can be even worse.

But Paul and Petra Ratner believe they have a cure for youngsters afflicted with the pandemic homebound blues — a worldwide zombie invasion. So they’ve started one, and they’re inviting kids everywhere to be part of it.

Throughout April, kids in grade K-12 can be part of — that is, make part of — “The World’s Largest Zombie Movie.” And they can do it right at home.

Movies on the brain

“It was just an idea, you know, to have some fun” Paul Ratner says. If the world hadn’t taken this huge plot twist, the Ratners would be spending precious little time at home this week. Paul Ratner was managing director of the Sarasota Film Festival, and Petra Ratner was the festival’s director of development and events. SFF had been slated for March 27 through April 5.

But instead of 10 days of screenings and socializing, like so many people, they’re pretty much homebound with their sons, Felix and Alfie, and a lot of unexpected free time they didn’t know what to do with.

Alfie Ratner, 4, and Felix Ratner, 10, hope kids around the world will in their slow, sliding footsteps and take part in the "World's Largest Zombie Movie."

Whether it was the sudden celluloid deprivation or just their creative interpretation of world events, it hit them, Ratner says: “You know, we're filmmakers. Why not create this type of film where kids who are in their different homes all over the world, we could give them a purpose, which is to shoot a zombie movie.”

Not just a zombie movie, but a monster of a zombie movie. “What we’re trying to do is kind of an interesting challenge,” Ratner says, “kind of a large-scale, group film.” The goal is to get as many kids as they can muster from around the globe to each shoot their own piece of the movie, then all the pieces will be assembled into one giant zombie epic.

Any young aspiring filmmakers can sign up for the project at Participation is free, no experience is necessary and no special equipment is needed. Ratner says they want this project to be accessible to as many kids as possible.

The Ratners are well-versed in setting up projects quickly and in social media marketing. They quickly set up a website, and with contacts around the world to help with marketing, it was just a few days before they had received about 60 entries from as far and wide as Australia, Germany, Czech Republic, France and Canada.

But they are hoping for a strong hometown zombie presence.

As kids sign up, they will get instructions on what to shoot. “We're going to basically send them kind of a general setup and then some choices of what to film, so that way you'll have some guidelines but also some creative aspects,” Ratner says.

There are a handful of questions in the signup process to determine each participant’s experience level. Some older kids might have have serious skills, Ratner says, and they would get trickier assignments.

The assignments will come from a basic plot line that’s been laid out. Ratner says they aren’t going to provide a polished script because it’s all about letting the kids be creative.

When the Ratners lived in Prague, they ran something called the 48 Hour Project, in which kids were given two days to make assigned films.

“I know that, ultimately, kids are able to be quite creative and come up with all kinds of things in a short amount of time, especially if you give them some structure.”

The premise of the film will be simple and something everyone can relate to these days, Ratner says. The elevator pitch is: There’s been a sudden, worldwide zombie outbreak, and people all over have been turned into zombies.

In a way, the unmissable parallel to real-world events will give the young filmmakers the ability to connect with other kids around the world sharing this moment in history.

“But we have some twists,” Ratner says, this story will take on a life of its own. He doesn’t want reveal any spoilers, but they’re thinking somewhere along the story arc the humans and zombies may unite and face a common foe.

“You know, we're trying to have different elements to it,” Ratner says, “emotional elements and action elements and not just be one giant zombie fight.”

Along with their shooting assignments, the kids will be given a few additional guidelines.

“We don’t want anything too gory or too inappropriate for the kids themselves to watch,” he says.   

Bringing it to life

The Ratners are gathering some of their fellow filmmakers to take the raw material as it comes in and sew it together like Frankenstein’s monster into a cohesive story.

“One [partner] that we do have is Bazelevs Company,” Ratner says, which is important to this project.

The Bazelevs Company is an industry leader in the relatively recent cinematic style known as “screenlife,” in which the story is told through screen images, as though someone is seeing the plot unfold on websites and social media and live streaming.

Baselevs has had some success with this storytelling style with films such as “Unfriended” and its sequel “Unfriended: Dark Web,” and “Searching,” which drew praise at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

The style has several advantages for a project like this, Ratner says. For starters, it’s been established as being suited to spooky/supernatural/horror films.

But more important, it is a democratic filmmaking style. You can shoot the material with as little as a smartphone.

“So it's a pretty simple thing to do,” he says. “That's why we think it's fits quite well with this idea. We want to kind of make the bar of entry into the project quite low and just have fun and not worry so much about pushing buttons and stuff like that,” Ratner says.

With hopefully hundreds of participants, most of whom have little or no experience or equipment, and a shooting budget of zero, Ratner believes this is the one format in which they could really turn minute-long snippets from around the world into a story.

Shooting assignments will be given in “waves,” Ratner says, with the first wave starting Friday, and other waves following.

With each wave, the story will enter a new phase, Ratner says. “We’re thinking of the film itself as having kind of a viral structure.”

The whole philosophy behind the “The World’s Largest Zombie Movie” is the more, the merrier. The planned debut for the film is May 1. But really, with a storyline that can always be added on to for as long as there is a need and a desire to keep it going, there’s no telling how long or how wide it could spread.

They aren’t expecting to make a masterpiece, Ratner said. The goal is to give kids something to do, and something to look forward to, when the film is released online, seeing their work combined with the work of other kids around the world.

“I don’t know if there is a ‘world’s largest zombie movie,’” he says, so the claim to the title might be moot. But if it helps get kids through the duration, that will be huge.

Felix Ratner designed the zombie makeup for him and his brother, Alfie. It's part ofthe creative fun kids can have shooting their scenes. (Photos courtesy of Paul Ratner)



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