Most people filming a low-budget zombie movie in their apartment would feel that they were far enough off the beaten path, but not USF alumnus Michael Adam Kraus. As the creator of Project Zee, an underground – way underground – film company, he wants to revolutionize the zombie genre.
“I love zombie movies. I’ve always wanted to make one and I’ve had this idea for a while,” Kraus said.
In bringing his idea to life, Kraus drew inspiration from the work of two of his favorite directors: Jim Jarmusch (Coffee and Cigarettes) and George A. Romero (Night of the Living Dead).
Kraus’ film differs from most zombie movies in that the monster, not the survivor, is the main character.
“I don’t want to give too much away, but the opening shots are of a zombie, alone, in a tiny, destroyed room. He spends the entirety of the movie trying to figure out how he got there. It was filmed nonlinearly, so the end is kind of the beginning,” Kraus said.
He wrote the script, directed, produced and played the main character in the film.
Acting may sound like a dream for some, but Kraus would rather be behind the camera.
“I hated acting, but there were things that needed to be done that I couldn’t have asked anyone else to do,” he said.
This included wearing a latex zombie suit for several hours – which caused Kraus to break out in hives – and rubbing soap in his eyes to create an authentic bloodshot effect.
“The contacts we had ordered for the shot didn’t work. We were strapped for time, trying to wrap it up, so I did it. Hopefully someone will appreciate the special effects. My eyes were swollen for hours after,” Kraus said, laughing.
Another situation Kraus experienced while making a zombie movie was getting rid of a blood stained couch – without getting the police involved.
In addition to his eyeballs and his furniture, Kraus had to sacrifice his home in the making of his film.
“We tore apart my apartment guest room and filmed pretty much all of it there,” he said.
For the two weeks it took to film the movie, Kraus’ guest bedroom had no carpet and was covered in blood, serving as the primary set.
“It’s pretty cramped to film in such a small room, so we had to use specific camera shots with wide-angled lenses only,” he said. “The entire thing is filmed in Cinemascope 16:9 (widescreen). It resembles actual film. It’s grainy, like 28 Days Later.”
Although the room was the main set, one scene was filmed on campus.
“It’s a small flashback scene – no zombies,” Kraus said. “It was filmed on one of the pathways around the Social Science building.”
Project Zee is in the final stages of wrapping up the film, which is still unnamed, and Kraus said it will be finished no later than July.
“I want to show it at USF. I know I can get access to some auditoriums to play it, but I may have to charge admission to use them,” he said. “I don’t want people to think we are trying to make money off of this. Any money we make would go toward our next project.”
Kraus’ plans for the film don’t stop at USF, though.
“I plan on entering it into several film festivals next year. Some prizes get you entrance into bigger festivals, like Sundance. Some can get your film on the DVD extras of major movies, so it’s worth it,” he said.
Surprisingly, the Zee in Project Zee has nothing to do with zombies. Kraus has been making films since he was 8 years old and he always named his main character “Zee.” When he formed his crew for Project Zee, the name stuck. The group consists of mostly USF students and alumni, and Kraus welcomes people to join them.
“We always need someone to jump in and do a scene or hold a mic boom,” Kraus said. “Anyone who wants to learn something and help out is welcome to. We’re in the planning stages of kind of a film-making spoof right now,” he said. “It’s kind of a parody of people like us, making a zombie movie.”