Loren Semmens and Adam Deyoe talk Dead Season and delayed sequels
Indie Film Junction | November 22, 2020
Indie Film Junction | November 22, 2020
Dead Season is regarded as the first feature film shot on the Canon 7D DSLR camera. The micro-budget movie achieved international success, and a long-planned sequel is in the works, but delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We spoke with Adam Deyoe and Loren Semmens about what went into the production and what happens next.
IFJ: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us about Dead Season! Can you tell us what it’s about?
LS: Hey! Dead Season is a post-apocalyptic zombie film set on a tropical island where our stranded heroes must battle both zombies as well as a militia-like community.
IFJ: What inspired you to make the movie, and how did the idea originate and evolve during development?
LS: We actually were scouting in Puerto Rico for a different film (a comedy that still has not been made) and after seeing all the amazing locations on the small island of Vieques, PR, we figured it was the perfect backdrop for a horror film. From then we began writing.
AD: The comedy was titled “Boat Island.” In the script for “Boat Island” it called for a deserted tropical island. We planned on making that particular film but didn’t have quite enough money to do it right. Our idea was to go see the island and then adapt the script to what we found there to cut costs.
The island of Vieques is located off the east coast of Puerto Rico within the Bermuda triangle. We went to that particular island because we had a free place to stay thanks to the generous filmmaker John Cameron Mitchell. It also sounded as if it had exactly what we were looking for – deserted beaches. What we didn’t know until we arrived was what else it had… Abandoned hotels engulfed in jungle, underground tunnels, military bunkers, rusted trains, an abandoned coliseum, cliffs and extremely helpful locals.
One night after spending the day at the beach and going over the script for “Boat Island” we went to the local bar and started a conversation with a few new friends we had made over the last few days. Loren and I mentioned how bummed we were that if we made “Boat Island” we wouldn’t have been able to utilize all of the amazing military locations and abandoned buildings due to the fact it takes place on a deserted island. That’s when I said, “Too bad we’re not making a zombie movie.” Then we all started talking. “There can be military guys… and they use the bunkers… and then they go to the tunnels… then there can be a crashed boat…” and it went on and on.
We decided then and there that we would make a zombie film instead and put off “Boat Island” for another day. It was also the moment the title “Dead Season” was born. One of the guys we had made friends with mentioned how we needed to make the film during “dead season” when no tourists were on the island. Dead season is another term for the off peak season, but for a zombie film it has many meanings.
IFJ: You both co-wrote the script with Joshua Klausner. What was the writing process like, and what do you see as the pros and cons of writing a feature as a team?
LS: Generally speaking, we really enjoy writing as a team. In the case of Dead Season, it was essential to have three brains working because of our small pre production window (we had merely one month to write the script before shooting). This way, we were able to all work on separate sections which sped up the creative process.
AD: Yeah, we had a very narrow window of time to make the film. We didn’t have the money to postpone the movie and do pre production a second time after setting up “Boat Island” so we had to just go! The location scout of Vieques was only a little more than a month before we were to ship out for principle photography, so in that time we had to write the script, gather the crew, get most of the financing and cast it, among about ten-thousand other things. This is where having three writers came in handy.
The entire screenplay was based on what we saw on our location scout. We literally wrote out ideas for scenes as we drove and hiked around the island. It was all very practical and “producery.” I would say, “…if we shot in this particular location we wouldn’t be able to get the truck in.” Then Loren would say, “OK, fuck it… lets write the scene to take place in the jungle over there instead.” It was all based on the island!
We wrote it primarily in one month as we did pre production. As we shot we were re-writing every night and even on set with the actors. Since we had no leeway in our schedule we had to do it like this. It was not ideal by any means! Since Loren and I were also producing we brought on our friend Josh Klausner to work on it with us. We presented him our idea and basically stayed up for a month straight working on it forty hours a day between us. We love writing with each other, but if I had to do it again I would never rush the way we did. We all went insane from lack of sleep.
The pros and cons in this specific situation were pretty apparent. Pros – We got the words on the page faster. Cons – it was disjointed and messy. This was due to the timeframe though. Not the collaboration. If we had more time the voice throughout the story would have flowed much better.
IFJ: What was the casting process like?
LS: Like many films, there were two sets of actors: the principle cast we brought in from Los Angeles and the supporting roles, which were filled by locals in PR. The LA casting process was generally normal – standard callbacks, postings on casting websites, etc. With the exception of the character Tweeter (Marissa Merrill)…
AD: It’s been a while since we did the film but the casting was very memorable as we are still friends with everyone we made the film with. Also, I did another interview many years back where I talked at length about this so we’re in luck!
We didn’t have much time to get the casting done nor did we have the money. We relied mainly on recommendations from friends and using casting websites as quickly as possible, even Craigslist.
Corsica Wilson who played Rachel Conrad was the first person cast. I had met her six months prior on another movie I was recording sound on called “Clair”. We hit it off and became friends. The part was not written for her but as soon as we started the casting process she was the first person I thought of. She lived in Florida at the time and did her audition over skype. It was convenient though since Puerto Rico is so close to Florida, so we saved some money on plane tickets.
James C. Burns who played Kurt Conrad came in to audition and we also hit it off right away. On his resume I noticed he had been in a film called “My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?” by one of my favorite filmmakers Werner Herzog. I asked James what it was like to do the film and gushed about my love for Herzog. I was excited that I could direct a man that was directed by Herzog!
Scott Peat who played Elvis was a recommendation from Loren’s friend. We saw Scott audition and he did it unlike anyone else. He surprised us after seeing so much of the same. We brought him in to read with a few other people as well and he seemed to always bring something fun and new to the lines. We needed that!
Marissa Merrill who played Tweeter had probably the most bizarre casting process of all. It is a long story that will seem like it is going nowhere, but please bear with me. The first day of the shoot was drawing near and we still hadn’t found our female lead. Loren and I were starting to worry. We had seen so many people for Tweeter and no one was working out. After he put up one more desperate Craigslist ad we decided to take a break and look at funny videos on-line to lighten the mood. After a while we started talking about a filmmaker we remembered from back in Boston (where we went to school) who made some really odd stuff and decided to look them up. We found their website and started clicking around on their videos. One video in particular made us laugh so hard we thought we were going to die. It was a fan video of Friday the 13th. It started with girls kissing, getting naked, standing by a white van, and then getting killed by Jason. One of the actresses was hilariously bad and had a very silly fake name (I’ll call her Red Rosey Petal, since that is similar enough) It had an amazing Troll 2/Neil Breen vibe and we watched it again and again. After that we moved on to a trailer to another film by the same director. This one looked really bad as well but surprisingly one of the actresses in the trailer seemed great. I turned to Loren and said, “That girl there. She’d be great for Tweeter. I want someone exactly like that. She’d be perfect!” Loren agreed but there were no credits and we couldn’t figure out what her name was. We went back to working on the screenplay.
The next morning I woke up on Loren’s couch with the laptop next to me after about an hour of sleep. Loren and I had to run an errand over at the SAG office, so we got up and headed out the door. As we drove back from SAG to Loren’s apartment I noticed a white van heading towards us in the other lane. I said, “That looks just like the van from the awful Friday the 13th video we watched last night.” As it got closer I said, “Hey the woman in that van looks like the woman from the awful Friday the 13th video we watched last night too.” Loren said, “I think it IS her!” We both stopped in traffic right next to each other. I rolled down my window and made her roll down hers and asked, ‘Hey, were you in a Friday the 13th fan video?” Shocked, she replied, “Yes…” I said back, “Is your name Red Rosey Petal?” She replied, “I am! You are the first person ever to recognize me in my entire life!” Then the light changed and we drove away. What are the odds that a woman from a random video that we watched the night before would happen to pull up next to us the next day. Crazy small world especially since the video was shot in Boston. We drove back to the apartment.
Once inside, Loren sat down and checked his e-mail. We had received only one reply from any of the ads we put up the night before. The person who responded was named Marissa Merrill and she had seen our post on Craigslist. We clicked on her resume and a link to some of the things she was in. It brought us directly to the website we had been looking at the night before. She was the girl I had randomly pointed to and said, “That girl there. She’d be great for Tweeter.” Out of all the people in the entire world… I pointed at ONE and the next day that ONE person whose name I didn’t even know was the only person to respond to our ad. AND the other girl whose video we watched pulled up next to us in her van. Needless to say Marissa got the part.
IFJ: Dead Season is considered to be the first feature shot on a Canon 7D. Can you tell us what else was used to make the movie and how you landed on the 7D as a camera choice?
Shooting on Vieques was going to be a challenge because there’s no rental houses, or anything production related at all. Plus, the extreme tropical heat and humidity, we needed a cost-effective solution that would give us the ability to have numerous camera bodies in the case of failure. Merely a few weeks prior to production, Canon released the 23.98 firmware upgrade for the 7D camera. That was it. From that point on, we went all in.
IFJ: Can you walk us through the production schedule? How many days did you shoot for and over what period of time?
Principal photography in PR lasted about a month and we had another two weeks in Los Angeles for pick-ups, reshoots and inserts. We shot during the “dead season” for tourism, so locations were more readily available to us and inexpensive.
IFJ: What were the biggest logistical challenges of production, and how did you overcome them?
LS: Vieques is remote. When we shot, I think there was only one stoplight on the entire island. The biggest stores were gas stations and little mom and pop food stores. As a result, getting food, equipment, supplies – everything was a chore. We would send crew members on a ferry ride to the main island to do Costco and camera rental house runs about every other day.
AD: We have a ton of nightmare stories. Can give you a few!
We had gotten permission to shoot at a beautiful abandoned lighthouse, which was to be the action centerpiece of the film. It was going to be the biggest day of shooting and the one we were most excited for. The morning we got to the location to shoot there was a gate up with a lock on it and we couldn’t get the cube truck past. Loren rushed off to a government building to get the guy with the keys. He luckily found him and he told us everything would be all set. Then right before we were about to go unlock the gate a phone call from an actual military compound on the island came through. They said that they owned that property, not Puerto Rico, and that we could not go through. We asked them why and they responded with, “Because the area is covered in land mines and you could all blow up.” I know that sounds far fetched but it was true. The island was used as a military testing site for bombs, land mines and many other things. On Fridays during our shoot we always had to stop due to the sounds of explosions ruining our takes. The military would sweep through the jungle, gather up all the bombs and mines and on Fridays put them all together and blow them up. The lighthouse scene had to be scrapped. We spent the next few hours re-writing it and adapting it to a different location, which we were not thrilled about and was very underwhelming in comparison. But we got it in the can and that’s what mattered in the moment.
Another story that involves our sound on the island had to do with the CONSTANT barking of dogs and crowing of roosters. We had to stop every ten seconds, sometimes only getting a few words of a line at a time. It was dreadful… and editing around all that wasn’t fun. The entire island was like this… nowhere we went was quiet. We found out later that when “Lord of the Flies” shot there 50 years earlier they had the exact same problem. It is why that entire film is dubbed.
LS: We hired a LA based guy to do location sound. He requested that we fly his new wife out to the island, and in turn she would be a production assistant on our film. Sounded like a fair trade to us.
On the first day, before we shot anything, they took us aside and complained that we hadn’t supplied them with any weed. (why the hell would we even do that???) They were really pissed off. Seeing as though it was our first day and I didn’t want to get behind, Loren asked a local production assistant to see if they could find some for the newlyweds.
Over the next couple hours, we began shooting on a beach. It was a beautiful sunny day and aside from the sound guy incessantly asking me about when his drugs would arrive, things were great. Then I get called on walkie to rush back to our base camp (about 100 yards from the beach).
I arrived to find his wife acting like she was about to die. She was “passed out” in a chair with a towel over her head and two production assistants fanning her. Despite the fact that she was born in Africa and grew up in the south, she claimed to have gotten heat stroke and demanded to be brought back to the hotel (a.k.a upgraded to the actor’s lodging instead of the crew house). I complied and sent her up there. (by the way everyone else on the crew was absolutely fine)
After we wrapped for the day, I went to check in on them. In short, they blackmailed me into flying them back to LA on the first available flight the next morning. They held the sound recordings hostage until we returned to LA a month later. Furthermore, she threatened to contact the unions and lie to them about our working conditions. Seeing as though I really wasn’t in the mood to get shut down on false pretenses, I did as they requested and sent them on their way.
It cost us probably about $4k, and I (Loren) had to take over sound recording duties for the duration of the shoot. And to add insult to injury, I actually got a call from a union about poor working conditions. When I inquired as to who filed the grievance and told him the story, the union rep laughed and said “don’t worry about it.” If our rep hadn’t have been levelheaded when dealing with this woman, it could have resulted in us getting shut down. Dodged a bullet there.”
It was also very difficult to get equipment to the island. We had to rent a ferry to get the grip truck over which was expensive and a pain. And when our generator broke we couldn’t get one until the next day, also by ferry. During the time there we also blacked out the entire island twice due to the power we were pulling. I really could go on and on. It all reminded me of the documentary about the making of “Apocalypse Now” called “Hearts of Darkness” but on a much smaller scale.
IFJ: What advice do you have for filmmakers that want to include action or gore in their movies on a tight budget?
One of the most cost effective ways to have realistic looking gore, is to get realistic gore. We purchased things like pig intestines, skin, blood, etc for some of the close-ups.
IFJ: Loren, before Dead Season, you produced other features, including The Woman and Jug Face. What did you learn on those films, and how did they impact decisions you made as both a producer and a writer?
LS: My involvement with those other projects was predominantly on the financing side, so the biggest takeaways were a greater understanding of how film contracts are structured as well as investor deals.
IFJ: What is something you learned from the production of Dead Season you wish you knew going into it?
LS: Dating websites are not a good place to scout production crew members.
IFJ: You both edited the movie. Can you describe your post workflow and the dynamic you established? What software did you use, and how did you divide the post-production responsibilities?
LS: Dead Season was cut on the cusp of the transition from Final Cut Pro 7 to X. We used FCP7 for Dead Season. Both of us have extensive post experience. We cloned the drives and split lots of the assistant work to expedite that part of the process, then Adam did a full rough pass and Loren took it from there (generally). Adam did the special effects work with other friends of ours and Loren colored the film. We had a sound designer and a sound mixer who were both amazing.
AD: Just wanted to add that when I did the first cut I thought it was great. It was something like two and a half hours long. Lots of long walking shots and overly dramatic meditative dialogue. Loren said something like, “We’re not trying to make a zombie art house film here. Jim Jarmusch isn’t ever going to make a zombie movie for a reason.” Anyway, he cut it down to around 80 minutes and made it much better… and Jarmusch HAS made a zombie film at this point.
IFJ: What were some challenges that came up during post, and how did you resolve them?
Because of the size of the film and the limitations with FCP7, we could only export our OMF file in 2gig chunks. This was extremely tedious and made the transition to sound pretty awful, however our sound mixer Seth Talley was able to create some clever workarounds. Thankfully, this isn’t much of an issue anymore in production.
IFJ: Were there any reshoots?
There were many additional days of shooting, but only one real reshoot day. There’s a scene of an interrogation in a bunker and one shot was soft, so we reshot the inserts in a loft in downtown three months later. As for additional footage, we wrote a handful of extra scenes that really helped tie the story together (such is the case when you rush a script into production).
IFJ: What was your marketing and distribution strategy, and do you have advice for any filmmakers that might be finishing up a film of their own and trying to figure out what to do with it?
Instead of focusing on social media, we took a more traditional approach by hiring a PR agency and also leaning into our relationships with horror publications and journalists. That helped get the word out. The film also was the number one download for many days on the Pirate Bay, so that was pretty much a free marketing campaign right there.
IFJ: Dead Season was initially released at a time when the physical media side of the home entertainment market was still viable. If you were to release Dead Season now, how would your strategy be different?
We do not consider ourselves film salesmen so we brought on a colleague who specializes in film sales to help with the distribution aspect of the movie. If we were to do it again today, I’m sure we would take the same route. Because the distribution landscape is constantly evolving, if you’re merely a creative trying to tell a story, it’s difficult to stay on top of that. Trusting the pros for this one is highly recommended.
IFJ: What’s next for you?
A sequel to Dead Season has been fully financed. We were set to begin production in Hawaii, and then COVID shut everything down a week prior to our departure. It’s still next on the list once shooting a zombie film is doable again.
Director Adam Deyoe
Runtime 85 min
When a worldwide viral outbreak leads to a plague of zombies scouring the earth for the living, two survivors flee the chaos of America to a remote island, hoping for a chance to start a new life. What they find is unrelenting horror. Beyond the hordes of the flesh-hungry undead, the other people already on the island force the pair into a fight-or-die battle amongst themselves. Armed only with crude weapons, they must descend to savagery and cutthroat tactics just to make it through each day.More