John Russo is the co-writer of the iconoclastic 1968 Night of the Living Dead, with George Romero. John has kept very busy with various movie projects, book releases and teaching in the film development realm.
Last year John did a commercial spot for the TV Network Epix to promote the airing of World War Z, in which he played a sentient zombie, hilariously explaining how he became a member of the undead. The spot was so well received that John decided to go back to his roots and produce a full-length feature with the same character. John has always enjoyed comedy and horror as a mashup, and in our interview below, he explains why.
centers around a zombie whose family took him in and rehabilitated him (to a degree), and he has been living in hiding all of these years. Now in a post-zombie, modern world, Uncle John is about to be discovered.
As word gets out about Uncle John and the fact that, although he is a zombie, he still has considerable communication skills and a witty sense of humor, his popularity starts to spread faster than the zombie apocalypse itself, with news coverage (and fame) growing by the day.
However, there are some people who do not want to see zombies of any kind getting notoriety, who believe that the only good zombie is a dead zombie, and make it their mission to capture Uncle John and have a little fun at their hunt club.
[ZRS]: I see you’re working on a new zombie comedy My Uncle John is a Zombie. I noticed you used Indiegogo to help raise some funds for the film, and you exceeded your goal (Congrats by the way). Can you tell me a little about your experience using this crowd-funding platform? What made it successful?[JR]: It was successful mostly because Gary Vincent, owner of Burning Bulb Publishing and a producer on MY UNCLE JOHN IS A ZOMBIE!, worked his butt off to make it happen. That, coupled with the fact that most people liked the concept and script, including the celebrities who signed onto the project, and they contributed to the success of the Indiegogo campaign. None of it would have been possible were it not for the fact that my fans, and the fans of everyone connected with the project, really wanted to help make it happen. We are extremely grateful to all who contributed.
Why did you decide to cast yourself in the feature role?
When I was in San Francisco in 2014, as a special guest of Kirk Hammett and his Fear Fest Evil, I was asked to be on-camera in a TV spot for the EPIX channel. I played a zombie talking about how I first became one. The producer said I “knocked it out of the park.” There were about eight spots made with myself and a bunch of other horror-film celebrities, and of the eight apparently the fans thought mine was the best and funniest. So I said, “Well, then, I should write a full-length script.” So I did. And my friends and supporters liked it a lot. That’s why Gary Vincent and Rob Lucas came on board right away as co-producers.
Where are you in the process of making the movie?
We have some shooting days left, and we are simultaneously editing here in Pittsburgh. Jamie Lockhart is the editor and is doing an excellent job.
What have been the biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge during shooting was that we couldn’t get started till December because of everyone’s work schedules and prior commitments, and so we ended up doing it in very cold weather. If we could have shot in the summer, we would have had 8 hours of shooting time per day, but in December, due to early darkness and morning fog on a whole lot of the days, we only had about 4 or 5 hours of daylight each day.
How does it feel to be making a zombie movie film again?
We had a great time making the movie. Everybody, both cast and crew, put out a two-hundred percent effort, and everyone was dedicated and very professional.
Why did you decide to go comedy?
Well, fans who have met me and hung out with me at conventions and other personal appearances know that I tell a lot of jokes and make them laugh their butts off. I also am very good at spontaneous — off-the-cuff — satire and humor. So, when millions of people got a big kick out of the EPIX spot, I decided to go all the way with a horror comedy.
Who will be doing the zombie effects?
Jerami Cruise was the main guy, backed up by Fred Vogel of Toe Tag Pictures.
Tell me about your relationship with Robert Lucas (co-director).
Rob is incredibly talented and has worked on dozens of productions, including One More For the Fire — the Night of the Living Dead 40th Anniversary Documentary — and quite a few of the Return of the Living Dead sequels. He also has done remarkable work as a videographer for Kirk Hammett, the lead guitarist of METALLICA, who has one of the greatest collections of horror memorabilia in the world. Rob and I have been close friends for years, and we worked very well together as co-directors. He has opened his own studio in Los Angeles, BRICK AND MORTAR STUDIOS.
How did you get Lloyd Kaufman involved in the film?
Lloyd learned about the project, liked the concept a lot, and volunteered to be in the movie.
What will Lloyd Kaufman be doing in My Uncle John is a Zombie? Will his company Troma be involved in any way?
Lloyd will play himself, the president of Troma, who is miffed about Uncle John’s overnight stardom, and masterminds a plot to kidnap Uncle John and sell chances to Zombie Hunters who can win big prize money if they can track down and shoot Uncle John.
Will this be an Epix movie?
It is too early to say who the buyers or distributors may be.