Meltdown is a feature length Zombie/Sci-Fi/Comedy that is a stylistic mix of Clerks, Shaun of the Dead and the Road Warrior. Meltdown follows Zeke, Callie, Les and Hunter on the eve of Hunter's 29 th birthday as they share in a few drinks on a seemingly dull day in their hometown of Somerset, PA. The day takes a turn for the worse as everyone they have ever known are suddenly transformed into aggressively murderous flesh-eating freaks. The four comrades are forced to hack and slash their way through the reanimated corpses of their closest friends and loved ones, only to find themselves on the precipice of a post-apocalyptic wasteland littered with monsters and the looming threat of their fellow survivors.
Meltdown Short: (https://www.youtube.com/
Meltdown Short IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/
RAW Profile: (http://www.rawartists.org/
RAW Video: (https://www.youtube.com/
RAW Article: (https://steelcinema.
wordpress.com/2013/12/16/ interview-raw- Pittsburgh-
Meltdown Short Article: http://www.bluetoad.com/
publication/?i=150694 (Page 26)
What’s the logline or tagline?
Kill or be Killed
How did you come up with the concept?
I originally wrote the Meltdown short while finishing my BA at the College of Santa Fe. It sat on the back burner for years while I taught film in California. When I arrived in Pittsburgh, my sole purpose was to focus on my own films, so I dug it up and filmed it. I won filmmaker of the year through RAW artists in Pittsburgh and received my budget through a private investor for the feature. When I wrote the feature, I had grown tired of horror films that were either rip-offs of Japanese films or over the top CGI films featuring witches or demons, lame shit like that. I wanted to do a film that utilized practical effects and was a film that I could, even though it was mine, sit down a get stoned to and simply enjoy, like the B-movies I was raised on, or the films I watched in college with my friends. I think that there is too much emphasis on meaning, and not enough on simply being able to laugh at and relax during a movie. I wanted people to get a few good laughs, some jolts and simply have a good time.
How many days did it take to film?
We shot the film in two weeks, taking a week off to edit in between, in total, we shot for fourteen days.
How did you decide on the location?
I wanted to do a film in a smaller, rural town and take the second and third acts into an isolated location. Given that the film begins as an almost spoof or comedy of errors and moves into a post-apocalyptic motif that focuses on the evolution of the characters, I wanted to have locations that were a far cry from the predominantly urban or big city setting that is most commonly used. I had some friends in Somerset, Pa and they encouraged me to check it out. The town was perfect and the people were great. I actually re-wrote the whole first half of the film to fit Somerset. Out the second location was a dear friend that lived off the grid, that, knowing that I needed to burn down/blow up a house, invited us to film out on his property. I was really lucky throughout to find people that were as twisted as me.
How did you do the special effects?
The special effects were done by an independent Pittsburgh-based FX artist named Cody Ruch. I wanted to do a film using only practical effects. It was the classic use of latex, corn syrup, food coloring, clay, all of the good shit that made some of the most iconic horror films really pop. Using these effects during production added a completely different edge. In terms of the behind the scenes goings-on, there is a need and pressure to nail the shot, given that a great deal of FX set ups, especially with a low budget and fixed time frame, take a good chunk of time to set up. That sense of urgency is intoxicating and led us to get all of our major gore shots in one take. It is also great on the performance level, because having a fake head filled with all kinds of cottage cheese and nasty kitchen items mixed with fake blood, really lets the actor feel the gross-out factor, especially since they are the ones covered in the muck. I feel it makes for a better and much more believable performance.
What kind of budget did you have to work with?
What was the highlight of making the film?
The whole process, in terms of being on set, was a great time. Citizens of Somerset, our first location, were so jazzed to have a Zombie flick filming in their town, they really rolled out the red carpet for us. We killed the President of the Chamber of Commerce, ripped the arm off of the mayor, turned kids into Zombies, ate dogs and covered the streets in blood. The highlight though, if I had to name one, was during our week two location of filming. Our final day, we burned down a house and then went tubing down the river, cast, crew and neighbors with various beers and liquors and passed by as the final embers went out. Great final day of shooting. In terms of the first week, I had a van with a bunch of murdered extras in it. We were driving back from set, all of us, including the windows of the van, were covered in blood. We were a true gory mess. Well, on the ride back from set, some old farmer called the state troopers and told them that there was a guy driving down the highway with a bunch of corpses. The State Trooper that pulled us over was cool will everything, and let me off with a warning about driving around with newly mutilated corpses.
What was the most aggravating moment of shooting the film?
Shooting wasn’t really aggravating, sure there was the extreme lack of sleep, my editor shitting the bed after filming, but I was prepared for these kinds of things and had made contingencies. The truly aggravating part came later when I sold the thing. There is a dogma in film that sums the whole process and industry up best, “hurry up and wait.” The process of getting the movie prepared for various platforms, dealing with contracts, lackadaisical distributors who, even though the filmmaker can be penalized for not meeting deadlines, have a very nonchalant approach to releases, mine, for instance, was released on some platforms two weeks early and released on others two weeks late, which hurt release marketing strategies; these things were frustrating. Given that this was my first feature and, obviously the first one that I had sold, there was a huge learning curve. The business end was and continues to be, the most frustrating. I shot the thing and had a cut done in less than two months, but it took over a year for it to finally be released. Also, managing expectations. Everyone on the independent level is super excited during the filming process, but very few, and I was lucky with a majority of my core performers, understand the time that a film takes and how truly fortunate the film was in terms of getting picked up so quickly.
Any specific movies or stories that influenced the script?
There were certainly a few, but more specifically in terms of the dialogue, performance, cinematography, and lighting. I wanted to really play with the cross-genre aspect in terms of the flow of the film, but in terms of the rest, I would have to say: Big Trouble in little China, The Hills have Eyes, Clerks, Shaun of the Dead and Mad Max.
What type of reaction did you get from its release?
I did a few screenings in and around Pittsburgh and used them predominantly as focus groups. I would take notes of the audience’s reactions in each screening. When they talked, checked cell phones, laughed, became silent, etc I took notes and re-cut the film until it had the pacing that I desired. Younger audiences are difficult because they have such a shorter attention span given how plugged in they are to various social media outlets, etc, so pacing and time were important. I think with most modern audiences, even doing a film over 90 minutes is risky and too long. For the most part, I got the roller coaster reactions I wanted. Laughter, gasps, shocks and cringes.
Any other horror projects currently in the works?
Outside of horror, I am finishing a documentary about the late Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and working on a full-length horror about an old eccentric titled, There’s no Place Like Home.
Final Thoughts From Director Jacob Mulliken:
The thing I miss most is the filming, specifically when the day finished. There could be arguments, difficulties, perhaps even murder plots, but there was that feeling of success and the notion of, “hey we got it done”, that I miss the most. That is the most difficult aspect of filming, especially a film that was lucky enough to find its own way, is that it ends. The time, the blood, the effort; living all of that in real time and then having to squeeze the experience off screen and make it part of a 90-minute film. That is tough. Simply because, at the twilight of the project, there is no better high than finishing something. However, when it’s done, that profound feeling of joy and accomplishment turns into a powerful feeling of loss brought on by the reality that the battle is over and there is boring work to be done. At the end of the day, the whole process was a gift.
Jacob is also a professor of Cult Film at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.