“There are plenty of movies about killing zombies, but I’ve never seen one about taking care of a zombie.” Just like that, Andy Jones is on his way to Hollywood with his Zombie Baby.
Making it in Tinsel Town as a screenwriter is difficult. Books have been written on the subject touting the same formulas. Dozens attend lectures hoping to get a glimpse of the secret to success. People pay thousands of dollars for higher education degrees to learn the craft, but the truth of the matter is that it takes luck, talent, and non-stop hard work. Andy Jones, it seems, has found all of that with his new screenplay, the recently Black Listed Zombie Baby.
Both major studios and smaller production companies are bombarded with thousands of scripts from would-be screenwriters each year. They even hire readers to wade through and grade them with what they call “coverage,” but even with all these handy summaries floating around there is still a lot of information to consume. Enter the Black List.
Every year, Franklin Leonard (a studio head and founder of the Black List) contacts a growing number of entertainment executives (this year over 290) and compiles their favorite unproduced screenplays into an aggregated list based on the number of recommendations each received. The Black List makes the important distinction that these aren’t necessarily “the best” screenplays but rather the “most liked.” Since its creation, many careers have been kick-started (Diablo Cody’s Juno appeared on the list in 2005 and she eventually went on to win an Oscar for the screenplay) and many great films have been made (500 Days of Summer, Lars and the Real Girl, The Social Network to name a few).
So getting on the Black List is a big deal and this year, Zombie Baby and Andy Jones made it. But how did it come to be? And more importantly, what on earth could a movie called Zombie Baby be about, besides, you know, zombie babies?
“I wanted to write a zombie movie because zombies are awesome and who doesn’t love zombies?” says Jones. “But it was right when Zombieland came out so I didn’t want to do another zombie-comedy like that.”
Instead, Jones decided to explore a world in which zombies have been around for some time and become just another routine part of life rather than set the movie in the mayhem shortly after zombies “happen.” The story itself centers on Sarah and Mike, a couple having the same problems any young couple has when they’ve failed to produced a child after a lengthy period. Mainly, their parents are giving them hell for not bestowing upon them bundles of grandkids to coo at and spoil. Throw in (literally – he flies through the air at some points) a zombie baby and you have the perfect recipe for a film. “Zombie Baby is really a relationship comedy with zombies in it,” he says.
But don’t let that fool you. Zombie Baby is still shaping up to be a great zombie flick.
“Every good zombie movie is on some level a social commentary.” Zombies always stand for something and in this movie they represent fear of the unknown. The government created the zombie virus as a biological weapon in response to an unspecified threat, and, of course, it got out of hand – in turn creating another little- understood thing for people to fear: zombies. But, the more Mike and Sarah interact with their zombie baby the more they realize the unknown isn’t so scary once you get to know it.
Writing characters who suddenly become parents and capturing the pains and triumphs of parenthood is not an easy task. Especially when you don’t have kids. “I’m not a parent, but I know young parents and I understand the attitude that, 'yes this is a huge time suck and we’re miserable and we don’t get any sleep but this is the best thing that ever happened to us',” Jones says. That understanding of a greater emotional truth about parenting is evident throughout the script. For a screenplay about the undead, the relationships and storylines that Jones has created have a lot of heart. You feel for these parents as they try to raise this child that happens to be a zombie.
However, the road to Zombie Baby wasn’t as easy as it may seem. Jones says the script went through several rewrites based on feedback from other writers he trusts. He even used it as his thesis script for the Screenwriting MFA Program at the American Film Institute, a home he found after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While many artists are triumphing with a DIY attitude in the film world, Jones' resume proves that the old way – simply perfecting your craft and moving to L.A. – still works.
While it does have a production company attached, we’re still a ways off from actually seeing Zombie Baby, but Jones is optimistic, hoping that its placement on the Black List will hasten the page-to-screen process. Never one to be satisfied - he’s already working on several other projects - Jones proves that all it takes to get noticed in Hollywood is a little luck, a lot of raw talent and more hard work than the next guy. A cute little terrifying zombie baby probably doesn't hurt either.
Photo credits: Gijs van der Most