It’s not everyday that you see a totally original idea for a zombie film. Today I had that day! Vernon Mortensen is Director and Producer of Universal Dead. He is also a former U.S Navy SWCC. It is a real pleasure to sit down with an American Hero and one hell of a Director. With only three short webisodes, this film has me wanting more. So without delay, I present an interview on behalf of From Dusk Till Con preformed by yours truly…
Meet Vernon Mortensen…
Malice Psychotik: So today I have the honor of interviewing not only a phenomenal director, but a former member of our county’s Navy. We’re here to talk about his web series Universal Dead. We’ll get to that in a minute. First I want to talk about you. You were an US Navy SWCC, what is that exactly?
Vernon Mortensen: Navy Special Warfare Combatant-craft Crewmen (or SWCC, pronounced “swick”) are organized into Special Boat Teams and usually work with US Navy SEALs and other special operation forces. We are experts in Special Operations but are masters of Maritime Special Operations and operate and maintain an inventory of state-of-the-art, high-performance assault boats used to conduct special operations missions. We are experts in covert mobility.
Navy SWCCs and SEALs go through separate but similar training. Navy SWCCs must pass a 22 week course in order to earn a spot in the Teams. Only about 20% of the students pass this unforgiving course to earn the coveted SWCC warfare badge. Most students quit because the training is just too mentally and physically difficult.
A Navy SWCC must become an expert in weapons, tactics, engineering, combat medicine, radio and satellite communications, land and sea navigation, air operations, water rescue, wilderness and ocean survival, and so much more!
It was the best job (next to filmmaking of course) that anyone can have!
Malice: What made you decide to do film? Was it something you decided while in the service, or had it always been in the back of your mind?
Vernon: When I was in High School, my father’s cousin was a Teamster at Universal Studios and he took me to work with him on the set of Back to the Future for two weeks. That’s when I decided I wanted to make movies. The Navy career came first, but I always knew I would make movies for a living sooner or later.
Malice: What kind of films do you like?
Vernon: I like them all! I always have a special place in my heart for sci-fi/horror, but I’m a filmmaker… I love them all. I have a boxing movie called The Kid: Chamaco starring Martin Sheen, that’s in theaters across the USA right now (http://sites.google.com/site/chamacofilm/). My film company, Unconventional Films, is also making a western called “The Sorrow” this year.
Malice: Do you have a preference when it comes to zombie films?
Vernon: The original Day of the Dead set the benchmark in my opinion.
Malice: Your theory of the zombocolypse it, uber original! Why Physics? Why that over infection?
Vernon: That comes from my business partner and the writer of Universal Dead, Kelly Parks. Kelly is the world’s only Ex-CIA/Rocket Scientist/Stand-up Comic/Screenwriter and is a very smart (like MENSA smart) aerospace engineer and all around science geek.
When Kelly and I were kicking around the idea for Universal Dead, he always had a problem with the whole “infection theory.” An infection doesn’t explain how a zombie can sustain a shotgun blast to the heart and keep coming at you. No, that really bothered Kelly, so like any good scientist; he sat down and developed a workable theory of physics that explained how zombies behave. It really is brilliant.
Malice: Universal Undead has a pretty original concept. Where did you draw some of your inspiration from?
Vernon: Kelly is a huge fan of the book “Flatland” by Edwin Abbott Abbott. There’s even a reference to it in the 3rd episode. The book inspired him to develop the theory that Dr. Vattaber (Doug Jones) gives us in Universal Dead.
Aside from that, the story is different from most zombie movies because it does not take place on “Day Zero” or the days soon after the apocalypse starts. Universal Dead takes place five years after “Day Zero” and these people are all that’s left of the human race. Tight-knit communities of survivors have formed and usually, but not always, under the supervision of the remaining military units, and these people don’t fall for the usual zombie non-sense (as you see in the “bite check” scene in episode 1).
These people are damaged! They have baggage we can’t even imagine and that makes for very interesting characters.
Malice: Are you planning on keeping this idea in a webisode format, or do you think you will move to something bigger?
Vernon: We have just signed contracts with one of the lot producers at Paramount Studios. We are going to be making Universal Dead as a 3D movie to be released by Paramount sometime in late 2011.
Malice: At any rate, you really have my anticipation up for the next webisode. Can we expect to see it soon?
Vernon: Sorry, our deal stipulates that we stop releasing episodes until the movie comes out… but hey, Universal Dead is gonna be a 3D movie… UD3D!
Malice: Let’s move to your production company, Unconventional Films. How did this idea come about?
Neil Trusso, one of the other partners in Unconventional Films and Producer of Universal Dead, is a former Navy SEAL. Neil and I were deployed together to the war-torn African nation of Somalia in 1994, as depicted in the movie “Black Hawk Down,” and while we were there, Neil and I started making comic books. I would write the stories and Neil would illustrate them. That was the beginning of our collaboration and the beginning of Unconventional Films.
And BTW, there are four real US Navy SEALs in Universal Dead who play our Navy SEALs; Craig Sawyer (History Channel’s Top Shot) Cade Courtley (Spike TV’s Surviving Disaster) Joe Baker (Afghan Knights) and Rob Guzzo (Transformers 3).
Kelly Parks and I met years later at a meeting of the professional organization, San Diego Filmmakers, and we really hit it off. While we were producing our first web series, The Crusader (www.watchthecrusader.com ), we made Kelly a partner. Kelly wrote and directed most of the episodes of The Crusader and really impressed us so we asked him to join our insane asylum.
Everything else is history…
Malice: What else can we expect to see from this company?
Vernon: We have more horror/sci-fi projects in the pipeline, and as I mentioned before, there’s our boxing movie, The Kid: Chamaco and our western, The Sorrow. We have a ton of co-productions in the pipeline with our sister company, Rogue Arts. They [Rogue Arts] are mainly an indie drama company, but with the boxing movie The Kid: Chamaco, they are venturing into the “genre” movie world with us and they now want to be a part of a few of our upcoming genre movies including our western.
Rogue Arts is quite a success story. The owner, Kirk Harris, is a great friend and has been running this company; successfully I might add, for over 15 years! That’s quite a track record for an indie company. Rogue Arts has a huge catalog of movies and is always making new movies.
Malice: Well it’s a trademark of mine to ask a round of off the wall questions. Are you game for some madness?
Malice: What are your feelings on a Zombie Apocalypse? Thinks it’s possible?
Vernon: Well the science is there, as Kelly Parks proved… but I think the closest thing we will probably ever experience, or have a real possibility of experiencing, is a pandemic scenario. In a pandemic, the rule of law eventually collapses as government succumbs to the same disease that’s killing everybody else. At this point, the people who are left, the survivors, revert to being animals and all humanity is lost. This is a scenario that I could see actually happening on a global scale… scary!
Malice: In a zombie crisis, what’s your weapon of choice?
Vernon: I’ve actually given this a lot of thought. Zombies are very different from the adversaries a military man like me is used to confronting. We don’t have issues like zombies wearing body armor, or using intelligent tactics against us. Wounding a zombie does no good and is a waste of ammo. Knocking a zombie down might save you some time, but guess what? The zombie will get back up and come after you. The only thing that matters is damaging the brain and impairing brain function.
I would choose a weapon with a military caliber and one of the lighter calibers so I could carry more. If you know where to look, the military has bunkers full of ammo all across the USA. Because I’d only need to focus on penetrating the skull and damaging the brain, bigger, heavier calibers like 7.62 or 12ga. are out. So, I’d probably settle on an M4 in the 5.56 caliber. I’d probably have a suppressor (most people call them silencers but there is no such thing as a silent gun) so that I could minimize the attention I’d call to myself if I did have to shoot a zombie. Maybe I’d even add a fast target acquisition system like an “Aimpoint” or an “EOTech.” For long distance I’ve always been partial to the ACOG (I had one on my M4 in the Navy). Availability of parts and simple operation and maintenance are also big considerations.
With the M4 the options are endless!
Malice: Do you like Predators or Aliens?
Vernon: I like it when Predators fight Aliens!
Malice: Lucio Fulci or George Romero?
Vernon: Fulci is good but Romero all the way… except for Land of the Dead. Hated that one!
Malice: This was a very enlightening conversation. Thank you for doing this interview. It was honor on so many levels! A great director and an honest to God Patriot. Is there anything else you would like to add before we finish?
Vernon: Just one thing…
Those of us who made Universal Dead are big zombie fans! We set out to make a movie/web series that would make us and the other fans out there very happy and it appears that we have succeeded so far. We are very, very humbled by the response we’ve gotten and would like to thank our fans and assure everyone that we will do our best to make UD3D into a kick ass movie (not like most 3D movies) and to take it somewhere interesting and new.
Thanks for watching!
Thank you very much for the interview Vernon! Now if anyone else wants to hunt down those juicy webisodes, feel free to look at THIS. There you can get a little history and view the original Webisodes. Trust me, it will be well received. Also, don’t forget to keep an eye out for this film in 2011. Universal Dead in 3-D off all things. I know I can’t wait!
Until Next Time, My Freaky Darlings,