Dead Before Dawn 3D marks the first Canadian picture to be filmed entirely in 3D. Starring Devon Bostwick and Christopher Llyod, the horror-comedy centers on a group of college students who unleash a curse that transforms people into “zemons”, a deadly combination of zombie and demon.
I had the chance to talk with director April Mullen and writer Tim Doiron, (who made the movie through their Wango Films production company) about their foray into 3D, and what brought about the combining of two of the horror genre’s most lethal foes
This was a low budget picture, so was it a problem acquiring 3D cameras? What specifically did you shoot it on?
April Mullen: It was shot with two Red One cameras, and it was shot in stereoscopic 3D and we shot with both cameras on set with a Quasar rig, so we had a left and right eye going at all times so it wasn’t done in post. The 3D on this type of budget was extremely difficult and we had to come with creative solutions at all times to make everything work with what we had to make this film work.
One camera sits vertically, and one camera sits horizontally and there’s a piece of glass between them that sits diagonally.
Tim Doiron: The rig is called a beam-splitter rig, so the images join in the middle and that’s how those images get mixed into 3D.
You were saying it was a challenge to make it in 3D. Was that because this was first time using the 3D?
AM: Yeah, it was actually Canada’s first 3D film. The workflow at this budget level was completely non-existant. We had to come up with a strategy with our post-production house on how to efficently shoot 3D, and make sure that the 3D was working at all times. We worked with an experience stereographer out of Canada named Jeff Packer and with our post house on all of the 3D in pre-production for how the workflow would work. So it was completely new terrority for all people involved, including our backers.
Did you always decide you were going to shoot this movie in 3D or did you decide when you could do it 3D you wanted to give it a try?
AM: No. We wanted to shoot in 3D first and we were really excited to use the technology, especially because a lot of American films have shot in 3D and we’d never down our own homegrown 3D. It was highly ambitious at the time and we had no idea how difficult it would be to pull off.
So it was 3D first and then we thought ‘Well, what would be suited for 3D?’ and we really wanted to do a genre picture.
What challenges did shooting in 3D present on set?
TD: There were a lot of challenges that came with shooting in 3D. Right off the top, you’re looking at a thirty-percent slower production rate. That means whatever many days you have to shoot a film, you need thirty-percent more time and we shot the film in twenty days, which is very tiny even for an independent film. Number two, the rig we were shooting was very heavy so you can’t get it in and out of locations very easily. We had a winnebego that we had to shoot it so we had to come with a lot of interesting ways to shoot in and around that. And because we had two cameras, all the lenses needed to be matched up at all times, so it took a lot of time to pop each lens off and change lenses.
Did shooting in 3D affect what you could do with your production design, or did you have to change anything because it was 3D?
AM: I mean we’re very happy, but I guess we would more plan for 3D. All the locations were very planned for 3D ahead of time. Because the rig is much bigger you have to move around set pieces a lot more. We tended to take much bigger pieces in set design just because of what we were dealing with. I wouldn’t say they were compromises, but decisions that were always revolving around the 3D aspect. Everything was the 3D in mind first. So for sure it affected every single aspect of the entire film. It definitely heavily impacts the film, but I would say in a good way.
Outside of wanting to do a genre picture, what spawned the idea for this movie?
TD: Once we knew we were shooting in 3D, we started brainstorming and thinking about the stories we wanted to tell. We had an idea from a while back that we actually thought was going to be a thriller at first, which was this idea of people killing themselves for no apparent reason. It was pretty morbid, and I thought I don’t necessarily want to approach that subject in that vein. But then when we got into this world and started thinking about making a possible zombie film, we thought ‘wouldn’t it be crazy if we made a classic style zombie film that started out with a bunch of clueless college kids.’ But then we took it to the next level, and created their own curse which involves people they make eye-contact with that turn into this zombie-demon hybrid. And we just thought that would be a lot fun, and it would be very complimentary to shoot for a 3D film.
AM: We were also really excited about working with a new hybrid of a monster. We thought it would be really intriguing to if this was a zombie that actually had a brain, it had demon skills behind it so it could run really quickly and it could move fast and attack at will.
It’s interesting to have a zombie that can actually move and think. Who coined the phrase zemon?
TD: We thought of that together. We thought of dombie, but that was awful. So there’s a play on words there that you can have fun with and it just sort of rolls off the tongue.
AM: Half-zombie, half-demon, all zemon. Just works so well.
Did you always decide you wanted to be a group of kids who didn’t know what they were doing or was there ever an ultra badass type character?
AM: I think that would be more along the lines of a sequel. Even though it’s a horror comedy, all of our performances are based in truth, so to have these people kind of cause this curse and come through as the underdog hero was something that was really appealing to us. We really wanted to see the transition of Capser (Devon Bostick) really come into his own. It’s a coming of age adventure story where he learns how to be a hero and saves the day.