So most of you by now will have heard of World War Z by Max Brooks, providing you've been reading the news columns here, or if perhaps you were out wandering the streets on the 14th September and had a copy of 'The Daily Terrorgraph' thrust in your hand outside a London train station. Hmmm?
Well luckily for us we've managed to get some first hand access to the who wrote this zombie tomb, with the aim to finding out what inspires someone to write about the living dead.
Hi Max, firstly I want to congratulate you on a great book. How the world community would as a whole cope with a global zombie infestation is something that I guess all zombie fans have at some point wondered about, but I don't think anyone's ever really tackled it before. So on behalf of zombie fans the world over, thanks for plugging that gap for us and, at the same time, well done for finding an original angle on the subject.
But I'm wondering, why zombies? What got you into them in the first place, what made you put pen to paper and write what is now two books on the subject?
I write about zombies simply because they scare the crap out of me. It's their viral nature, their complete lack of intelligence. They're like a disease; no rationality, no middle ground, no negotiation, just sheer instinct to consume and multiply.
If the movies that I think you're going to mention are the main inspiration, are there perhaps any other books or movies that also inspired you? And also, in the opposite sense, are there any bad flicks out there that you particularly don't like that you could mention?
As far as books, the one that inspired me more than anything is "The Good War" by Studs Terkel. It's an oral history of World War II. I read when I was a teenager and it's sat with me ever since. When I sat down to write World War Z, I wanted it to be in the vein of an oral history.
As far movies, obviously the works of George Romero have inspired me deeply. However, the "Return of the Living Dead" movies have set the genre back to the dark ages. They cheapen zombies, make them silly and campy. They've done for the living dead what the old "Batman" TV show did for The Dark Knight.
In World War Z, you seem to have nailed the political agendas of the different countries and regions that would dictate their handling of the world zombie crisis scenario. How much research did that entail, and were you at all ever worried about offending any of our planet's more sensitive cultures?
I've never done this much research in my life. My college professors would be proud. I wanted this book to be as realistic as possible and to break down the stereotypes Americans have about other cultures. I'm a fanatical patriot, and I love my country enough to admit that one of our national flaws is isolationism. I wanted to combat that in "World War Z" and maybe give my fellow Americans a window into the political and cultural workings of other nations. Yes, in "World War Z" some nations come out as winners and some as losers, but isn't that the case in real life as well? I wanted to base my stories on the historical actions of the countries in question, and if it offends some individuals, then maybe they should reexamine their own nation's history.
Were you particular conscious about your own upbringing effecting your work, or did you approach the book from a neutral stand point?
Some people might question the "heroic" stance of the American approach to the zombie war. That is not chauvinism, that's simply how my people are. We're still a young country, and we have very 'young' ideals. We can be naive, ignorant, and as arrogant as any adolescent who thinks he has the power to change the world, but we're an "artificial country" founded on the highest ideals. I'm proud of those ideals and that we aren't afraid to stand up for them. As Churchill once said "The Americans will always do the right thing ... after they've exhausted every other option".
As you were writing, how much of the Zombie Survival Guide did you check back to as you were writing this one? If you did, have you got any examples?
The laws of "The Zombie Survival Guide" apply to "World War Z". Also, and although I never intended it to be so, the historical accounts in the back of the first book, could very well lead right up to the second. Many people have started calling the two of them the "Before" and "After" books.
The book has its fair share of pop culture references, my favourite being the gun called a 'meg' getting the nickname from Megatron in Transformers (I loved that show). Are there any other references in the book that you're particularly pleased with?
Wow, you know your stuff! I don't think anyone else has ever gotten that. As far as the other examples, I'd like to keep those a secret. It's always fun when someone, like yourself, nails it on their own!
The incubation period of the zombie plague is quite vague, is that on purpose? You also don't really discuss the cause of the outbreak. Is that intentional?
I've discussed the parameters of the virus in "The Zombie Survival Guide", but as far as the original cause, that's still a mystery, as with all real virus's, such as AIDS. No one really knows where real diseases started.
What are your favourite tales from the book, and were any of the stories or characters influenced by any particular bits of any old movies? We've always had a particular soft spot for the underwater zombies in Zombie Flesh Eaters here at eatmybrains.com...
Me too. I love the idea of underwater combat. All the information in the "Hardsuit" scenario is true. All those atmospheric diving suits are actually in service today. I've been obsessed with that kind of technology since I was a little kid and watched Dr. Sylvia Earl make a 1000 ft dive in a Jim Suit. I've always wanted combine that technology with the living dead. I hope readers enjoy that scenario as much I as I did writing it.
I’m sure they will Max, now let's talk about the film. How much control have you had so far over the whole proceedings and how much input will you get over the actual film?
As far as the film goes, let's never forget one all important fact. It's my book, my idea, my inspiration, my passion ... so basically I have zero control. I'm actually okay with that. Seriously, I got all the control and creativity I needed writing the book. I'd don't want to see that diluted by dealing with a studio. I'd much rather step back and see the movie as a fan.
Of the excerpts in the book, are there any you'd hate to see dropped if running time becomes an issue?
I hate to play favourites. I'd be very curious to see which ones they chose. There are so many considerations when making a movie; budget, marketing, star power, etc. I'll be curious to see which ones make the cut.
Do you have any actors in mind for the more memorable characters, like Saladin Kader, Breck Scott, Sean Collins, Roy Elliot, Christina Eliopolis, Tomonaga or the main character doing the interviews, who is you I believe? Who do you want to play you, or are you angling to play yourself maybe?
Oh who wouldn't love to see Brad Pitt play them in a movie, but with my luck (and looks) they'll give it to "Ducky" from "Sixteen Candles".
Yeah, I know that feeling. Are there any parts of the book that you struggled with and don't mind telling us about, or was it all fairly easy for a zombie connoisseur like you?
The research was what really kicked my ass. Going back over and over again to make sure that every weapon system, every economic theory, every cultural aspect, every geographical reference point was accurate... I still get tired just thinking about it. Months after the book was completed, I would wake up, no kidding, in the middle of the night and think "Oh shit, is Dachang really that close to Chongquing?"
I guess those are worries that hit most writers, especially when you’re going for such accuracy. What are your next projects Max, anything you want to share with us?
Right now I'm co-producing a show for Comedy Central's website called "The Watch List". It's a series of sketches from American Comedians of Middle Eastern origin. They talk about what it's like to go to sleep one night as Americans and wake up the next day as "Arabs". It should premier sometime this fall.
Sounds cool, good luck with that. And hey, on a final note, do you reckon you could put a word in for us with the production company of WWZ as we three are experienced zombie movie extras after all being in Shaun of the Dead and we're keen to do it again. Okay? Worth a try...
Sure, and maybe I can be one too.
World War Z is out now courtesy of Duckworth Publishing in the UK. You can buy it from Amazon by clicking here
8th Jun 04 The film opens with a very similar voiceover narration to the original (see Trivia) but with different footage as we tour the furnace room, all fingernail scratches and blood-clotted hair, of the Hewitt residence.
Stir Fried Carpenter Night 9th Feb 05 Take one matured fillet of Victor Wong, one young fillet of Dennis Dun, add some 1980’s seasoning and leave to marinate in the Pork Cho