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Interview with Karl Schaefer of "Z
I didn't participate in this call... I don't have time to
do them all, but also, I hate zombies and I'll be glad when
this trend is over! They're just too gross and creepy for me
:) But I know lots of people love them and "The Walking
Dead" and "The Strain" are very popular, so here's another
show you might like. Interesting interview with the
Moderator: Maureen Granados
September 8, 2014
2:00 p.m. ET
Operator: Good afternoon. My name is Courtney, and I'll be
your conference operator today. At this time, I would like
to welcome everyone to the Z Nation conference call. All
lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background
noise. After the speaker's remarks, there will be a
question-and-answer session. If you would like to ask a
question during this time, simply press star then the number
one on your telephone keypad. If you would like to withdraw
your question, press the pound key.
Thank you. Maureen Granados, you may begin your conference.
Maureen Granados: Thank you. Hi, everyone. Thanks so much
for joining the Z Nation conference call today. On our line
we are very excited to have Karl Schaefer, the Showrunner
for Z Nation and Executive Producer, answer your questions.
And as you know the show premieres this Friday, September
12th, at 10:00 pm
So, without further ado, let's turn it over to Karl and your
questions. Thanks so much.
Operator: At this time, I would like to remind everyone in
order to ask a question, press pound then the number one on
your telephone keypad. We'll pause for just a moment to
compile the Q&A roster.
Your first question comes from the line of Jamie Ruby with
SciFiVision.com. Your line is open.
Jamie Ruby: Hi. Thanks so much for talking to us today. I
really enjoyed the premiere.
Karl Schaefer: Oh, good. Thank you.
Jamie Ruby: So, obviously it's inevitable that this is going
to be compared to other shows of similar subject. Can you
kind of talk about how it's different and how it stands out
from what's on television now?
Karl Schaefer: I mean, first off there is obviously a great
zombie show in The Walking Dead already on, so our mission
is sort of to go where they don't, and I think the biggest
difference between us and them is our series has a sense of
hope and also a sense of humor. We're kind of trying to put
the fun back into zombies. Our heroes have a mission that
they're on, so we're traveling every week. We're going
across the country. They're not just sort of fighting for
survival and hunkering down into one place. They really have
somewhere to go and something to do.
Our characters aren't afraid of zombies necessarily. I mean,
they're wary of them and zombies are certainly dangerous to
them, but they take the fight to the zombies. We try and
have as much action in an episode as The Walking Dead has in
half a season. There's a lot of black humor in our show, a
lot of social satire, but primarily it's that sense of hope
and mission and that the characters are really taking it to
the zombies as opposed to being afraid of them and hunkering
down. And if you were going to go through the apocalypse, I
think you would rather go through the apocalypse with our
guys, because they've got somewhere to go and something to
do, and I think it'll be triumphant in the end.
Jamie Ruby: Can you talk about maybe some of the challenges
Karl Schaefer: Well, I think we're a reasonably low-budget
show, so trying to give it a sense of scope and scale and
also just that somebody has thrown down the gauntlet. The
bar is set pretty high for zombie shows, but I think we face
the challenge of any show, just making great characters and
interesting storylines and doing it all for a price. And
making a show that travels across the country was really
hard to do, but we found a great location. We shot the whole
thing in Spokane, Washington, which has been fantastic and
just has so many different looks within the Spokane area,
from mountains and lakes and beautiful rolling wheat fields
and farms and desert and so we really, I think, did a good
job of making the show feel like it's traveling across the
country and we're in a different place every week.
Jamie Ruby: Great. Well, thanks so much. Like I said, I'm
really enjoying it so far.
Karl Schaefer: Good.
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Tim
Holquinn with ScreenFad. Your line is open.
Tim Holquinn: Hi, Karl. Thanks for talking with us today.
Karl Schaefer: Hey, Tim. Happy to do it.
Tim Holquinn: Got a couple quick questions here. Given
Perrineau's fate in the first episode, which obviously will
be a surprise for first-time viewers, can you just talk a
little bit about what it was like working with Harold during
Karl Schaefer: He was fantastic. First off, he's just a
great guy, but he was totally committed to it and didn't
treat it like he was coming in to do a low-budget show for
the money or anything like that. I mean, he really had a big
influence on the rest of the actors. We have a lot of local
Washington talent and some people who're much less
experienced in the cast. We also have some other very
experienced cast members, but he just brought up every scene
he was in and really brought a sense of commitment and drama
to what he was doing.
And also it was great with the rest of the cast. We had some
of our sort of younger, local cast members who were a little
intimidated on the first couple of days of shooting, I
think, and he would pull them aside and say something to
them that and I don't exactly know what it was he was
saying to them, but then the next take they would just be a
whole step up better at what they were doing. So, he was a
blast to work with and it was a shame to see him go, and I
think he had a really good time, too, and was a little
wistful about leaving just after one episode. But he was
great to work with, and you could certainly see why he's
worked so often and is in so many classic sort of genre
movies and programs and things like that. And you look at
his resume and he's just in he's one of those guys that
everything he's in is good, and I think he helped make this
one of those good things that he was in, so he was great.
Tim Holquinn: As a fan, I was really happy to see him in it.
What can you tell us about the makeup effects company
bringing your zombies to life?
Karl Schaefer: Synapse? Synapse is great. They sort of came
to us through the Asylum, and what they brought was just the
ability to do a lot for a little money, and we worked really
hard on trying to get the physical effects and makeup to
look good with the photographic look that we were doing with
the show. We're trying to make a real specific look for the
show, so if you're just tuning around the dial and you come
across our show, it looks different from all the other Syfy
shows and most of the other shows on TV.
And getting the makeup to look right after going through
that process was a lot of work, and for the small team they
have, they just do a great job cranking out 25 zombies a day
of all different types, and they've been fantastic. Corinne
Foster and her team have all really come through. And it's
been a tough, long shoot with a lot of work and not enough
resources normally to do it, but they've delivered every
Tim Holquinn: Being that Corinne was a Face Off contestant
in Season Six, it was nice to see it kept in the Syfy
Karl Schaefer: Definitely, and she's like a real trooper and
a total pro.
Tim Holquinn: Thanks a lot.
Karl Schaefer: Thanks.
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Mary
Powers with TVGoodness.com. Your line is open.
Karl Schaefer: Hello.
Mary Powers: First question first of all, I've viewed the
premiere, and it's great. I love it, and also I am a fan of
The Walking Dead. So one of the questions that came to mind
as I was watching is, you call, I guess, the zombies Z's. In
comparison to, say, the walkers in The Walking Dead, are
there any fundamental differences between the creatures that
you can talk about that we will see now in the pilot and
Karl Schaefer: Well, one thing about The Walking Dead is
they're taking a very realistic, straightforward look at
and they won't call them zombies. They'll call them anything
in the world but zombies, and our show, we wanted to put it
in a universe, where people know about zombies. They've seen
zombie movies, that they've seen "Night of the Living Dead."
So, we have all kinds of zombies and we wanted to be the
zombie show that says, "Yes, we'll do that kind of zombies."
We have fast zombies, slow zombies, animal zombies. We had a
zombie bear. We have zombie babies, and our zombies are
evolving, too. Our main character, Murphy, who's been
infected with the zombie virus and given a vaccine, is going
to be evolving over the course of the season into what
eventually may become a human-zombie blend.
So, we wanted to leave the world wide open for the zombie
virus to evolve and the type of zombies we deal with to
evolve, and I think every week you're going to see our
zombies doing something different that you haven't seen
zombies do before, because kind of our goal was to put the
fun back into zombies, and we wanted to be the show that
said, "Yes, we'll do that." We come up with a cool idea,
we'll definitely do that, and I think the audience is going
to enjoy that sort of aspect of it, that we're not kind of
stuck in stone as to what our zombies are like and what they
Maureen Granados: We can proceed to the next question.
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Tony
Tellado with Sci-Fi Talk. Your line is open.
Tony Tellado: Hi, Karl. Great to talk to you. I've been a
fan since "Eerie, Indiana" and multiple speakers, so
Karl Schaefer: Thanks.
Tony Tellado: I like as well Strange Luck.
Karl Schaefer: Great. You are a fan, then.
Tony Tellado: D.B. Sweeney, he's great. With this show, with
Z Nation, there is humor, but were you conscious of not kind
of crossing that line so that it wouldn't be too silly and
kind of dilute the premise a little bit?
Karl Schaefer: Absolutely. When I first came to this project
with the Asylum, one of the things we all agreed on right up
front was this would not be a campy mockbuster like
Sharknado or some of the other projects that they do, that
we wanted to make a real show. And my sort of view of life
is that real life is there's black humor in the most
serious of moments, and the humor's all character-based in
the show. It's more like M.A.S.H. than it is like Sharknado
that I think a sense of black humor is almost a survival
skill, that if you didn't have a sense of humor in the
apocalypse, you'd probably just curl up and die and that my
experience in life is just that in the midst of some of the
worst, toughest times you'll see a lot of humor on a
battlefield, in a hospital emergency room, with cops. People
that have to deal with danger and hardship on a daily basis
sort of have to have a sense of humor. And we kind of sort
of thought a lot about what goes into somebody who survived
for three years of the zombie apocalypse, and a sense of
humor about it all was one of the ingredients that we
thought all of our characters would have.
Tony Tellado: As far as the casting besides Harold Perrineau,
how did everything kind of come together when you were
Karl Schaefer: Well, because we're shooting in Washington
state and we're getting money from the state to shoot here,
we had to have a certain amount of our not necessarily the
cast but the whole product has to be Washington-based. So we
looked really hard, first off, at Washington-based actors
and found some fantastic people. Russell Hodgkinson, who
plays Doc, is great. He's hysterical and fantastic in the
show, and Nat Zang, who plays the 10K character, you only
see him very briefly in the pilot, but he has a much bigger
role going forward in the show. He's like an 18-year-old
kid. It was his first audition that he'd ever done, his
first professional audition, and he's fantastic. He's going
to be a huge star, I think, because he just has that thing
And so we looked hard in Washington. Also the Cassandra
character, who they find in the cage, she's a Washington
local as well. She's fantastic. Kellita, who plays the
Warren character, who we hired out of Los Angeles, she was
great. We auditioned long and hard for it and didn't have
the kind of money to throw at big stars that you normally
have for a TV show, so everybody kind of came to on the
whole production we're all working for less than we normally
do, and it's kind of become something everybody's in it for
the love of the project at a certain point, because I think
we all found it when everybody came together, it became
something better than everybody expected it to be, I think.
I think even Syfy is kind of going, "Wow, this is really
good." And so I am very happy with the cast that we got, and
we worked really hard to get them and gave a lot of people a
The guy who plays Murphy was working for the Asylum. He
acted in a couple of their movies, but he was the office
manager at the time that I met him between their movies, and
we just kind of read him as a courtesy at first. It was
like, "Keith wants to read for you," and it's like, "OK,
sure." And he was really good. He kept beating people out at
every step of the way, and it was like, "Oh, my God, Keith
is going to line up with this thing," and we wound up
sending three actors to the network and they didn't know
Keith was being the office manager at the time, and they
thought it was great. And he's been fantastic in the series.
I mean, he's really stepped up and has met everybody's
expectations and really become kind of a leader of the cast,
in a way, both on and off screen, and has turned out to be
just a great character, and he's hilarious in it, as well as
being evil and dark and all the things we needed him to be.
So I'm very happy with the cast.
Tony Tellado: Great, thanks. I'll get back in line and let
somebody else in.
Karl Schaefer: Cool.
Operator: Your next question comes from the line of Lisa
Macklem with SpoilerTV.com. Your line is open.
Lisa Macklem: Hi. Thanks so much for talking with us today.
Karl Schaefer: You're welcome.
Lisa Macklem: One of the things that really struck me about
the pilot was the humor, and especially D.J. Qualls'
character, which it really felt like Good Morning, Vietnam
Karl Schaefer: Good.
Lisa Macklem: Was that what I was supposed to think? Are we
going to see a lot of him? Is he going to
Karl Schaefer: Yes. He's in every episode. Well, the idea
was to have a character who was stuck at the North Pole,
where the zombies can't get him, because they all freeze
before they get that far, who has kind of an overview of the
whole apocalypse but very little that he can directly do
about it and that he's keeping what's left of the Internet
and the communications system alive using the old NSA assets
spread around the world. So he's in every episode. He's
fantastic to work with and so funny himself, and some of the
episodes revolve entirely around him. He has whole shows
that're just his, so he's great and sort of brings a
there's a level of social satire to the whole series, and he
helps kind of focus that and is kind of our narrator, sort
of the Wolfman Jack of the apocalypse that we use him for.
Lisa Macklem: He's great. Now, you said that you used a lot
of the landscape around Washington, so can you tell us if
they're going to make it all the way to California by the
end of the season, or
Karl Schaefer: They don't by the end of the first season,
Lisa Macklem: So, do you have a specific story arc? Is it
going to take us through
Karl Schaefer: We have like a five-year story arc. That's
just how cocky we are about this show.
Lisa Macklem: Go big or go home.
Karl Schaefer: Exactly. The network asked me to come up with
that before we started, and obviously that may adjust, but
because even once they make it to California, that's not
going to be the end of the line. Nothing goes according to
plan on this show for our characters, and the Murphy
character's evolving. Their mission's going to evolve. The
nature of the apocalypse is going to change, and I think the
show's going to wind up going to places that will really
surprise the audience. If you see this show even beginning
of next season's going to be a very different, interesting
show from how it started out, and we reveal a lot about the
origin of the apocalypse and what's going on and where
things are going with Murphy's evolving character and other
people like him that sort of appear in the second season.
Lisa Macklem: Well, I mean, my job was on the ground at the
end of the first episode, so that's awesome. I think that
was just such a great way to start. I'm just going to ask
one more question, if I can. Are we going to see love
interests bloom sort of the same way we've seen those
characters develop in other
Karl Schaefer: Absolutely, both between our characters of
our main hero team and also with characters they run into
along the way. It's like life. There's going to be tragedy,
humor, romance, action, adventure. Like I said before, we're
trying to put the fun back in zombies and not take it so
seriously and dark, because if you look at wartime and
battle, even under the worst of circumstances people still
fall in love and have a sense of humor and suffer tragedies
and things like that. So we're going to put our characters
through a full experience as they go forward.
Lisa Macklem: Great. Thank you so much.
Operator: You have another question from Jamie Ruby with
SciFiVision.com. Your line is open.
Jamie Ruby: Hi again. Well, I was going to ask you about the
possibility of a second season, but you kind of already
answered that, so can you talk about maybe a favorite scene
or moment without giving too much away?
Karl Schaefer: Coming up?
Jamie Ruby: Yes.
Karl Schaefer: I have a favorite moment in almost every
show. I mean, in Episode 2 there's flaming zombies. Let's
see. In Episode 3 we have some insane cannibals, and I think
one of my favorite moments we have an episode, where
Citizen Z up at the North Pole gets a new friend with a very
intriguing, dark, twisted story that I think will surprise
everybody where it goes and where it ends, but somebody
makes their way to the North Pole and finds him, and he has
a companion for an episode.
But I think our show's so different from every episode that
I have and I hope the audience does, too will have
favorite moments from every episode, because we're really
trying to do you're going to see zombies do something
different that you haven't seen them do before in every
episode and see our characters react in a way that is
surprising and interesting, both either funny or dark or
in every episode I think you're going to see something
really gruesome and gross, really dark and violent, really
funny, and very emotional. There's a lot of episodes where
people cry on set when we're shooting a scene, so I think if
that translates into the final product and we get to you
make people cry at one of these zombie shows, I think you're
doing your job. So
Jamie Ruby: Sorry. Go ahead.
Karl Schaefer: That's OK.
Jamie Ruby: I was just going to say is it right, then, to
assume that each episode, I'm taking it, is going to have
some sort of a mystery well, it's not necessarily a
mystery but mystery of the week type thing but yet still
have obviously that overarching story?
Karl Schaefer: Yes. I mean, their overall mission to get to
California involves each week they come upon some new pocket
of humanity or some challenge. The second episode is all
about getting gasoline, and pretty much the whole episode is
about getting gasoline, while at the same time Citizen Z has
a problem of his own up at the North Pole that he has to
deal with with zombie sled dogs. So, there's all kinds of
different adventures along the way, and each week they sort
of have a sub-mission, something that they have to get done
in order to get to the next point on the compass for them.
Jamie Ruby: Great. Well, thank you so much again.
Karl Schaefer: Thank you.
Operator: Again, if you would like to ask a question, please
press star1 on your telephone keypad. You have another
question from Tony Tellado with Sci-Fi Talk. Your line is
Tony Tellado: Hi. Hello again.
Karl Schaefer: Hello.
Tony Tellado: I'm curious. With the arc this season, is it a
very firm arc, or as you're shooting are you going to be a
little flexible and kind of when you see the actors and
their roles and that kind of thing kind of morph it a little
bit as the season goes on?
Karl Schaefer: Definitely the show evolved. In order to do
it properly at the budget level we are, we wrote all the
episodes before we started shooting. We have a draft of
every episode, but then when I came to Spokane and got up
here and we had our cast, I did a lot of rewriting to fit
the locations that we found and the cast. And it sort of
becomes a living organism at a certain point that kind of
finds its own direction, and the characters make
relationships and you start writing for who they really are,
and so it evolved a lot as we went along and will continue
to evolve. And I am a very collaborative, open filmmaker, so
the actors are also very involved in where their characters
go, and they come to me with story ideas and little
relationship things that they want to do between each other.
And the directors all have the mandate of, "If you're out
there doing a scene and find there's something interesting
about the location or something comes up between the actors
when you're rehearsing, do it. Let it happen." And I think
the results keep it fresh and interesting, and it becomes
the sum of all the people involved. I try and do that with
everybody even on the crew, right down to the effects people
and the camera people and everybody. I want them to feel
like their contributions are embraced and needed, and after
the first couple episodes everybody kind of got into the
tone of the show and they understood the sense of humor that
I have and how we were trying to keep it funny and different
And once they all kind of got that and it clicked in, then
the costumers, the effects people, the camera people all
started to come to it with their own ideas and input on how
to really capture that tone and keep the show edgy,
different, and funny, which is what we're going for. So, it
evolved a lot as we went and will continue to evolve a lot.
Tony Tellado: And, I mean, even before The Walking Dead, we
just have a fascination with zombies, and they've kind of
made a comeback as a result. Why are they again so popular
in our culture?
Karl Schaefer: I've given that a lot of thought, because
they're way more popular than they should be for the genre.
I mean, Night of the Living Dead was a great movie, and
zombies have always sort of been within the entertainment
arena but as a very small niche, not as the most highly
rated scripted show.
And as good as The Walking Dead is, that success isn't all
about their execution, because even here in Spokane, when we
had an open call for zombie extras we thought we'd have 50
or 60 people come to audition to be extras. We had 800
people show up to be zombies. And these people don't want to
be zombies. They need to be zombies. They're crazy for this
And I think that our collective unconscious sort of knows
something bad is coming, but we haven't really figured out
what it is yet and that zombies sort of stand in for that
thing, that the zombie apocalypse is kind of like what if
the absolute worst thing happened, and how would I respond
to that? And I think that somehow is part of the attraction
to it, in a strange way. I think it really plugs into our
unconscious in some deep way we don't really understand yet.
Tony Tellado: Interesting. Well, good luck. I'm looking
forward to seeing your take on zombies and what you do this
Karl Schaefer: Cool. Well, we're having fun doing it, so I
hope that people can see that in the show.
Tony Tellado: Definitely. Thanks a lot.
Karl Schaefer: Thank you.
Operator: You have another question from the line of Tim
Holquinn with ScreenFad. Your line is open.
Tim Holquinn: Hi. Karl, you mentioned the main principals
will be running into new pockets of humanity while they trek
to California. I'm figuring some characters they meet will
last longer than others. Are there any upcoming guest stars
you'd want to tease for us at this time?
Karl Schaefer: I'm trying to think of who we gosh, I've
got all these shows in my head at this point. Well, we have
not star cast. We don't really have a lot of people coming
up in terms of recognizable named guest cast, but we have
some great characters coming up in future episodes. There's
a Russian cosmonaut that meets up with Citizen Z. We have
the leader of a cannibal cult. We have sort of a zombie
resurrection cult leader coming up, who's we have an
all-female compound with actually with Kelly McGillis
playing the leader of an all-female compound that's very
dangerous and interesting, and she's great in it.
So, there are some really interesting characters coming up,
and each week they sort of find a different pocket of
humanity that they run into that's trying to rebuild society
somehow, and that's kind of what the show is there's a
social-satire aspect to the show, so seeing our characters
run into these different pockets of humanity and how they've
tried to rebuild society and how or why it doesn't work out
for them is kind of the fun or the show.
Tim Holquinn: At the end of the premiere, I ran to the
Internet to look up who that song was by, Johnny Thunder's
"I'm Alive." And, of course, given the constraints of your
overall budget, I'm just wondering if there might be other
classic songs used in future episodes. And whose choice was
it to play Johnny Thunder at the end of the pilot?
Karl Schaefer: Well, that was in the promo version. It's not
actually in the on-air version. We did our own sort of take
on the song that sounds just as good but is a different
song. But generally speaking we're trying to put in music
where we can, but we are limited by our budget in terms of
how many actual needle drops we'll be able to afford. We
have a great composer, Jason Gallagher, who's kind of a
first-time composer that's doing the underscore for the
show, and we're using him and a lot of new, young bands,
unsigned bands whose music we can get cheap that're great.
They're going to contribute a lot to the show.
Tim Holquinn: You could raise their profile. Well, one
really fast, quick last question. How far into the season
have you shot already?
Karl Schaefer: We're actually shooting Episode 12 now.
Tim Holquinn: I really like the pilot, so thanks again for
speaking with us today. I enjoyed it.
Karl Schaefer: Good. And I think the show gets better as we
go along, so I think we actually sort of hit our stride at a
certain point and have some really great episodes coming up.
Tim Holquinn: Great.
Operator: There are no further questions at this time. I
will turn the call back over to the presenters.
Maureen Granados: Great. Thank you so much, everyone, for
joining. Thank you, Karl, for your time, and, once again, Z
Nation premieres this Friday, September 12th, at 10:00 on
Syfy. And if you have any other questions or need anything
else, you can go ahead and respond back to the
correspondence sent to you by Garrett Smith or give me a
call here, 212-664-4143. Thanks everyone. Have a great week,
and thanks again, Karl.
Karl Schaefer: Thank you.
Maureen Granados: Bye.
Karl Schaefer: Bye.
Operator: This concludes today's conference call. You may
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