On January 15th, Phoenix moviegoers were once again given the opportunity to check out a pre-screening of the upcoming zombie romance film Warm Bodies. But this time there was a surprise twist! (Well, most of us know about it already but hey.) After the film, writer and director Jonathan Levine and actor Dave Franco – who plays Teresa Palmer’s tragically doomed boyfriend – stopped by the theater for a quick Q&A.

The film itself is pretty spectacular and you should all go check it out. I did not ever expect to like a zombie romance and, honestly, I while I liked the book well enough I wasn’t too sure about the movie. We’ll have a real review of it up later.

But for now let’s do a quick recap of what Phoenix’s two special guests had to say about the film and working in film in general.

For the most part, the Q&A proceeded rather informally and it proceeded like any other small Q&A. The crowd was only as many people as could be fit into a standard sized movie theater with the usual unclaimed media seats left mostly empty. (Plus about seven of the people in the crowd were Jonathan Levine’s family members – apparently – who walked out half way through the Q&A to much amusement.)

One of the first questions – as can be expected – was about Romeo and Juliet and the films easy comparison. Since the book was very obviously a zombie re-imagining of the classic tale, it wasn’t like it was they would deny it. The main characters are named R and Julie, Julie’s boyfriend is named Perry (Paris anyone?), and so forth. The person asking the question wondered if that might bother people that it was so obviously a ‘rip off’ in his words. To which Jonathan Levine replied quite simply: “At least it isn’t Twilight with zombies.”

Well said, sir.

Dave Franco’s immediate “FUCK TWILIGHT!” was met with much applause but was not quite as eloquent.

Later in the Q&A another attendee mentioned a similarity to the film Wall-E. Both Wall-E and R are nostalgic collectors of the past, picking up little odds and ends here and there at random. They both bring a girl home to protect them. And they are both sort of outcasts in the society around them. The similarities go on. Levine noted that there were some similarities, sure, and that he had seen Wall-E but after principle photography has been completed. Shrugging, he said, “… hopefully no one sues us.”

Another few questions came from Arizona State University students who comprised much of the audience and several of whom were interested in film making. Dave Franco actually took the majority of these questions as he told everyone he was very much interested in moving into the writing/directing role himself.  His advice to these students was that “everyone has a camera these days” so making movies is easy. He encouraged students to just go out there, play around, mess around, and “try to tell us something we haven’t heard before.”

Dave Franco - who plays Teresa Palmer's character Julie's boyfriend Perry in the film - encourages students to just go out, make movies, have fun, and discover themselves artistically before worrying too much about fame and breaking into film making
Dave Franco encourages students to just go out, make movies, have fun, and gain experience before worrying too much about fame and breaking into the film industry.

He also plugged his videos on funnyordie.com that he’s been making and posting with some of his friends from high school.

Levine also gave him props for branching out into a more dramatic role as noted by attendee.

Not that everyone on set was serious all the time anyway. In fact, Levine explained that it was often very hard for people to keep a straight face. The comedy in certain scenes comes very easy and the film – while set in a dark, bleak future and with some pretty dark undertones – still has that perfect balance of tragedy and comedy. You’ll see that for yourself when you check it out in February but when you do watch for some extras smiling in a very particular scene where R and his friend M (Rob Corddry) are grunting at one another in an attempt at conversation. Levine said that he just couldn’t cut out all the smiles even in the final cut.

But the real star of the film really should be the music, in Levine’s opinion. A question about pop music in his film quite excited the film maker whose love of music and blending it into movies has been a large part of his creative process. It started, he said, with his first film All the Boys Love Mandy Lane – a horror flick he directed in 2006. He said he had always wanted to take pop songs and juxtapose them against the backdrop of gratuitous violence. He’s been playing with blending songs and scenes together ever since.

Levine says he does this because music is emotion, its memories. When you hear a song in a film you remember the first time you ever heard that song. You have have certain expectations about that song. And he wants to play with that expectation by either feeding into it or drastically perverting it.

The only down side to music in film? The cost. In previous movies he’s had to cut out songs he’d like to use and in some cases was forced to scrape by on covers. While producing 50/50 he and the cast realized they wanted to put Pearl Jame’s Yellow Ledbetter in the movie but they had already long since exhausted the music budget. Levine explained that music budgets were often established and then cut significantly as the cost of production required the company to readjust the budget to fund other aspects of filming. The cast and crew had to put together a pool of money out of their own pockets to show the company just how much they wanted the song in the film.

With Warm Bodies, the production company made sure to protect his music budget as they understood how much it meant to him and how well he used the licensed music in previous films.

Jonathan Levine explains how and why he uses pop music the way he does in his films.
Jonathan Levine explains how and why he uses pop music the way he does in his films.

The night’s final question was about breaking zombie conventions which the film does pretty well. Levine said that for the most part he “didn’t care that it wasn’t a part of the lore [already]… but [he] was definitely conscious that people would want to tear him apart” if he got it all wrong. R’s  zombie existence is very different from what we’ve seen in the past largely because we don’t really see things from the zombie’s perspective. But everyone could agree that the departures were certainly for the best and I think we can safely say that Jonathan Levine should be safe from the hoards of zombie fans out there.

The whole thing concluded with a quick opportunity for moviegoers to meet Levine and Franco and perhaps take pictures or have them sign some posters the marketing company in charge of the screening had handed out. (Though, they handed them out AFTER the movie and outside the theater so a lot of people had to go back in after.)

Keep a look out for a full review of the film which will be coming soon.

And also keep an eye out for a Facebook/Twitter/Tumblr giveaway that we’ll be doing! I picked up a few extra (try, like, eight) movie posters that we’ll be giving away in honor of the film opening on Feb. 1st!


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