June 6-13, 2007

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'The Beginning'

Bit more growling on the left: Apparently imitating an undead army doesn't come naturally to college students anymore.

The Beginning of True Horror

Local film production company Before North unleashes a scourge of zombie infestation on Santa Cruz

By Leah Bartos

When Devin Fearn enters a room, he sizes it up for potential escape routes. The room he's in now, a hotel lobby in Santa Cruz, is not so good. Though Fearn spends his days working as the hotel's receptionist, the 22-year-old's real expertise is in, well, zombies. Fearn has put his knowledge to use as the producer and screenplay writer for The Beginning, a feature-length film that will premiere at the Rio Theatre on Friday, June 8.

"When I wrote this script, I wanted it to be the new cult classic for Santa Cruz," Fearn says, referencing the now-iconic and locally filmed vampire movie The Lost Boys (1987). Fearn explains that although a film cannot achieve cult-status overnight, the local shots of a deserted Pacific Avenue and a zombie-infested Porter Meadow will hit close to home for local audiences.

Fearn, a UCSC undergraduate student, is among the half-dozen young filmmakers who make up the Before North production company--some of whom are also students or recent graduates of UCSC. The Beginning marks Before North's third full-length production. Before North's other features include a slice-of-life comedy called One: A Story of Six (2004) and The Ballad of Jacob Wonder and Wesley Precious (2005), an "existential Western."

Jono Schaferkotter, the film's director and co-founder of Before North Studios, decided to pick up Fearn's script last fall and has led the production team to turn the film around in less than a year, spending less than five months on principle filming between January and May of this year. Schaferkotter says the characters in The Beginning make the film more compelling that the run-of-the-mill horror flick.

"They actually have some depth and you start to realize there's more to them," Schaferkotter says, adding that The Beginning is not just about zombies but about the character dynamics as they deal with issues surrounding family and friendship. Schaferkotter says that while audience members would not necessarily feel personally connected to the threat of a zombie attack, most would relate to a relationship or family drama. And that, he says, is what makes the film scary.

Although the production team is hoping to embark on a new and more serious genre of zombie films--in the vein of 28 Days Later (2002)-- the filmmakers of The Beginning also pay tribute to their predecessors. Fearn says that George Romero's 1978 production of Dawn of the Dead was particularly influential to him, as was the 2004 remake, which he subtly expressed in naming his characters--such as Fran, one of The Beginning's lead female roles, who he named after a character in the original Dawn of the Dead, and Ben, named after the ill-fated hero from Night of the Living Dead (1968). The shooting techniques of The Beginning also harken to a retro style of filming, which Schaferkotter describes as "horror meets noir." And although the film's emphasis is on the characters, it has its fair share of blood and gore. After all, we're talking about human flesh-eating here.

But blood and gore aside, the filmmakers hope to avoid being lumped in the gratuitous violence and campy zombie movie category. As assistant director Laura Greenwood explains, the rampaging cannibals are never identified as zombies, thus contributing to the scariness and plausibility factors of The Beginning. "They never call them zombies. They call them things or creatures, but no one ever says the word 'zombie." Schaferkotter also believes in the power of suggestion when it comes the issue of zombies: "Once you say it, it automatically becomes campy. I think that's what this new era is bringing: nonzombie zombie movies."

The Beginning, Friday, June 8, at 8pm at the Rio Theater, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $5.

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