Bing Bailey Interview
It’s not often you get to use the words ‘Irish’ and ‘Zombie’ in the same sentence. But with the release of the Irish shot Portrait Of A Zombie, IFM caught up with writer/director Bing Bailey.
IFM: First off Bing, give us a bit of background information about yourself. You’re originally from Dublin, but now live in the America?
Bing Bailey: I grew up in Finglas West during the 80’s, the oldest of 9 children. I was into technology, Movies, music, games. I was always fascinated by America and American culture. We couldn’t really afford to see movies in a cinema growing up so our big treat was Christmas time on RTE. It was the first place I got to see ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and ‘Superman’. Loved the Marx Brothers, Laurel & Hardy, 3 Stooges films, that were shown on Saturday afternoons. RTE always ran films uncut which was a huge plus.
My Mom let me stay up on Saturday nights to watch hammer horror films. I was transfixed and out of that came my love of and exploration of the horror genre. I worked for X-travision for 2 years between the ages of 16 and 18 and that gave me access to a wider range of movies. I became really fascinated by French New Wave films by Truffaut, Renoir, Melville and German Cinema of FW Murnau and Fritz Lang.
I had known from an early age I was going to do something different with my life and I felt it wasn’t going to be in Ireland. I just didn’t know what the “IT” was. I was writing stories in my head, I just didn’t call it writing. It was Daydreaming/Mind Doodling, playing the what would I do if I found a million pounds game. When you have no money movies are a window out of your world for 90 mins at a time. They let you explore the world. I immigrated to the United States in 1999 just before the Celtic tiger boom hit.
IFM: How did you first get involved in filmmaking? Did you go to college, or is it something you got involved in on your own?
Bing Bailey: I studied Computer Aided Engineering at college not film. I took a very strange path to becoming a filmmaker. I became obsessed with technology and computers when I was 10 years old because of a movie I had seen “War Games”. even at that early age I could see computers where going to control everything and I wanted to be part of that scene. I began an information technology career in Ireland working for companies like AOL Bertalsmann , Microsoft and continued on that path after immigrating to the United States. I started working for Morgan Stanley at the World Trade Center as a Computer Consultant/Engineer in 1999. I became interested in film making after my wife Laura , who’s a writer and also my co-producer on all my projects joined a screenwriting group. I was learning along with her at the time and started writing myself and getting my hands on as many books about film making as I could.
My technology background helped me a lot with the technical side of filmmaking. I was learning a lot but I didn’t yet have the courage to try and make anything. The 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center in Sept 2001 changed all that. I worked on the 68thfloor of the second tower. Through sheer luck I was not at my desk the morning of the attacks. I was getting ready for work and jet lag hit me. I decided to go to work later than usual. I had been at an Irish wedding in Kerry the weekend before. That changed my entire outlook on life. I watched the second plane hit my tower and watched it fall. I realized life is short and you should do what you are passionate about even if that means the occasional failure. My first project was a 3 minute promotional trailer that we were going to use to get funding for a feature project. We shot that in Oct 2002 on super 16 over a 6 day period. As hard as that experience was considering we had no experience, I was totally hooked, we brought that promo trailer to the Cannes film market in 2003 and gained a lot of experience with pitching projects. Cannes film market can give you access to people you would never get access to otherwise. While getting funding for the project proved unsuccessful, we learned a lot from the experience and I began making smaller projects. Music videos, shorts, a TV pilot. I shot my first feature film in canada in 2005. Portrait of a Zombie is my second feature, but first to be completed and released.
IFM: Every filmmaker has their heroes of cinema, who first inspired you to become a director?
Bing Bailey: I would say my inspirations are too numerous to give a proper list but I will try. Frank Capra, Richard Donner, Francois Truffaut, Steven Spielberg, Terence Fisher, Freddie Francis, Akira Kurosawa, Alan Parker, Jim Sheridan, Neil Jordan, Martin Scorcese. Most of these directors have transcended being pigeon holed into a particular genre and have created many different types of films. I enjoy films about hope and second chances. That has always appealed to me.
IFM: You’re on the verge of releasing your first full-feature film ‘Portrait of a Zombie’. How would you describe the film, and give us a synopsis. And what made you choose Dublin as the setting?
Bing Bailey: Its about a working class Irish family who’s oldest son ‘Billy’ has become infected following an accident at a meat packing factory and he becomes a zombie, but instead of killing him, the family decide to take care of him in their home almost as if he were a sick child. The neighbors and the local crime boss aren’t very happy about the situation and make it known to the family that they won’t put up with having this danger amongst them. The family just want the world to know that they are a normal family and have invited an american documentary crew to film their lives, but its just not a normal situation and they don’t fully appreciate how dangerous their zombie son is. Their love for Billy leads them down horrific pathways.
It was important to come back to my roots for this film so I could be more connected emotionally with the material. Shooting on the street where I grew up was a little surreal for me but added a necessary authenticity to make the film work. I could not have achieved the same level in another country or city.
IFM: How did the idea for the film come about, what attracted you to the horror genre?
Bing Bailey: Originally I was going to shoot another zombie project which was more a man on a mission type film, but it would have been too expensive to pull off convincingly. I needed a way to play with the same ideas and same themes and came up with Portrait of a Zombie which used a hybrid approach between cinema and documentary style shooting and story telling.
I’ve always been a fan of the horror genre. The best horror films are filled with social commentary and satire and still manage to scare the hell out of you. I wanted to have my Evil Dead experience. Get a group of talented filmmakers and actors together with fake blood, guts, sticky tape, rubber bands, toilet roll inserts and a camera and come out of the woods with a movie.
IFM: You’re also the co-writer on the film. How long was the writing process, and how many drafts did you go through before you believed you were ready to shoot?
Bing Bailey: I first wrote a step outline for the film scene by scene. The initial draft was very quick, and only took a few weeks. I would say the film went through a total of about 6 drafts with my co writer Laura Morand Bailey.
IFM: The film was shot back in 2009, give us an idea what the pre-production was like, and how long did you shoot for?
Bing Bailey: Pre-production was done almost entirely using the Internet. I reached out to cast and crew using Facebook, emails, skype and filmmaker websites/forums. While I held auditions in person in Dublin, I had arranged everything remotely as I lived in the United States. I was able to communicate some of my ideas and what I wanted to achieve with the film to the cast & crew prior to the shoot. As soon as I arrived in Ireland I brought the entire crew together for a meet and greet so everyone would understand what their role was. and what we were trying to do. This allowed the crew to build relationships with each other before production started. Some of them had already worked together on other films, but many of them had not. In the end it was almost like we became a family on a mission; much like the family in the story.
Initially the first draft was just over 60 pages and I was going to create the rest of the 90 minute film using on street interviews with real people. This proved harder to achieve and had to be abandoned as an approach. I shot over three periods – Oct 2009, May 2010 and May 2011. The extra shoots were needed to create new scenes, and fill in narrative holes that were meant to be covered by the original approach.
IFM: George A. Romero has had such a huge influence on the zombie genre, it’s inevitable that comparisons will be drawn. Is that something you were aware of when you first began the film?
Bing Bailey: I was not only aware of it, I was a huge fan of Romero’s films. He wasn’t just making horror films or just trying to scare people. His films had layers of social commentary. He invented modern zombies. I felt newer zombies films had lost their way and were back to being a bit hollow. I wanted to go back to what Romero did and inject a real story with satire and social commentary into a genre film.
There are little flourishes throughout the film pointing to the Romero’s Dead Series. Romero fans will spot them. It would be a dream to sit in a theater with George A. Romero and let him watch what I created. I consider him to be the master of modern zombies.
IFM: You utilised a lot of Irish talent on the shoot. What was it like working with the crew?
Bing Bailey: The cast and crew worked exceptionally hard to deliver the story on film. Irish Film crews are hard working and very innovative. They can compete with the best anywhere. The crew consistently came up with great solutions to shooting problems. I am always open to good ideas. It doesn’t matter where or who they come from. I love the collaborative aspect of filmmaking. I like being surprised and setting up an environment were creative people can feed off each others energy, and final film becomes greater the anyone’s individual talents.
IFM: There’s a lot of hand-held camera work in the film, how did you choose your framing, and did you storyboard ‘Portrait of a Zombie’?
Bing Bailey: I used the hand-held a lot because I wanted to have a seamless blend between the cinematic and documentary aspects of the film. I worked from shot lists rather than story boards. Storyboards can be very helpful with complex sequences but on this occasion were not used. The scene as written always informs what the framing should be. How emotional the scene or character is, and how close or distant I want the audience to feel at that particular moment. Some moments are claustrophobic and almost uncomfortable to watch. I think a lot of filmmakers shy away from doing this. I feel its important to allow the audience have a wide range of emotions during the film to really connect them to the characters. As long as you create the right tone the story will allow you to shift from one emotion to the next. From laughter to horror to creepy moments.
IFM: The film is shot on digital, and more specifically on the Red Digital. What was it like working in the world of digital cinematography? And why did you choose Red Digital?
Bing Bailey: For me cinematography has always been, and will always be about lighting rather than the camera you use whether film or digital. If you learn to light well you can get a good image from pretty much any camera. It might not be the end result you want aesthetically, but it will look good up to the limits of the format you are using. Choosing the right textures and the right amount of light to create the mood you want and artistic separation of the foreground and background is essential to support any story. I had been following RED company since 2006, and was fascinated by what they were attempting to do in the digital realm. Up until the RED ONE I don’t think any company had achieved a look that approached the quality and texture you could get with film. I had experimented with other digital cameras and formats, but I was never satisfied with the end product given all the work that went into production design and costumes and art direction. Even high end $200,000 dollar cameras gave a waxy and plastic look to images. It was too much like very good video. I wanted to shoot on something that was high resolution but still had a very organic film look. RED ONE helped me achieve that. We used Zeiss ZE Primes, Red Primes and an 11 to 16 Tokina which had a Nikon mount. Some Irish houses can be very small and the Tokina allowed us to shoot wider than was possible on regular prime lenses without ending up with barrel distortion. We also used a lens baby to achieve a look I call zombie vision. Lens baby is a tilt shift lens which allows you change where the focal point is within the frame. Which gives unusual in and out of focus looks.
IFM: As mentioned before, the film was shot back in 2009, the film premiere is this year. How long was post-production on the film? And what did you do your editing on?
Bing Bailey: Post production took at least 18 months. Because of the changes in the initial story approach the editing phase took longer to come to completion. I edited using Final Cut Pro 7, Red Cine on a 12 Core Mac Pro with 24gbs of ram, SSD boot drive, RED Rocket Card and about 20 Terabytes of storage. 4k R3D files are pretty big at 3GB per minute and you need many copies of them for safety and backup. The original footage was transcoded to Pro Res Proxy files for editing and then Re-conformed to the Original R3D files at the end for grading & visual effects. The Rocket card allowed me to review everything at full 4k resolution in real time and to transcode quickly. Without it transcoding would have taken weeks instead of days.
IFM: You’re hoping to have an Irish Premiere sometime in the future, when can people expect to see the film over here?
Bing Bailey: I expect to play in Ireland by the end of 2012, possibly sooner. Since a lot of the humor is Irish I think an Irish audience will be even more at home with the film.
IFM: With ‘Portrait of a Zombie’ now finished, what’s next for you, and can we expect to see more of your work this year?
Bing Bailey: The next project is called The Donor. I can’t say too much about it. But it will be as scary as Portrait, with just as many dark laughs and layers of commentary
* [Portrait of a Zombie] will be playing festivals around the world in 2012 to build the audience for the film and will look for a theatrical release in 2012/2013 followed by Blu Ray/DVD/VOD