Jake: Hello I’m Jacob Krueger and I’m here with Marco Aguilar who is a student in my Master Class. Marco has just completed a film project a little while ago and you have had some pretty impressive success with that. So tell us about the success you’ve had.
Marco: The film was called Zombie Parkour. I just had an idea for a zombie movie and Parkour runners – the idea just came to me. I kind of inquired about it and saw the nobody ever did it so I was like, “Oh, I’ll just jump at the chance and do it!” I always wanted to learn about the world of Parkour and free running. And I just put some money away for a couple months—it took me about a year or so to save up for it—and I just decided to go out and do it. I put an ad out on Backstage and mandy.com and all these places and just started meeting with people. I had to figure out what I needed to get the film done. I needed actors, I needed a co-producer, I needed a sound person, and I just put an ad out for each and figured out who the best one was for each job. I mean, you’re in New York City. Everyone’s looking to do something and how many people actually go out and say we’re gonna do a zombie movie?
Jake: And you got a million hits, is that correct?
Marco: Yeah, over a million—a million and counting. It’s been pretty crazy.
Jake: What does that feel like to have a million people?
Marco: I don’t know. It’s weird. I was thinking about it afterwards….there’ve been times when I’m at some place random, usually Parkour-related, but then someone starts talking about the film and I’m thinking, “How many people have seen this thing? How did someone come across my movie of all movies?”
Jake: I just want to make this really clear for everybody – you don’t have a distribution, right? There’s not like a studio involved, there’s nobody. But you’ve had a million people see your movie.
Marco: Yeah, pretty much. I mean, a big part of it is because one of the actors who has the lead in the movie is doing well in L.A, so he’s been marketing himself and becoming very popular. He’s a big part of it all, but once he got the ball rolling the word of mouth started spreading.
Marco: Parkour and free running. Parkour is basically moving over obstacles in the most efficient manner possible. Just basically using your body. You know, you could vault over this table and roll and land and jump and run up the wall smoothly…you train. You have to be really agile and strong and you have to have balance because sometimes you’re going from rooftop to rooftop. Basically, the entire city is your jungle gym…. There’s a certain creativity behind it, a certain fluidity behind it.
Jake: And do you do Parkour running yourself?
Marco: I do, but first of all, I’m older…I’m not a spring chicken anymore…. I do it so I stay in shape and I do it to understand it and get better at it especially as a filmmaker. The thing about it is that you never see the world the same…the world just becomes that much bigger, you see it in a whole different way.
Jake: And nobody had ever combined, as far as you know, Parkour and zombies?
Marco: There was one guy who did it. They did a Michael Jackson spoof so it was a funny one. Nobody had ever done a serious one. So I did all kinds of searches for it and nobody had done it so I was just like, “This is crazy.” Of course, when I did it I realized why nobody had done it because you normally would need like serious backing. It’s really hard to do without any kind of like insurance or permits.
Jake: So how did you do it?
Marco: We just did it. I’m too stupid to know any better. I was like, “Well, if we do it in Brooklyn, we’re most likely to get away with it instead of doing it in Manhattan.” And I just picked places that looked cool, that looked dangerous enough to throw zombies in….
Jake: And where do you find these Parkour runners?
Marco: I just put an ad out. These guys are all looking to be stuntmen, looking to be actors, because they have that skill. Seeing the actual person do [Parkour] is always a useful thing for directors and producers- anyone making the movie.
Jake: How much of it was scripted? Was any of the film scripted or did you just improvise it using the locations you were at?
Marco: Well I kind of wrote it based on the locations. That’s the thing with this kind of filmmaking- you can’t build sets. So like, “Ok, well here’s what I have to use. What kind of story can I write?” And you start coming up with different ideas within that space. So I said, “Alright, well why would he need to be hanging from this bridge? What would be happening here?” and I just came up with this little scenario.
Marco: Yeah, I mean I’ve done one music video and five short films—and the five short films all pretty much came about that way. I said, “Okay, here’s the location that I’m going to write stories about.”
Jake: You have an interesting process. How long does it take you to write a screenplay for a project like this?
Marco: Well, after this one it’s going to be a lot longer. You have to spend a little bit more of time on the screenplay. There were times when I was just like, “Fuck. This isn’t going to work and I’ve already shot stuff. “ You try to rewrite before the next shoot and it just doesn’t work out that way. So from now on, I’m gonna spend a lot more time. Whatever time it takes. But it was good to do it that way I did it because I just did it. I learned how slow to go and I just made mistakes. That’s the thing you just have to not be scared to make mistakes.
Jake: We do a lot of character driven stuff here at the studio, building your structure out of character. How does that relate to a zombie movie when you’re working in a genre film? Has that stuff changed your writing, has it changed the way you approach a zombie film?
Marco: Oh, completely. I have an action background I guess…that’s the way I direct movies—very much like a fast paced action movie. So taking the writing class, it’s just been looking at making those movements, making those actions mean something. Something that I’m like, “Alright, that’s the right way to approach action.” So it’s definitely helped in that regard, you know, “Why is this person doing this? Why are they in the situation?” and it has that much more meaning to the scene. I mean, it still can be scary on a superficial level, or exciting, but when it has something a little more to it, I think that it’s definitely better. And just learning how to get there slowly but surely has been cool.
Jake: So what are you working on now?
Marco: Well, I’m working on the future version of that one.
Jake: So this is a short of what you’ve produced right now. And now you’re working on a full length.
Marco: Yeah exactly. I mean, I’m kind of promoting it as Zombie Parkour: Part 2 but I’m just taking the concept even further to have it be like, “What is a Parkour runner in a zombie apocalypse? What would you have on him? What kind of warrior would he be, what kind of world would it be?” Just writing a feature length version of it, which is a lot harder than I expected it to be….I’m trying to build an idea from scratch and I’m not even sure where I’m gonna go with it. I have to really find out what is the story going to be. It wasn’t like I had a story idea and expanded on it. It was like, “Okay, I have this setting, you know a Parkour runner, zombies, and the setting. It’s not the story though.” For a short it works like that, but not for a feature…I think I learned from you is always have script percolating in the back of your head for the next, after you’re done with this one. So I have another horror film percolating in the back of my head now.
Marco: I was the youngest in the household. My brother was 11 years older, so they were watching all kinds of adult movies. My mom didn’t speak really good English so she was into horror films because they were easy to follow. You know, the guy in the gas mask is the killer. My dad was into Kung-Fu films and actions films, and my brother was too at a certain age. But then he started watching more serious rated R films. So I’m eight years old watching Amadeus, Jason, a martial art film like Lethal Weapon. The only thing that really scared me was zombies. I remember watching Dawn of the Dead and just being terrifying at the guy being torn apart. I’d watch all these other horror films—the guy slashing whatever, getting killed—so for some reason zombies just always scared me. When you become a zombie fan, you’re always imagining like, “Oh, what would you do here? How would we defend ourselves if we were in this place?”
So I guess this eventually led me coming across this George Romero competition. I think it was “Diary of the Dead.” They said that the top five get to be on the DVD release of the movie so I said, “Oh, I know zombies. I used to be scared of zombies. I’ll just do a zombie movie.” And suddenly I did a good one…
Jake: So this is a little bit different from zombie Parkour, but I know you’re also working on some zombie movies that are kind of family stories. So talk to me about that. How does using the genre of zombies allow you to tell these stories that wouldn’t necessarily be clear, obvious choices for future films?
Marco: Well, I’ve always had a sort of complicated relationship with my parents and my siblings. I’m sure a lot of that [idea] comes from that. And I find it interesting—any zombie story is always treated like some sort of outbreak and people have to rely on each other to some degree. You can never really be alone. That’s sort of the nature [of our family dynamic]…we have this unstoppable force that never gets tired and just wants to devour you. [That feeling of concentrated togetherness] always leads to interesting dynamics between the characters. That’s always been the thing that has fascinated me with zombie movies. Like Night of the Living Dead…it’s one house, you have a black man, some racists white dude, you got these three people…who have to survive together and trust each other.
Jake: So there’s a metaphor.
Marco: Yeah, I guess if you wanna call it that. I guess I just find it interesting to be stuck with your family…it’s be great, but at the same time, eventually… they’ll start to annoy you just as they do now.
Jake: We think that in a character driven movie, a drama, a thriller even…it’s obvious how you need to draw on something that’s very real in you to tell a story honestly. When you think of genre films, there’s often a misperception that it’s only about the genre and not something real in you. So I think it’s interesting in your writing that you’re wrestling with real issues in the genre.
Marco: I never thought of it that way, but yeah I guess it’s true. People having certain preconceived notions about the genre. I’ve taken some acting at HBO Studios so whenever actors hear that you’re a director who’s done short films, they’re just like, “Oh, what kind of films do you do?” And I mention I’ve done zombie films and they’re like, “Oh, if you do anything else let me know.” They don’t mean to be rude, but they have this preconceived notion and it’s understandable. But [zombie movies] have a whole other side….they are about characters, they all have something to say. Like Dawn of the Dead has something to say about consumerism. You have these people who live in a mall—you can go every weekend and buy whatever you want. But when [the mall] becomes your sanctuary it becomes very empty and meaningless. Like, what do these things mean to you when you’re alone?
Jake: What do you want to say?
Marco: I don’t know…I mean, this is why I’m taking your class, to figure out what my voice is, what do I want to say. Obviously, I have something to say about family, about how we get along, about how we relate to each other. But as far as what I want to say, I’m not sure. I think at the moment I’m having fun just finding my voice. I’m playing.
Jake: You know we talk about this idea that we can’t escape theme, the things that drive you to write in the first place, the things that you want to say. It’s interesting that you , not just with this film but many films, do have something to say, without being able to actually verbalize what that thing is. I think that’s just one of the true things that emerges when you allow yourself to playfully explore and when you allow yourself to seek your voice.
Marco: I hope so, yeah. That’s the hardest part is to gauge what the audience is reacting to. And you just do the best you can. Just make the best film you can…and be honest about it. You’re not going to knock it out of the park the first draft.
Jake: How many drafts do you normally write of a script?
Marco: Well this is the first feature I’ve tried to write so I’ve done like, five or six crazy ass drafts already. It takes patience.
Jake: For one of my students who’s looking to get into this world, who wants to direct, wants to produce their first film, want to write their first film and make it happen themselves, what would you say to them? What should they focus on? What should they watch out for? What should they be aware of?
Marco: Something I’ve noticed this in the art world in general is it’s one thing to try to learn from people that came ahead of you, but don’t try to be like any other director or filmmaker. Like, don’t let anybody tell you, “Oh you should be doing this kind of film.” Because I’ve heard that since I started filmmaking. The way I look at it is don’t limit yourself to certain genres. Don’t let people dictate what kind of film you should make. If you want to get into genre films, if you want to get into comedies, if you want to do action—whatever you want to do, just do it.
Marco: Honestly, just find one other person who’s making movies and you have your house free for a couple hours a day…just write something, rehearse it with somebody, write a story that comes to mind. It could be a silent film, it could be a dialogue film, do a film in one room, think small, think, “How am I going to tell a story in this one room? What are the elements I have in my disposal? I don’t have a lot of actors. I have just one other person and me. How do I tell the story in this environment using sound, using lighting, using the actor…” And once you use that you’ll be able to better expand out further and do much more efficiently. That’s the thing. You need to learn how to make something in a timely, efficient manner, but also give yourself enough time to get it done. Yeah, you’re gonna be rushed and you’re never going to get as much time as you want, but you want to be able to work it so that you can do that…. and the more you do it, the better you get at it. And, when you start small, in one room, and you expand out, you learn how to gradually make a bigger and bigger film.
Jake: Obviously, you didn’t have a big advertising budget, so you’re not like flooding the market with print advertising.
Marco: No, not at all.
Jake: How did you build that word of mouth? How did you get it out to the community?
Marco: I did a lot of things, and I’m not a marketing person, so it’s hard for me to gauge if the stuff I did have any impact.
Jake: Well first off, where do you host the movie?
Marco: Go to zombieparkour.com and you can watch the movie and it will tell you about the other projects I’m working on as well. It’s on YouTube, which is where it got over a million hits and became a hit right away. Like I said, nobody had done it before. I spent about six months editing the thing and I edited a trailer, so that started getting the hits gradually and gradually. People started realizing this movie’s coming out. So when it finally came out, it got a lot of hits and it grew from there. And once the actor got to L.A. and started talking to people, it just got bigger and bigger and bigger. The big thing is, he won a Ninja Warrior…this crazy ass obstacle course that you’d have to be Jackie Chan to be able to do. It’s a competition that if you win a grand prize if you win the whole thing. So he got selected for that and auditioned, and that’s when [the buzz] started to pick up even more.
As far as marketing goes, I also went to a lot of Parkour jams…I went to Boston and there were like 300 kids just doing Parkour in this place and I printed out like 100 t-shirts and gave them all out within ten minutes. And then those kids spread the word because they all came from different states and different parts of the country.
There was a strategy behind it. I did know that calling it Zombie Parkour would get a lot of hits….If you type in Zombie Parkour, if anybody just ever types in one or the other it’s going to come up…so there was thought behind [the name].
Jake: It’s important to find a title that’s clear.
Marco: Yeah, and you mention how important title is. So the title definitely helped, and me throwing out the trailer, and then me being active in the community, just putting up the page and talking to as many people as possible.
Jake: That’s an interesting thought. When you’re out there and you’re trying to get recognized, a part of it is about identifying who are the people who are going to dig this, as opposed to trying to write for what you think they’ll like. Writing what you like and then going, “Who’s gonna be into this?” and reaching out and becoming active in that community.
Marco: Yeah it is. It’s about finding community. There’s an audience for everything, it doesn’t matter what it is. So just find out who it is that will like your kind of movie.
Jake: Well, thank you so much Marco and congratulations! I hope you hit 2 million hits. You can see Marco’s film on zombieparkour.com.
Marco: Yes. Go to zombieparkour.com and it will tell you about the feature film, which you can also watch on the page.