‘World War Z:’ An interview with director Marc Forster


By Sam Bertschmann

World War Z director Marc Forster spoke with several college journalists about his new film, based on the novel by Max Brooks and starring Brad Pitt.

First, Forster commented on the drastic changes made to the third act of the film’s script.

“Basically when we finished shooting, we went inside to see what we had and we realized we could do better. We went to the studio and asked for additional photography to make the film stronger and the studio supported us entirely,” said Forster. “So we did that and everyone has been very pleased with the outcome.”

Having also directed The Kite Runner in 2007, Forster discussed working with children in his films.

“The main approach is in casting,” said Forster. “It’s important to make sure when you cast children that you spend time with them during the audition to see how naturally they behave, see how often they go off the page and don’t necessarily follow the script, and see how they are during improvisational circumstances. I try to find the right kids from the beginning, because once you’re on set you can give them directions and talk to them, but ultimately you want them to bring a natural presence with them, not really caring if the camera is there or not. A lot of children are naturally really gifted and sometimes when they’re too trained as actors it can actually become a hindrance.”

When asked by a Boston University reporter about his interest in zombies, Forster talked about their history as a metaphor for certain aspects of society as well as his own experiences that sparked his interest in this type of film.

“I have often been fascinated by zombies because they’re a great metaphor, going back to Romero in the seventies where they were a take on consumerism,” said Forster. “We’re living in a time of change and I think every time the world’s been through such a transformation, zombies have been very, very popular. As a child, I was fascinated with biology, with ants, fish and flocks of birds, swarming mentality – the feeling that a swarm has a brain of its own. Also as a child, I once witnessed masses of people at a soccer stadium in Europe as people were trying to leave after the game, trampling on top of each other.  I sat there watching it, frightened from a childs point of view.  Realizing how scary this could be.”

Forster elaborated on this point, explaining how the idea of overpopulation ties into zombie films such as World War Z.

“Population is growing and in 2050 there will be around ten billion people on the planet.  So overpopulation becomes more and more of a concern with less and less resources, and if you’re looking all around in regards to politics and economics, it seems like we are all going after the last resources.  There is almost a mindlessness to it and I thought that would be a great metaphor,” said Forster. “The human pyramid is a very frightening image and I haven’t seen it in any zombie movie and as a filmmaker you’re always trying to create something new, which in this case is a tsunami of zombies coming towards you with no way to escape them.”

Forster compared his film with its source material. The book, published in 2006, is comprised of anecdotes from survivors of the zombie apocalypse.

“Basically, Max Brooks sets the table for our film.  But it is more of a template as it is not a standard linear narrative. And therefore when we adapted the book into a film narrative we extended into a different linear narrative,” said Forster. “In Max’s book you have short stories told from the past and our film starts in the present. And the interviewer is the main character trying to find out where the origin started versus in Max Brooks’, he is interviewing different survivors from across the globe.”

Having also directed Quantum of Solace, the second most recent James Bond film, in 2008, Forster discussed the challenges of producing large scale, CGI-heavy films.

“Sometimes we are shooting, for instance, in Malta for three weeks.  It’s almost a thousand extras every day and you try to create mass hysteria and at the same time you’re shooting with some real zombies – some CGI – sometimes it’s a mixture of both. So you have thousands of extras for two weeks and it’s constantly these sequences were you trying to create mass hysteria and it’s not just one day of filming,” said Forster. “It’s week after week, and on top of the extras because you are dealing with CGI characters who are not present you have to create space for them, so it had to be very well planned and it takes a lot out of you, especially on a long shoot.”

Forster also discussed his decision against working with cinematographer Roberto Schaefer on World War Z, with whom he has frequently collaborated.

“[Schaefer] and I did lots and lots of movies together and we both thought as time went on, to mix it up a little bit. We probably will work again together. I don’t know if it’s next the film or the one after,” said Forster. “We’re going to want to keep it open from now, but I think it was good for my cinematic language to mix it up a little bit.”

World War Z is more than a simple zombie flick, which Forster hopes audiences will understand and appreciate.

“The film is a big summer blockbuster and, ultimately, when making such a film, there’s a need to entertain and have the audience be on a fun and intense ride, which this movie provides. And then there’s a second layer to the film, which has more of a subliminal message. I like putting those messages in there, but that’s more for everyone to find out for themselves and lay down their own interpretations. Zombies can stand for so many metaphors,” said Forster. “The ultimate thing is that the film is a ride from beginning to end but it also has another level to it, which is what I really enjoy about this film because movies that accomplish both these things are sometimes hard to come by.”

Forster elaborated on the challenges of directing such a large scale film.

“Sometimes when you’re surrounded by these massive scenes and you’re involved in this incredible time pressure and money pressure and so on, it can be a challenge to stick to your vision. Yet in the midst of all of that you have to remind yourself that ultimately you’re the director and you have to carry this vision and make sure that that vision gets communicated to everyone at all times. And in certain circumstances, whatever it is, in certain moments, you might lose sight, but then you always have to come back and just work with everyone on that,” said Forster. “I’ve been lucky enough to say I’ve walked away at the end of the films I made, with the thought of ‘yes, my vision was there.’ I think that’s the most important thing.”

The director also explained his reasoning for taking on World War Z and why he thinks it will resonate with viewers.

“I basically chose World War Z because I was fascinated with the idea of using zombies as a metaphor. I was attracted to the opportunity to tell a story that would be fun and entertaining for viewers and at the same time provide a potential second layer for others. I think it’s a lot of fun for everybody because everyone will have their own interpretation of the movie. For some people, it will just be pure entertainment, and some people will read more into it,” said Forster. “I think that a lot of it is that with the circumstances right now in society there’s a certain fear about the economy and the state of the world in general. Across the globe there are issues everywhere and – I think that we as people are fear based – we go through changes and issues come up that I think topics like those in our film are more popular. As we are going through cycles, I’m sure it will change again.”

Amidst a resurgence of zombies in popular media, Forster spoke of his influences in making World War Z and how it differs from its contemporaries.

“I looked at all the zombie movies, especially Dawn of the Dead and Twenty Eight Days Later.  But, I wouldn’t say I just looked at them as reference and then tried it– I said, okay, this is what existed before and people are watching. The Walking Dead was on television so I knew I needed to create something that differentiates itself from those movies,” said Forster. “I wouldn’t say I was looking for something that inspired me. I was looking more for films that were out there, I saw what was created before and then sort of created my own language visually and emotionally of where I wanted this film to go to.”

World War Z features an impressive cast, including Pitt, Mireille Enos and Matthew Fox. Forster discussed these and other casting decisions he and the production team made.

“We wanted to make very authentic casting decisions, so from all the different countries Brad Pitt’s character travels to, we went to these countries and cast people from there.  It’s a very international cast.  And basically we brought people in – auditioned them – and I had them read the scenes and then brought them back again, then those I felt were best I proposed to my producers and the studio,” said Forster. “But I’m really pretty pleased with all the actors we got and they all feel very authentic – very real – and if it weren’t for that part, I think, casting generally is a big part of the movie and it’s been an especially exciting process to have the opportunity to work with different actors from around the globe.”

Forster also offered advice to aspiring directors.

“We all have stories to tell. I think the main thing is to find the right stories and be passionate about them and then just basically try to make them as cheap as possible. Pick up a camera and shoot because the more you shoot and the more you direct the more you learn and the more you understand the tools of storytelling,” said Forster. “I think making films is more possible these days too as people have more access to cameras and editorial on their laptops and it’s pretty easy to do. But I think ultimately the key is to tell stories you are really passionate about and can identify with. I think the more you can identify with a story, the more success you will have because so much more will ring true.”

World War Z hits theaters on June 21st.



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