June 10th is my birthday.
10 years ago I had a very unique birthday celebration. A friend was on the production staff of a film they were calling “Shaun of the Dead”, and myself and my friend Graham had been invited to be extras on a couple of different occasions. The first one was back in May 2003 when we headed for North London to do some location shooting, which resulted in me being immortalised for literally three or four frames of film as “man at bus stop.” Some of my finest work. Obviously I impressed with my background artiste skills and so – surely nothing to do with our friend on the crew – we were invited back for a night shoot in New Cross in which the zombies were to surround a derelict pub, which had been refitted on the outside to act as “The Winchester.”
Our friend had advised us of a 6PM call, so we arrived in New Cross slightly early and, it being my birthday, had a beer to kill time. We swung by the town hall which had been commandeered as a unit base, to find it swarming with other eager extras, many of whom seething with pure nerd energy, waiting for the action to begin. We found it a bit overpowering, and when our friend told us that realistically we wouldn’t be needed till at least 9pm, we repaired to a nearby pub and decided to have some birthday pints – all in keeping with the theme of the film, or so we thought.
You can guess the rest… our call time kept being pushed back and back until we actually closed down the pub, and we were beginning to look like zombies before we’d even had any makeup. Speaking of which, it did occur to us that we hadn’t had any makeup applied yet. We waddled back to the unit base, which by now was swarming with nerd-zombies, who had all queued to get makeup from the handful of makeup artists. However, when we went in for makeup we were the only people left to adorn. Graham and I ended up, for expediency’s sake, with three women apiece working on zombie-fying us, and I remarked that my birthday was looking up!
Unfortunately now we were in zombie makeup, drunk, and with the call time being pushed back and back into the wee hours, we devoted our energy to practicing our zombie walk on the pavement with the casting director, James, himself in zombie getup as well, and idle hands being the devil’s tools, we soon noticed the dodgy off-license down the road. We soon convinced the proprietor to open the beer counter up for us (for a monetary consideration) and before you know it there was a queue of bored-looking zombies buying Red Stripes and wobbling up and down the road to the unit base.
Graham and I realised they had actually started shooting some of the main actors, so we snuck through a park and watched the “White Lines” scene where Shaun and Ed see the “wasted” punter – actually a zombie-fied casting director James – ambling down the road. I was glad nobody caught us spying on this shot as we would have made quite a picture, hiding in a hedge, covered in blood and holding tins of beer.
I am ashamed to say that by the time we were actually required to perform our duties as “background artistes”, swarming a car outside the pub, and doing a classic zombie swarm shot surrounding the pub, Graham and I were very much the worse for wear, having the times of our lives, but not necessarily being completely attentive to all the instructions the director and first AD were bellowing out. We were background zombies – we didn’t have the physical wounds and special contact lenses given to the foreground zombies – but somehow we always seemed to end up near the front by the time the swarm had “swarmed.” Occasionally this resulted in an annoyed “cut” and an instruction for the background zombies to remain in the background! Consequently I am not sure I have ever identified Graham or myself in these shots, though it’s hard to tell given we all look alike!
(We were invited to the crew screening later that year where I apologised to Edgar Wright for letting the side down – I begged extenuating circumstances).
When all was said and done, it got to 4:30 in the morning, we were finished shooting, and marooned in New Cross, needing to get back to North London. So what did we do? Why, a night bus, of course. Upon boarding we realised that we had never gone back to unit base to clean up, and thus we were still in full zombie getup. I have never had so much room on a bus before or since.
Did we have fun? Yes. Did we make a good show of ourselves? I am not so sure. But am I sure that I will never have a birthday party like that, ever again.
My thanks to the crew for their indulgence and the opportunity to have been a tiny, broken part of this cult classic.