Late last year, during a brainstorming session for Neighbours, I pitched a crazy idea: what if we made a zombie web series where former characters returned from the dead? Tony Broderick, Director of Digital Media at the time laughed – but then asked ‘Could we bring back Bouncer?’
I put together a treatment, and when Screen Australia’s Skip Ahead programme was announced – we reached out to Melbourne YouTuber Louna Maroun to be a part of the project. Louna, one of Melbourne’s most prolific vloggers, was doing some really interesting things on YouTube, a viewer of Neighbours and had previously produced some zombie themed content – so a perfect fit.
Below is a shot of Louna in character as Hope Gottlieb, in a fight-or-flight moment:
Shooting a pitch video with Alan Fletcher during panto season in London – with Louna’s segments recorded in Melbourne – Alicia Hamilton and I crafted the application and nervously waited several months…
Flashforward almost a year later and the web series is now entering into post-production.
Starting with a list of every character ever killed off in Neighbours, we soon had a short list of characters whose returns would create the most drama for our current regulars. These weren’t going to be your average zombies; they would walk and talk like normal people… at first.
From the original story document – which went through a number of iterations due to cast and set restrictions – I scripted the 5 x 5min webisodes. Drew would return to shock Karl and Susan! Plus three more zombies, which I can’t name just yet – but I’m sure Neighbours fans past and present will get a kick out of who’s returning.
After scheduling, contracting and budgeting – it was time to put my director’s hat on.
I wanted the series to have a different look and feel to regular Neighbours; the story is a little dark at times – so that’s reflected in the visuals. Low key lighting, handheld camera moves – shot on a combination of Arri Alexa, Red Scarlet and Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera with Cooke primes.
Tom Savige, who I’d worked with previously on Neighbours: Brennan On The Run, returned as DOP. We shot on a mix of interior studio sets and external locations – even creating a couple of new spaces in the Erinsborough universe (creepy abandoned hospital and new Kennedy bedroom!).
Very challenging schedule – shooting 15 scenes on our first day – meant limited time for rehearsal. Thankfully our cast are hugely experienced at shooting fast paced television – so no problems there. Louna, in addition to starring as character Hope and shooting behind the scenes material – also directed four scenes.
Was wonderful to work with such a range of talent, from Louna to our regular and returning cast, not to mention the web series crew and Neighbours production team who went the extra mile to make the project possible.
Neighbours VS Zombies debuts on the official Neighbours YouTube Channel on Monday 27th October.
Produced by: Ric Forster & Alicia Hamilton
Directed by: Ric Forster, Additional scenes: Louna Maroun
Written by: Ric Forster
Story: Ric Forster & Louna Maroun
Production Manager: Fiona McLellan
DOP: Tom Savige
Production Co-ordinator: Melanie Rowland
Assistant Directors: Jamie Platt, Julian Duggan
Sound recordist: Mark Edwards
Costume supervisor: Bethsheba Ferry
Make up artist: Aline Joyce
Behind the scenes: Louna Maroun
Executive Producer for Neighbours: Jason Herbison