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Independent’s Day: Greensboro Filmmaker raises The Undead

by Mark Burger

Hank is having a very bad day. What should have been a nice, relaxing hike through the woods has turned into a fight for survival. Without warning, Greensboro and surrounding environs have been invaded by flesh-eating zombies. As the body count rises, Hank and his friends’ chances plummet.

Hank’s not to reason why, but simply try not to die, because if one happens to be bitten by a zombie, one quickly becomes a zombie. Arming himself with such horror-movie standbys as an ax, shovel and weed-whacker, Hank’s not going down without a fight, no matter how bloody. Better red than undead.

Colton Snodgrass stars as Hank in Hank vs. the Undead, an independent low-budget shocker filmed in Greensboro and Wadesboro by first-time feature filmmaker (and Greensboro native) Dan Sellers.

The film, which enjoyed three screenings last year, will be shown next at the High Point Theatre on Jan. 31, with members of cast and crew on hand.

“Making a movie has been a life-long dream but was not something I felt was accessible until the last several years with the development of cheaper movie-making technologies,” Sellers says. “Over the past decade I had written numerous screenplays, which have collected dust remarkably well. When I was 17, I tried to make my first movie, a super-low-budget horror/teen slasher flick. But as it so often does, life got in the way, and we were never able to get it going.”

Sellers initially intended Hank as a short. “Once we started shooting scenes and really fleshing out the project, it just felt rushed and incomplete,” Sellers admits. “I went back and rewrote the script, making it twice as long, adding new major characters and plot points. We moved into production fairly quickly with our first weekend of production in June 2013. We were able to shoot the film one weekend at a time, typically several months apart, and eventually, after about nine months, we wrapped production.”

Overall, “I’m fairly pleased with Hank,” Sellers says. “I’ve worked so closely with it for so long that I know every last line and shot in the film, and I know what works the way I intended and what doesn’t. So far, the feedback has been mostly positive. Sitting in the theater with an audience really helps you see what works and what doesn’t. Fortunately, most audiences jump at the scary scenes and laugh out loud at the funny scenes.”

Even amidst the carnage and calamity, some things remain unchanged. Chris Demm, one half of “Two Guys Named Chris” morning radio team and host of “That Demm Music Show” on Rock-92 (92.3 FM), is still broadcasting “¦ though, as he laments to listeners, they might have to change the name of the morning show to “One Guy Named Chris.”

Sellers, a long-time fan Rock- 92 (he’s a “P1 Listener” no less), contacted Demm to inquire if he’d be interested in contributing an audio cameo. Demm, whose previous “major” credit was playing Samuel Adams in a school play in 1976, was intrigued.

“Believe it or not, I’ve still never met Dan!” Demm says. “He sent me a message through Facebook, and that’s how we set the whole thing up. He told me he’d like a radio voice to provide a little exposition, and I thought it would be fun to be part of horror-movie tradition.

“Dan sent me two versions of the scene,” Demm relates, “one of which included the ‘hidden’ messages that only a Rock-92 listener would understand, and I recorded them in our studio.”

Demm admits he’s a fan of zombie movies, “especially some of the ones with a bit of a twist “” like Zombieland, Juan De Los Muertos (Juan of the Dead) and my personal favorite, Shaun of the Dead “¦ and I’d be a fool to say no to any more offers.”

Sellers is himself a diehard horror buff, and Hank vs. the Undead is very much a tribute to those films and filmmakers that inspired him.

“I was particularly inspired by filmmakers like Robert Rodriguez, John Carpenter and Sam Raimi,” he says. “These are guys who kind of defied the odds and through force of will established their names in cinema. I think my biggest cinematic inspiration came from films like the Evil Dead series and George Romero’s Living Dead series. I chose to make a zombie picture mainly because they’re just do much fun, and the special effects are not inaccessible for someone with such a small budget.”

Raimi’s Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn (1987) is a big favorite for the auteur. “I saw this film as a teenager, and have been madly in love with it ever since,” he says.

“It may be my favorite film of all time. One of the great joys of making Hank was that we got to shoot a scene at the site of the original Evil Dead 2 cabin (in Anson County). Although it’s mostly caved in and dilapidated, it’s still very much hallowed ground for horror buffs.”

Hank vs. the Undead was very much a DIY undertaking. “I wrote the script, did the work of producing it, casting it, scouting locations, developing and managing a budget, buying costumes, props and special-effects materials,” Sellers says. “I also shot it myself, edited myself and heavily contributed to the score. Of course, I had help from various people along the way, but at the end of the day, the only person holding my feet to the fire to get this done was me.”

In addition to Snodgrass, who is Sellers’ brother-in-law, “several of the actors were friends and family members,” Sellers says. “Others were hired from casting calls sent out through UNCG’s drama department. Luckily, we were able to hire UNCG acting students Ashley Victoria Atkinson (Greta) and Kyle Doerr (Peter), who worked very hard for very little money but knocked their performances out of the park.”

Sellers also enlisted special-effects makeup artist Emily Bartlett, a veteran of Greensboro’s popular Woods of Terror Halloween attraction, who brought additional actors as well as her expertise to the project and secured the use of the Woods of Terror location for the film’s climax.

And all of this for the grand total of approximately $3,000.

With Hank in the can (so to speak), Sellers hopes to broaden his filmmaking horizons. He’s established Wreak Havoc Productions to produce future feature films, a web series and a podcast. There’s also a Hank vs. the Undead comic book on the horizon, and Sellers has joined forces with Greensboro’s RetroVision Entertainment to bring Hank to home-video later this year. The film has been submitted to over a dozen film festivals and has been accepted into the Official Selection of the North Carolina Film Award.

If that weren’t enough, he and his wife welcomed their first child, a daughter, last year. Sellers boasts, “She is our latest and greatest work of art.” !

WANNA go?

Hank vs. the Undead will be screened 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 31 at the High Point Theatre, 220 E. Commerce St., High Point. Admission is $10 (High Point city employees receive a 50 percent discount). For advance tickets or more information, call (336)887-3001 or visit the official High Point Theatre website: highpointtheatre.com/index.asp. The film’s official website is hankvstheundead. com. The official Facebook page is: facebook.com/ hankvstheundead. You can also follow Hank on twitter @hankvstheundead.

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