A couple of years ago, I wrote a post on zombie fiction. This was around the time that World War Z was just starting to make waves on the movie circuit; I think Brad Pitt had just signed on to play a character that Max Brooks never wrote about. I wrote about why I thought zombie fiction was so cool.
But then last week, I saw this article on the zombie fad that look at it just like that: a fad that was the hot thing of the moment but would inevitably lose steam. Take a moment to give it a read. It’s not that long of an article, and it’ll help make sure we’re all on the same page.
Done? Good. Let’s move on.
So the article was basically saying that zombies mean big bucks. Hotel Transylvania made the top of the highest-grossing zombie films of recent years, and I applaud the filmmakers for doing something that includes the kiddies too. But when it comes to the hardcore, bloody, gory zombie films that we all really go after, World War Z has made the number one spot. The global income of just the film was projected at being $300 million. If I was a studio executive at Paramount, I’d totally green light a sequel or two. Why wouldn’t I? It’s my job to make money for my studio, right? This isn’t Disney. We’re not making John Carter or The Lone Ranger (*cringes at the thought of Johnny Depp’s Tonto*).
Now, I’m really split on how the zombie craze is going to turn out in the long run. I don’t predict how long it’s going to run, nor do I expect any one person to have the answer to that question. Max Brooks did a video on Reddit in 2010, and even he was on the fence about the whole thing:
“I have mixed feelings about it because, as a writer, the sort of zombie glut that’s happening, it’s great for me. I’m selling more books than I ever deserve to. And when that backlash happens and people stop buying zombie books, I have no right to complain. It bothers me as a zombie fan because I like good zombie stories and for me it’s getting harder and harder to separate the wheat from the chaff because I don’t have a lot of time. And what bothers me is somewhere out there someone is working on a really good zombie story, and I’m talking much better than World War Z. Right now, someone is thinking of or making notes for or actually writing the next great zombie novel that is just going to blow World War Z out of the water. People are going to read this and go, ‘Oh, my God. I thought Word War Z was good, but this?’ I’m going to be one of those people. I want to read that. But the problem is that person, once they finish their magnum opus, the zombie genre may have passed away, and they may go to publishers and publishers will say, ‘You know what? We’re done. We’re done with zombies. Enough.’ And that great zombie story may never see the light of day, and that’s what upsets me.”
Brooks is right. The day will come when people get tired of zombies just like they got tired of the CG bonanza that was the Star Wars prequel trilogy. It’s not restricted to just zombies. It can happen with any genre. Look at superheroes. Studios are buying up as many comic book titles as they can so they have a lot of material to work with and be flexible on. Again, I don’t blame them when that’s the reasonable thing to do.
What gets on my nerves is that all this feels like a warning sign against doing a zombie story of my own, something that I’ve been thinking about as I consider revitalizing my plan to do an online novel. I hear stuff like this and feel like I’m going to be one of those assholes looking to make a quick buck on the undead. Those nerves get settled when I realize that the novel would be post completely free and that the only way I’d make any money off of it would be if a studio or network approached me to buy the adaptation rights. That, of course, is a ginormous “if”, and it’s kind of foolish for me to get ahead of myself like that.
But for me, as a writer, I have to ask myself whether I should even give it a shot, and I think that if you’re doing it just for the fun of it all, you should be in the clear. There is no crime or backlash for doing something for free for fun. In that case, the only crime might be in holding back.
You want my advice? I’ve never tried this out, but I’m going to: draw up a list of four of five zombie movies that you feel might really hit the spot for you. You got Romero’s Night of the Living dead there because it’s a classic. I would also include 28 Weeks Later (which I think it better than 28 Days Later), I Am Legend, Stake Land, and the Italian film Eaters. I would also like to check out a British film called Colin simply because it impressed a lot of people at the Cannes Film Festival despite being made for $70!!! That’s right, folks. A two-digit budget!
These are just my personal options. Your tastes might run differently. But when you do have your heavy hitters, watch them – watch them twice – and ask yourself what is it about each of them that makes them special. Try putting yourself in the mind of the writer and see if you can find out why someone with a strong vocabulary and grammar skills would go ahead and write something like that. Chances are it’s going to involve a sense of passion. Try finding your own passion for the genre, and then tap into it.