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My life as an alien zombie or how I learned to love my new tentacle— behind the scenes of the Medic

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There is a fine line between suffering for your art and being as crazy as a rat in a tin outhouse. I enjoy being an extra in movies. I caught the Marina Ragan as the completed zombie. Photo by RIchard Amerybug years ago on the set of “Legends of the Fall.”

I’m one of the guys getting shot in the brief First World War battle scene  which was shot just outside of Calgary in the summer of 1993— I remember it going all night and it raining non-stop. Good times.

I also have been in a couple other movies since. In a nutshell, being an extra includes doing a lot of standing around and waiting punctuated by brief moments of adrenaline pumping, stomach churning action, braced by complete and utter exhaustion as fake blood mingles with mosquito bites and real blood from assorted rocks, branches and brambles.

Especially on the set of the Medic, a locally produced alien invasion/ zombie attack film being shot by over the summer by local film makers Rambunxious Entertainment.

Cameraman Kevin Johnson takes a breather. Photo by Richard AmeryThey are the same group who brought you popular short film “High School Brawl,” and their first full length action/ comedy “Hoodoo Voodoo,” which was released back in October.
 So if you see blood stains and scraps of skin while wandering about the Cottonwood Park Nature Reserve west of Lethbridge, or in and around the city, fear not, it is just the remnants of “the Medic.”

“It’s like a suicide mission to save the world,” described writer/ producer Kevin Johnson who also plays the title character. The whole film is shot through a helmet camera he wears to tell the story of this rag tag bag of Canadian commandos through his eyes as they try to destroy “the node,” which broadcasts a radio signal that controls the infected — hapless victims infected by aliens who are trying to destroy humanity.

 They are shooting the film in and around Lethbridge as well as a few out of town locations as far away as Cardston and Vulcan, and in the case of the weekend’s scene, deep in the middle of the west side coulee through rocks, trees and brambles and down an immense, heart-stopping cliff (in the case of an extra like me who is pretty out of shape.) A variety of extras were transformed from pre-teens, parents, students and everybody in between into vicious alien zombies sporting a variety of vivid flesh wounds, bullet holes backbones sticking out, infected back skin, disemboweled bellies and even tentacles.

I was pretty pleased with my tenatacle. I killed a lot of time, so to speak, by improving comedy bits incorporating the tentacle to amuse myself and a few others.

“It’s going pretty well. All of the shots look pretty good so far,” Johnson continued. He said a lot of the concept came from multiple Shayla Stevenberg adds blood to zombie Marina Ragan’s teeth. Photo by Richard Amerybrainstorming sessions at coffee shops, but they have been actively writing and rewriting the script over the past six months.
“My character, the Medic was in med school before the war but dropped out after 2-3 years. That was enough for them to make him join the army. He doesn’t really want to be there so he really just does what he’s told,” he described.
“It’s been fun. I’ve never really been an actor before but I’d rather be behind the scenes,” he said.

The project is the biggest one the group has done yet. It features 10 primary cast members and well over 20 extras depending on the scene.Me and my tentacle. Photo by Marina Ragan
Producer Ryan Hatt, who played the action hero in Hoodoo Voodoo, is back in a similar role as Sgt. Hatfield.
Hatt described his character, Sgt. Hatfield is “a soldier’s soldier.”
“Killing is his business and business is good. He’s the kind of guy who sees the big picture. He’s been pushed to the brink. These guys are like the rebels in Star Wars, a bunch of really different people thrown together to complete a very important suicide mission,” Hatt said adding his character is a leader who knows how to get people to get the job done, so he has a few more lines than his last starring role in Hoodoo Voodoo.

He observed this film is coming together well. Their short “The Overture,” released earlier this year and premiered at the university of Lethbridge film festival, set the stage for “The Medic.”
“It’s been a very social. It’s been like a party every time we get together. Every shoot we have a barbecue for the cast and crew. It really is a good time,” he said.

“The biggest difference between this film and Hoodoo Voodoo is there is a lot more people interested in helping us out,” Hatt continued.

“Hoodoo Voodoo was really good action film,” he said adding it was a big learning curve for the cast and crew. This time round, things are going smoother because they are better organized.
“Hoodoo Voodoo took a long time. This one is going a lot smoother. We’re a lot more efficient. We learned a lot from Hoodoo Voodoo,” he said adding even little things like having a set shooting schedule and the actors knowing their lines has contributed.

Jeff Graham waits for the shoot to begin. Photo by Richard Amery“You need to know your lines because other people are depending on you,” he said.
Actor Jeff Graham, who is usually acting on stage with groups like Playgoers of Lethbridge, is enjoying a slightly different experience — acting for film as Cpt. Jackson.

“I’m usually acting in plays but this is my first film and I’ve found a lot of the pressure is off, because if they don't get it right, they just do it again,” he said.
“But nine takes is the most I’ve ever seen them do,” he said.Zombie invasion. Photo by Richard Amery

“He’s kind of a social outcast. He was an outcast before he joined,” Graham said of his character.
“And’ that's a lot different than me because I’m a very social person,” he said adding his favourite part of the film, so far, was shooting a scene where he gets vomited on.

“That’s how I get infected. I’m glad they only had to get six takes of it. But he deserves it seeing as what he does gets a lot of people killed,” he said.

 The producers are hoping to have the film completed and hopefully released in the fall.

A version of this story appears in the July 6, 2011 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times

 — By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat editor
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