In the Bunker of Movies: A Day on the Set with ZP International Pictures – By Nic Brown

It’s not every day that one ends up in a bunker. OK maybe it is for some people, but it isn’t every day for most people in Richmond, Kentucky. Then again, most people aren’t George Bonilla. Almost ten years ago George decided he wanted to start making movies in the state of Kentucky. A lot of people told him he couldn’t do that. Even more people told him he couldn’t do it when he said he didn’t want to spend millions on his films. He wanted to make good, low budget movies in a state known more for its horses and bourbon than its actors and filmmakers.

Now here we are in ZP International’s production facility, standing on the set of not one but two films being shot back to back by one of Kentucky’s most prolific and successful filmmakers. Bonilla is happy to quote all the people who told him it couldn’t be done, but you won’t find him talking about it long because when he’s on the set it’s all business and today he’s got work to do.

ZPI is trying something new, they’re making a family friend zombie movie with their newest feature: SANTA CLAUS VS. THE ZOMBIES! “It’s definitely a challenge.” Remarks Bonilla between takes. “We’re filming a fight scene today and I can’t just have the hero beat these guys to death! We have to go with something more like you would see in the old Three Stooges movies, rather than DIE HARD.” Of course fight scenes aren’t the only challenge, the traditional way of killing zombies by blowing their heads off doesn’t play as well with Mom and Pop when little junior is around. “We also have to be careful with our language. Most of our work is rated R, For SCVZ we have to watch what we say as well as what do!” Challenges like this one are par for the course in independent filmmaking and George considers it an exercise in creative thinking.

In fact Bonilla always seems to turn adversity into opportunity. More than halfway through the shoot for SCVZ the team from ZP International will have to put that project on hold for one month due to one of the leads being out of town. For some productions this would be a real roadblock. For Bonilla it’s the chance to try something else new: Shooting an entire feature film in six to eight days!

We have this wonderful bunker set we’ve built for SCVZ, so we thought why not use it to make a second feature while the first one is on hold!” There is a gleam in his eye as he starts to talk about the second film. “You might say it’s a pallet cleanser for us as we go from shooting a family friendly film to a blood soaked horror/thriller called BUNKER OF BLOOD!”

BUNKER OF BLOOD is a post-apocalyptic film that is kind of like TEN LITTLE INDIANS meets THE THING. In it the U.S. ends up in a nuclear exchange with China over blocked sea ports. The Chinese launch a sneak attack and wipe out the whole East Coast. The President is caught off guard and has to be rushed to the nearest safe facility. So instead of ending up in one of the elaborate Presidential bunkers he and his staff end up trapped in a small bunker with some Generals and soldiers.”

At first everything seams OK, well as OK as you can get with Chinese nukes going off, but then someone is murdered. At first they think it’s just a random killing, but then another happens and soon they realize that someone in the bunker is a vampire!” If the tight, weekends only, shooting schedule for BUNKER OF BLOOD worries Bonilla it doesn’t show. The only thing that comes through is his excitement about the project.

During  my visit to the ZP Studio the crew prepares to shoot some of the first footage for BUNKER OF BLOOD. Although production on the film doesn’t officially begin until April, there were some openings in the schedule of today’s shoot for SCVZ to allow them to begin work on the second feature.

It seems like every member of the cast and crew present has jammed themselves into the conference room set at the back of the bunker stage. Here “The President” is addressing the nation about the troubles with China and the use of nuclear weapons. It is a somber scene that breaks up the day of shooting the lighter fair of Santa Claus and Zombies.

Bonilla is shooting all of the President addressing the nation scenes at one time so periodically the President has to step out to change jackets at the wardrobe department. When Bonilla starts wondering why it’s taking the actor so long just to change jackets, one of the production assistants reminds him that the President wouldn’t be caught in a miss-matched suit so he must be looking for a tie. Sure enough, when he returns the President has on a different jacket and tie combination and the filming resumes.

Later the cast moves out of the bunker and into the front part of the production facility’s sound stage. This part is set up as a warehouse and now everyone has to jump track as they resume work on SCVZ. A different President is now being escorted through the warehouse set by three armed guards. Two of the guards are planning to execute a coup when they hear an alarm signal. This results in a two on one fight that features pipe wrenches and crowbars being wielded in combat. “Well add sparks to it later.” Comments Bonilla as he watches the actors walk through the staged combat routine.
They have to be careful though. The prop weapons they are using, while looking realistic are actually made of a soft, slightly spongy material and if they strike each other’s weapons too hard they will bend on camera.

After a number of run throughs with Bonilla and the fight consultant, a local Kick Boxing/Martial Arts instructor named Adam Fair, The team is ready to shoot the scene. It takes several tries to get the shot the way Bonilla wants it, but when they do it is hard to tell that they aren’t really fighting. At least as long as you observe from the same angle as the cameras. Bonilla, always conscious of safety on the set, is having the actors miss each other with their punches by a considerable distance, but it’s better safe than sorry and when it is all said and done, the footage looks great.

Director and writer George Bonilla may be done with one scene, but he’s still got more to film before he can say that SANTA CLAUS VS THE ZOMBIES or BUNKER OF BLOOD are “in the can”. However, despite the diversity of the two projects and the other challenges faced by this and every independent filmmaker, Bonilla wouldn’t have it any other way. I mean come on, how many people do you know that have their own bunker and get to boss around two Presidents?