Thursday, 29 October 2009

Interview - Ed Bishop

Ed Bishop has credits for writing, editing, operating the camera on and doing visual effects for the classic Troma movie "Redneck Zombies". Today he works for UFC and was kind enough to take time out and answer some questions for me. He's a funny guy, just as you hope one of the lunatics who made "Redneck Zombies" would be and it's clear how much fun it was to make and how much work, too. This is my first ever interview and I'm lucky Mr Bishop gave such in-depth and interesting answers. I'm in italic, his answers are in bold.

First of all, I was anticipating the Redneck Zombies Anniversary Edition eagerly and I wasn't disappointed. You guys did a great job with the DVD.

Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it. Makes all the intense work worthwhile.

I noticed that the cut on the DVD is a little different from the one on the previous DVD, most notably the "Now where's a good place to take a shit?" line cut short on the old release. One of the reasons Buddy Giovinazzio's "Combat Shock" had it's own Tromasterpiece Collection release was that Buddy G felt that the Troma cut of his film had been tampered with, in between it's VHS and DVD releases by some intern at Troma, unbeknownst to Lloyd and Michael. Is this what happened with Redneck Zombies?

As far as we know it wasn’t intentional. There was a glitch in the DVD production that caused it to skip from the middle of “shit” to the hitch-hiker scene, skipping Andy and Wilbur’s reactions and Ellie May’s famous snippet of the song “Ain’t Got No Shoes” (which btw is the hidden bonus track on the cd). No one at Troma noticed and we were in the middle of frantic production on our first video for MTV (Jimmies Chicken Shack “High”) so we didn’t have a chance to watch until several weeks after it came out. By then it was too late to fix. So the new release corrects that. The very very observant will also notice a new shot early in the zombie mob attack of a zombie in red longjohns falling on his face. This shot was accidentally cut from the original edit when we deleted a sequence for pacing, and was always one of our favorite moments, so I found a place to work it back in. Troma was actually very supportive and true to our vision, which is why the “Director’s Cut” originally released on DVD is virtually identical to the Unrated VHS that snuck out a few copies after the disastrous R-rated Transworld debacle.

What is the "disasterous R-rated Transworld debacle." ? I'm assuming there was an attempt to cut the film for an R, and possibly a further attempt by Lloyd to pass the uncut version off as the R?

When Redneck Zombies was first released most newspapers and magazines wouldn’t run advertising for unrated movies and a lot of stores wouldn’t carry them, so TransWorld Entertainment, the distributor that licensed the movie from Troma, cut an R rated version supposedly for limited release, which was common at the time. Not cut so much as “butchered” – they cut out every bit of blood and hence all the zombies. Every time they saw blood they would just cut out until there was no more blood. As you can imagine, the movie as such made no sense whatsoever, and had none of the action or gore that the trailers and early reviews promised. So somehow THAT was the version that they released, with no mention of the unrated at all. Of course there was a huge backlash, lots of negative reviews and disappointed viewers. We launched a massive campaign to get Transworld to release the original unrated edition and under pressure from Lloyd and Michael they finally did make it available, but most stores already had the R piece of shit. My Mom actually called video stores all over the country asking them to trade their R version for the unrated, and a few did. But unless you were one of the lucky few to see the unrated edition, or in one of the international markets that got it unrated (like Australia or Germany, which ironically has since banned it) you would have been screwed. At least we had enough of an underground out there that when Troma released the first DVD, word of mouth from those who knew the truth spread and it became one of Troma’s best selling DVDs.

In hindsight I think it was best that the R rated version was so completely fucked up. If they had just trimmed the gore some it might have become just another mediocre B movie and faded away.

You also updated the graphics in the "mutation" scene and the "autopsy on acid" scenes for the Tromasterpiece Anniversary Edition. For the most part this was clearly an improvement, though I did miss that surreal multicoloured squares leaving trails when Bob closes his eyes. Do you think you came close to crossing the line George Lucas crossed when he rereleased Star Wars?

Wow, that’s a tough question because it’s such a fine line and such a painful dilemma for a filmmaker with any kind of lasting career. While I don’t agree with most of Lucas’s choices, it is tough when you know you made so many compromises in your vision because of budget or limits in the technology, to see the technology catch up so many years later and to have the opportunity and the means to put on the screen what you originally intended. We were never really totally happy with the Bob hallucinations but we did our best with the free Quantel time we had, and it did look cool. I think we improved it now, taking it closer to our vision of what it should look like without taking away the inherent “cheesiness” of the effect. Some people have even questioned our improved color, whether Redneck Zombies SHOULD look better. But we would have done this color correction originally if it were within our reach, and face it, it still looks pretty shitty by today’s standards.
That being said, I think Spielberg replacing the guns with walkie talkies in ET is just being an asshole. (would have to agree!)

The premise for Redneck Zombies is kinda similar to The Return of the Living Dead, with it's noxious chemicals reviving the dead. Was this intentional, and are you aware Return of the Living Dead Part II stole your opening sequence, with military personnel smoking a joint while driving the necromancing chemical?

Yes the military chemical cause for zombies was a nod to Return of the Living Dead, with the extreme carelessness of its transport and over-the-top combination of chemical warfare AND nuclear waste as the joke. In fact one of our favorite negative reviews chastises us for the fact that these two things would NEVER be combined in one barrel! (I think this is the review!) And without even a bungee cord to hold it in place! We can only hope that the opening sequence in 2 was an homage, not a theft. We’ve seen many of these through the years, in fact just recently saw Dead Snow and they have an identical POV shot to ours where the victim wakes up long enough to see the zombies pulling out her intestines. As the saying goes “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”. [I didn't think to mention it at the time, but "Redneck Zombies" also did the 'human pretends to be a zombie' thing before "Shaun of the Dead"!]

I know that part of your distribution deal with Troma was that Pericles would work as an indentured servant to Troma, but I saw your name (and I believe William Decker's too) listed in the credits of "The Toxic Avenger Part II" and, I believe, "Troma's War" too. Can you tell me about this?

Because of Lloyd’s appreciation for our Redneck Zombies gore effects he hired me and Bill Decker to create the effect in TA3 where Toxie shoves a goon’s hand into a vcr and you see his hand get ground to bits on the TV screen. Bill also went up to New York to work with Peri as an effects assistant on Toxie 2 and 3. I would have gone up too but I had just started a new job and bought a house so I was stuck in Maryland for a while. BTW Peri originally went to Troma as an indentured servant but quickly became the Special Effects Supervisor and 2nd Unit Director on several Troma movies once Lloyd saw the depth of his talents.

On the IMDB, it says an alternate/working title for "Redneck Zombies" was "Redneck County Rape". Was this a title used to sound more "legitimate" during pre-production/production, or is it some deranged fan's imagined submission?

Actually imdb was the first place we ever heard about that as well. We think it was the title they originally used or were going to use in the first UK release but have no idea if any copies made it out under that name. For the record, we HATE it, so if you see any please send us one for the archive and then destroy the rest with extreme prejudice.
We have always called it Redneck Zombies, and fought hard to retain that as our release title. Anyone looking at us during production would know immediately that there was nothing legitimate about us whatsoever.

The soundtrack CD was a very nice touch. How did the songs come about in the first place, and was it easy to get them to agree to an isolated release after all this time?

Most every song has a story so this could be a long answer. I’ll keep it brief as possible but feel free to ask if you want to know more.

The Love Theme actually burst forth spontaneously one morning shortly after we had started writing the script. We knew it would need a country-ass theme song but hadn’t thought much beyond that. So I was thinking about it one morning in the shower (where I do my best pondering) and the lyrics and melody just started flowing. By the time I dried off I had the first two verses and the bridge complete in my head. So I grabbed my guitar, worked out the chords and called Peri, who immediately loved it. I can’t explain how it happened, keeping in mind I had never written a country song before and in fact detested country music at the time. FYI yes I sang it on the soundtrack but the guitar was played by Rob Martin and the banjo by Jeff Vreeland. I can’t play nearly that well.

I had told everyone at work that I was writing the movie, and they were all excited about it. One morning my boss Kathy came in and handed me a page of lyrics that her husband Don Mayeski had written just for the movie! Of course my first thought was “Oh shit what excuse am I going to use for why I can’t put her husband’s terrible song in the movie?.” But then I read it and it was awesome. I came up with the basic melody and gave it to Rob Martin who had arranged the title song, and he did the kickass blues arrangement you hear. So I had to call it Redneck Zombies Blues.

Once we started production the rest of the songs began to fall into place. The guy who played the Sergeant (Allen Hogg) gave Pericles a tape of his brother’s band, Token Protein. We loved them and asked to use several of their songs (like “My Sweet Cadaver”) as background and incidental music. Not only did they agree, but after seeing a rough cut the lead singer Dana Simson surprised us by writing and recording a hilarious original song that became the end credits music.

Ain't Got No Shoes (aka Ellie's Lament) was improvised by Peri in the hitch-hiker scene, and I later expanded and recorded it for the soundtrack but we never found a place to use it.

For the electronic score the first and only person considered was Adrian Bond. Adrian is the son of Dick Bond, an accomplished photographic artist and good friend of Peri’s. Dick had mentioned that his son, still in High school at the time, was getting into electronic music and suggested we check it out. Not expecting much we dropped by one evening, and were completely blown away! We ended up using his music for a couple commercials, and a couple years later when Peri mentioned him for the Redneck Zombies score I knew there was no better choice. Adrian also plays a wicked guitar when you can talk him into it. Look for his music online (Adrian Bond’s music can be found at

As for the rest of the songs, we got permission to use a couple from Rob Martin’s band Edge City, and another band Mermin that we had done a music video for.
We’ve had a lot of requests for a soundtrack over the years so when we mentioned it to Lloyd and Michael they were ecstatic. Michael suggested packaging it as a bonus disk with the DVD and we loved the idea. However, since we’re giving it away we had to leave off the songs that we don’t own rights to free and clear. We’re planning to eventually release the cd by itself and hope to include several additional tracks by Token Protein and Edge City.

I also want to mention a band called The Redneck Zombies. I have no idea where they’re from – somewhere in Europe I think – and they never asked for permission to use the name, but I found them on itunes recently and they ROCK.

In the run up to the DVD release, there was a viral campaign on YouTube that appears to have stopped prematurely. Will there be more installments?

I’m hoping there will be more. The campaign stopped partly because Peri became too busy with other projects to do more and I was too busy with other projects to take over as I had planned, and also because I have to admit that even tho DVD sales and interest have been great, the number of hits that the viral videos got was a bit disappointing, which kind of deflated our motivation. If enough people watch the existing ones I’m sure we’ll do more.

Why was some of this material (from the viral videos) not included on the dvd? Some of it, particularly a skit, from (as I recall) a public access sketch show you guys did, was very funny and seemed to be the birthing ground of "Redneck Zombies".

Thanks I’m glad you enjoyed the sketch. It’s true that Crabtown was the birthing ground – Peri was the director and I was the head writer and editor, and many of the other key perpetrators of Redneck Zombies were involved, including Bill Decker, Tyrone Taylor and Henry Dicker (aka Bucky Santini). We had all known each other in high school but it was on Crabtown that we learned to work together as a well-oiled comedy machine (LOL)

Originally were going to include the sketch and a wealth of other material on the DVD. We actually have several hours of outtakes and interviews, plus a 15 minute behind-the scenes short that was put together back while we were still editing the movie. We thought we would have space for about 3 hours of bonus materials, but learned just before the deadline that we were limited to about an hour, so we had to either cut a lot of things out or substitute a second DVD instead of the soundtrack cd. We did an informal poll and the cd won. The plan was to release the best of what hadn't made the DVD in the viral videos, and eventually we may put out a documentary that would include all the interviews and lots more behind the scenes. There could also be a blueray that would include about 5 hours of bonus materials. Send those emails to

On the DVD, you tell us you've been working for UFC. Any favourite fighters?

Randy Couture is the Best of the best! Pericles and I made a documentary on MMA a few years ago called FIGHTER that followed Randy’s start in the UFC through his winning the title for the second time, and he is an amazing fighter and a great person all around. I’m also a fan of Forrest Griffin because he’s hilarious. He`has that same Redneck Zombies combination of slapstick and brute force. I’d love to put him in a horror movie. Plus I'm way into WEC, which is UFC's little brother, featuring the lighter weight classes. Some fast, furious, sick fights!

Is Rampage Jackson that funny in real life?

He's going to play B A Barrachus. Need I say more?

You've made a gruesome horror film, and horror films are often villified as endorsing or supporting violence. Now, you work for UFC which is often compared to a kind of barbaric, human cock-fighting. (I don't hold either of these views). Do you have to explain sometimes to family, friends etc. that your professional interest is merely in entertainment?

Horror movies are an interesting issue in my family because as a whole we’re liberal peace-mongers and my own views are very Buddhist. But I have been raised on horror – my Mom was a huge fan of the classics – Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf Man – growing up in the 1940’s, so it seemed natural to my parents that I got into horror almost as soon as I could change the channel on my own. We’ve always seen it as pure entertainment and somewhat of a cathartic release. I have had to explain this to a few friends and family along the way, and have certainly had my share of discussions about the negative influence of violent media on society and the children, but for the most part people understand that it’s just in fun and always trying to shock and thrill those who have “seen everything”.
The UFC on the other hand I seem to have to explain to about 90% of the people I talk to about it. It still has the lingering reputation of the old UFC and early Brazilian Shooto that it’s kind of a no rules fight to the death. But once I tell people what the sport is really about (and this is something that our FIGHTER documentary does very well) most people are interested in checking it out.

Finally, do you have any advice for young filmmakers with ideas possibly even more alienating and deranged than "Redneck Zombies" ?

To quote the shoe guys, Just Do It. If you have a great idea and you want to make a movie, make it. Don’t wait around for someone to give you “financing”. If you’re passionate about it find a way. Cameras and tape are so cheap now, and you can edit a film on your laptop so there are no excuses! We made Redneck Zombies with credit cards, made the payments by producing local cable commercials for $400, and we were fortunate enough to get that back plus enough to pay the actors and crew afterward (almost $10. a day!!!) BUT be smart about it. Make your script as tight as possible, and incorporate the locations and actors you know you have access to. Learn as much as you can about HOW to make a movie before you start. Don’t worry, you’ll still find out plenty of things you didn’t know once you’re doing it. Lloyd Kaufman’s books are INVALUABLE tools. I really wish he had written them 20 years ago.

A couple practical tips –

  1. Always expect everything to take longer than you think.
  2. If you’re not paying real rates, put close friends and family in key roles and crew positions. They’re the only ones likely to stick with you by day 6 of a 3 day shoot.
  3. Make a film because you want to make a film. Don’t expect to ever make any money. But do your best and be grateful when you do.
  4. If half your audience loves it and the other half hates it you’ve done something special. If everyone hates it, learn from your mistakes and move on to the next one.
  5. Have fun and don’t ever let anyone tell you it can’t be done.
  6. Please send me a copy. I’m dying to see it.

Thank you Ed Bishop for answering these questions! The last answer is pretty encouraging, eh?

If you're a "Redneck Zombies" fan, you need to get the new DVD - it's quite simply one of the best DVDs Troma has ever put out and every fan will love it (in fact, all of the "Tromasterpiece" series have been exemplery, especially the new "Combat Shock" DVD).

If you've never experienced the joys of "Redneck Zombies" and yet somehow read all the way through this interview, I wonder what the Hell you're doing.

If you like zombie films or Troma films and have a sense of humour, you should definetely buy "Redneck Zombies". Where else can you see the point of view of a terrified man on acid attempting to perform an autopsy by lantern-light, or a corpulant redneck seriously contemplate having sex with the (seriously mutilated) remains of a lady camper?

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