John Pata: Better Living with Better Off Undead's Zombie King by Brian Kirst

John Pata, creator of the well regarded 'Better Off Undead' is truly a young director on the rise. His appearances at many of the Midwest horror film conventions have become event highlights and the encouragement he's received thus far has resulted in a smattering of upcoming projects. Fun, inventive and intensely down-to-earth, Pata - who can be reached at recently took some time out to answer some inventive questions for Racks and Razors.


Brian: Who were your first directing influences - Penny Marshall making it large with Tom Hanks in 'Big' Your grandfather taking movies of you throwing up after your first binge during your kindergarten graduation - The dude who shot your first Oshkosh By Gosh commercial?

John: Okay, for the record, I wasn't in Oshkosh By Gosh commercials, just the catalogues. As for early directing influences, and these still hold true, definitely early Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi, Lloyd Kaufmann and of course, George Romero. Those four men are pretty much responsible for my obsession with the horror genre. Watching their films from the ages of 8-12 surely fucked me up.

Also, I would have to throw Spielberg in there. 'Jaws' is quite possibly the first movie I fell in love with. I can't even tell you how old I was when I first saw 'Jaws' , but it is definitely the first film where I caught on to and appreciated the idea of filmmaking.

Brian: What is your favorite "legitimate" horror film and what is your favorite guilty pleasure?

John: Favorite film, hands down, 'The Evil Dead'. No other film compares. I saw 'The Evil Dead' when I was 10 and have been obsessed with it ever since. My brother was really into 'Army of Darkness' when it came out, he rented it a bunch and I ended up watching it many of times. Then one day my life-long best Sam and I were in the video store talking films with one of the workers. We mentioned 'Army of Darkness' and he brought up 'The Evil Dead'. We rented both 'Evil Dead' films, and both of us freaked out after watching 'The Evil Dead' . After that day, neither of the sequels do justice. As far as I'm concerned, there is only one 'Evil Dead' film.

As for my favorite guilty pleasure, damn, there are so many. Overall, my guilty pleasure is really shitty Sci-Fi Channel-esque films. I fucking love those. If I had to narrow it down, fuck, this is tough. I might have to say it, the shit-tastic Uwe Boll's 'House of the Dead.' Don't get me wrong, it is absolute shit. The film is made so fucking bad, how can you not enjoy it? I have no problem saying that I thoroughly enjoy all of his films. For many years now it has been tradition with my friends to consume lots of whiskey and watch his "films."

Brian: What was the thing that most knocked yer dirty socks off about making 'Better Off Undead'?

John: The support and interest of everyone involved. So many people just wanted to help out in anyway they could. Some of the zombie extras did not even like horror films one bit but still wanted to help. That was absolutely mind blowing. I by no means expected such a reaction. That goes for the film being done now, too. We made 'Better Off Undead' for no other reason than to have fun. The support the fans have shown is much more than I could have even imagined.

Brian: What did you find was the most challenging aspect of 'Better Off Undead' , which was your first film?

John: Aside from not really know what we were doing, time was the biggest challenge. We made 'BOU' for fun, and for very little money, $700 to be exact. We didn't have the luxury of being paid, so we had to film around everyone's work schedules. Drew, who plays Marcus, the films' lead, moved out of Oshkosh two weeks after we began filming. Once he moved, we were limited to only shooting on the weekends. One factor we benefited from was having pretty much no crew. The crew consisted of our DP Colin Crowley, First Unit Bitch Scott Dercks, who did anything that was needed, and myself. It was a challenge to get the crew and cast, which was a total of six people together. I can't even fathom how difficult it would have been having a full crew.

Brian: What was your most unusual experience when working with the special effects and make-up for 'Better Off Undead'?

John: Again, filming for only $700, we didn't have a whole lot to play with when it came to special effects and make-up. The look of the zombies was as basic as you could get. I would have to say the most unusual experience with the special effects is, in my opinion, how successful we were with no money. Intestines were made out of pairs of pantyhose stuffed with cotton, body casts were made from plastic wrap and packing tape, and when you see zombies chewing and eating, it\rquote s nothing more than bread socked in the fake blood. Add in the sound effects and you have some descent special effects. During screenings I have heard people cringe in disgust because of some of the special effects. To me, that's kind of unusual considering it's so simple. Well, aside from all of that, it might be a little unusual how insanely attracted I get to girls when they are covered in fake blood.

Brian: You have recently encountered some obstacles with filming your first full length, 'Among the Dead'. What has this whole process taught you?

John: Fuck being ambitious. Alright, that's not true. I knew this before, but this whole fiasco just reinforced the notion that independent filmmaking is not easy. It's fucking hard, stressful, time consuming and no matter how much you want to say, "Fuck it all", if you really love it, you can't give in. I spent 8 months working on 'Among The Dead', and that was before principal photography began. I devoted my life to the film, and even quit my job so I could put all my time and attention to it. After 4 months of being treated like shit, we finally locked in a house to film in. We were going to rent it for three months. The day before I got the keys, I received a phone call saying they "had someone who wanted to rent the house for a full year." The house remained empty for over two months.

There I was, jobless and completely depressed. I gave everything I could for 8 months and got the biggest pile of shit dropped on me. Now what? We are down, but we are not out. The cast and I put a lot of time into this film. We want to see it finished, so we are going to see it finished. This goes for filmmaking and so much more, but if you want something, you can make it happen. It's so damn clich'e to say, but it's true. Sometimes things don't work out exactly how you hoped or as you planned, but you have to adjust. All this taught me that some things are worth getting drenched in feces for, no matter how shitty it is.

Brian: Let's get sharp and talk some slasher! Can you tell us a bit about you own slasher script and about the slasher films that have specifically inspired you?

John: The origin of the slasher script starts a long time ago in Mr. Trader's health class in high school. Sam, who I got into 'The Evil Dead' with, and I am a year apart. We didn't have health class together, but took the same class at different times. We watched this video about Phineas Gauge, a railroad worker from 1848 through an accident at work had a railroad spike go through his head, severing the two halves of his brain. He survived, but no longer had any control of his emotions. One minute he was happy, then sad, then scared, then furious and so on. It was this shitty, informative, made-for-school video. Both of us thought it was hilarious and for whatever reason, it stuck with us. Skip forward a few years, Sam's in college and I play Phineas in a short film of his. It was a minor role, but we talked about how funny it would be to make a slasher film with Phineas Gauge as the killer.

Sam and I are still working on a script called 'Phineas'. It is a ridiculously over-the-top slasher script about Phineas Gauge killing a Catholic church group of 20-some-year-olds at some recently purchased cottages on Lake Michigan to convert the cottages for retreats and other "holy adventures". It takes place during present day, yet Phineas is still alive and killing. Why? We have no fucking clue. He's fucking nuts, he can't control his emotions, that's why. Wait, that still doesn't explain why he is alive. I really like what we have done so far. The whole script is outlined, and more than half of it is actually written. It's kind of funny writing these holy rollers, I can speak for myself and say I am not a religious/spiritual person. It's pretty fun writing shit in the perspective exactly opposite of what I believe. I can promise lots of crude and possibly offensive humor and very gory deaths.

As for slasher films that have inspired me, I am a huge Joseph Zito slasher fan. First off, 'The Prowler', what do I even say? That film is fucking unbelievable, definitely at the top of my list. Also, 'Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter'. This film captures the fun and campiness one would expect a 80s slasher film to have, let alone a 'Friday the 13th' film. But at the same time, it shows a terrifying Jason. This film brings such much more of a darker, brutal feel than the others. I mean come on, Jason nailing Crispin Glover's dead body to the doorframe, fucking amazing.

Brian: Cool! What other ideas do you have floating down your pipeline?

John: Since 'Among The Dead' has been put on hold until the spring of 2009, I have 4 short films lined up. One of them is a straight up zombie-esque short, two are more or less very serious real-life horror stories, and the last one is a comedy. Well, as much as two guys talking about drinking 44oz. of either semen or diarrhea can be comedy.

Brian: Lastly, any words of advice (IE: Don't argue with your best friends over bong hits during the middle of a zombie invasion) that you'd care to leave us with? And thanks - it's been a limb full!

John: Running zombies suck ass, keep slow zombies alive. Support your local scene as much as you can. If you have an idea, see it through. And lastly, always, always leave castrations to the professionals.

Also, if any of this sounds interesting, or you are curious to check out 'Better Off Undead', go to to see the trailer, pictures and more. The DVDs are also available for order there.