We are joined today by Irish filmmaker Adam William Cahill. Adam sat down with us to talk about his new film, Follow the Dead.

Hi Adam, it is so wonderful to have you here with us.

 

Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

I’m an Irish filmmaker from Dublin, and the company director of Wild Stag Productions. I studied film production and earned my bachelor degree from the University of Wolverhampton. Straight out of college I decided to sink or swim as far as diving straight into the industry goes, and that’s how I ended up making my first feature film, Follow the Dead.

 

Could you tell us about the origins of Follow the Dead?

Initially it was a short film idea imagined by Luke Corcoran, the actor who would become the lead in the feature film. He wrote a short script about three flatmates in Dublin who come across a zombie in their apartment and comedic mayhem ensues. We were initially going to shoot that script, which was called Craic of the Dead (“craic” being an Irish colloquialism for fun), but we ran into some problems along the way. This gave me the time to really meditate on the concept a while, and the thing that was really hooking me about the plot was that we were essentially telling a story about Irish Millennials, a very specific demographic, dealing with a problem that we haven’t seen them challenged with before. I wondered what a generation engrossed in technology, surrounded by fake news, and basically more comfortable than any generation that came before it would react to such a perilous event. Luke was gracious enough to let me take the idea and go off and write something more expansive, which I did. And a hundred pages later I had written a story about a family of Millennials in the countryside town of Ferbane who hear that Dublin has been destroyed by the undead, but don’t know what to believe, and don’t necessarily feel responsible to do anything about it.

How would you describe Follow the Dead?

It’s a dark comedy about a man in his thirties, Robbie, who can’t manage to find the love he’s looking for in a Tinder-centric society, and only begins to realize what he’s missing when his estranged wife comes back into his life. Unluckily for him, this reunion just so happens to take place right as the town is in a frenzy, divided over the mysterious news that Dublin is experiencing a blackout, and the prevailing theory is that zombies are the cause. To add insult to injury, Robbie has to take care of his wannabe-celebrity sister Liv, who’s trying to use the events to boost her social media presence, and their stoner cousins Jay and Chi, who can’t agree on a single thing. The result: comedy and mayhem.

 

Can you tell us about the cast of Follow the Dead?

I had the great privilege of working with some incredible actors for this film, who were honoured with a Best Ensemble Cast nomination from the Seattle Film Festival last year. The dramatic performances from Luke Corcoran, Marybeth Herron, and Cristina Ryan are so moving, and they really carry the weight of the themes surrounding sacrifice and responsibility within the film so incredibly well. I’m so proud of what they brought to the story through their rawness and vulnerability. And then there’s Luke Collins and Tadhg Devery as the stoner cousins who are just so insanely hilarious, in very distinct ways; Luke with his unique physicality, and Tadhg with his incredible turn-of-phrase. We’ve been honoured with numerous Comedy Feature awards internationally, with Tadhg receiving a Best Supporting Actor award from the Dublin International Comedy Film Festival too. I’m really indebted to them for being so impressive in that way, and I really love that the Irish sense of humour (not to mention the accents) has really translated to foreign audiences. Truth be told, we actually filmed Follow the Dead twice. The first time, without a budget, we shot about 60% of the script, but then came back to do it all again with a bigger crew and a pittance of funding later in the year. I did that because I was blown away by the performances from the cast, which really made me believe in them and in what we were creating. So yeah… That’s how much faith and love I have for these incredible artists.

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You are the writer, producer and director on Follow the Dead. That sounds like a huge amount of work on your shoulders; how did you manage all of these hats?

Well the whole process took so much longer than it should have because of the fact that I was juggling everything. We shot Follow the Dead in August 2017, and it wasn’t ready for festivals until 2020. So it was a case of taking things step by step. This was also my first feature, so I was totally unaware of how mammoth the undertaking was going to be. But that helped in a way, because I wasn’t concerned with how high the mountain was; I had no idea. So I just took each step as it came, learned on the fly, and thankfully it all worked out in the end.

 

Can you tell us about the writing process; what was it like for you?

Writing is one of the most arduous stages of development for me. I’m a perfectionist, and I’m a plotter; I need to know exactly where the story is going and all of the checkpoints along the way before I can get started. So before the script stage I have pages and pages and pages of notes, outlines, charts, and all sorts, and only when I can play the whole movie out visually in my head can I then sit down and write it. The only really improvisational aspect of the scripts I write is the dialogue, which I come up with as I’m typing. Except for the jokes; 90% of them are planned ahead of time too. But I have to say that Follow the Dead was the easiest script I’ve written so far, purely because I had done so much meditating about it while we were planning the short film. So I have to thank Luke Corcoran for the inspiration for this one.

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How did you go about finding the cast?

It was really organic. Luke was always going to play Robbie because I never diverged from that plan since the short film stage. I had worked with Marybeth Herron and Tadhg Devery on my final year student film Inertia, and I knew they’d be ideal for Liv and Chi respectively. From there, Tadhg introduced me to Cristina Ryan and Aidan O’Sullivan when we were considering who would play the Gardaí in the film, with the character of Kate also being Robbie’s love interest, and they fit those characters like a glove. And then Luke recommended Luke Collins to play Jay, and Ian Anthony Lawless to play Zippy. They were both primarily theater actors at the time, but did an amazing job bringing that developed stage presence to the big screen. So as you can tell, it was very much a casting process based on relationships, which I think gave us that tight-knit familial connection on set that allowed us to work so well as a team to do what almost none of us had done before.

 

Was it a difficult task to find the technical crew that you needed to shoot the movie?

It wasn’t difficult on the production side of things. I had seen the cinematography showreel of Stephen C. Walsh on social media somewhere, and I was incredibly impressed with his work. So I reached out to him with the pitch for the feature and he got on board very quickly after that. And we’re tremendously blessed that he did. He was a one man film crew; doing all the camera work, the lighting, the rigging… He was a beast, and I really felt like I had a lieutenant with me going into battle in what was unfamiliar territory for me, but not at all for him. That was comforting to say the least. Post production was a lot more difficult a stage. I edited the film myself, so that was no problem. But getting a good sound designer and music composer was an ordeal. I was pulling my hair out looking for a sound designer who could take on the challenge; There were a lot of outdoor scenes where the recorded sound was inaudible, and we also needed a lot of effects sounds for the zombies and for the action scenes. After months of searching, I met a fellow filmmaker one evening who recommended Robin Sherry Wood to me, and after that it was smooth sailing. He did an incredible job, even down to creating bottom up sound design for entire scenes, such as the very first scene of the film where Robbie is on a date in the car. None of the audio in that scene was recorded on the day. The car engine, the dialogue, the sounds of motion, absolutely everything was put in in post by Robin, and no one seems to notice a thing when watching it. That’s how good he is. And then with the music… All I’ll say is… Just because you can create beautiful music doesn’t mean you know how to score a movie. I went through ten music composers before I found someone who understood how to craft the music around the emotional beats within the scene. That someone is Steven McKenna of DRVN Pictures, and his work speaks for itself. I said I wanted three distinct motifs, and he nailed every one of them. Every now and then I’ll listen to the love theme just for the pleasure of it.

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What was the biggest challenge you overcame when creating Follow the Dead?

Aside from the post production issues I mentioned, I think it was just the fear of going into the unknown. Especially for the massive cast sequences. Anyone can shoot a scene of two people talking. But shooting an action sequence in the middle of a forest where a horde of zombies are chasing your protagonists and a battle erupts… That’s not an ordinary day on set. I had absolutely no idea if we’d pull it off. But I knew that if we did, we’d have done something amazing, we’ll have grown as artists from the experience, and I trusted the people I had around me to be able to help me to get the job done. The rest is history. And because of this experience, I’ll never make a movie where I don’t attempt to do something that feels slightly beyond my ability.

 

Are you happy with how the movie turned out?

I’m blown away by it. Watching the film and seeing what we accomplished, (which I believe is a cinema-quality, funny, emotional, Irish genre film,) never fails to make me feel emotional. And add to that the successful and ongoing festival run, in which we’ve currently amassed 14 wins and 4 nominations, it’s actually insane to think of where we started from and where we’re at with it today. It’s unbelievable.

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What has the feedback been like for Follow the Dead?

The frustration for us at the moment is that, because of Covid, all of the festivals have been virtual so far, having to move to a digital format until things get back to normal. So although we’ve won awards at practically every festival we’ve screened at, we’ve never seen an audience’s reaction in the theater. So that’s been tough, and we’ve no idea how to gauge each individual aspect of the film as a result. We just know it’s been extremely positive feedback on the whole. But we’re looking forward to some live festivals coming up in the next few months, so… That’s going to be a whole new experience for us. Excited isn’t the word.

 

Could we see more Follow the Dead movies in the future?

The sequel is already written. And I sat down with the cast members in November for a script reading and we were falling around laughing. So yeah, we’re hoping to get that one off the ground as soon as we can. And in my head the story is a trilogy. So let’s see how far we get with it. But I love these characters so much; as much as I love working with the actors, so… I’m totally committed to that journey if we can make it happen.

 

If any of our readers wanted to get their eyes on Follow the Dead, how can they do that?

The best thing to do is to follow us on our social media pages. We’re @followthedeadmovie on Facebook and Instagram. (You can also check out followthedead.com if you want a really deep dive into the making of the film including a Behind the Scenes documentary.) We’re always posting about what’s happening with the film regarding festivals, news, merchandise, stuff like that. But if you can’t make it to a festival, there’ll be news very soon about how you can catch the film online, exclusively on a brand new and exciting streaming service which will be launching very soon. So keep your eyes peeled for that one.

Any message for the ComicBuzz readers?

If you’ve made it this far into the interview, I sincerely from the bottom of my heart thank you for your interest. I really hope Follow the Dead tickles your fancy if you haven’t yet seen it, and I hope you can check it out very soon. If you want to know what else I’m doing outside of the realm of zombie flicks, my company is Wild Stag Productions. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter using @wildstagmedia, or check out the official website at wildstagpoductions.com. We’re a media company that specializes in making Irish genre films. I basically want to make Irish versions of all my favourite genres, including a Western which I’m writing at the moment. So yeah… thank you all for your time, and I hope you join us for the next part of our journey!

A big thank you to Adam for sitting and chatting with us; we wish him the best of luck with his film, Follow the Dead.

www.followthedead.com
www.facebook.com/followthedeadmovie
www.instagram.com/followthedeadmovie