As World War Z lands on DVD and Blu-Ray, director Marc Forster phoned Movie Fanatic for an exclusive interview that takes us inside the difficult, yet triumphant, shoot of the film that has banked over $200 million domestically.
Previewed in the World War Z trailer, the film stars Brad Pitt as a U.N. worker who goes across the globe in an effort to find the source of a zombie apocalypse and therefore, hopefully, be able to stop it.
Forster was confronted with reshoots that certainly worked out, given the success of the film. And that wasn’t his only challenge. Fans of the bestselling book were leery about how to turn their beloved zombie story into a narrative on film that would work.
We asked Forster about all of the above, as well as what it was about Pitt that made him the man to carry a film that seemed to have so much baggage that ultimately triumphed on so many levels… as we reported in our World War Z review.
Movie Fanatic: Bringing the book World War Z to the big screen could not have been an easy process. What do you think you learned about yourself along the way?
Marc Forster: It’s interesting with this film, you read the book and I love the book. But, I have to make a film with more of a narrative structure than the book has. It is different people talking about surviving this zombie apocalypse. I sought to create a companion piece that respects the book while still trying to capture its spirit. On this journey, it is amazing, when you’re making a big movie like this -- you have to have things to come back to the character. The lead character, played by Brad Pitt, has to have something he’s fighting for to come back to. So, for me, it’s always about getting back to that essence. Even when I’m shooting day in, day out with thousands of extras and trying to create mass hysteria… it always has to be about the small details and decisions that the character makes because that will ultimately make the audience connect to it. And with the spectacle added in, it keeps that character grounded and that connection to the audience that a movie audience needs. That’s something that I really learned in this picture.
Movie Fanatic: Obviously the weight of the film is on the shoulders of Brad Pitt in World War Z. Yes, he’s a huge movie star. Yes, he’s incredibly talented. But, what was it about him that was perfect to carry your movie?
Marc Forster: He’s very charismatic. The thing is, and why I think people are drawn to him, is that he is so powerful as an everyday man versus an action hero. And we see that when he makes the decision to stay and protect his family or try to “save the world.” You can’t protect your family, unless you do the other. Ultimately, he always goes back to how he carries the dramatic and connects with that. That’s really important. If this was only about the character’s mission, then the character itself becomes hollow. It becomes about your internal journey about who you are. I think Brad’s able to portray these moments in silence so beautifully that you connect with him and understand what he’s going through. Very few people can do that.
Movie Fanatic: What was the greatest triumph for you filming World War Z?
Marc Forster: The last day in Malta -- which is where we shot the whole Israel sequence with the airfield when they stopped the plane. I felt on that day that it was a very physical scene. We were waiting for the sun to get lower in the sky because I wanted to shoot into the sun as they were running to the plane. To see that big plane coming around the corner there and you have them running across the airfield -- I wanted to achieve the turning point of the movie. And that day when we shot that scene, it was like, “We finished the Israel sequence!” And it went exactly the way I had it in my head. I got all the visuals. I got all the emotional beats I wanted. It wasn’t even the scene itself. It was what we all had accomplished.
Movie Fanatic: You said you’re a fan of the book, as so many are. A lot of people have taken on the challenge of adapting a book. But you had a very specific challenge with World War Z turning it into a narrative that would work on film. Were you ever concerned about the reaction from people?
Marc Forster: You have to put it out of your head. You’re totally aware that you’re dealing with a book that’s beloved, but also a genre that has lots of fans and you know that you can’t please everybody. You know some people will be disappointed and some people will be critical because of the zombies. There are slow zombies. There are fast zombies through history. What I tried to do is create something unique and make a movie about a global apocalypse unlike anything we’ve seen before. That was a part I really enjoyed.
Movie Fanatic: What is it about zombie movies or apocalypse movies and stories that we just can’t get enough of?
Marc Forster: Zombies are a great mirror to society, especially in the times we’re living in today of great change and economic fear. Zombies are the best metaphor in cinema that exists. Anytime you have the backdrop of a social commentary that reflects our world, it’s something that people are drawn to.