Zombies take over as movie begins filming in Macon

The zombies are coming! The zombies are coming!

Well, actually they are already here. Zombies took over Washington Park on Saturday for the filming of “Followed,” a movie about a socially responsible college professor whose perfect world is threatened by the appearance of a tag-along zombie child. The movie is based on the short story written by Hugo Award-winning author Will McIntosh.

The Hugo Award is the highest honor in science-fiction writing.

But this is not your average zombie movie, those involved with the film say.

“It’s basically revenge of all of the people who are taken advantage of,” McIntosh said of his story. “The zombies are the poor people who work long hours on the other side of the world so that we can live comfortably.”

The zombie could be someone who died in a sweatshop while making the shirts we wear, he said. “It’s more of a political story.”

Some of the zombies were made to symbolize representatives from West Africa and earthquake victims from Haiti, said Mark Ezra Stokes, a producer of the film.

“It’s kind of a metaphor for how we deal with people who aren’t like us because we just don’t know how to help them,” he said.

It was this socially conscious aspect wrapped in a zombie movie that drew actors and director James Kicklighter to the film.

“It’s a thought-provoking story,” said lead actor Erryn Arkin, who said this would be his first film that could be classified as a horror movie. “I don’t consider it a zombie film, per say.”

The movie, which will be the American film debut of the Australian-born actor, also stars veteran actress Edith Ivey, who was recently in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Sylvia Boykin and new actress Abigail de los Reyes.

While the film will be largely based on McIntosh’s work, there have been some slight tweaks to the story, Kicklighter said. McIntosh, who was at the park to watch the filming Saturday, said he has enjoyed seeing the changes, some of which he wishes he would have thought of for the written story.

“It was surreal,” McIntosh said of receiving notice that someone wanted to put his story to film. “This is my story and all of these actors are making my story come to life.”

McIntosh is a psychology professor at Georgia Southern, but said that although the story follows a college professor, the character was not self-inspired.

Many of the people involved with the film have ties to Georgia and, while the movie is not set in a particular town, Kicklighter said that in many ways, the city in the film will be Macon.

“We’re showcasing a lot of Macon locations,” he said. They will be filming in the city for a week, shooting at Mercer University and Wesleyan College and in the New Town and downtown neighborhoods.

“The state of Georgia is fast growing into a very influential film location,” said Kicklighter, a Georgia native, who graduated from Georgia Southern in May. “I want to showcase the state that I live in and that I’m from.”

Local film authorities say opportunities such as these are a major deal for Macon.

“The thing that is really the big economic draw for film locations is tourism revenue. People will travel to see the places where movies were filmed,” said Cindy Hill, a Macon Film Commission member. “You look at Juliette where we filmed ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ in 1990 and it was a forgotten little town. Now it has been transformed into a tourist destination that 20 years later people still come to see. That generates revenue.”

It also generates lasting memories for those in the community who are involved in the film.

Joshua Tweedy said he has seen two or three zombie movies and they were “so scary.” Now, he will be the one scaring viewers, as he leads a pack of zombies into a rally and begins foaming at the mouth in what is supposed to be the opening scene of the film.

“Man, those things were disgusting,” the 10-year-old said of the Alka-Seltzer tablets used to create the foaming effect.

“I thought it was going to be easy, but when I got here it was a little harder than I thought,” he said, noting that this was his first time acting.

Tweedy is one of about 140 local extras that will be used in the film. In addition to zombies, some will be Secret Service agents, civilians and students.

Kicklighter said he hopes to have this film finished and ready to release by February.

To contact writer Caryn Grant, call 744-4347.