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are you dead, ma'am?
living it up as a zombie extra
by tracey l. kelley (@TraceyLKelley)


Armed civilians spray the parking lot with gunfire as bodies emerge from the shadows. The civilians are surrounded by moans and snarls. They try to aim higher, at the heads of those approaching, and their targets contort and stagger to the ground.

(yelling, waving automatic machine gun around)
Dammit! We’ve got to get out of here!

But I can’t find Jim -– where’d he go?

I thought –- oh my God! He’s surrounded!

They run to the side of an abandoned car, only to find their friend Jim on the ground, swarmed by family and friends. Dead family and friends. Zombies. Tearing at Jim’s flesh.

Ehhhhhhhhhh. Braaaaaains.

CUT TO: Brief plot synopsis.

It’s World War 3. Killing and fighting everywhere. In the midst of it all, a giant asteroid is discovered on a collision course with Earth. World governments, embroiled in the battles, can’t unify to stop the rock. It hits. Radiation and mysterious gases seep out and bring the planet’s dead back to life. Three guys, former fighter pilots, meet up with a stripper as they struggle to return to their native Iowa to save their families and friends before they’re gobbled.

World War 3!
Killer Asteroid!
Zombie Iowans!

What’s not to love?

Add the fact that a member of Slipknot is also scoring the film, and it’s bound to be a midnight movie cult hit.

Tracey joins husband Matt and Intrepid Media contributor Dave Lentell for an evening of cinematic magic. Generally not a fan of horror films or Slipknot, Tracey has to be talked into the affair with the enticement of leading the Geek Parade in Sunnydale High School t-shirts and the possibility of imitating Vincent Price while doing a choreographed shuffle down the street.

Creatures crawl in search of blood, to terrorize ya’ll’s neighborhood....

After approximately two hours in line for makeup, 20 minutes for makeup and another 45 minutes killing time, Tracey, Matt and Dave are corralled with the others into their group by the zombie wrangler, Caroline. Caroline explains how to be a zombie, how to follow the director’s instructions, how not to walk in the residents’ yards en route to the location. Caroline will provide laughter throughout the night and save the group from serious dehydration.

CUT TO: Directions from the "How to Be a Zombie" handbook and instructions from the zombie choreographer.

Try to remember that you have only the consciousness that tells you that you must find warm, living flesh to eat. You do not feel pain or fear, as you’re unaware of those things or any other emotions. Muscles slack, eyes staring into nothing, moaning, wailing and shuffling. You’re dead, so don’t focus your eyes on anything. Zombies do not move fast.

(assumes slack jaw, lurches forward)
Do what comes naturally to you as a zombie. Drool. Stagger. Run into the zombie next to you and bounce off.



To practice groaning, the zombie mass snaps out quips and jokes.

Zombie movie favorites?
A Liver Runs Through It. Fleshdance. Things to Do in Des Moines When You’re Dead.

A zombie’s favorite musicians?
Little Feat. Heart. Rob Zombie - duh.

Zombie shampoo of choice?
Head and Shoulders.

A zombie’s favorite drink?
The Braaaaiiin.

What makes a zombie cry?
A dead baby.

What makes a zombie laugh?
Two dead babies.

One extra is sporadic but deadly with her humor. However, it’s hard to stump Tracey, Matt and Dave, especially Dave, with the trio’s constant barrage of “lucky stiffs” and “you’re dead on with that” and renditions of Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” and Weird Al’s “Eat It.”

Puns and gags continue, as long as the zombie mass wait for the shots to be set up. The wait will take hours. Tracey, Matt and Dave receive applause for the Buffy send-up from a few castmembers and adoring zombies.


The hoard of zombies assemble in a loose but determined formation. Civilians form a firing squad approximately 500 feet in front of the crowd. At “action”, the mass ambles forward, groaning, growling and reaching out for prey, while a grip on the side yells, “Bang Bang!” One by one, zombies tumble to the ground, but not before the zombie in front of him or her does, because that will look dumb.

Tracey hears the instructions, and moves to the side of the drive adjacent to a grassy knoll. This will prove to be a smart idea, and one that many other zombies falling to the gravelly cement will envy as they are told to amble and collapse repeatedly. Zombies do not catch themselves when they fall, and even though they are not supposed to feel pain, after a while, even landing on grass will hurt. Badly. Especially the next morning.

The bruises are worth it when, after what appears to be a particularly fine aerial group shot, the cameraman on the roof of the fire station yells, “SUHWWEEET!”

CUT TO: Lunch break. It’s 11 p.m.

The zombie mass has been moaning, falling, lurching. They’re tired, hungry for something other than human flesh and most of all, thirsty. The crew does not set out anything for the extras, but there is a grocery store six blocks away. Or...


Tracey, Matt, Linda and Biker Zombie walk into a bar. Dave ducks. (rimshot) They settle in at the main counter.

(calm, blinks once)
Hi, what can I get you?

(resists urge to make a “dying for a drink” joke)
A Coke and a big glass of water, please.

No problem. Next?

Cut to everyone else ordering while Tracey goes to the bathroom and stops dead when she turns on the light. This is the first time she’s seen herself as a zombie.

She is fraking hideous beyond all comprehension. Obviously, this isn’t the 2006 Ms. Zombie Pageant. Wait. Maybe it is. She is both amazed at the skill of the makeup woman and slightly horrified. Tracey believes she has had an out-of-body experience and has seen what she will look like if ever catapulted through the windshield of a car.


(clutches a Pabst close to the chest, staggers up to Tracey and Linda)
Um, I don’t mean to be rude, but, like, what happened to you?

We’re extras in a zombie movie that’s being filmed across the street.

No way. Really?

(gives him a look like, “Did I stutter?”, then replies)
Yes. Really. All of us are extras. There are probably close to a hundred of us. It's fun -- you should go check it out.

(snorts, then swigs beer)
No way. Really? ‘Cause when you walked in, my friend was like, “Whoa, what happened to that lady?" And I was all like, “Dude, don’t stare. It’s not polite.” We thought you were in an accident or something. And then we laughed.

Linda and Tracey laugh, but not with him.

Matt and Dave strike up a conversation with Biker Zombie. He is cool and collected in his tight jeans, black t-shirt, motorcycle chains, earrings. He is bald and pale, except for the gaping wound on the top of his head and the blood streaming down his face.

We were in front of the Subway, munching on some dude as he tried to get in his car. It was cool. We used blueberry syrup as our, I don’t know, zombie juices, I guess.

How did you hear about this?

Heard it on the radio. Didn’t have anything going on tonight, so I figured what the hell.

Matt goes to the bathroom. Upon exiting, someone will ask if he needs a band-aid.



Zombie mass reconvenes at the location. They watch the crew finish their lunch break for another 45 minutes. Finally, the director starts assembling shots at 12:45 a.m. A child zombie sneaks up on a civilian from behind. Two other civilians fight off a persistent businessman zombie. The housecoat and rollers zombie bites someone’s arm, then falls. The director yells out.

(points in Tracey’s general direction)
Hey –- you –- softball –- come up here.

Tracey doesn’t think he’s talking to her, because she’s not in a uniform, so she doesn’t move. The director yells again.

Will the softball team –- yeah, you three, right there -– come over here around this SUV?

Softball. Sunnydale High shirts. Dave, Tracey and Matt move forward.

Okay, I need you to be behind this vehicle. You’re going to come around and start to attack the two shooters, but they see you and take you down. Don’t go past the vehicles –- just fall right there. And remember, it’ll take three, four shots to kill you and don’t go down at once.

Tracey, Matt and Dave will do this about 15 times over the next hour as other shots in the vicinity are filmed. At one point, Tracey forgets which side of her head is caught in the grill of the SUV, and realizes she has it to the left in some shots and to the right in others. Tracey will be the laughing stock of movie continuity geeks everywhere.

At the close of scene, the cameraman rushes over to Tracey.

Excuse me, but are you dead, ma’am? I’d like to get some close-ups.

(stares into the camera with an unfocused gaze)


The movie will be available on DVD in late 2007 and will be distributed in approximately 19 countries. It may also hit the big screen. Somewhere. To stalk the progress of Joshua Brown's The Wait, visit his Web site.


Tracey likes to shake things up and then take the lid off. She also likes to keep the peace, especially in a safe, fuzzy place. Writer, editor, producer, yogini, ('cause yoger or yogor simply doesn't work) by day, rabid WordsWithFriends and DrawSomething! player by night. You can follow her on Twitter: @traceylkelley or @tkyogaforyou

more about tracey l. kelley


lisa r
10.30.06 @ 7:46a

The things you get into. *shakes head, laughing*

ken mohnkern
10.30.06 @ 10:26a

I'm envious.

They're shooting The Mysteries of Pittsburgh here on campus soon. I'm going to hang out and get myself discovered.

dave lentell
10.30.06 @ 10:27a

Tracey, please remind me the next time that I sign up to be an extra on a zombie film to take my own stunt double!

And you forget the part about the Soccer Mom who rudely cut her underage daughters to the front of the line because she didn't want to stand around all night with them waiting only to come back 30 minutes later to keep shooing boys away from her precious girls.

Or is that a column for another, more bitter, day?

jason gilmore
10.30.06 @ 1:11p

HA! Your life really is an adventure.

jael mchenry
10.30.06 @ 1:30p

Why is there ALWAYS a stripper around in movies like this?

In any case, I'd be thrilled to see this. And you look terrifying.

ken mohnkern
10.30.06 @ 2:38p

Jael, just because.

If I was making my own movie I'd think about putting a stripper in it. Why not?

juli mccarthy
10.30.06 @ 8:27p

Gosh, this sounds like it was fun (bruises and SUV grilles aside.)

robert melos
10.31.06 @ 3:27a

What does a zombie call his mate?

His ghoulfriend.

I'm not a horror movie fan, but this is one I will seek out.

adam kraemer
10.31.06 @ 11:37a

So a friend and I were walking past Washington Square Park on Saturday and we see these two cars, obviously burned up and fused together. Then we see a taxi in front of that one with the passenger seat of the car behind it embedded in the rear window. All cars were totally burnt out and the frames were twisted. My friend's saying, "There's no way anyone survived this." And I'm going, "Wait, there's more."

We must have passed eight or nine cars, all in various states of destruction. It looked like the worst accident ever. Really. It was like, "Oh, my God. I have to check the news."

Then I look down. Cables. Lots of cables. They were filming a Will Smith movie.

mike julianelle
10.31.06 @ 12:17p

Not just a Will Smith movie. A bastardized version of Richard Matheson's lowkey vampire tale, "I Am Legend."

alex b
11.2.06 @ 12:18a

Cool! Zombies!

tracey kelley
11.6.06 @ 8:27a

I wish we had taken more pictures, because there were some seriously cool zombies. Some had been extras in other location shots, so they had practice and did an excellent job. There wasn't a "lead zombie" or anything, but just people really into it that were great.

Indeed, I was terrifying, wasn't I? Eeep.

It was a blast. Tiring, but interesting on so many levels.

sandra thompson
11.6.06 @ 4:51p

I do not know exactly why, but I've never seen a zombie movie I didn't think was hysterically funny. Of course, I've only seen two or three, and they are not memorable enough for me even to remember the titles. Oh, well, Horror is not my favourite genre.

This escapade certainly sounds like fun. I laughed through most of your description of it, so I reckon zombies really are funny.

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