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An Interview with Ryan Denmark, Director of Romeo & Juliet vs. the Living Dead

by Mike Haberfelner

August 2011

Films directed by Ryan Denmark on (re)Search my Trash


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Your recent film Romeo & Juliet vs. the Living Dead - of all the plays William Shakespeare has written, Romeo and Juliet is probably not the one that suggests "zombies" the strongest. What made you choose this one anyhow?


It's actually the inappropriateness of the zombies that makes it the perfect vehicle. Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is really more about the cancerous nature of hatred than a tale of perfect love. However, it has taken on the latter meaning in our culture's lexicon. Our film is about deconstructing and satirizing the adolescent romantic relationship between Romeo and Juliet. It is also about goofing off for 83 minutes.


Same question from the opposite point of view: What convinced you that a story of undying love would work within the zombie genre?


Have you ever experienced undying love? It's a lot like gangrene.


Before making your movie, what amount of research did you invest into both the Romeo and Juliet- and the zombie-backgrounds of Romeo & Juliet vs. the Living Dead?


My co-writer, Jason Witter, and I were both already versed in Shakespeare, so there wasn't much research needed on that side. I did sit down and watch Night of the Living Dead before the shoot, but stylistically the film is more inspired by the 80's teen films of John Hughes. You can see Shakespeare's influence very clearly in his work and it gave our costume designer, Jess Jones, the chance to play some serious dress-up.


Compared to Shakespeare's play, Romeo & Juliet vs. the Living Dead lacked one main character's (Romeo's) complete dialogue (for obvious reasons). How hard was that to circumvent?


Not difficult at all. Despite Shakespeare's obvious command of language, like all good writers he built his characters with action. Cinema doesn't require dialog and, arguably, neither does theatre. Remember, Romeo and Juliet was produced several times during the silent film era and no one had trouble following the plot. Although, we couldn't resist transferring some of Romeo's lines to Juliet at key moments. "I am fortune's fool" -- etc.


Apart from the obvious (zombies), a major change to the play is Romeo & Juliet vs. the Living Dead's ending, which is weirdly fitting. How did that come about?


The changes in the final act stem from our reinvention of Mercutio as part of a love triangle. He's largely taken from Pretty in Pink's Duckie and offers a counter point to Romeo's obsessive and fickle affection. The ending also addresses the often asked question, "If Romeo is already dead, how do they kill themselves at the end?" I can't say much more without giving away the ending.


Romeo and Juliet has experienced quite a few modernizations and, er, genrefications over the years, Tromeo and Juliet and the gun-crazy 1996 version that made Leonardo DiCaprio a star being the most prominent. Would you like to talk about a few of the other Romeo and Juliet-updates, and what sets yours apart?


And that's to say nothing of the many modernizations and genrefications done on stage. Reinventing Shakespeare is nothing new, from West Side Story to Titanic (speaking of DiCaprio), star-crossed lovers from different worlds and the belief in love at first sight is one of the most consistent myths of our culture. What sets us apart is that we utilize that myth without reinforcing it -- that and we're a Romeo and Juliet in which all the Montagues are zombies in the style of a John Hughes 80's teen rom-com. Baz using guns doesn't seem that extreme anymore, does it?


What can you tell us about audience reactions to your film so far?


We had a great opening at the Edinburgh Film Festival. It was a packed house and they laughed in all the right places. Beyond that, I think we need to get out in the public eye more before I can really tell what the mass audience reaction is. So far, I've heard opinions all over the map, but it's a pretty small sample of people who have seen it thus far.


Not only in my opinion, Romeo & Juliet vs. the Living Dead features many weirdly fitting references to 1980's cinema, be it concerning choice of music, outfits or sets. Was that at all deliberate, and why?


Yes. Probably because I grew up in the 80's and I needed to get it out of my system. That and Hannah Kauffmann looks great with her hair crimped.


How would you describe the humour that carries your film?


Absurdist and often juvenile. Somewhere between Shakespeare and a Zucker, Zucker and Abrahams movie.


A few words about your co-writer, co-producer and lead Jason Witter?


This isn't new ground for him. Before we started Romeo & Juliet vs. the Living Dead, Jason had just made a film called Hamlet the Vampire Slayer and had produced many Shakespeare mash-ups on stage. There's a humor and sensibility in the film that is very much born from some dark recess in his brain. I think he likes Shakespeare for the dick jokes -- which there are many. Seriously, we didn't just come up with all of that out of nowhere. The Bard loved dick jokes.


What can you tell us about your leading lady Hannah Kauffmann?


She's a talented actress who showed a lot of patience for the nonsense of independent filmmaking. And not "independent" like two million dollars and working for scale, but "independent" like a crew of four people and swapping green goo during love scenes.


A few words about the rest of your cast and crew?


It takes a special kind of person to work on a micro-budget film. These were people with day jobs filling in where they could. Our heart-felt gratitude goes out to them all.


Let's go back to the beginnings of you career: What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal education on the subject?


I have a BA in Media Arts and a minor in Theatre from the University of New Mexico, but that's a history and criticism program. My production training is on-the-job. I started in film by taking an elective in college. When something clicks, it just clicks. I worked my way through the ranks of freelancers and now I'm a professional editor in NYC.


Before Romeo & Juliet vs. the Living Dead, you have made quite a few shorts. Why don't you talk about those for a bit?


And those are just the ones on IMDB! I like to keep busy. You can't grow technically or artistically without working. The best of my old shorts is Date 1.0. You can see it on our website or on YouTube.


Also, you have only recently premiered your latest feature Chase the Slut. What can you tell us about that one?


It's the story of a good girl with a bad reputation. Chase Russell grew up in a small town where she was unfairly saddled from an early age with the label of slut. In a self-destructive spiral, she allowed it to define her life. Now, in her twenties, she's desperate to move away, but doesn't have enough money. When her rich best friend, Tibb, bets her that she can't seduce the son of a local minister, Chase leaps at the opportunity to win some quick cash and move on with her life. However, breaking down religious barriers and bedding him proves more complicated when Chase develops feelings for the young cultist.


I've also read you have recently completed another short with the wonderful title Plush: A Most Gruesome Tale of Cuddly Horror. You just have to say a few words about that one!


Kathy is a mature, professional woman who still sleeps with her cuddly teddy bear Vincent. One night, when a burglar invades, Kathy's home comes alive with magical surprises. To his horror, the intruder learns that not everything is as it seems and Vincent may not be so cuddly after all. It's a throwback to traditional creature puppetry. I loved those films growing up and I wanted to work with practical effects as much as possible. CGI just doesn't have the same feel. 

We're very excited to announce that Plush is starting its festival run at the Dragon*Con Independent Film Festival this coming weekend. We've setup a Facebook Fan Page at


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Any other films you'd like to talk about, any future projects?


We're hoping that the short version of Plush will generate some interest in a feature version, but obviously, it's a little early to get excited about that.


Directors who inspire you?


Just about anyone can inspire me. Sometimes it's a well know filmmaker and sometimes it's an unknown I catch at festival. In fact, the unknowns tend to be more inspiring because they show how you can take limited resources and make something personal and captivating.


Your favourite movies?


Depends on the mood. Most recently, I saw an old print of Alien at Brooklyn Academy of Music. The very definition of a cinematic experience.


... and of course, films you really deplore?


I can't say that I've ever seen a movie that I deplore. But then, I haven't seen the Sarah Palin documentary.


Your/your film's website, Facebook, whatever else?

Romeo & Juliet vs. the Living Dead is available to rent or buy from iTunes and you can buy the DVD from Amazon at


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Thanks for watching !!!



Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
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tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
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Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD