By George Riddell Editor
Photos by Oliver Irwin
The zombie horde has overtaken Spokane and the Washington film production community is elated. On Thursday, May 15, production began for the first season of the new Syfy series Z Nation, an action-horror series that depicts the epic struggle to save humanity after a zombie apocalypse.
With a 13-episode commitment from Syfy, production is slated to continue in Spokane all summer. The five-month production will employ 200 actors, the great majority of them from Washington State, plus as many as 1,300 Washington extras. In addition, the 100-person production crew is largely made up of Washington residents, as well.
Series producer Rich Cowan stresses that it’s all by design.
Nike Imoru is the lead casting director for Z Nation, and she is so enthused about the production that she has moved from Portland to Spokane. Imoru jumped at the chance to cast the series as soon as she learned that about 50 percent of the roles would be given to regional actors.
“This is unprecedented for the Northwest, not just for Washington State,” says Imoru.
At press time, the series’ lead regulars had not been announced, but Imoru confirms that three of the eight principal roles went to Washington actors.
On May 3, more than 600 people showed up for Zombie School Day in Spokane to apply for roles as zombies in the series. In all, there are 200 speaking parts throughout the 13 episodes, and Imoru expects to fill many of those with Northwest actors.
“This is my ultimate goal being realized,” she says.
Cowan agrees that Z Nation will boost the state’s stable of acting talent, saying, “Having a very high proportion of Washington actors will help build up the talent pool here.”
The decision by Syfy and series producers to shoot in Washington was greatly influenced by the approval of funding assistance through the Washington State Film Incentive program, which is administered by Washington Filmworks (WF).
Said Don Jensen, Filmworks Board chair, in a statement, “Securing an episodic series has always been a priority for WF, as it represents good paying jobs and consistent work.”
Crew jobs for the production have attracted workers from throughout the state. Cowan, who is the founder of Spokane production company North By Northwest, stresses that even with actors and production crew migrating to Spokane from all over Washington, there has been no need for a “settling-in period” for the new arrivals.
“Many have been on our crews before,” he says. “Everybody knows each other.”
Second AD Tony Becerra is a Seattle-based crewmember who has joined the Z Nation production for the summer.
“I’m happy to be side by side with some of the most experienced film crews we have in Washington State,” says Becerra. In addition to crewmembers from the Spokane area, Becerra says there is a mix of Seattle film people, as well.
“Everyone’s been very welcoming,” he says. “The production is fast-paced like any TV show, but not anything new for Washington State crew.”
Indeed, shooting got off to a fast start.
“The first day was a main unit day,” says Cowan. “They shot 6 to 7 script pages with about 30 different set-ups.”
And how do the large number of zombies affect the production?
Becerra says it’s mainly a scheduling issue, for “wardrobe distressing, prosthetics, and FX blood, to get people ready on set.” He adds, “Thankfully our costume designer, Lisa Caryl-Vukas, is always prepared for the additions and changes we go through during production.”
For Cowan, Z Nation marks the beginning of something really important for the state.
“This is a foundation for the future in Washington,” he says. “I firmly believe scripted television is the future in Washington.”
And it’s not just shooting. Cowan confirms Z Nation will be delivered in its entirety from Washington to the network, “including all post, sound, everything. Nobody in L.A. touches it. It leaves the state fully done and deliverable.”
At press time, VFX and sound providers had not yet been announced for Z Nation, but announcements are expected soon, since principal photography for episode one is schedule to be completed in June.