Ruben Fleischer's first film, Zombieland, is a hit, taking #1 in the box office in its opening weekend. Fleischer's background is in commercials and he admits he's not much of a zombie movie fan. Sohow the hell did he end up directing Zombieland? Creativity got the answer:
I started out as an assistant to a director on two movies, Miguel Arteta. The movies I worked on were Chuck and Buck and The Good Girl. I didn't even know I wanted to be a director until I started working with Miguel. I just needed a job and it just turned out I really liked being on set and he was a great mentor. When I started trying to become a director, I started shooting low budget short films, 50-dollar music videos, making my own stuff. That eventually led to commercials. The goal I guess was ultimately to do a feature, but I wasn't in a position to do features, and since I wasn't a writer, I wasn't going to write my own movie that I was going to try and make, so I had to just keep working until I could realistically be considered for a film.
I had an agent and a while ago I was attached to direct this other movie at Paramount called Psycho Funky Chimp, which was a really funny, funny script, but Paramount basically just decided they were never going to make it so I had to start looking for other opportunities and I read Zombieland and loved it and went very aggressively after it. I had a series of interviews, starting with a junior level executive at the studio, then you meet the producer, then somebody higher at the studio with the producer and that ended with a meeting with the Chairwoman of Sony Pictures Entertainment. You kind of just pitch your vision for the movie and talk about what you'd change on the script and what you'd do to make it great.
So basically I pitched the idea of having it go to an amusement park as the place the little kid character wants to go, which would give it a destination for the movie to have, and I also knew it would be a really cool place to have a giant zombie battle.
Fleischer is a pretty humble dude, attributing the success of Zombieland to his crew, and his cast, one that was quickly assembled once he convinced Woody Harrelson to appear.
Definitely, Woody was first. I definitely had to convince him to be involved. I think he was a little reluctant about doing a zombie movie, but I put together a big visual presentation to show him what I had planned, and that was enough for him to sign on. It was print, but basically reference points for who I thought his character was like, the landscape. I really was thinking about this movie a lot in the terms of a western, like Sergio Leone, so I allowed him to see it was just not a straightforward zombie movie, but it could be something bigger and better. Once we got Woody on board, it was a lot easier to get everyone else.
Once Harrelson arrived on Zombieland, it was the chemistry between him and Jesse Eisenberg that really helped Zombieland excel, particularly because the two improvised quite a bit.
We definitely did improv, both Jesse and Woody are amazing improvisers. It was really fun, once we got the script to let them just go and see what they came up with and they're both so talented that a lot of the lines that get laughs are improvised ones. I was a little nervous at first working with that level of guys, but they made it very easy for me and were open to doing whatever we needed to do. They were everything you could ask for, it was awesome. And Abigail Breslin was incredible, like the most talented young woman in the world.
With Eisenberg and Harrelson taking care of the laughs, Fleischer could concentrate on his end: the visuals. "My favorite shot is the seat belt shot, where the woman flies through the windshield, for sure," Fleischer admits.
So what's next for Fleischer after achieving such massive box office success and gaining such equity in the Hollywood landscape? "There's a show we're developing at Comedy Central that I'll shoot the pilot of if it gets picked up."
Oh, okay. That's...cool.
"I really want to spend the remainder of this year shooting commercials and hopefully at the end of the year consider another feature film, but I really want to go after commercials hard.
Right...#1 movie in America to... commercials. Got it.
No word on Zombieland 2, but if things continue as they did in week 1, you can bet Fleischer is going to be busier with more than just commercials.
To read the full interview, head here.