Picking Brains with Wednesday Lee Friday: Levi George

Livin’ with Steve. Zombie-based humor is huge these days, which is to say, there’s a lot of it. I enjoy a good Zomcom as much as the next guy—with emphasis on good. You gotta have a solid script, some genuine laughs, an enthusiastic cast, and some compelling scenes of undead carnage. The Australian web series Livin’ with Steve provides just that. Livin’ with Steve is seven animated episodes of yuk-worthy chomping sitcom action.

The premise is simple: Buddies Nate (a living human) and Steve (not so much) hang out, have fun, and try to make the rent before they get booted out of their home. Nate doesn’t seem to notice that his roommate is smellier and cannibalistic than most—leading the audience to wonder who the smart one actually is. Levi George wears many hats on this project: Writer, Animator, Director, and Producer. He holds a degree in Multimedia Studies, and an advanced degree in 3D animation. I found him possessed of an enchanting combination of wit, passion, and badass horror cred. It was great to be able to ask him a few questions on behalf of ZZN.

WLF/ZZN: Hey Levi, thanks for taking the time to answer our Q’s. Let’s start with an easy one. Why zombies?

No problem! Zombies are slow, emotionally numb, flip into violent rages and are completely detached from reality. It kind of mirrors parts of my university years. The idea for Livin’ with Steve came from that thought.

WLF/ZZN: Livin’ with Steve is pretty funny. Are you trying to use humor lull living people into a false sense of security in re: the zombie invasion?

Believe me, the impending zombie invasion is nothing to be laughed about and if we appear to be making light of it with Livin’ with Steve then I sincerely apologize. Having said that, I have seen countless zombie films that show the zombie apocalypse in the same bleak way. We thought it would be fun to show a zombie apocalypse from the perspective of an oblivious teenager who is too caught up in his own issues to notice the horror unfolding around him.

WLF/ZZN: Steve is undead and ravenous when we meet him. Will we ever learn anything about his life as a living person?

We have our own unofficial back story of how Nate and Steve became friends and what Steve was like before he became a zombie. For some reason I think it’s funnier if we never really explain it though. We have a few very small clues hidden in the season that suggest Nate and Steve’s past. Maybe we will explore it in the second season.

WLF/ZZN: Nate’s obliviousness kind of reminds me of Jon from Garfield. When you remember that cats don’t talk, Jon looks totally batsh*t. Can we assume then, that Nate is totally batsh*t as well?

Absolutely. Nate is a completely deluded individual who desperately clings onto the fantasy that his best friend is a wise cracking and loyal person, not a blood-thirsty corpse. We go into how crazy Nate can be in episode 6 when he replaces his zombie best friend Steve with a sock puppet.

WLF/ZZN: Please tell us about the animation process.

Animation is a lengthy process. Most episodes took around 2 weeks to digitally animate. We would basically split the shots between 4 animators and we would work ourselves into the ground getting them done. It takes around 1 day to complete a few seconds of animation. They whole production, from writing it to the final edit took from July to December of 2011.

WLF/ZZN: The theme song is short and to the point. Who’s the singer?

The singer is a very talented friend of ours called Cam Blokland (Who was also the voice of Steve). He was actually my guitar teacher for a few years when I was in high school.

WLF/ZZN: Are you concerned at all about the sanitation issues that might arise if zombies are permitted to work in food service, as in Episode 2?

The consequences of zombies working in food catering is well established in our series. That was the main reason we wanted to make Livin’ with Steve. We have been a little subtle with the message so let me be very clear:
Fast Food Managers–I know it’s tempting to hire zombies instead of people to work for your restaurant (as we show in Episode 5) but ultimately they will just spread the virus to customers. Unless your restaurant/pie stall serves human flesh (as we show in episode 2) this will, in the long term, lead to; people having their eyes gouged with hammers, (Episode 1), their faces torn off (Episode 3), their pets being zombified (Episode 4), and your face being shoved in a deep fryer (Episode 5).

WLF/ZZN: Episode 3 (Bitelight) cracked me up—but I’m puzzled. Do you think people actually ARE judged by the company they keep?

If you’re a snooty actor, probably. Although I think if you are friends with Nate it would probably reflect badly on anyone.

WLF/ZZN: How has your work on Livin’ with Steve impacted your own zombie survival plan?

Livin’ with Steve is a great guide for exactly what NOT to do in a zombie outbreak. Nate lives with a zombie. He wanders the streets alone. He unwittingly feeds pies infected with the zombie virus to people’s pets.

WLF/ZZN: Ep 3 also contains a spectacular REC reference. Should we be looking for other homages to well-known zombie media?

Livin’ with Steve is packed full of references to zombie and horror movies. See if you can spot references to; Re-Animator, Night, Dawn, Day, The Ring, Left 4 Dead, The Exorcist, The Walking Dead, Friday the 13th and plenty more. If you spot a reference to something then leave a comment on the episode. Think of it like a very nerdy Where’s Wally (or Where’s Waldo as I am told it is called in the USA).

WLF/ZZN: Is your cast made up of professional actors? Please tell us about them.

For a long time we were considering Tom Cruise for the part of Nate. Ultimately he decided to do Mission Impossible 4, which we tried to tell him was a mistake. I bet he regrets it now. The cast is made up of local actors from Adelaide. They are Buddy Dawson who plays Nate. Cam Blokland (who also composed the music) as Steve and Chad Molynex, who was also one of the animators as various other roles. We got Australian Actor/Journalist/Comedian John Safran to voice the radio announcer in episode 6, which was a huge thrill for us.

WLF/ZZN: Are Steve and Nate inspired by anyone in particular?

Steve isn’t really based on anyone, he doesn’t really have a personality being a zombie and all. I always thought Nate is probably all the worst parts of my teenage self rolled into one. He treats his life like he is in a TV show and is completely uninterested in the world around him.

WLF/ZZN: Who are your favorite contemporary purveyors of zombie culture?

I absolutely love Edgar Wright, the director of Shaun of the Dead. I’m very fond of Paco Plaza who was one of the brains behind the REC series. Robert Kirkman (the creator of The Walking Dead) and Max Brooks (The Zombie Survival Guide) are also brilliant.

WLF/ZZN: Before we close, do you have any advice you’d like to share with young animators?

Find a group of people to work with and keep animating. Also get used to avoiding the outdoors, girls, and money.

WLF/ZZN: Thanks so much, Levi!

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