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Hollywood Reporter
San Francisco Chrinicle:
Blood, sweat and shears
Low-budget horror flick tears up the town of Livermore

? Sunday, April 6, 2003

This is the story of how zombies came to Livermore, the economics of a slasher movie and why a guy named Madden isn't doing football anymore. (It's not who you think.)

It begins on a dark and chilly night, just off a country road, in front of a farmhouse that looks . . . a little strange. The sheriff has just turned the corner and is headed up the street when a crowd of zombies attacks him.

The sheriff fights valiantly, but it appears he may be outnumbered. It seems certain that something awful is about to happen. Of course, that's nothing new around here. Already heads have exploded, a drill bit has broken off in a guy's skull, and a gardener with trimming shears embedded in his chest has done a song-and-dance number. And don't forget the chain saw.

Did we mention this is a comedy?

Is this any way for grown-ups to behave? Certainly. It fits into the category of getting yourself into position to get into position, which in the movie business is very important.

The movie is "Dead & Breakfast," and if it doesn't appear among next year's nominees for the Academy Awards, no one will be surprised. However, it just might turn out to make a little money.

"This probably should be shot over six to eight weeks," director-writer Matt Leutwyler says. "We're doing it in three."

That sounds reasonable because it didn't take much longer than that for him to write it.

"The first draft of the script took three weeks," Leutwyler says. "I went to the guys (actors and writers) I play softball with and said, 'Here's what I want to do.' That script got out of control because it had so many actors. There must have been 28 speaking parts. That script made no sense."

So Leutwyler did some trimming and pruning. That took care of the script. Now, why shoot it in Livermore?

That's where Madden comes in, although it isn't John, the football announcer, it is his son Joe, the producer. When John Madden built a 7,000- square-foot production stage in Pleasanton, so he wouldn't have to travel to Los Angeles to film commercials, he asked Joe to manage it.

Joe took the opportunity to set up an operation that did more than just his father's work. Robin Williams filmed promotional work there for his HBO special. And Joe's company, Goal Line Productions, does videos for large corporations.

But what he's always wanted to do is make films. Oh sure, you say, you can see this one coming. The kid is pushed into sports, has no interest, and strikes out in a completely different direction.

Not quite. In fact, Joe was a football player, and a good one. He was a first team, All-Ivy League offensive tackle. He was even drafted by his dad's old team, the Raiders -- twice.

"They called me in the 10th round," Joe says. "And then they called again in the last round. I turned them down. I had a lot of friends I knew in high school who said, 'Are you nuts?' I know my family was, well, not shocked, but surprised. My dad was very surprised, but we had a good talk and he said, 'Just make sure that you're not going to look back someday and say you're sorry you didn't try it.' I definitely don't have any regrets."

Madden says his family didn't realize just how interested he was in making movies. They understood it after college, when he studied for two years at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute.

After that he and a friend from college made a movie, "Limp," that was not a pleasant experience. But Madden stuck with the plan. He was an investor in "The Cooler," a movie with William H. Macy and Alec Baldwin that got good reviews at the Sundance Film Festival and will be released in September.

So when Ambush Entertainment came to Goal Line with a script for a football movie, Madden was interested. But before leaping into that, he thought maybe he could test the waters a little.

"We said if there's a chance to take some swings at something where the liability isn't so great," Madden says, "we'd like to try that."

And, even better, he not only had a location in mind, but he also knew the owners. It is a Victorian estate built in the 1890s that the Madden family acquired a year ago with the idea that Virginia Madden, Joe's mother, would renovate it.

So creepy-looking that the local joke for years has been that it is haunted,

the property near Concannon Vineyards in South Livermore was large enough that the crew could do interiors in the house and film street scenes outside. And, from the right camera angle, it even has the look of one of the most famous creepy houses in cinema, the one on the hill next to the Bates Motel in "Psycho."

In fact, the crew had some fun with the resemblance. Oz Perkins, son of "Psycho" star Anthony Perkins, has a part in "Dead & Breakfast," which gave Leutwyler an inspiration.

"I asked him if he would mind saying, 'That looks like the house from 'Psycho,' " Leutwyler says. "He was great with it."

The house may have been what gave Leutwyler his inspiration, but there's another reason to make a screamer flick.

"Horror is one genre where you can get your money back," Madden says. "There are only certain types of films you can shoot with a low budget, and horror is one of them. Dialogue-driven drama is another. But if you are doing that, you'd better have some recognizable talent."

"Dead & Breakfast" has recognizable talent, but not the kind that stops traffic. (Jeremy Sisto from "Six Feet Under", Ever Carradine from "Lucky")

But the actors who really sold this shoot are those like Erik Palladino, whose efforts with a chain saw stuck in his neck are a marvel. At this budget you are not going to see digital special effects.

"This is kind of a step back, a return to rubber," Leutwyler says. "We pretty much have two fake heads of everybody, but we couldn't afford eyeballs for everybody. So if something goes wrong it could be a whole day."

Which is a good reminder not to forget to mention the special-effects team. Mike Mosher and Ralis Kahin were swabbing skulls with blood until the wee hours.

"We brought 20 gallons of blood and had to make four or five more," Mosher says. "Forty-two effects in 18 days. That may be a record."

Certainly for Livermore.

E-mail C.W. Nevius at .

(c) 2003-Ambush Entertainment. All rights reserved.