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Forget The Bad Press, Marc Forster Wants You To Give World War Z A Chance

What do you do when the court of public opinion writes off your movie before anyone has seen it? Such is the dilemma facing director Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball”) and his latest film, “World War Z,” a zombie apocalypse action thriller starring Brad Pitt that’s gotten nothing but bad publicity since shooting began in July 2011.

It started with news that Forster and Pitt were feuding on the set, to the point where they weren’t speaking. Reports alleged Forster’s notes for Pitt were given to Pitt via a third party because the director and actor couldn’t communicate. “A lot of the stories were inaccurate,” Forster said during a press day at the Mandarin Oriental in Miami. “I would read these things about Brad and I not talking and have no idea what they’re based on, so I asked him ‘where does this come from?’ and he said ‘don’t worry, just focus on the movie.’ Obviously he’s used to that kind of press, but I’m not.”

Then, to add fuel to the fire, the release date was pushed from December 2012 to June 2013 after the original ending was scrapped. “Prometheus” writer Damon Lindelof, and later Drew Goddard (both of whom worked on “Lost”), were called in to rewrite the ending, and reshoots were completed in the fall of 2012.

Here’s what happened: The script was unfinished heading into production. The original ending, which was to be a large-scale action sequence set in Russia, was shot, but didn’t come together in editing and ended the movie abruptly. It was so bad that Pitt (who is also a producer here), Forster and Paramount exec Marc Evans ordered seven weeks of production to shoot an additional 30-40 minutes worth of film, which allegedly pushed the budget to $200 million. The new ending, which picks up after a riveting plane crash and Forster describes as having a “haunted house” vibe, was designed to create a different form of tension than what viewers feel while watching the large-scale action sequences.

“For a lot of movies, this is standard,” said Forster, who also directed “Quantum of Solace,” “Finding Neverland” and “The Kite Runner.” “Someone like Woody Allen has two weeks scheduled in his budget for reshoots, ‘The Dark Knight’ had reshoots, this is something everybody does.“

The core of the story follows Pitt’s character, Gerry Lane, as he travels the world searching for a cure to the virus that’s turning people into zombies. This is completely different from the book on which the movie is based, “World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War,” by Max Brooks (son of Mel and Anne Bancroft). “The book doesn’t have the regular three-act structure or a main character in that it’s 54 different stories being told about how to survive the war,” Forster said. “I thought it was more important to create a movie that works on its own as a companion piece to the book than it is to try to be loyal to the book and create a movie that doesn’t work.”

Controversy aside, Forster fancies himself a fan of zombie stories like “The Walking Dead,” though he hesitates to call “World War Z” a zombie movie. “For me it exceeds the zombie genre and is an end-of-the-world apocalyptic kind of film,” Forster said.

To that end, he didn’t think excess violence and gore was necessary, hence the PG-13 rating. “Sometimes gore can be a cheap trick,” Forster said, adding, “to create and sustain intensity throughout I thought would be a more interesting way to go.”

As for the zombies themselves, which are bigger/faster/stronger than the slow, plodding zombies we’re used to, Forster was determined to do something unique. “I had to create my own zombies, and didn’t want to create what had been done in the past,” he said. “The first image that came to me was an ant hill with ants moving on top of each other. So when you see them climbing the wall in Jerusalem, that’s what it’s born out of, it’s sort of a tsunami of zombies. It’s something I haven’t seen before, and it’s so powerful and overwhelming that you feel like it’s the end of the world and you can’t beat them.”

Now if only Forster could get people to ignore the bad press and flock to theaters the same way.