Chapter 15: Jon Ford
To cut a 25 year long story short;
For me The Dead started around 1983/84, when I first saw Romeros original 'Dawn of the Dead'. I was already a fan of horror but Dawn was different. It didn’t follow the usual route of setting it’s scenes in dark and creepy places with one evil person doing evil things and one lone screaming woman trying to escape. What fascinated me about Dawn was that it brought horror into the open, into the broad daylight. That scared the hell out of me! It meant when daylight came or when you found your way out of the dark house into the open, there is no escaping the horror. It dealt with the horror in such a matter of fact way, that I found the realism quite chilling.

Trigger happy Jon with Rob and Prince
So I knew there and then that I wanted to make a Zombie movie. First things first I needed to learn how to make films. Yes that’s the reason I started. It was so we could make The Dead. I started writing script ideas in the mid 1980s but all these ideas were about artistic images and nightmares I’d had. My whole career as a filmmaker, up to that point had all been just practice for this movie. Everything I did was just moving one step closer to realizing my dream. The Dead had become my holy grail.
Unfortunately no one else seemed to share my passion for this project. For years I talked about wanting to make a Zombie film. The average reaction was “ Oh no ones interested in Zombies any more!” Bear in mind this was pre 28days later and 'Shaun/Dawn of the Dead' remake etc. People would often laugh at the very concept of a Zombie movie. I would always say but I want to do this one differently it’s more about a survival journey than just about Zombies. No one was interested at all. Then by mid 2000s after several Zombie hit movies everyone wanted to make Zombie movies. Even those people who laughed in my face  were now trying to get Zombie films off the ground.
I refused point blank at sending the script to anyone. I didn’t want to give some slime bag behind a desk, with fat cigar in hand, any chance of tampering with my life's dream. I only ever saw one way of doing it, and that way was independently. Truly independently, in the purest sense of the word.
So after finding some old vehicles, a land rover and a large Luton transit van which I fixed and fitted out myself with lighting and camera shelves. I hand picked all the lights (a very modest amount) and cables and Generator. I made the camera crane and built parts for my steadicam system. I even built my own video assist system for the film cameras. The equipment was all old and out dated or broken, but it was cheap, that’s all that mattered. I fixed it all up or if I didn’t have something I made it. Having an engineering background can be very handy.
As I’m sure Howard has already explained when the f**kwits at the shipping company totally failed to ship the equipment before we flew out to meet it. That was the moment I knew this film could never be the film I wanted it to be. It had broken my heart before we had even started. I knew this was the only chance I was ever going to have to make my dream project and it had been f**ked up! I had done so much preparation with assembling the film unit. I honestly believe I had put in more physical hands on effort into all this than any filmmaker in history. If anyone knows differently please contact me, and let me know, as this would at least be some consolation. Virtually every day was a living nightmare. I sometimes wonder if contracting malaria, getting food poisoning and other strange tropical diseases actually helped keep my mind off the real torture of having my life-times ambition ripped apart on a daily basis. I know most of the cast and crew were scared about being in these dangerous parts of Africa but I didn’t give a f**k about that, I was trapped in my own personal hell that no one else could understand.
To everyone else it was just a film, but to me it was the one time only chance at realizing my life’s ambition. I honestly didn’t care much about being robbed or shot at or even killed, sometimes I felt that would have been a merciful escape. All this contributed to my being called “The Crazy One”. I didn’t know at the time that this is what the locals called me and I don’t think anyone was about to tell me either.
The reason I didn’t leave on the first day was that Howard had invested his life savings into this film. I stayed for him, as I knew there was no alternative, we had to come back with some sort of film. People say when they are exposed to extreme situations of stress that they go inside themselves. I did this unconsciously; it was the only way I could survive, mentally. Even though I now think that The Dead is a great movie and I’m relieved about that.  It’s nowhere near as great as it would have been without the nonstop catastrophes. That thought will torment me for the rest of my life.
Nearly four years after shooting this film I still sometimes wake up in the middle of the night covered in sweat with my heart pounding so violently that it feels like it will burst from my chest. I still live this nightmare over and over again. This is a high price to pay for following my dream. People think I take criticism of this film too personally… NO F**KING SH*T! I wonder why?
After all the problems this film had we had one bit of amazing luck! All the key people artistically and technically were the best I could have hoped for. I think they were all irreplaceable and I will be forever grateful to them all.

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