Britspotting film festival. Made for a reported £45 (€50) in a lot of people's spare time, it caused enough of a stir in Cannes to get a British cinema release. Ben Knight meets Colin himself, Alastair Kirton. "/> Britspotting film festival. Made for a reported £45 (€50) in a lot of people's spare time, it caused enough of a stir in Cannes to get a British cinema release. Ben Knight meets Colin himself, Alastair Kirton. " />


Eyes sewn shut – playing an emotional zombie

“Colin” is the title and hero of the new sleeper-hit zombie movie playing at this year's Britspotting film festival. Made for a reported £45 (€50) in a lot of people's spare time, it caused enough of a stir in Cannes to get a British cinema release. Ben Knight meets Colin himself, Alastair Kirton.

Eyes sewn shut – playing an emotional zombie
Photo: Nowhere Fast Productions

What did you spend the £45 on?

That was the cost of various bits and pieces on the way. We had a really good recipe for fake blood, which is incredibly cheap. Golden syrup and red food colouring, and coffee to make it grittier. You can use that coffee to give to the actors. Then there were some very cheap biscuits, and I think the director Marc (Price) bought a crowbar as well, for one shot, which cost about £7.

You filmed most of the film without permission. Did you have any run-ins with British coppers?

When we were shooting the street-battle, a police officer turned up, because somebody had reported there was a riot going on. It was on a Sunday in a cul-de-sac somewhere in Teddington. When the policeman arrived he was really relieved. Marc was very good in those situations – convincing people it was just a student production, and these were his friends. But he took care to remove the tape from the camera. The policeman was very nice about it. We asked him if he wanted to be a zombie but he turned us down.

Any difficult moments with the general public?

We had a couple of close calls. There’s the bit when Colin is being attacked by some youths, and a guy turns up with a samurai sword. That was filmed on quite a busy estate. But for some reason it was really quiet that day. Considering we had people wandering around with half their face falling off we were very lucky. We did have a few twitching curtains.

Some of the extras seem to be having a great time in the film. Did you ever have to tell them to tone it down a bit?

Marc did have to tell two guys who were doing some really big stuff – sort of banging into each other and things – because it was a close-up. But the extras were one of the most amazing things about the film. We had a lot of friends of friends in the film who usually spent their Sundays sitting around watching rubbish TV. We just told them, “Come down, bring two sets of clothes, and we’ll turn you into a zombie.”

How did the success of the film happen, without even a viral marketing campaign?

First entering it in a lot of horror film festivals, then going to the Cannes and Berlin film markets. Then all of a sudden the press picked up on the story. It’s a gritty, old genre movie, and suddenly it’s being reviewed in the Financial Times. I mean it was always meant to be a genre movie, which we were all fans of, but we hoped that with the emotional parts we were doing something you didn’t expect in a horror film.

How do you act an emotional zombie?

When we first started, Marc would just shout “Too human! You’re being too human!” because if you’ve got no dialogue, you naturally over-compensate by doing more and more. So we started by working out what worked best physically. We set up some rules, like I was only allowed to be aware of things that were in close proximity to me. And we developed things like holding objects the wrong way round.

A lot of low budget horror films get round their money shortage by leaving gory details to the imagination. Colin doesn’t go down that easy road, does it?

We were really lucky with our make-up artist, Michelle Webb. She had just come off doing X-Men 3. She’d spent about two weeks gluing Hugh Jackman’s side-burns. But she hadn’t done a huge amount of effects make-up. And Marc gave her free rein to create the most beautiful zombies. So basically it was a chance for her to do this amazing show-reel. The make-up team, who weren’t that experienced, had to come up with some really good ideas, especially for those people in the cellar with their eyes sewn shut.

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What’s behind Germany’s obsession with roundtable politics talk shows?

Forget the Bundestag. If you want to understand German politics - and see how lively it can really be - turn on your (almost nightly) talk show.

What's behind Germany's obsession with roundtable politics talk shows?

It may well be one of the most German things imaginable – a roundtable discussion designed to give a fair amount of time to a wide range of viewpoints before (maybe) achieving some sort of consensus.

Failing that, viewers – theoretically anyway – walk away better informed and open to changing some of their opinions after a, again theoretically, respectful discussion.

Welcome to the German political talk show circuit – a collection of moderated roundtable discussions.

Whether its Anne Will on Sunday nights, “Hart aber fair” or “tough but fair” on Mondays, or Maybrit Illner on Thursdays and Markus Lanz on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays – you can tune into several political panels a week if you fancy.

If you have politically-minded German friends or co-workers, you might ask: “Did you watch Lanz last night?” Anecdotally, at least as many people who watch will have strong opinions about why they don’t.

Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk makes a video appearance (left video) on the Markus Lanz show on 10 March 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Cornelia Lehmann

“Lanz is a disgrace!” and “I don’t watch Anne Will out of principle!” are both phrases I’ve heard myself more than a few times over the years.

But if you are a fan and you miss an episode, don’t worry – many news outlets will run summaries of what happened during said roundtable the next morning.

“Newspapers regularly publish these recaps almost as if they were relevant parliamentary meetings,” says Peter Littger, a columnist on language and culture in Germany. “It’s super relevant politically. It can increase your voting base and certainly your book sales if you appear there.”

READ ALSO: Tatort to Temptation Island: What do Germans like to watch on TV?

‘Consensus-oriented political culture’

If the nationally-focused ones aren’t enough for you, there’s a good chance you can find a show on a regional broadcaster focusing on issues in your federal state, again in – you guessed it – roundtable format.

As you might have gathered, the show’s name is often the same as its host, who functions first and foremost as a moderator there to facilitate and mediate a discussion between guests who are chosen specifically to balance a panel.

For a discussion on Ukraine, for example, you’ll regularly have people from every political party, from ministers and high-ranking parliamentarians who chair important Bundestag committees to pro-Russian voices from the German Left Party and far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD).

And no one is too high-ranking not to make at least the occasional appearance. Chancellor Olaf Scholz himself joined a Maybrit Illner roundtable on July 7th this year.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz appears on the Maybrit Illner show on 7 July 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Svea Pietschmann

Both European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba have also made appearances on Anne Will this year.

In characteristically German fashion, state broadcasters have extensive written regulations to ensure a panel also has a balance of people from relevant expert disciplines. For instance, a coronavirus panel may well feature a notable doctor alongside a civil liberties lawyer.

“Germany has a more consensus-oriented political culture than you might see in a country like the UK, for example, which is more confrontational and even adversarial,” says Sebastian Ludwicki-Ziegler a PhD researcher at the University of Stirling’s Department of Communications, Media, and Culture.

“You’ll still get some invited guests who are very contrarian and even aggressive – like Thilo Sarrazin (a former politician who wrote a controversial book in 2010 about Muslim immigration to Germany) for example. But even then, the moderator often tries to maintain a softer, more civil tone.”

Ludwicki-Ziegler says that while the roundtable format reflects German political culture, it also reflects its institutional setup. A show producer can simply get more obvious ranges of political opinion in a country with Germany’s proportional representation, which has seven parties in parliament.

Historic roundtables

Unlike the often subdued German Bundestag though, German talk shows can certainly get lively, or even historic.

Perhaps the most notable TV roundtable happened right after the 2005 federal election. With then incumbent Social Democrat Gerhard Schröder having finished only one percent behind Christian Democrat Angela Merkel when all the votes were counted, party leaders gathered in the traditional “Elefantenrunde,” or yes, the “Elephant’s round,” to discuss the results.

READ ALSO: Talking elephants and grumpy politicians: Four things that will happen after the German elections

With the final election result having been so close, observers still discuss whether Schröder lost his chancellorship at the ballot box or during the 2005 Elefantenrunde. In contrast to a calm Merkel, Schröder insisted he would stay on as Chancellor.

Brash and arrogant, some observers have asked whether he was drunk at the time. German media outlets ran anniversary pieces looking back at his disastrous roundtable performance 5, 10, and 15 years later. One such anniversary piece from 2020 called the roundtable “Schröder’s embarrassing end.”

The 2005 post-election roundtable, or “Elefantenrunde,” is considered by many German political observers to be the disastrous end to former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder;s political career. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | ZDF/Jürgen_Detmers

Mastering the roundtable appearance is a big plus for a German politician, or anyone else looking to move the needle of German public opinion.

Satisfying a particularly German impulse, you can certainly also walk away feeling like you’ve considered all sides. But are there drawbacks?

On 8 May 2022’s edition of Anne Will, social psychologist Harald Welzer appeared to lecture Ukrainian Ambassador Andriy Melnyk that 45 percent of Germans were against delivering heavy weapons to Ukraine because of German war history. Many observers criticised Welzer for patronising the Ambassador of a country at war about the need to have weapons for its own self-defense.

The exchange, and a fair few others, lead some experts to wonder whether the roundtable format so many German political talk shows seem to love gives too big a platform to pro-Russian voices or to controversial writers like the aforementioned Thilo Sarrazin.

“If we take Germany and Ukraine as one example, you can get some great guests who come on and really set things straight with facts, data, and plain talk,” says Benjamin Tallis, a Fellow in German Security Policy at the German Council on Foreign Relations.

“But you can get false balance. You’ll get people on with rather fringe opinions given a platform against people who have a lot more experience and evidence. That’s true in a lot of places now, sure, but this talk show format really lends itself to that because of the amount of guests you need on a nightly basis,” says Tallis.

“Unfortunately in Germany, many guests are invited on based on their opinions about an issue rather than the level of their expertise, in order to try and achieve balance,” says Minna Alander, a specialist in German foreign policy who recently joined the Finnish Institute of International Affairs after more than a decade working in Berlin.

“When you start equating opinion with knowledge, it makes it way more difficult to have a fact-based debate. On matters of life and death, like in Ukraine, that can have a polarising effect.”