Shaun Of The Dead is one of those movies where its merits have sadly been overshadowed by a sense of familiarity. At the time of its 2004 theatrical release, it was yet to gain its future stable mates in the iconic ‘Three Flavours Cornetto’ trilogy – Hot Fuzz and The World’s End – and showed us all precisely what potential Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright had to make it big.
However, its freshness and uniqueness at the time have all been dulled somewhat by other movies encroaching onto similar territory, along with the film having been shown so many times on ITV2 now that Shaun Of The Dead became a running joke on social media, as well as the programming equivalent of a load-bearing wall for the channel. As such, it has become easy to overlook how groundbreaking it was at the time, as well as how much of a risky venture it was for all involved.
Backing a feature film project from a creative team who had no proper experience of professional moviemaking was a big gamble at the time. With all three of them having since gone on to forge ahead with careers in the industry, it seems hard to recall a period when they were just the guys from Spaced, a sitcom which attracted a cult following – including people like Quentin Tarantino, who provided a commentary for the Region 1 DVD release, alongside other names such as writer Diablo Cody and Kevin Smith.
The road to bring this mutual passion project to the screen is documented by Clark Collis in his new book, You’ve Got Red On You: How Shaun Of The Dead Was Brought To Life, with no stone seemingly left unturned in his efforts to chart how such an unlikely sounding concept – which coined the whole new genre of ‘rom-zom-com’ – came to fruition. Collis is a senior writer for Entertainment Weekly, and has spent the last two years working on this book, which is a true labour of love on his part.
The story of Shaun Of The Dead is not one which can be told purely in isolation, as it charts the convergence of the three key players, as their paths cross, and they discover they have shared passions for nerd culture as well as such genres as sci-fi and horror, which draw all of them together. As such, Collis gives us a rundown of the important formative years and the careers of Pegg, Wright and Frost, taking us up to their work together on Spaced, with Pegg as the co-writer (with Jessica Hynes), Wright as director, and Frost as a breakthrough cast member (as well as Pegg’s best mate).
Interestingly, Collis shows a cultural phenomenon unfolding during the 1990s which ran in tandem with what was taking place in the pop world with ‘Britpop’ – the drawing together of a great many now-established comedy acts, in what could perhaps be defined as ‘Britcom’. Collis lets you see how there was a real happening taking place in comic circles during the course of that decade, and the subject matter feels as though it could form the basis of a book all its own, as there seems to have been a powerhouse of talent arising, with fate playing a part in introducing them to each other.
Although Pegg and Wright were certainly the prime movers behind Shaun Of The Dead (with the pair having co-written the script, in addition to Wright taking the director’s chair), Frost is still an integral part of the tale, as he forms part of an integral love story – the ‘bromance’ between him and Pegg, which sits at the heart of Shaun Of The Dead, as the success or failure of the film would largely live or die on the pairing of best buds Shaun and Ed; as a result, Frost’s critical part in the endeavour receives due credit.
Collis’ depicting of the whole course of events is refreshingly candid, having interviewed so many of the cast and crew, all of whom are quite open about their experiences during the production of the film; while predominantly positive, there is an honesty about some of the challenges they faced, both personally and professionally. While the filming was marred by an unexpected conflict, both the parties involved seem to have let enough water flow under enough bridges since then to be pragmatic about things, and the book is thankfully free of salacious gossip, scandal or muckraking.
You’ve Got Red On You is an impressively compendious and engaging account of the making of a bona fide classic film. It also acts as the perfect palate cleanser, reminding us of just how great a movie Shaun Of The Dead is in its own right, and encouraging the reader to watch it again with fresh eyes. The unexpected revelations of the importance of pubic topiary, in addition to the toilet habits of a Star Trek star, are among the varied treats which definitely help make this book a real slice of fried gold.
You’ve Got Red On You: How Shaun Of The Dead Was Brought To Life is out now from 1984 Publishing.