More zombies than you can shake a Slugger at

‘Dead Moon Rising’ is a passion project for its first-time director

Some men buy themselves a convertible (or worse) to stave off that midlife crisis. Louisville filmmaker Mark Poole spent his 20 grand on a zombie movie instead.

“Dead Moon Rising,” Poole’s first feature-length effort, gets a red-carpet rollout this Saturday at Tailgaters to honor its national distribution deal with Anthem Pictures.

The deal signifies a huge accomplishment for a first-time director, meaning that come March 4, “Dead Moon Rising” will be available on DVD via Netflix, Blockbuster Online, Wal-Mart, Best Buy, Target and many other national retailers, as well as local favorites such as Wild and Woolly Video.

The zombie/comedy, or “zombedy” as I like to call it, features a tongue-in-cheek humor inspired by “Shaun of the Dead” and highlights local Louisville stage talent (Jewish Community Center production regulars) as well as filmic virgins. What began as a small project, the self-taught filmmaker says, turned into three years of constant work.

“Having to choose between $10 in library late fees and $10,000 for film school, I chose the $10,” says Poole, a voracious reader who references book and magazine articles with regularity. “And let me tell you — when it (a how-to filmmaking book) tells you that a feature film is just piecing together five 15-minute shorts, that’s utter bullshit.”

Poole, 47, spent more than six months with his “ass sitting in a chair” editing the film, and while the camera sometimes lingers on failed jokes for too long in “Dead Moon Rising,” it displays an infectious zest for life that few movies about the undead can manage. That same energy was on the set as well, according to Jason Crowe, who played the lead role of Jim.

“It was such a different atmosphere,” says Crowe, who recently finished working on a larger production in Indiana with Kevin Sorbo of “Meet the Spartans.” “With bigger movies, it seems like everyone just spends hours off doing their own thing, but with these (independent) groups, it’s all about the passion.”

Poole, for example, had no expectations that his film would draw the attraction and free service of 1,200 extras on one day on 11th Street. The ending scene actually earned a spot in the “Guinness Book of World Records” for “Largest Zombie Scene Ever Filmed.”

“It wasn’t even supposed to be this big biker/zombie war,” Poole says. “That only happened because one of the main characters, a vegetarian, dropped out of the filming halfway. It was supposed to end with a bunch of vegetarian zombies, which I thought was funny.”

Poole describes filmmaking as “all about compromises,” however, and when he lost characters throughout the shoot, he got stand-ins. When he broke his rib while leaning out of the back of a pickup truck on one shot, he asked for pain medication — and kept shooting.

“When I started this project,” he says, “I created an electronic scriptboard that allowed me to keep track of each scene and actors’ availabilities. We would have never finished without it.”

After The Courier-Journal wrote a story about the film, Poole’s received hundreds of e-mails from strangers who wanted to help. Two flight nurses offered the use of their helicopter, from which several scenes are shot. Poole was pleased.

“Had I known I was going to be able to get two passes from a helicopter, I would have asked for fire trucks and tanks. I think I could have gotten it.”

He wanted to make a film for years, as far back as age 9 when he saw Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Poole took film classes at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and worked on a short 16mm film before graduating with a degree in architecture.

“Do I regret it? Chasing security rather than a dream?” asks Poole, whose day job is working as a Senior Project Analyst for a local healthcare provider. “Yeah, sure. But I had friends who raced off to California and were waiting tables. I didn’t think there was a future there.”

After years of filming wedding videos, Poole had his epiphany while watching a zombie film from 2002.

“For me, the great thing about ‘28 Days Later’ was that they were using the same thing — miniDV. Of course, they had better equipment, but it was technically the same medium.”

Poole and his production company, Anubis Digital, are moving on a new digital series, tentatively titled “Requiem for the Fallen,” a cross between “Lost” and “The Prophecy.” He is offering unpaid internship positions for the project.

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‘Dead Moon Rising’ premiere
Saturday, March 1
Tailgaters Sports Bar & Grill
2787 S. Floyd St.
Free; 8 p.m.