Ann Kulichik is an independent filmmaker that hails from Lowell, MA. Her independent, charming and humorous short film “Amy Kidd, Zombie Speech Pathologist” will debut at the fast approaching South Texas Underground Film Fest that begins October 3 here in Corpus Christi.
In this interview Ann talks about what it takes to be an independent filmmaker, plans to develop “Amy Kidd” as a complete episodic series and the role her experience as a real life speech pathologist plays in the interaction between zombie and therapist.
Strike Magazine: How long have you been making films?
Ann Kulichik: “Amy Kidd, Zombie Speech Pathologist” is my first film, which I completed in June of this year. Since I produced “Amy”, I have written a bunch of other scripts which some other people have filmed. I also filmed one this week that I appear in — a short romantic comedy about a guy who is making a film about a serial killer. He is making dinner for his date, and as she snoops around his apartment, she discovers his arsenal of stage weaponry, and thinks that HE is a serial killer. Hilarity ensues. I am also directing a script I wrote in October, which will mark the first time that I make a film in which I will not appear.
Strike Magazine: Any feature length films?
Ann Kulichik: No, not yet.
Strike Magazine: What do you find interesting about the short film medium?
Ann Kulichik: I think comedy lends itself very easily to the short film. It’s really fun to set up a premise and throw a gag in. My writing style is fairly pithy, so I feel like I can get a lot of information across in a short period. Making a short film is also a great way to try out crew members and actors and see which ones really deliver for you. Then the ones that rise to the top can be used in a feature length film.
Strike Magazine: In recent years there has been a proliferation of zombie films, particularly zombie comedies. What drew you to the zombie genre?
Ann Kulichik: I didn’t set out to make a zombie flick — it was a joke I made on Facebook at the time that the Mayan calendar ended. Since I am a speech pathologist, I mused, how would my business model change in the face of an apocalypse? What if it were a zombie apocalypse? That Facebook posting got one of the biggest responses I have ever had. So, I thought that maybe I was onto something.
Strike Magazine: How has this film been received in other screenings?
Ann Kulichik: STUFF will be the first screening, and it will be screened the following week at the Indiana Short Film Festival.
Strike Magazine: Listening to a zombie trying to say “mom” is really hilarious. Im not sure I can put my finger on why…
Ann Kulichik: In the full season of episodes, Arnie actually says “mom” a lot, and Amy thinks it is because it is the only word he can say. We find out, though, that there is a funnier reason. This is revealed during a zombie group therapy session. But — to answer your thought about why something is funny — I think that when you combine two dissimilar elements, hilarity ensues. Zombies are traditionally thought of as soul-less carnivores, who do not have a loving parental relationship. In a future episode, Amy goes on a date with a germaphobic biker. When the actor who will be playing that part read the script, he commented on how ridiculous it is for a guy to carry Purell around with him after there has been an apocalypse.
Strike Magazine: What are some of the struggles faced by independent filmmakers?
Ann Kulichik: I can make a number of films with no budget, however, I need a budget with Amy, because zombie make up is surprisingly expensive. So, money is often an issue. I tend to be very resourceful in terms of finding locations and people to work with, which is how I am able to shoot a lot of my other scripts. Producing the full season of Amy is on hold right now, because I need to get $2,000. Another challenge is finding crew who will work for free — or that is, for IMDB credit and food. I’ve had a couple of misfires, but overall, I am finding some really excellent people to work with.
Another thing is that I am learning so much about the craft every day, so when I look back at Amy — I see all of the flaws and things I would do differently. I think that by the time I am able to make the full season of Amy, I will be in a better place, technically, which will make the finished product more polished.
Strike Magazine: Where do you find inspiration?
Ann Kulichik: Every day, in every situation, I see comedy. For example, I was giving my dog her medication this morning, and I noticed that on the side of the vial, it cautions her not to operate heavy machinery. The visual that conjures is priceless.
Strike Magazine: What currents or trends happening in film today do you find exciting?
Ann Kulichik: This is SUCH an AMAZING time to be making film!!!! With the advent of DSLRs and online platforms, there is tremendous power at the grassroots level. There is SO much free information on filmmaking on YouTube and elsewhere online. And film festivals like STUFF! I absolutely love what Mariella and Robert Perez are doing for independent film. They are in it for the right reasons and they display tremendous spirit. I feel tremendously thankful to be a part of this scene.
Strike Magazine: How much of the context of this short is based on frustrations you might experience or do experience as a pathologist? What is the root of those frustrations? Is there a social criticism in terms of the subject matter?
Ann Kulichik: When I was writing the full season, I did look to my experience as a Speech Pathologist for inspiration, however, it was very important to me that I not present a type of client so specifically that it could come across like I am mocking them. I take my speech work seriously, and I have had the opportunity to work with many fabulous people who have had some crippling physical issues. So, I kept the communication disorders pretty general, but I did draw on what I know about neurology. For example, Arnie has a right brain injury, and if the motor center in the right brain is impaired, it can result in motor deficits to the left side of the body. This is why Arnie has a left foot drag.
But I did take some inspiration from some behavior issues I have dealt with. There is a zombie named Ethel who is quite disobedient to group rules (we will see her in a group therapy scene). When it’s her turn to speak or participate in the group, she yells “No!” Or hides under the table, or tries to gouge someone’s eyes out. Think preschool tantrum. Amy organizes a zombie social skills group, cause zombies — let’s face it — they aren’t the best with social pleasantries. This can be funny in the context of zombies, but, in real life, it is a serious issue. When people do not have the ability to pick up on social cues and work and play well with others, it has serious implications for their careers and personal lives. They are often perceived as jerks or as strange, and may be ostracized. The truth is, in many cases, they are just lacking in some skills that can be taught. So, if there is a social message here (which is not my primary intent), I hope that awareness can be raised that social deficits are often an identifiable communication issue that can be remediated. If Amy works into a season 2, I could potentially show some other communication issues (a zombie with a vocal nodule? All that moaning cannot be healthy for the vocal folds), but I will always be mindful of presenting it in a way that is not disparaging to those who have those issues. The nice thing about having zombi-ism as the primary diagnosis, is that there are no zombie advocacy groups (as far as I know), who’s feathers will get ruffled if I present them in a politically incorrect manner.
As it turns out, Ethel is a bit of a hypochondriac, and Amy accompanies her to one of her dermatology appointments, in an effort to help Ethel learn how to behave in the community. Ethel gets into all kinds of trouble in the waiting room, because the other patients look so delicious, and Amy really has her hands full as she is trying to teach Ethel social skills, but, at times, has to be more of a disciplinarian. That is a fine line I have had to walk in some therapy sessions (with preschoolers, mostly). But, thank goodness for zombie repellent! Amy also has a few other zombie management tricks up her sleeve. And the other aspect is that the medical community has not quite figured out how to deal with all of the health issues of zombies, as we see when the nurse tries to get Ethel’s vital signs.
Strike Magazine: Do you think the system hasn’t figured out how to deal with the issues of zombies in Amy’s world or is the system unwilling to use the resources required to deal with the issues of zombies? In current society we often see systemic reluctance to expend resources for the adequate treatment of social ills.
Ann Kulichik: I hadn’t thought about it that far. I think that if there is money to be made in this society, then someone will do it. For example, the manufacturers of zombie repellent. There is also a company that manufactures fake body parts, that zombies find delicious, and meets all of their nutritional needs.
Strike Magazine: In Amy’s world are zombies perceived as a serious social problem? Should the problem be treated socially? How do zombies pay for treatment?
Ann Kulichik: Yes. Zombies are not a complete anathema in this new civilization, but they are definitely not well integrated into society. Amy is a pioneer. On one of her blind dates, she faces some attitude from a dude who doesn’t appreciate her zombie reintegration efforts, and her family is not happy about her new business plan. She ends up concealing a lot of her issues from the people she is closest to. This social tension between zombie haters and zombie supporters could be a possible theme to explore more fully in season 2 or 3.
The nice thing about working with the undead is that they usually have very poor fine motor skills, and so they cannot dial phone numbers and let their insurance companies know that they are no longer alive. So, Amy has been able to get away with billing their insurance companies until she can get them enough skills for them to go out and earn a living, and convert to private pay. Arnie, for example, went into business for himself. He runs a lemonade stand.
Strike Magazine: Legendary zombie film director George Romero once said that zombies are us. They are us and we are them…
Well, Mr. Romero’s statement is interesting. It makes me think of early scenes in Shawn of the Dead, where the similarities between people who are bleary eyed in the morning, going to jobs they hate, and zombies walking down the street are presented. I definitely feel like a zombie when I am over tired or a little hung over. Or working for the man!
Strike Magazine: What are your plans for a complete season?
Ann Kulichik: I would like to make about 10 episodes, reveal some secrets, develop a complete story, as opposed to stand alone episodes and development the relationship between Amy and Arnie.
“Amy Kidd, Zombie Speech Pathologist” can be seen at the South Texas Underground Film Festival (STUFF) beginning October 3rd. For more information about the film fest visit: www.southtexasundergroundfilm.com