by Sherry Jones
Why do we love zombies? Theories abound, and everyone, from historians to sociologists to pop culture creators to fans, has a different opinion.
Well there’s no better time to weigh in than now, because the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture has become “home of the zombies.” Through September 10, the museum is presenting a new exhibit, Z Nation: Behind the Camera.
For the uninitiated, Z Nation is the popular SyFy series filmed in Spokane. Now in its fourth season, Z Nation has become something of a local cultural landmark.
The new exhibit is a living (and also, living-dead) show that allows visitors to experience a working television series set during filming, while also paying homage to Spokane as a filming location.
In Spokane, at least, people love zombies in part because Z Nation is filmed in and around the city, according to Carol Summers, the Museum’s Director of Marketing and Communications. People love to spot familiar landmarks and buildings on TV. Some watch the show just to see their city come alive on the screen.
This coming season, viewers will likely see even the museum on screen quite a bit, even if they don’t always recognize it. During the Behind the Camera exhibit, the crew and cast will actually film scenes inside the spacious museum galleries, and visitors will have the chance to watch. The filming schedule, posted daily on the Z Nation website and social media, tells fans when to go to catch the lights, cameras, and action.
As fans of the show already know, the apocalypse pits zombies against humans every week, and features some of the goriest gore imaginable, including mass mayhem unleashed periodically by a gigantic runaway wheel of Wisconsin cheese. Z Nation is not a show for the faint of heart.
But then, you see the special effects video featured at Z Nation: Behind the Camera. Like a magician revealing the truth behind the tricks, the short film shows how computers can turn the prettiest Palouse hills into a limb-littered battlefield; you realize that the show is, really, just for fun.
The fun shines through in the exhibit, consisting of signature props like a couch upholstered in what looks like human skin, the aforementioned cheese wheel, or a fast-food mic shaped like a French-fry basket. You’ll also see the costumes and makeup displays, tributes to zombie culture and lore, and a number of short films highlighting the series with settings familiar to local residents.
The first-of-its-kind exhibit seemed a natural way to repay the city for all the zombie love it has given to the SyFy series over the years, says Karl Schaefer, Z Nation co-creator. It includes a short film by local critic Shaun Higgins on the history of filmmaking in Spokane — a story that ought to be much longer, Schaefer says.
“I’m shocked that nobody else shoots in Spokane,” he says. “Spokane doubles for every place in the U.S. We’ve shot downtown for New York City and Philadelphia; we’ve done Nebraska in the wheat fields and the Grand Canyon at Palouse Falls; we’ve used the Spokane River for the Mississippi. We get away with murder here.”
Washington State’s generous film tax incentives provided another motive for Z Nation’s producers to choose the Lilac City for its series, Schaefer says. And an unexpected perk, perhaps, is the incredible loyalty the city’s residents show. Spokane has become positively enamored of all things zombie. The Spokane Zombie Pub Crawl, the first Saturday in October, attracted nearly 1,000 participants last year; a Z Nation Zombie Tour of locales featured in the series is reportedly in the works, and the museum plans to host a “Zombie Prom” August 19.
And when the show begins airing in September, Friday night is, for many in the city, Zombie Night. It’s the time to watch Z Nation, spot landmarks, and hope to recognize familiar faces under the makeup. Among the 150 cast and crew members working on the sets are plenty of Spokanites, including some 2,000 zombie extras whose only job, Schaefer says, is to “eat brains.” Now that’s a heady workload.
So why do we love zombies so much?
“It’s just like with vampires: they’re the undead. It relates to the afterlife and what happens when we die,” says Summers. “We’re always worrying about pandemics,” she adds. “This [in the series] is the Z-1 virus. We all know there could be pandemics that alter lives. This a fun, extreme way to deal with that fear.”
“It’s a stand-in for our anxiety about what’s going on in the world,” says Schaefer. “What’s the worst that can happen? I think the zombie apocalypse is pretty close.”
What do you think? Tell us why you love zombies in the comments.