INTERVIEW: Writer, Producer, Director Hilton Ariel Ruiz Discusses ZOMBIE WITH A SHOTGUN

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Zombie with a Shotgun is a horror film on Amazon Prime from writer, producer, director Hilton Ariel Ruiz with some fresh ideas for the zombie mythos, including giving the living dead some heavy firepower and a bone to pick with a lot of people.

The world in Zombie with a Shotgun is under assault by a viral infection that’s turning people into flesh-eating monsters. However, unlike many zombie films, some people retain their humanity. That doesn’t matter to law enforcement that’s decided to kill the infected on site. The government wants to catch the infected and learn from the illness. Another group may or may not be responsible for causing the virus. Zombie with a Shotgun is a very indie film, but that didn’t stop Hilton Ariel Ruiz and his team from turning his 2012 web series into a cult hit while teasing the larger world.

PopAxiom spoke with Hilton Ariel Ruiz about becoming a filmmaker and the rise of Zombie with a Shotgun.

When did Hilton’s relationship with movies begin?
I tell people I grew up in the Latin Brady Bunch. We had three boys, three girls, mom, and dad. My aunt lived with us, and she was like Alice. Instead of the dog, we had a cat. So, the cheapest way to get six rowdy kids to calm down was the movie theater. So Saturday and Sunday we’d go to the movie theater.

We’d come home after the movies and re-create scenes. I was the youngest one in the family, so I wasn’t allowed to play anything. So we’d go home after something like Return of the Jedi, and my brother would be Luke while my cousin played Vader. They made a fake camera out of cardboard to not make me feel bad, and I’d be the ‘director.’

When did Hilton get a real camera?
I got a camera at 13 or 14 and started making movies with my friends. We’d do recreations of Halloween or Friday the 13th. It got serious when I got to high school, where they accidentally put cinema studies on my schedule. So I went to the class, and I loved it. As the course kept going, I was saying, ‘this is me.’ I had a great teacher named Ms. Wilson. We would watch amazing films like Citizen Kane and Vertigo.

Who are some of the directors that influenced Hilton?
I love Ridley Scott; Alien, Blade Runner, and Legend. Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone is one of my favorites ever. John Carpenter with The Thing and Halloween. Those guys were such a massive inspiration to me.

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Where did Zombie with a Shotgun begin?
It’s been a long roller-coaster with Zombie with a Shotgun (ZWAS). Not many people know this, but ZWAS will be ten years old soon. It started in 2012 when web series started to get popular. I wanted to do it from the zombie’s point of view with a monster that wasn’t crazy but was aware of his surroundings.

What happened after the first episode when online?
It was the first time I experienced going viral. I was like, ‘holy sh*t.’ We hadn’t even finished the series, we’d just put out the first episode, and I was getting calls from production companies and producers. A lot of people thought it was a trailer for an already produced series. So, we finished the series, and I said, ‘let’s go on to the next thing.’ So, I left Zombie with a Shotgun alone. It had its time, I thought.

But every subsequent project, people would ask me, ‘what’s going on with ZWAS?’ It kept growing, and questions kept on coming. No matter what I did, the zombie thing was just overshadowing it all.

Not a lot of people get that viral experience. I realized I brushed something off that had more to it. We started to plan a feature when I met this great comic artist Simone Guglielmini who helped me do the first issue of a comic book.

What do you think made the web series so popular?
The episodes average around five minutes. But that first episode, there’s a moment at the end where the zombie kisses the girl, and I think that’s what people reacted to because they’d never seen something like that. So it got this whole thing going.

Did the growing cult popularity make it easier to find the money for the movie?
I thought having the social media explosion with the web series, and the comic book would easily get the budget I wanted. I spoke to many producers, but no one wanted to pull the trigger. Finally, the conversation came up with some that they would take it over and give me a percentage. I said, ‘hell no.’ It happens a lot in the industry, but I decided not to give in.

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How did Hilton make the movie without help from a studio or producer?
I went on a campaign to raise money. In 2016, we shot in New York for ten or twelve days until we ran out of money. We did two more campaigns to raise funds until the movie was released in 2019. On November 28th that year, it went onto streaming services which was exciting. We went to conventions and everything until COVID shut it all down.

Is the series required viewing to enjoy the film?
The series was more atmospheric. There is some sort of continuity though the web series is more about the idea. So, you could watch Zombie with a Shotgun without having watched the series.

How does the feature compare to the web series?
The feature was very ambitious. We had multiple locations and 30 cast members compared to the web series with two, maybe three people. Writing the web series was five or six pages at a time. The feature requires a lot more of that. On top of that, indie filmmaking means there will be changes. The script is changing by the day. The first script we had for Zombie with a Shotgun is entirely different from the 2019 film. That’s how things go when you’re in indie filmmaking. You just have to keep on going and figure out how to move forward. It’s a lot of work—three years of raising money. Bless the crew and actors who didn’t abandon the project.

What’s the reaction been like over the years?
I get emails and DMs all the time from people telling me how much they love the film. Then you get the other group who tells you that’s the biggest piece of sh*t film they’ve ever seen. One of the biggest complaints from real fans, you know who they are, was the lack of gore. But that comes down to budget. We didn’t have that kind of budget to blow things up and blow people away with the shotgun all the time.

What’s the future for Zombie with a Shotgun?
There’s a huge universe to play within Zombie with a Shotgun. We want to push the gore some more. But of course, that’s the budget provided. So we’ve got to raise the money to make the next film gory. We also plan to have vampires in the sequel as one of the main parts of the story line. Not to spoil anything, but it’s going to introduce a whole bigger story. We’re excited; we think it’s going to be different and cool.

Zombie with a Shotgun is available to Amazon Prime subscribers
or on Hilton Ariel Ruiz’s YouTube channel for free!

Read more interviews from Ruben R. Diaz!

Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.