There’s a scene midway through Zombeavers that, for better or worse, captures its essence. Sam, a douchey prick played by Hutch Dano (real name), is about to have sex with his girlfriend’s BFF on top of the bathroom sink. The two have stripped down to their skivvies and are about to go there when, all of a sudden, a killer zombie beaver bursts through the bathroom floor and bites the guy’s dick off. Now, it doesn’t stop there. The lil’ rascal gnashes away at the two-timer’s groin area, yanking off all matter of entrails and viscera.
Welcome to the world of Zombeavers.
The trailer for the movie, which marks comedy writer Jordan Rubin’s feature filmmaking debut, garnered over 2 million views on YouTube in just a couple of months, and it premiered to a packed house at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival that included music producer Mark Ronson, 30 Rock star Judah Friedlander, and Rubin’s cousin, Capote director Bennett Miller.
“The film is obviously a parable depicting man’s attempt to find meaning in a world where God is silent,” Rubin deadpans. “OK, this isn’t Citizen Kane or Silence of the Lambs. It’s Zombeavers, so the intent is to ride a line between shitting your pants and laughing your ass off.”
Rubin’s film tells the gory tale of three stunning sorority sisters: the virtuous blonde, Jenn (Lexi Atkins); the nerdy brunette, Mary (Rachel Melvin); and the lascivious, raven-haired Zoe (Cortney Palm). The leggy troika opt for a weekend getaway at Mary’s secluded cabin in the woods to comfort Jenn, who caught her aforementioned idiot boyfriend cheating on her.
Things, naturally, don’t go as planned.
"I just started walking around with a dildo directing the actors..."
First, the gals’ two frat boy paramours arrive—with Sam in tow—to “surprise” the ladies. And then, the rowdy gang is targeted by a pack of vicious beavers that, thanks to a loose chemical barrel, have mutated into bloodthirsty zombies (as in, these tricky bastards can’t die).
And these aren’t CGI beavers, either. The critters resemble the gopher from Caddyshack… if it had rabies. According to Rubin, he was inspired by ‘80s films like Re-Animator—he once babysat the child of David Gale, the fella whose head is served up on a platter—and John Carpenter’s The Thing, which he required the cast to watch prior to shooting. They hired the company Creature Effects, which has worked on massive Hollywood productions like I Am Legend and Ted, to handle the creatures (“We were below their pay grade, but they did it for the love of the game,” says Rubin), and had a handful of beaver puppets, as well as one big animatronic beaver that required four rod-puppeteers, and took 30 minutes to get up and running.
“Using practical effects was crucial,” says Rubin. “If you look at films like Gremlins, all the effects are done in-camera and not in post. I took a look at some of the CG stuff, and we’re oversaturated with CG anyway, but the CG at the price point we were at is a different level of artist. The execution would have been so Sharknado-bad.” He adds, “I wasn’t trying to mock the genre, but pay tribute to it.”
Zombeavers originated with Al Kaplan, one of Rubin’s screenwriting partners, who thought of the title, and the rest, well, explained itself.
“It just made me laugh so hard that I was onboard,” says Rubin, with a chuckle. “It’s one of those titles where you can see the whole thing in front of you.”
After light prodding by comedy guru Judd Apatow, who’d directed a 2010 Funny or Die short from a script by Rubin, they (Rubin and brothers Al and Jon Kaplan) hammered out the screenplay to Zombeavers. Then, Rubin sent it over to his college classmate, Evan Astrowsky, who produced Cabin Fever.
Astrowsky loved it.
The film secured about $1.5 million in funding—which would maybe cover the push-up bra budget on a Michael Bay film—and then Rubin and Co. held an open casting call, populating their film with mostly unknowns (save Palm, who’d starred in several B-movies). They proceeded to shoot the film over 21 days at the Disney Ranch in Santa Clarita, California, as well as an additional pick-up day on the Kern River in upstate California to capture a “hazardous waste materials” barrel floating downstream.
“We had a rope attached to the barrel but it broke because the rapids were so strong, so this barrel that had ‘hazardous waste materials’ written all over it went missing,” says Rubin. “The FBI and local and state police flew in and eventually found it, and they threatened to slam us with a $100,000 lawsuit, but it got resolved because we had the right shooting permits.”
He laughs. “When you lose a ‘chemical waste’ barrel, especially in this age of bioterrorism, it’s not the best move.”
Despite the time constraints, Rubin and his merry band of young actors had a gay old time on set, whether it was dodging the beaver puppets, playing around with the phony viscera (food coloring mixed with Jell-O powder for thick, viscous blood, and rubber mixed with papier-mâché for guts), or coaxing a real live bear to do various stunts with a treat of mashed cookies and sardines, which the director calls “caviar for bears.”
At one point, Rubin even directed with a dildo.
“We’d had a scene that we had tried with a dildo on set, so I just started walking around with a dildo directing the actors,” he says. “It would be in moments where it was a very serious scene, or where they weren’t aware of what I was doing with my hands, so they’d start out listening to me very intently, and then after a few minutes, they’d realize I was holding a dildo.”
The hijinks make sense when you consider Rubin’s background. After a few years of stand-up, his first professional writing gig was for the VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards—scenes of which were edited into the film Zoolander. Various other comedy writing gigs followed, including a few MTV Movie Awards ceremonies, The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, and his personal favorite: Crank Yankers. He not only performed prank calls on the show as “Dr. Premise” and “Batman’s Nemesis”—where he’d pretend to be calling information to gather intel on Batman—but also wrote “90 percent of the Tracy Morgan calls” and “the Dave Chappelle calls.”
“At the time, there were only 13 consent states where you could record a call where only one person on the line knew you were recording it, and L.A. wasn’t one of those states,” he says, “so we had to go to Las Vegas to do it. Comedy Central would fly us to Las Vegas once a week and put us up at the Four Seasons to make prank phone calls. How can you ask for a better gig than that?”
But one of his first big gigs was the five years (1999-2003) he spent as a head writer for The Man Show, a rowdy bro-fest hosted by Adam Corolla and Jimmy Kimmel. And Rubin isn’t the least bit shocked by the latter’s current late-night gig.
“He was such a talented guy and a workaholic that his success now doesn’t surprise me at all,” says Rubin. “Jimmy’s high school license plate said, ‘L8NIGHT.’ He worshipped Letterman and always wanted to be a talk show host.”
Rubin pauses. “To a similar degree, you can make an argument about Zombeavers. I’m not making The Seventh Seal here, but I had fun with it for a first film, and genre films are a good entryway into more serious filmmaking.”