Movies are one of the main sources of entertainment for people all around the world and there are many small and independent film companies that aim to produce quality work and serve as a means of help boost the careers of aspiring screenwriters, actors, directors, film editors and set and costume designers. Most indie companies take on movies that fall into specific genres and horror and comedy are two of the most popular types of films among fans of underground and semi-low-key cinema. Hence, it is not unsurprising that horror and comedy are often fused to create highly imaginative, extremely offbeat, and subsequently memorable films that are a driving force behind a sizable portion of the independent film industry. The bizarrely plotted—yet aptly titled—“Zombie Cats from Mars” is just such a film.
“Zombie Cats from Mars” came together thanks to a successful crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter. Directed by Montetré (“Holed Up”) and written by Ryan Cloutier, the “catastrophe” is due for release early this year. “Portlandia” star Ernest Adams appears alongside Jonah Kersey, Stephanie Leet, Bransen Sands Koehler, Julie Marie Howard, and Edward Kopf in this zany and fun horror romp that’s part “Gremlins,” part “Critters.” Since it’s a movie about cats, writer and producer Ryan Cloutier furnished the supporting roles with furrier thesps while Marci Koski, an animal behavior specialist and volunteer with the Furry Friends organization, supplied animal talent for the film. According to the synopsis on the official press release:
The story centers on Billy, an effeminate fan of vintage science fiction action thrillers. His only friend is Cameron, a nerdy film buff who tries to boost his confidence whenever he can. After seeing a UFO land, Billy retreats into his head, imagining that aliens are taking over the town. Cameron is skeptical, as is the rest of the town. Meanwhile, people are starting to die. First, the reclusive cat lady, Percis, is discovered mutilated by Lester, the church-going husband of Carolyn, Percis’s depressed caretaker. Random deaths soon follow, first a jogger, and then a janitor at the Carbonics Warehouse. A pair of news reporters shares this information with the public while the Detective and his Chief try to solve the killings. Meanwhile, the killings continue. Billy, wrapped up in a world of fiction, discovers a story in which Martian Cats land on Earth and inflict horrors upon the town. Confident that the killings are the result of the UFO delivering alien cats, he sets off on his own superhero mission to save the town.
Sounds silly? Well that’s precisely the point—it’s supposed to be silly and zany and funny which will make it more memorable. Although the film is still in post-production and therefore not yet available for previews, I had the opportunity to interview screenwriter Ryan Cloutier about his involvement in this film and his experiences as a screenwriter in general:
Q: What inspired you to become a screenwriter?
Working with Montetré, the director of “Zombie Cats from Mars,” inspired me to write. He’s written the last few projects we’ve jointly been involved in. He’s a good writer, but very different stylistically than I am. He’s much more colorful in his writing. Basically, I wanted to see how my own voice translated to the screen. We jointly wrote a couple of scripts and that built up my confidence in writing for screen. I’d been used to academic writing and writing for stage in such a formal way. I wanted the chance to explore ideas and absurdities.
Q: What are your favorite genres to write in and why?
I like writing drama tinged with comedy, or absurdist comedy. My favorite elements are heightened real-world scenarios and observational humor. I enjoy making people laugh, and I think people respond well to humor to which they can relate.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for “Zombie Cats from Mars”?
We screened “Holed-Up” at the Hollywood Theatre last summer. Friends, cast, crewmembers, orchestra members and their families attended it. The turnout was pretty good but less than what we had hoped. When we were leaving the theatre, we saw a line around the block for a showing of “Internet Cat Videos” that was playing after “Holed-Up.” A few months after that, I was helping Montetré do some work for a fellow local filmmaker. We were talking about how much work and energy we put into filmmaking, and how sometimes it seems no one really cares. It seems there are so many filmmakers nowadays vying for attention that everything gets muddled. I casually mentioned that we could make “Zombie Cats from Mars,” and everyone would love it. I imagined that it would be a terribly thin plot, full of cliché and unnecessary exposition, and be chock full of two-dimensional characters no one would care about. We then pondered the irony of being recognized for our most meritless work. We stayed up all night coming up with ideas and building characters. The next morning, I began the script. As I started to write, the characters got more complex. Montetré would suggest plot elements that I’d weave into the story. It sort of took off from there, and turned out way more interesting than either one of us had imagined.
Q: How did you decide to fund this project on Kickstarter and how did you promote it?
We had attempted to use Kickstarter a couple of times before and failed. For “Holed-Up” we ended up creating our own crowd-funding program called “High-Five”, where we basically asked everyone we knew to paypal us $5 (or $25, $55, etc) through a link on our website. That ended up working quite well. We chose to use Kickstarter again because we felt that “Zombie Cats from Mars” had more appeal to people outside of our circle. It’s an eye-catching name. We ended up getting a lot of backers from all over the world. Aside from Facebook and Twitter, we got onto a couple of blogs that promoted our campaign (promotehorror.com for example). A lot of pledges just came from people searching Kickstarter. We were pretty high up on the horror rankings, so I think a lot of it had to do with being discovered there. We started a second Kickstarter campaign (which is still active) after we saw the success of Exploding Kittens. They were basically selling their card game through pledges. We figured we could sell DVDs through pledges, and then use that money to finish post-production and show the film locally.
Q: If you could write in any genre, without financial constraints, what kind of film would you create and why?
I’ve never been a fan of huge budgets and special effects. I enjoy simplicity, so I would create a film with solid characters and a lot of heart, mixed with comedy and tragedy and set it somewhere gorgeous. It’d be fun to do a location shoot in the middle of nowhere.
Q: Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to mention?
Montetré and I are working on a vampire movie called “Glare.” He actually wrote that one, and I am producing. We’ve filmed a lot of promo stuff already. Much of it takes place in a small town in Central Oregon. There’s more information on it at www.glaremovie.com.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is aspiring to become a screenwriter?
Go for it! Write, let people read it, and be wide open to their criticism and opinions. Do an informal table read, and have a discussion about the movie. Also, observe everything. There’s so much material all around. I always draw from real-life experiences and things that have been said to me throughout my life. Take notes whenever you hear or see something that’s interesting. It is real world, and those real world elements will add life to your story.
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To find out more about Ryan Cloutier visit his IMBD: