Sunday, April 25, 2021
Saturday, April 17, 2021
It was the year 2003, which was an important year in my life. This was the year a switch went off inside of me that changed who I was, perhaps forever. That sounds dramatic, I know, but what I mean is I went from being the kind of person who lacked the self-discipline needed to get much of anything done on my own without being told by a teacher or a boss to do it. This meant that when summer vacations rolled around, I would say to myself that I wanted to do all these things, read this or that book, write this or that screenplay or make this or that short film with my video camera, but what I usually ended up doing was playing video games, watching movies, hanging out with friends or skateboarding. I never got much of anything done…
That is, not until the summer of 2003. I had just completed my junior year of college at BU and, during that spring semester, I took a screenwriting class called Screenwriting II. This was the first screenwriting class within BU’s film program where we had to write a full-length (aka “feature-length”) screenplay. I wrote one and it was absolutely terrible…like, really bad. So bad. Bad-to-the-thousandth-power-bad. But the good news was that I learned what NOT to do the next time around.
That summer, I wrote a couple short screenplays, which turned out well, and then I began writing a second feature-length screenplay that I called WATERMELON 4032. What I didn’t know at the time was that this project would gestate in my creative womb for over the next 17 or 18 years and evolve into many shapes and forms and manifestations.
WATERMELON 4032 was about a punk teen who gets a summer job at a supermarket and kidnaps (in a polite way) all the exploited immigrant employees who work there. He does this to make a ‘punk’ statement about how dependent corporate America is on cheap immigrant labor. This script was largely based on my experiences working in two different supermarkets while in college.
4032 is the universal supermarket cashier PLU code for watermelon, so the title was meant to be a metaphor for the human brain (i.e. a melon) being programmed, or basically coded, into an existence of slavery-like conformity, kind of like a matrix. Sounds pretty fucking punk, right? Well, that was the point.
I started the WATERMELON 4032 screenplay in the summer of 2003, but I really only wrote the first Act or so (the equivalent of about 25 pages) and I ended up writing the rest of it that next fall semester for a class at BU called Screenwriting III. Although I got an A in that class and the professor loved the story, at the end of the day, the screenplay was very flawed and I threw it in a desk drawer for several years.
It wasn’t until 2007 that I finally took WATERMELON 4032 out of said drawer, gave it a read and had an epiphany. I knew the story was missing something and what I realized was that this ‘something’ was zombies, skateboarding and much, MUCH more punk. It also needed a new title. From that point forward, it would be known as SUPERMARKET ZOMBIES!
Thus, the new SUPERMARKET ZOMBIES! screenplay, formerly known as WATERMELON 4032, was born. I kept much of the exploited immigrant worker themes but also mixed in a lot more wackiness. In fact, I wanted the tone to almost be post-apocalyptic—nearly every character in the story behaves as though they’ve been exposed to some sort of toxic radiation and is kind of whacked out of their mind. I was very influenced by the movie Repo Man (starring Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton, written and directed by Alex Cox), which has a similar wacked-out tone to it.
My SUPERMARKET ZOMBIES! screenplay turned out nice but no producer, agent or literary manager out there ever wanted to do anything with it because they suck at life. So, around 2013, I eventually ended up turning the SUPERMARKET ZOMBIES! screenplay into a novel, which turned out well, but it didn’t really turn out VERY well until I completely rewrote the manuscript in 2019 (I then spent the next two years fine-tuning it, off and on). That’s when SUPERMARKET ZOMBIES! became something really special, at least in my arrogant opinion.
Now, there were two big literary influences that went into the writing of this final version of the novel. The first was Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises, which I read around the time that I was beginning the rewrite. What amazed me about that book was how Hemingway somehow transported me into the experience of bullfighting in a way that felt like I was actually there. I had never been to a bullfight before, never had any interest in it either, but he made me feel like I was literally in that world, going through the experience of a bullfight. I wanted to do this exact same thing, only with skateboarding. What I mean is that I assumed that most people reading my book would not be skateboarders or would not particularly be interested in skateboarding. But I wanted to literally transport them into the experience of skateboarding in a similar way to how Hemingway made me experience bullfighting. They would have no choice but to enjoy and appreciate and basically live the experience.
The other book that heavily influenced the SUPERMARKET ZOMBIES! rewrite was the Beastie Boys band memoir Beastie Boys Book. I read this book in early-2019 and I was so impressed with how fun it was. I mean, it was just bursting at the seams with fun energy. I don’t know how else to describe it other than to say it was full of life, full of freedom, and full of the human spirit. I wanted to capture a similar energy in SUPERMARKET ZOMBIES! so that’s what I set out to do.
FUN, however, is only one layer of the SUPERMARKET ZOMBIES! story. There is a lot of deep shit going on in SUPERMARKET ZOMBIES! … at least, I think there is. Overall, the book is about how life tries to throw shackles on the freedom and fun of the human spirit and usually (but unfortunately) wins. Among other things, this book is basically about a punk who tries to fight off these shackles for as long as fucking possible.
In a lot of ways, we’re all slaves and we don’t even know it. I kind of just had this realization now and I don’t even know if it’s appropriate but I wanted to state it here anyway. Does such a statement seem out of place? It might. I don’t know.
Okay, I will not say anything more. I’ll let the book speak for itself. Also, it’s best to shut up and let the readers decide what my books are about because, to be honest, I don’t even know what they’re about, at least not completely…they just come out of me and it is what it is, I guess. Nevertheless, I wanted to give a little story behind the story, to whet your appetite.
SUPERMARKET ZOMBIES! is now currently available as a Kindle eBook on Amazon.com. Also available is Burns’ memoir GARAGE MOVIE: MY ADVENTURES MAKING WEIRD FILMS. Find these books (and many more) at Matt Burns’ Amazon author page HERE.