CCI | Garth Ennis Gets <i>Stitched</i>

The cast and crew of Stitched met with members of the press Thursday night at Comic-Con International to discuss the horror short film, which marks the directorial debut of acclaimed comic-book writer Garth Ennis.

The 15-minute film follows three American soldiers (Tank Jones, Lauren Alonzo and Kate Kugler) whose helicopter crashes in the Taliban-controlled mountains of Afghanistan. As they struggle to survive the harsh conditions, they’re attacked by a pack of mysterious zombie-like creatures – the stitched of the title – and encounter a group of British military, played by Andrew DeCarlo, Kevin Tye and Carlo LaTempa.

Designed as a prologue to a potential full-length feature, Stitched is light on explanation and heavy on action, with a few standout gore scenes that will come as little surprise to fans of Ennis’ work on comics like Preacher and The Boys. The script will also serve as the basis for comic series by Ennis and artist Mike Wolfer, set to be published in November by Avatar Press, which produced the short with Brian Pulido’s Mischief Maker Studios.

The film was shot in the Arizona desert, where the remote location and the 100-plus-degree heat posed obvious challenges for the cast.

“Out in the desert, we had to be shipped out to the set every day,” Tye, who plays the British soldier Dave, told CBR News. “It was a lot like being in a hot zone. I enjoyed the rugged journey and the bouncing around to get there.”

“We had a mattress out there that we could just pass out on because of [the heat]” said LaTempa, who portrays British soldier Baz. “Well, it was for stunts,” added Kugler, who plays U.S. soldier Twiggy, “but it also got used for naps.”

Ennis kept the two sets of soldiers, American and British, segregated during the shoot, forbidding them to interact off-camera.

“I hadn’t known the actors beforehand, so it was really ‘Wow! I don’t know this person’ when we first see each other on screen,” Tye said.

“I [finally] got to know Tank today,” LaTempa said. “We spent five hours in the car together driving here.”

The actors said they would like to continue their involvement with Stitched, should it be developed as a full-length film. “I think there’s a lot more to tell,” Tye said.

“Garth has the whole story in his head, but we know we don’t all survive,” LaTempa observed.

“When he says ‘you all won’t survive,’ though, he means them!” Tye joked, pointing to his castmates. “I’m gonna buy him a few Guinness later on and hope that he keeps me in it.”

“I will be outside Avatar Press, I will be outside Garth’s house and then I will happily run, jump and moonwalk through the desert to get [a sequel],” Jones said, adding that if a feature does happen, it would probably begin shooting next year.

This was the first Comic-Con for all the actors, and Tye was taken aback when he saw so many fans dressed as their favorite characters. “I knew I should have worn my leopard-skin leotard,” he said. “I left it at home!”

Part of the Stitched crew – producers Brian Pulido, Francisca Pulido and Ed Polgardy, director of photography Adam Goldfine, and Eric “Z” Zaragoza, who played one of the stitched – then came in to discuss the production.

Goldfine said he spent a lot of time getting to know Ennis before the shoot, as he would be working closely with the director during filming. “We had an understanding of how we would work together and got an idea of what, specifically, he was looking for,” he said. “So by the time we actually got to shooting it was all planned out. Garth was great to work with, very even-tempered.”

“Especially for a guy who had never even walked on a movie set before,” agreed Brian Pulido, who was impressed by how well Ennis was able to handle his directing duties.

“It was all shot on location in an area where human beings generally don’t hang out,” said Francisca Pulido, detailing some of the changes the director faced. “Also, there weren’t supposed to be planes overhead, but there were a ton of ‘weekend warrior’ planes,” added Brian Pulido. The noise meant that the entire shoot would often have to stop and wait until the planes had passed out of the range of the sound equipment.

Francisca Pulido, who scouted out the location for the shoot and also served as production designer, said it was difficult to find a stand-in for Afghanistan in the United States. However, she thinks she found it in Arizona. It wasn’t as lush as the real Afghanistan, but they chose to lean closer to what people think the country looks like.

Zaragoza discussed the difficulties he faced playing the stitched monsters. He wore a latex mask, which didn’t allow him to see, hear, talk or even breathe.  In between takes they would put a straw under the mask so he could breathe, than tap him on the shoulder so he could take a deep breath before each shot.

“There was no room -- it was right next to my skin,” he said. “It was awesome, but definitely not for the claustrophobic!”

Brian Pulido, who also edited the film, said his goal was “to shoot Garth’s script and edit it with zero changes.”

“We wanted to do everything exactly as Garth had written it,” he said. “We treated his text, even the actors, as though not one word could be changed. It made, for me as an editor, a really easy [post-production] job because I could just look at the script and know who was talking and when in the footage.”

Finally, Ennis himself took a minute out of his busy CCI schedule to talk with CBR News about his screenwriting and directorial debut.  He seemed to take his move into film in stride, sitting quietly by himself in the corner of the press room.

The genesis of Stitched began in September 2009 during a discussion between Ennis and Avatar Press founder William Christiansen.

“He was trying to get me to do new stuff, as usual, and I was saying no, as usual,” Ennis recalled. “He got a bit exasperated and asked me what it was I wanted to do and I said I’d always fancied a crack at directing.” Christiansen than recruited Brian Pulido, who put together a production team, and Stitched was born.

Ennis said he chose the Afghanistan desert as the setting because, “it’s one of the most remote, harshest, grimmest places in the world.”

“That’s before you even get on to the fact that there’s a war going on there,” he said. “I figured out early on I wanted to do an action story, and for me that usually means a war story. Afghanistan, not only did it gives us the possibility of some pretty harsh looking locations, it also has history.”

“God knows how many armies have come to grief trying to fight there, trying to invade there,” he added. “That was something that I wanted to play on a little bit.  As well as the notion of our heroes being trapped somewhere in the mountains, in the high country, instead of the endless desert you get in Iraq.”

The main cast consists of two female soldiers and one male solider, unusual considering how many war movies contain almost exclusively male soldiers. “That has to do with the peculiarity of a helicopter crew, and that will be explained later.”

“I did try to avoid too many clichés in this. One of the things Brian [Pulido] said to me early on was that the easiest thing to do when you’re making a short film is have six guys walk in to a warehouse. I thought I needed to go as far from that as I possibly can. Part of that was having a diverse cast.”

“I had a rough idea of it, but [framing shots] was probably where I had the most learning to do,” said Ennis. “I find working with actors pleasant, if not easy, but putting the shots together was a bit harder and that was where I relied on Adam Goldfine, the director of photography. I watched him put shots together, I suppose in the same way you watch a comic book artist choose his angles and the compositions of his frames.”

Moving on to the mythology behind Stitched, Ennis said he tried to make the zombie-like “stitched” as far from typical zombies as possible, including the ones in his own comic series Crossed.

“There’s no easy stuff,” he said. “You shoot them in the head and down they go. There’s no gore and blood flying about. They’re animated by a particular force that requires a little more thought to defeat. Also, they’re war zombies, they’re animated corpses adapted for warfare. Their creators have thought tacitly and created something that belongs on the battlefield.”

“One of [the stitcheds’] functions is as infiltrators. The rags they wear are the same color as the rock, so you can use them and they won’t move until they’re animated. You can leave them for years at a time and then you can reanimate them. They’re sort of like landmines in that regard. They don’t go off until someone passes by, that kind of thing. I tried to make theme military machines, as opposed to the usual walking corpse.”

Finishing up, Ennis said he hopes to write and direct more of his own films. “I’ve really got the hook in me, but this is ridiculously early to be banking on anything specifically.  I was the least experienced person on the entire set, so it’s too early on to say what I’ll do next, but certainly I’d like to do it.”

“We want to finish the story, we want to do more.”

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