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An Interview with Filmmaker and Director Zack Burkett and Actor Kevin Saunders, of Kung Pao Corpse

Updated: Sep 9, 2020

What do you think would happen when a delivery guy delivers pizza to a cemetery? (Funny question, right?) This was the question that came across the mind of filmmaker and director Zack Burkett, (Atlanta Film and TV's own! ) before writing the hilarious short film, Kung Pao Corpse.

Kung Pao Corpse tells the story of Ryan, a Chinese food delivery guy, and his surprising experience making a delivery.

Last week, Atlanta Film and TV sat down and chatted with Zack Burkett and award-winning actor, Kevin Saunders, who plays George Hanksmith.

Atlanta Film and TV: Tell us a little bit about yourselves and what it is you do in the Atlanta Film and Television Industry.

Zack Burkett: I’m Zack Burkett, and I moved to Atlanta, GA from Maryland about three years ago to try my hand in the film industry. I’m a writer and I’ve directed a handful of short films that have screened in film festivals. I sometimes do freelance editing and I'm also a contributing writer for Atlanta Film and TV. Writing is definitely my greatest passion.

Filmmaker and Director, Zack Burkett

Kevin Saunders: I’m Kevin Saunders and I’m an actor, and I’m also a writer and director. I have worked as an Audition Coach, where I coach actors on how to prepare for their auditions. I also worked with Atlanta Movie Tours, where we showed all the filming locations for productions that were filmed in Atlanta, such as Black Panther, The Walking Dead, as well as the Marvel movies. When I’m not pursuing my acting career, I’m helping other people reach their goals and showing them the great things that are happening here in Atlanta.

Award-winning actor, Kevin Saunders

Atlanta Film and TV: Describe the process of bringing Kung Pao Corpse together?

Zack Burkett: It was a super-fun process, and everybody we worked with was incredible! It’s all thanks to our friend Pierce Lackey, who got the project in motion with an event that he hosts called, The Pool which is a showcase for local independent filmmakers. It’s like a mini film festival, minus the judging and the awards. We attended The Pool, and that was where we met Jack Ha who played Ryan in Kung Pao Corpse, and Brady Holcomb who became our director of photography.

I’d already had the idea for Kung Pao Corpse in the back of my mind, which I shared with Kevin while driving home from attending The Pool that night. I told him, Dude, you and that guy Jack would be perfect for this idea that I’ve got. I basically pitched the story to Kevin in the car and he loved the idea. Immediately after that, we got the ball rolling on the project! We were fortunate to get Jack and Brady involved in the film and everything just fell into place perfectly. Without the networking we did at Pierce’s event that night, Kung Pao Corpse would definitely never have gotten made.

Kevin Saunders: One thing I’m big on is the community here in Atlanta, and I was friends with Jack before filming this project and I also knew Pierce from an acting class we took together. So, it was cool that Zack met these guys that night, and saw how we all meshed. The Pool was an awesome event to meet other collaborators. So, when Zack brought up his idea, I thought wouldn’t it be cool if we all came together to get the film created?

Atlanta Film and TV: What was the timeframe - (from writing to filming to editing) of this entire project?

Zack Burkett: We attended The Pool event in July 2019. After meeting some of our future cast and crew, I was so inspired that I wrote the script within a day, with Kevin and Jack in mind. The vision was so clear that everything just flowed out naturally onto the page. After the script was written, we had a couple of production meetings and began planning, and that’s when we got everyone else on board.

We shot the film over two long overnight shoots in late September, from sundown until early morning. I spent a couple of weeks editing. We had a final product by October, in time for Halloween. In all, the project took about three months from conception to completion.

What was the inspiration behind Kung Pao Corpse?

Zack Burkett: The initial inspiration came when I was driving to Savannah, which is famous for its cemeteries. I drove past a cemetery, and I had a thought: What if a pizza delivery guy was delivering a pizza to a cemetery for some reason? From there I asked, What would that reason be? And, from that, the story was born. Of course, the pizza guy later became a Chinese delivery driver, which I thought was much more interesting and allowed more opportunity for nuance.

But the final film was truly inspired the night we all met at The Pool because that was when the team really came together. I was able to visualize the characters when I pictured Kevin and Jack in those roles and I thought, Oh, we could do this!

Atlanta Film and TV: Kevin, how long have you been acting?

Kevin Saunders: I first started doing theater acting back in college a little over ten-years-ago. I then shifted into film acting when I transferred to the University of Maryland. I was on the professional-side of acting and went full into the film industry in 2018, and I left my career job. It was no longer about balancing my career and acting, it was like I’m going all in!

Jack Ha and Kevin Saunders

Atlanta Film and TV: What intrigued you about this project?

Kevin Saunders: One fun fact about both Zack and me is that we’re both from Maryland and we both attended college together. When I first moved to Atlanta, I wanted to form a team of creatives that are willing to create and make cool content. And, with Zack as my roommate and being in the same industry, I always stressed that it would be in vain if we’re living together and we don’t try to create stuff. Whenever he shares any ideas, it’s pretty much a guaranteed yes for any project that I felt like we should be working on. So, when this project was being birthed and rooted, it was cool to be a part of the creative process that came together organically.

Atlanta Film and TV: How did you get into character for this role?

Kevin Saunders: This was probably one of the few roles that I ever had, that I was able to play myself. For one, I played a Zombie and it was a Zombie version of myself. But, as far as the make-up process (shoutout to Jeremy Ledbetter) it took about two hours to complete. The make-up was liquid latex, so it wasn’t that bad, but, whenever I do a film, I try to get the powder makeup instead of the liquid because I HATE makeup on my face. But, the make-up for this project, I rolled with it and got into character. But, one of the hardest things for me was the contact lenses I wore, I could not see a thing! And, the fact that I was in dirt and bugs were crawling on me and I don’t like spiders at all - so, it was one of those things where I couldn’t see anything, so I had to take a deep breath and completely immerse myself in the dirt.

Atlanta Film and TV: What color were the contact lenses you wore?

Kevin Saunders: The contact lenses I wore were milky white. And, with most white contact lenses, you can’t see out of them. But, maybe the ones that are on the high-end, you can probably see out of those, but, even the ones the background actors use on The Walking Dead - you’re blind and the PA’s have to walk you where you need to be. So, a lot of times when the Zombies are tripping, it's not acting, they’re actually tripping because they can’t see.

Zack Burkett, Jack Ha, and Kevin Saunders on the set of Kung Pao Corspe

Zack Burkett: We had to walk Kevin to and from the set because he couldn’t see where he was going. Kevin never saw the set he was on until after he took the contacts off. We shot all his coverage first so we could wrap his shots and he could go wash his make-up off. Later he came back on set (without the contact lenses in) and saw for the first time the set he’d been on for hours. I loved his reaction. He said, Oh my God guys. This set looks so good!

Kevin Saunders: The set was beautiful. When I finally was able to see the set after I took the contact lenses off, I was like, Wow! Y'all did this? It was like a whole new world!

The Cast and Crew of Kung Pao Corspe

Atlanta Film and TV: What would be a piece of advice you have for aspiring filmmakers and actors?

Zack Burkett: As far as filmmaking goes, there are three important things. The first is, you don’t have to go to film school in order to be a filmmaker. It helps, sure, but it’s not necessary. Secondly, practice. Create your own content, don’t worry about quality at first because that’s how you learn. Trial and error. And the third thing is to network. Get out there, attend events, and meet people. Go to festivals, talk to people because a huge part of it is about who you know. If you’re in Atlanta, you already have a leg up because you are in the right place at the right time. Everybody here works in the industry and you will inevitably meet someone who can be of help. Take advantage of that. Get out and make those connections! Kung Pao Corpse is a testament to that. That’s literally how our film got made.

Also, and this might sound obvious, but watch films. You can learn so much from simply watching and observing. Be mindful, take notes, and learn from great directors. Mimic what they do, but put your own spin on it. There are also websites you can use such as SkillShare, Masterclass, or Lynda. If you don’t have money for these premium services, watch YouTube tutorials. There are videos that will teach you how to edit, shoot, whatever it is you want to learn in regards to filmmaking. You can learn to do practically anything from YouTube.

Kevin Saunders: I’ll say in regards to acting and filmmaking, like Nike, Just Do It! A lot of times, people feel like they have to have the best equipment and the best training, but in actuality, it’s just experiencing it as well. You can put a pro or someone who has skill on an iPhone, they’ll be able to excel and show the awesomeness of filmmaking through an iPhone because they’ve developed a skill set.

Like Zack stated before, networking is key. YouTube University is free and is a great starting point for filmmakers. I’ve used it to better myself in Videography and I’m learning a lot about different equipment and how to grow as an actor.

The same thing in regards to acting. ACT! When you get a chance to act, ACT! If you’re new to acting and don’t know where to start, someone might say, Hey! My buddy is shooting a video in his backyard and wants you to act something out - Do it! If there’s a play at your local theater, audition for a role. Constantly re-work those acting muscles like when you go to the gym and continue to grow. You don’t always have to aim for the best of the best, just work with what you’ve got.

For more updates on Kung Pao Corpse, you can follow Zack Burkett at @jedimastermisu and Kevin Saunders @kevotheactor

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