Last night, I watched the 2007 mockumentary American Zombie. It wasn’t very good. From the outset, I felt a strange disconnect with the film, like I wasn’t the intended audience, or that it was sub-referencing things I didn’t get. It followed the Waiting for Guffman comedy-documentary paradigm, but the characters weren’t funny or memorable, and the jokes fell flat.
To be absolutely clear, American Zombie is not funny… at least, not funny to someone who hasn’t lived in California and who is not a part of filmmaking culture. You see, my best guess is that the “way” American Zombie is supposed to function is as a satire of the culture of advocacy and activism in places like San Francisco and Los Angeles. There are also in-jokes about the documentary making process that I think you have to be in the industry to get.
My first response, after viewing this film, was that I could probably write a funnier, more creative script for a zombie comedy documentary over a long weekend. However, upon reflection, I think that there is likely an audience that will find American Zombie very funny, but it is people who work in documentary filmmaking and live in California.
Final Thought: Several years ago, before I was a published writer, a successful author told me a joke. It goes:
“A writer is driving home from the store, and when he turns down his street he sees fire trucks and cop cars and an ambulance. When he gets closer, he sees that they’re all parked in front of his house. His wife and kid are outside talking to the police, and the firemen are hosing-down his house. The writer parks his car and runs over and says: ‘Honey, what happened?!?!’
“His wife says: ‘It was your agent! He barged in unannounced and started breaking things. Then he attacked me, attacked our son, set the house on fire, and drove off!’
“And the writer says: ‘Oh. My. God. My agent came to my house!?!?'”
I didn’t get this joke at the time. Then, a few years later, I finished a manuscript and started dealing with agents, and I realized: “Oh, hey… So, agents never get back to you, are impossible to reach in person, and are terrible about returning emails. So that’s what the joke was about.”
Watching American Zombie, I felt like I did when I heard that writer joke for the first time. I understood that something was being satirized, but I still didn’t get it.