Zombie TV series films in Spokane this summer

SPOKANE, Wash. — A zombie virus gripping the nation has hit Spokane and it’s expected to spread rapidly — to more than 1,000 actors hired to play the undead.

The latest entry into the growing catalog of zombie stories in the entertainment world, the new television series “Z Nation,” is in the midst of filming its 13-episode first season in northeast Washington state.

A recent shoot caused more than 100 people working on location to descend on a suburban office building. There were actors, photographers, sound men, lighting people, caterers, makeup artists and dozens of extras made up to look like walking corpses.

It all costs about $70,000 a day, said Rich Cowan, a co-founder of North by Northwest, the Spokane company that provides production services for the show.

“It’s a $10 million series in terms of spending in Spokane,” Cowan said of the filming expected to last into fall.

Washington Filmworks, a non-profit group that helped bring the show to the state, said “Z Nation” will employ several hundred actors and crew, along with more than 1,000 extras to play zombies.

“It’s big, very big,” said executive director Amy Lillard. “Episodic work represents some of the best paying, most consistent work for cast and crew.”

She estimated “Z Nation” will provide over 12,000 worker days for Washington residents.

The show will be broadcast on the Syfy network, starting in September. Syfy is hoping to grab some of the high ratings enjoyed by the zombie series “The Walking Dead” on AMC.

Cowan said this is the first television series he is aware of that has been shot in Spokane. The city of 210,000 residents has been the location for dozens of movies, many produced in the past decade by North by Northwest.

For “Z Nation,” Spokane is a stand-in for most of the nation.

The series is set three years after a zombie virus has devastated the United States. A group of ordinary people must transport the only known survivor of the plague from New York to California, where a laboratory will analyze his blood, according to the Syfy website.

With humanity’s survival at stake, the group embarks on a journey across 3,000 miles of “rusted-out post-apocalyptic America,” according to the website.

Apparently, nothing says rusted-out post-apocalyptic America like Spokane.

Cowan said the Spokane region has urban, suburban, rural and wilderness-like locations that will supply the needs of the series.

“We’ve made seven movies set in New York in Spokane,” Cowan noted.

“Z Nation” is produced by The Asylum, which made the iconic recent television movie “Sharknado.” Karl Schaefer is the show runner.

The cast is led by Harold Perrineau, Tom Everett Scott, DJ Qualls, Michael Welch and Kellita Smith. Also in the cast are Anastasia Baranova, Russell Hodgkinson and Keith Allan.

“It happened kind of quickly,” Scott said of his casting.

“I read the script and wanted to be part of it,” Scott said between takes. “I was up here killing zombies before I knew it.”

Scott described himself as a fan of zombie movies such as “28 Days Later” and George Romero’s undead oeuvre.

The show sticks to the established rules of the zombie genre, with one twist, Scott said.

“The fresher the zombie, the faster he is,” Scott said.

This day, the crew was filming a scene for the fourth episode that takes place in an elevator shaft. They were set up in a large, unfinished floor of an office building — standing in for the National Security Agency offices in Washington, D.C. — where a faux elevator shaft had been created. An actor made up as a zombie tried to bite actor Russell Hodgkinson, who was trapped in the shaft.

“No, no,” Hodgkinson cries. “Make it stop!”

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