Universal Dead Takes on Zombies, Gets a Feature Deal

Oh, zombies. No matter how many times people say that the genre is dead, it comes back to life again. (Sorry.) But tales of the undead keep coming, not because of some virus-like infection, but because people keep finding new approaches to telling these stories: storytelling innovation that transcends medium.

The independently created web series Universal Dead, created by Kelly Parks, Vernon Mortensen and Neil Trusso, is just one example of this. Launched in March 2010, Dead was originally written as a screenplay, which Parks then adapted as a web series for Mortensen to direct. The three episodes released show a world overrun by “the infected,” focusing on a government scientist (Gary Graham) who visits a military base that’s made advances in understanding the disease — at perhaps too high a cost.

The cast is solid: Doug Jones in a rare not-covered-in-latex role brings a ghoulish edge to his scientist role. Graham is only a little bit hammy, and hands up, girls who still love D.B. Sweeney even eighteen years after the release of The Cutting Edge, because I know you’re out there. It’s no Piranha 3-D, but these are players who could easily support a watchable B-movie version of this project.

That was the intent the entire time. The motivation for creating a web series, Parks said last month at the San Diego edition of Celebrate the Web, was purely to get exposure for his story so it could be acquired by a studio: an approach that worked, as right around Comic-Con, Unconventional Films announced a deal to produce a 3-D feature film version of the series.

Dead isn’t the most professionally produced web series I’ve ever seen; some moments of direction feel awkward, and the editing could be a little tighter. But if you find yourself wondering what about Universal Dead inspired interest in a feature version, though, the answer is in Episode Three.

Not only is it the series’ most visually interesting installment, but it introduces a sci-fi twist that I’ve never seen applied to this genre before, one that not only explains an important yet rarely addressed zombie-related issue but has potential to really explode the concept.

As a result, I’m disappointed that there won’t be any further episodes of Universal Dead, especially since the feature version won’t be complete until late 2011. However, there’s no denying that the strategy worked, and is another example of an increasingly important truth about web content: Making a successful web series entails knowing exactly what you want to get out of it.

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