Actor Hamza Jeetooa has invented a new term in TV filming – the “reverse of shame”. As he told the RTS Midlands audience at the premiere of new ITV2 comedy horror series Zomboat!, it happens when you’re shooting on a narrow boat and make a mistake.
Jeetooa said: “If you messed up your line, the boat team had to get on and very slowly reverse the boat back to the starting spot. That’s the reverse of shame.”
The 69ft narrow boat, called Dorothy, is the fifth star of Zomboat!. It plays a vital role as the very slow means of escape for sisters Kat and Jo and friends Sunny (Jeetooa) and Amar when a zombie apocalypse breaks out in Birmingham.
Dorothy offered great comedy opportunities, chugging away just a little faster than the zombies stumbling along the towpath, but filming on a narrow boat presented more challenges than the reverse of shame.
Speaking in the appropriate canalside setting of the IET in Birmingham, Leah Brotherhead, who plays Kat, said: “Conditions were very cramped as there were four of us and a crew onboard. The spaces they got into were impressive."
"We started checking cupboards and the sound man really did live in the toilet.”
All the actors learned how to drive the boat, if not how to reverse it.
Cara Theobold, who plays Jo, said: “Driving it isn’t that hard. What’s difficult is if you are also acting and are surrounded by a camera rig and safety boats."
"The pressure is to say all your lines and not crash into a wall.”
Another issue was filming with realistic zombies on the towpath, much to the surprise of dog walkers and, in one memorable instance, a primary school. The headmaster asked if they could hide the terrifying undead during breaktime.
Birmingham has played host to zombies before, in the Glenn Close film The Girl with All the Gifts. It was also a location for another post-apocalyptic film, Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, but the city is usually disguised. It’s rare to get a drama filmed and set in Birmingham that includes iconic landmarks such as the Bullring.
Writer and director Adam Miller said: “Birmingham has 35 miles of canals, more than Venice, and it felt quite important to make Zomboat! somewhere else than London. It’s a show that moves and Birmingham is at the hub of Britain, so it gives us a lot of opportunities.
“I wanted to do a chase movie on a narrow boat because it’s funny. It turns out that everything is faster than a narrow boat except zombies.”
Executive producer Camilla Campbell, joint MD of the indie behind the series, Noho Film and TV, said: “When I found out it was set on a narrow boat, I thought, ‘That’s mad, in either a bad or a good way.’ I read the script and decided it was very good.
“ITV2 has been absolutely amazing and supportive. They want shows that are vibrant and fun and will appeal to young people, and Zomboat! does that.
“We loved the idea of seeing this genre through female eyes. I felt like I hadn’t seen it before, certainly not on British TV recently. To add in two British Asian characters felt really organic.”
Zomboat!, which began its six-part run on ITV2 in early October, is a co-production with Hulu, which will broadcast it in the US.
Campbell said: “Hulu got it straight away and they weren’t bothered about the Brummie accents. The only problem we had was that they didn’t understand ‘Marigolds’. We considered changing it to rubber gloves but that’s not as funny, so we’ve stuck with Marigolds.”
The RTS Midlands premiere of ITV2’s Zomboat! took place at the IET in Birmingham on 3 October. The event was hosted by Ayo Akinwolere and produced by Becky Jones-Owen.