In September 2015, Undead Burrito Productions released the first ten episode season of its original web series Brains. The series follows college neuropsychology student Alison Sumner as she navigates the dating world postzombie apocalypse. Bri Castellini returns as Alison Sumner, and we got a chance to ask her about this exciting web series and more…
-PH: So my famous first question, why horror? In this case, why zombies?
-Bri: I’m a big fan of all things supernatural and fantastical, and I’m also a big fan of making those things the least important part of a story. We have plenty of media where people are panicking about the apocalypse, so I wanted to tell a story where the apocalypse is just an annoyance to my characters, a distraction from what they do day to day. At the time I was first coming up with the concept that would become Brains, I was also writing a story with superheroes and a story with vampires, so zombies seemed like the next logical option. Plus, I’m a big fan of psychology, and zombies hungering for brains were the perfect match for that.
-PH: You’re the creator of “Brains,” so where did this idea come from, and let horror fans know about this series?
-Bri: Brains is about Alison Sumner, a college student vlogging about her life after the zombie apocalypse. Originally, the concept for Brains was a five minute play set in a piano practice room, which eventually served as a template for episode 5 of season 1. But five minutes didn’t seem like enough time to tell the story I wanted to tell, so after a few years of writing Brains as a short story, then a novel, then another short story, the web series format helped all the pieces fall into place.
-PH: You’re also the lead actress, writer, producer, and much more. How challenging is it to juggle all of those titles while making the series?
-Bri: It’s definitely pretty challenging! Especially because during season 1 I’d never really done filmmaking before. I was a prose and poetry writer for most of my life before grad school, so Brains season 1 was kind of a crash course in everything. I’d say the hardest part is producing, because it means the ultimate responsibility for everything is on my shoulders, and that’s a lot of pressure, but I’m the type of person who loves being in charge and loves being busy so I feel pretty at home. I also sometimes forget the whole “memorizing lines” thing while I’m making call sheets and planning craft services, which means it’s pretty lucky that I’m also the writer so it’s a lot easier for me to remember the words.
-PH: Alison is an interesting character. Do you share things in common with her, or did you create a character totally different from yourself?
-Bri: I like to say that Alison is exactly like me, she just makes more interesting (but less conscientious) choices. We’re both goal-oriented and very confident, but Alison is a bit more selfish and tends to value efficiency over empathy. That’s not to say that she’s a bad person, of course! The funny thing is that since I started playing Alison, I’ve become a more confident person in my regular life. She’s a force of nature, and I consider myself lucky to get to live in her shoes, even for just a little while at a time.
-PH: This isn’t a zombie series filled with a lot of blood and guts, but one more about the story and characters. Was it hard not to include the typical blood and guts seen with zombies?
-Bri: I wouldn’t say it was hard, but the best days on set were usually the ones with the more classic zombies, because it meant stunts and crazy behind the scenes pictures and just generally a good time. We have more of them in season 2, mostly because of this. What is hard is that we have such a limited budget, and zombie makeup takes time and a very particular set of skills. Our special effects makeup person from season 1 moved away right after wrapping production, so we were scrambling to find a new artist for season 2, and were worried that I might have to learn how to do that as well! Thankfully, James Gold, our fantastic new makeup artist, stepped in.
-PH: What I like about each episode is how different they are. One might be just Alison in her room, then another might be outdoors where action is happening in the background. Talk about the importance of giving the audience a little something different in each episode.
-Bri: Brains is inspired a lot by the Pemberly Digital web series- The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Frankenstein MD in particular. Those shows tend to only have one angle for the vlog, and while I appreciated how much of the story they managed to tell without ever moving the camera, I knew Alison would get restless if I made her stay in her room. Plus, I’m a YouTuber myself and have many videos on my channel where I’m walking around and filming people, so there was precedent for a vlogger to do such a thing in-story. I think the variety keeps people on their toes- you never know quite what you’ll get, and that’s exciting, especially for an apocalypse story.
-PH: You’ve done some of your own blogs in the past. Did that play a role in your decision to make this a web series? Did you ever think about doing something different with your story like maybe making it a book, or movie instead?
-Bri: I kind of accidentally answered this question already, but my experience as a vlogger definitely influenced Alison. Some clips from my own channel were actually used on the show, when Alison mentions that she was a vlogger before the apocalypse. And I tried to write Brains in a bunch of different formats, starting with a one-act play, moving on to half of a novel, then a variety of short stories. One short story actually got published a few years back by the Kudzu Review, although in that version, Alison is the zombie and Damian is human. Funny how things work out in the end.
-PH: After several twists and turns, season 1 ended with a cliffhanger, and season 2 is right around the corner. Can you give fans a sneak preview of what they can expect?
-Bri: Without giving too much away, season 2 will pick up right where season 1 left off, we will have twice as many episodes (a main 5 minute episode every Monday and a mini 60 second or less episode every Thursday), we get to see outside of campus a bit, and Alison moves into a new dorm.
-PH: Lets finish this off with life outside of the series. What do you do when taking a break from the series? Do you have any other projects coming up?
-Bri: Sometimes I forget there’s a life outside the series, and that’s not even a hyperbole. We filmed both seasons in under a year, which is absolutely bonkers, and I spend basically every waking moment either editing the new season, promoting, talking with film festivals, and organizing our transmedia accounts. Plus, I may or may not have already written season 3, complete with a fifteen page battle sequence for the finale that is way too expensive but would be so, so cool. In terms of non-Brains projects, I’m actually already mid-production for a short film that I wrote that will also serve as my traditional filmmaking directorial debut. Marshall Taylor Thurman, who plays Damian, and Colin Hinckley, who plays Carl in season 2, are both acting in it, and it’s about an asexual graphic designer with anxiety who learns about the stress-reducing properties of sex and decides to place a Craigslist ad for sex to see if it will help stop her panic attacks. The science and psychology is pretty much directly lifted from Brains season 2- I even reference the same rodent study in both!- but otherwise the short film isn’t horror related. I did also write another horror short film that I’d love to start working on, but I think I should probably take a break soon, for my sanity and for the sanity of those around me. Even if just for a month or two. But we’ll see.
We would like to thank Bri Castellini for taking the time to answer our questions. Hopefully this gave you a good look at “Brains,” and gets you ready for season 2. If you haven’t seen season 1, please visit the link below to watch it, and get more information on the series.
Follow Bri on Twitter @BrisOwnWorld