Choreographer Jennifer Weber Shares What It Was Like on Set for "ZOMBIES 2"
I know it might be crazy, but did you hear—that ZOMBIES 2 comes out this week? It’s been almost two years since the first ZOMBIES installment was released on Disney Channel, and we’ve had a Zed-shaped hole in our hearts ever since. Luckily, we get even more zombie-cheerleader magic this Friday, February 14.
had the chance to speak with choreographer Jennifer Weber about what it was like to create all of the amazing dancing for ZOMBIES 2. Read on—because it’s going to be extraordinary!
Dance Spirit: What drew you to ZOMBIES 2 initially? What made you excited about this project?
I instantly fell in love with the first ZOMBIES movie from the brilliant opening number. The film has such a great vibe—and an important message about acceptance and holding on to your beliefs, even when others challenge what you think. ZOMBIES is filled with great music and lots of excellent choreography, so I knew working on the sequel would be an amazing opportunity to tell a great story on a very big scale, which was super exciting to me. I could also tell from the first film how brilliant the cast was. I knew they would bring so much style to the dance numbers.
DS: This was your choreographic debut in film. What’s different about choreographing for a movie?
Recently, I’ve been working a lot in musical theater, which I think is great preparation for film since, in both mediums, choreography is directly linked to storytelling. Whereas concert dance is often abstract, in film and theater, you have to make sure your audience can follow the narrative. And in film, I loved having the ability to change the visual perspective of the audience and being able to bring them much closer or much further away from the choreography. The camera functions a lot like lighting on stage.
DS: What did your choreographic process look like on ZOMBIES 2?
Just like in musical theater, I started with the script to get a clear sense of the overall arc of the plot. When I read the script, I thought about the different characters and how dance impacts each individual storyline. Then I spent a lot of time brainstorming with the director, Paul Hoen, about specific moments in the film, and how we might use choreography to translate emotional or narrative ideas into danced visuals. I also sent Paul lots of dance videos so that if I was talking about, say, a b-boy section, in his head, he would have an accurate idea of what I meant and that it was different than house or locking or popping-inspired choreography. I wanted to make sure we were speaking the same language.
Since I didn’t know any dancers in Toronto where we were filming, we held big auditions to cast dancers for the film and to build a skeleton crew to start to develop the choreography in a studio. We had about three weeks to draft the nine dance numbers. After that, the cast had about four weeks of rehearsal before we started filming.
Weber at the world premiere of ZOMBIES 2 (courtesy LSG Public Relations)
DS: How would you describe your choreography in the movie?
There are so many different types of choreography in the film. I’d say overall, my choreography is explosive, energized, stylized, and fun!
DS: How did you create stylistic differences between the groups groups, like the zombies, the cheerleaders, and especially the werewolves, who are new to this movie?
It was really important to me that the choreography for each of these groups was distinctive. Since I was never a cheerleader, I collaborated with professional cheer coaches so that the cheer movement would be as authentic as possible.
I wanted the zombies to feel like a dance crew, whose power came from their unity. For them, I fused old-school locking with new-school swag, and created a unique hip-hop vocabulary that felt right for the group.
In contrast, the werewolves live in the woods and have a grounded, earthy vibe so their moves were inspired by a lot of house footwork and floor combos. The werewolves felt to me more like a family that would celebrate their individuality.
DS: Was there one group you enjoyed working with in particular?
It’s really hard to pick a favorite since I had so much fun making all the choreography, but the werewolves didn’t really exist before me, so I felt a special love for their style.
DS: What was it like working with such a young cast?
The cast had such positive, fun energy. Everyday, everyone brought so much love to the project. They worked so hard that it was easy to forget how young everyone was!
DS: We at Dance Spirit are huge fans of ZOMBIES star Milo Manheim—he was amazing on “Dancing with the Stars”! What was it like working with him?
Milo is amazing to work with. He is such a positive person and works super hard. He also knows how to make movement look good. Since he is so much taller than I am, it was always fun to see how steps translate on to his body—he can make everything so big which is great on camera.
DS: Do you have any favorite memories from working on the film?
JW: So, so many! In particular, I really loved making the big werewolf scene in the wolf den. I’d seen photos of what it would look like, but nothing prepared me for the absolute awesomeness of walking on that set for the first time. It was the first really big number we shot, and seeing all the dancers in costume and hair and makeup absolutely smashing the choreo in this gorgeous environment blew my mind. It felt like I was living in a dream.