Chip Gubera was in a serious bind.
It was the first day of filming for “Song of the Dead” — a musical about zombies — that was shot in Columbia and Rocheport, and the director had no leading lady.
“We had this other actress for the lead,” Gubera recalled, “but she pulled out with no explanation.”
Eventually, the solution came from another actor, who said to the director: “What about Kate, the script girl?”
And so Kate Gorman, the film’s script supervisor, came to play the lead role of Sandy King. Two days later, Gorman shot the first big number in the film.
“It was a gigantic leap of faith,” Gorman said.
Gubera, an MU alumnus, wrote, directed and co-produced “Song of the Dead,” which is being billed as an action-comedy-musical-horror film. The movie debuts at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Missouri Theatre. Tickets are $7, with all proceeds benefiting the theater.
Co-producer and Emmy award-winning film editor Bob Swope described the movie as a zombie musical about a Missouri family’s struggle to survive as a deadly virus infects the nation.
“It’s a bit unclear, but it looks as though perhaps the government inadvertently released the virus as something to help the population,” Swope said. “But it ends up bringing the dead back to life.”
The film also features a terrorist attack and underground horror legend Reggie Bannister, who plays a charismatic president. While Swope said the film is “a reflection of what’s happening in society,” Gubera promised that its message is not overly political or insensitive.
“We weren’t trying to make a piece to offend anybody,” Gubera said.
“Song of the Dead” began as a single scene submitted to Fangoria, a magazine for horror film buffs. The submission won an award in the publication’s Blood Drive 2004 contest. The film, in its entirety, was shot digitally last September in Columbia, Rocheport and Kansas City with a cast and crew of more than 200 people.
“People liken filmmaking to something sort of like warfare,” Gorman said. “You meet up again, and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, remember when that happened?’”
Gubera needed a large venue for the first screening, but chose the Missouri Theatre for more personal reasons.
“When I was in college, I did a documentary on the Missouri Theatre,” Gubera said. “I fell in love with the theater. I think that it’s a great place to give our money to.”
Gubera plans to screen “Song of the Dead” in Kansas City this spring and hopes to enter it in film festivals. If all goes well, Gubera wants to feature Columbia as a locale in another project.
“We’re planning on making another film here next fall or winter,” he said. “It all depends on if we sell this film or not.”