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Zombie school in session in Georgia

Whether it’s the recession…. or something else…. the ‘undead’ are rising in popular culture.  The Walking Dead, the most popular show on cable TV, is now shooting its third season outside Atlanta.  Swarms of actors and extras who’ve always dreamed of playing a zombie, a re-animated corpse that feeds on living humans, are vying for opportunities.  But playing the ‘undead’ is harder than you might think, as WABE News found out when she spent a day on the set at “Zombie school”.  

“The Walking Dead”, plans to shoot 16 episodes down in Senoia, south of Atlanta, which means plenty of casting opportunities for local wanna-be zombies.

Jenni Saini thinks she has what it takes.

“I think I’m half way there already, I’m  kind of tired all the time, so.”

Acting out a nightmare would be a dream come true for the slim, 23 year-old, South Carolina native.

“I grew up watching zombie movies with my dad, and always thought it would be really cool to be one of the hundreds of zombies, one of the hundreds of zombies, part of the hoard.”

Saini was one of 60 extras who came down to Raleigh Studios to audition for season three of the cult-like show. So was 42-year old David Goodwin.

“I love science fiction, fantasy, anything having to do with zombies, horror, and makeup.”

And at 7 feet and two inches tall, Goodwin thought he’d be a stand out zombie

But, as Jeni, David and the other extras starving for their big break learned, it takes more than monster height or emaciation to be a good ’walker’,  as zombies are  called here.  To be a believable, scary corpse endlessly looking for human flesh, it takes attitude.

“Because a lot of it is, they need to have the right physical attributes but they also have to be able to act and bring the characters to life.”

Greg Nicotero is co-executive producer, director and head of special effects and make-up for the show….he’s the guy behind zombie school.

In a trailer-like building in what feels like the middle of nowhere, he addresses his second class of the day.

“The cue we take from the graphic novel and the visual is the shoulders are always relaxed, the chin is down, there’s sort of a unique attitude about the way they are…”

He divides the class in two and gets the first group do their best zombie interpretations while the others watch.

The actors shuffle across the floor, some with their eyes rolled up, shoulders down, others curling their mouths, dragging their feet, snarling.

They do a few more takes, with a little more direction.

After a few more attempts, Nicotero and stunt coordinator Russell Tower change focus.

“Most of you aren’t going to make it. most of you will eventually get shot in the head, get skill crushed.. walkers have it tough. so what’s important for Russell and I is, showing a little bit about how to sell how to being shot in the head.”

This is the most popular technique on the show for killing walkers, and 30-year old Jacqueline Mariezwick, a mother of two, was first in line to take the cue.

Mariezwick says this is like a fantasy come true

“I loved it! I loved every minute.  Acting is my life. This is what I want to do.”

For 19-year old Bobbie Saie, both an extra and a model, nothing compares to being a zombie.

“It was great, it was fun, I like falling. I think it’s everybody’s dream to be a zombie at least once.”

After testing both groups in about an hour, Nicotero wraps the audition, pleased with what he saw.

“I love shooting down here. The talent pool is great. The crew is amazing. I couldn’t imagine taking the show anywhere else.”

Which is good news for those dying to make a living here in tv and film.