You’ve Got Red on You details the story of how 2004’s Shaun of the Dead, a low-budget British movie about Londoners battling zombies in a pub, became a horror-comedy whose fan base only continues to grow and with each passing year cements its place in pop culture history. I became aware of this book when its author, Clark Collis, guested on the Screen Drafts podcast for their episode on Zombie movies and I’m ever so glad I did. Collis takes the work he did on his 2017 oral history of the movie for Entertainment Weekly and grows it into the definitive look at a movie that would simultaneously help revive a genre while inventing a new one (the zombie romcom) and help launch the careers of some creatives you may have heard of (Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright, Nick Frost, Lucy Davis, Kate Ashfield, Peter Serafinowicz, Bill Nighy) and other “below the line” talent you may not have, but whose work continues to entertain.
This 400-page beastie follows the creative journey of the movie’s talent – and how they all came together – from inception through to the production, the distribution and reception, and the evolving place the movie and its creatives have found themselves in during the nearly two decades since. Collis accomplishes a lot in this work, providing what will likely become the bedrock of definitive biographies of the main artistic contributors to the movie, as well as deep dives into the genre of horror movies, and zombie movies in particular, which influenced Wright and Pegg as they conceived and wrote the screenplay giving the reader the necessary information to understand both how they got there, but also what an uphill climb it was to get this movie financed at the time when zombie movies had gone out of fashion. Further, he paints a picture of both the movie production landscape at the turn of the last century, as well as the nascent days of online film journalism.
Collis takes the best parts of an oral history, having the personal accounts of people directly involved in the moment, and expands the view on who might be included in a movie’s history. There is not a creative department unheard from, or an angle on the life cycle of a movie left unexamined. But Collis doesn’t just leave it there, he builds a narrative that drives the book forward, having a clear authorial voice while sharing so much real estate with the words of those involved. You’ve Got Red on You is tightly organized book (with great chapter titles) that incorporates details of day-to-day shooting, pages of set photos, and promotional materials into the story it is telling. It also includes portions of the early brainstorming sheets done by Pegg and Wright as well as storyboards sketched by Wright and his brother Oscar which let the reader in on the process of creating the now iconic images from the movie.
The final chapter of the book brings readers up to date on the post-Shaun lives of the cast and crew, and honestly, I would read any book Collis would choose to write about any of those pursuits (Hot Fuzz is my favorite of the Cornetto Trilogy, but Shaun holds a special place in my heart as the first zombie movie I ever liked) or whatever he may tackle in future. I heartily suggest this one to fans of Shaun of the Dead or the people involved, or how movies are made. There’s something here for almost everyone.