Jim Krut is well known for his small but very notable role as the Helicopter Zombie in “Dawn of the Dead”. Since then Jim has not done many films but he has been quite involved with the genre. Movie Mikes had a chance to ask Jim a few questions about his working on “Dawn of the Dead” and his career.
Mike Gencarelli: Tell us how you got the role of the Helicopter Zombie in “Dawn of the Dead”?
Jim Krut: I got the role of Helicopter Zombie in “Dawn of the Dead” when Tom Savini asked me to do the role. At the time, I was living in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, working in live theater with a traveling repertory company called the Ironclad Agreement. I was literally on my way to see a movie in Oakland, when I ran into Tom. Tom said, “Jim I have a great role for you in the George Romero film that’s being made here in Pittsburgh. I think you’ll really like it.” I told him, “Tom, in a few minutes I’ll be in a movie.” Tom said, give me a call and we’ll set up the makeup sessions.
MG: How long have you know Tom Savini?
JK: Tom and I had had known each other for a number of years, since we were in college together in Pittsburgh. There, we acted in student productions. Tom and I were the two actors in a version of Edward Albee’s “The Zoo Story.” During that run, the real knife that we used made a real impact on Tom’s midsection. But, as they say, show must go on. Tom didn’t flinch; we finished the show and no one ever knew that he’d been injured.
MG: Tell us about the makeup process for your character?
JK: We got together for the makeup sessions in Tom’s workshop, in the basement of his home. He needed to do a head cast of me. This entailed my breathing through a straw for about 20 min. while plaster was slathered all over my face until it hardened. Then, the back of the head was done the same way. It helps you appreciate the old movies where fugitives are hiding in a stream and breathing through a hollow reed while they stay concealed. In this case, however, Tom called me a few days later and said that the plaster cracking we need to repeat the process. I returned to Tom’s workshop. He completed the plaster molding of my head and from that was able to build the rest of the prosthetics. To make the removable headpiece proportional to the rest of my head, Tom applied the beard, mustache and a bit more hair. It seems like only a few days from that point that we were on set at the Monroeville airport.
MG: How long did it take to shoot your scene?
JK: In my recollection, I was there two days. The first day was pretty drizzly and a lot of the indoor shooting was done at that time. There may have been some uncertainty about the helicopter arriving if there was rain. I believe the first shooting day at the Monroeville airport was a Sunday and I pretty much stayed inside the little office building for most of that. It gave me a chance to watch how others were working and how George Romero was directing. It was my first time on a movie set. As a struggling actor in Pittsburgh, it was also great to have access to the lunch wagon from craft services. As for the costume, there were at least two identical sets of clothes for me. We only needed one, since everything was done in one take. Applying the makeup and appliances took about an hour, as I recall. Tom had everything ready to go and seemed to be everywhere on the set at the airport. As for direction, I believe that Tom had worked far enough in advance with George that George trusted Tom to pull off the effect. I’m pretty sure George directed all of the camera angles, but Tom worked on the timing and the execution of the effect. Again, everything was done in one take. Time may have been a factor, but everything seemed to go very smoothly because of the earlier planning. Both Tom and I are Vietnam veterans. We were both familiar with helicopters from that experience. Stepping up onto the loosely arranged boxes, while focusing on the “meat” refueling the helicopter was probably the trickiest part of the shot for me. I wanted it all to be right. Even if this would be my only time ever in a movie, I was going to give it my best. It was surprising, but very gratifying, to learn we didn’t have to repeat the shot. People on the set said it looked great and seemed to be really happy with the way it turned out. I believe the shooting involving the Helicopter Zombie scenes took about an hour altogether.
MG: Although being in the film for only a short time, you character is definitely well known form the series, how do you feel about that?
JK: As for being so well known for this relatively short sequence in a cult film, all I can say is I’m extremely happy to have been a part of it! You have to remember, at the time, George Romero was breaking a lot of new ground. From what I saw of the effects, language and action, I figured that my family and friends at the time might never go to see this movie. But, that’s what taking a chance is all about. I’ll always be grateful to Tom Savini for including me in this movie. My being part of this George Romero classic has since become a huge source of conversation and pride for my family and friends. Once the shooting was done, then came the nervous before the screening in downtown Pittsburgh. Inside the packed theater were the actors, crew, friends and hundreds of zombies it seemed. There was the nervous anticipation of wondering if my scenes would actually make it up onto the big screen or end up on the cutting room floor. It was a huge thrill to see how the scene worked into the grand scheme of “Dawn of the Dead.”
MG: You didn’t do many films post “Dawn”, what was the reason?
JK: Within a year after the release of Dawn, I was married to my wife Linda. When our first daughter was born, we left Pittsburgh to find a place with cleaner air and less traffic. We settled in central Pennsylvania, where I worked for a time in audiovisual sales for 3M company. Then I was hired as an editor for a weekly newspaper, making use of my journalism degree from point Park University. Within two years we moved to the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area. There I had a job as editor of the statewide magazine for the Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association. I love the work and travel, but it didn’t leave time for other pursuits such as acting on stage or in film. Seven years later we moved to Gettysburg, where I became involved with a startup theater company. Around the year 2000, I was invited to Cinema Wasteland in Cleveland, from “Dawn of the Dead” reunion. It was great to see some friends I worked with in theater in Pittsburgh, who also happen to have been in “Dawn of the Dead”. It was also a chance to get to know some of the other actors from the from the movie. The really amazing thing, however, was the fans. I knew Dawn had become a cult classic, but it was hard to appreciate just how widespread the reach of that movie had become. For the Cleveland show, someone had flown in from Japan. People had driven in from California, Texas, New Jersey and other states. It was overwhelming! I’ll always be grateful to Ken Kish, who runs Cinema Wasteland, for tracking me down and bringing me back to the public eye! That horror convention led to other appearances over the last several years. Between those appearances and some of my theatrical performances, I was asked to take on roles in other movies. First came “The Guatemalan Handshake” in which I had a small role, but it was great working with the cast and the director. That I met Gary Ugarek, who offered me a lead role in his film “Deadlands 2: Trapped.” I love the role and a chance to play an evil government official. It seemed there were so many role models to work from!
MG: Where you a fan of the horror genre before working on the film?
JK: As for being a fan of horror movies, I have been since I was a kid. I would stay up late at night and watch them on television. I would go to the movies and watch “Dracula”, “Frankenstein”, “The Wolfman”, and more on the big screen. The Thing, Them, all sorts of monsters and creatures! Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, and the classic horror actors were my idols. My scene from “Dawn of the Dead” has been classified by Bravo Network as one of the top 100 moments in horror movies. No matter what else I’ve done or where I’ve traveled, nothing seems to be as well known in my life as the role of the Helicopter Zombie. It’s absolutely been great! And, I remain grateful to Tom Savini, George Romero and especially the fans who helped to keep the “dead” alive!
MG: What else are currently working on?
JK: I’ve done a few other independent films since then. One was a short, “Squirrel,” that has not yet been released but has appeared at a few film festivals. Another, “Dead Island,” was directed by Josh Davidson. He shot the entire feature-length film on iPhones. That was just a few months ago. Another indie film, with the working title of “Bunnyman Bridge,” was being shot entirely with digital SLR cameras. I’m not sure about the release date on those. There was also Joe Shelby’s “The Green Man” being shot in Pittsburgh. Joe was one of the motorcycle raiders in Dawn of the Dead. My role in that film is just a brief appearance. There possibly three films that I may become involved with in 2011. I can’t say much about them at this point, but I’m just happy to know that there are folks interested in having me work with him.