Exclusive: Picking the Brains of Zombie Girl stars Emily and Megan Hagins

Zombie Girl: Megan and Emily Hagins

It’s Halloween and we have zombies on the brain. Apparently we’re not the only ones. Emily M. Hagins, 16 year old director of Pathogen, and her mother Megan are the subjects of Zombie Girl: The Movie. They talked to FSR about the walking dead, the divide between Star Wars and Star Trek, and what comes next for the talented director.

Emily M. Hagins and her mother, Megan, are a unique duo. For starters, Emily was 12 years old when she decided to make a full-length zombie film, Pathogen, and Megan volunteered to help her any way she could. The journey was compelling enough to spawn the documentary Zombie Girl: The Movie, a charming film that chronicled the ups and downs of a young lady’s attempt to make an independent film. But what really stands out about Emily and Megan is their earnest admiration for one another and their gracious personalities both on and off the screen. I spoke with them shortly after the premiere of Zombie Girl: The Movie at Fantastic Fest.

FSR: How are you all doing?

Emily Hagins: Umm, good? (Laughs)

How did you feel about the reception you were given at Fantastic Fest?

EH: I was, umm, I don’t know. I’m not used to a lot of attention. I got used to the cameras when they [Zombie Girl:The Movie directors Aaron Marshall, Justin Johnson, and Erik Mauck] were following me around. Well, I mean I didn’t get used to them but it was just part of the process of making the movie. To get peoples’ reactions who weren’t there and didn’t really know much about what it was going into it, it was strange. I don’t know. (laughs) It was strange and interesting.

Did you feel like you were on VH1 or some reality show sometimes?

EH: Yeah, yeah. I always wondered what people felt like on those.

And you didn’t even have to be a member of Hulk Hogan’s family to find out. When did you first get the idea for Pathogen? In Zombie Girl you discuss dreams that are set up like films, but for people who haven’t seen the film how did that idea originate?

EH: Well before, when I was making short films, I was really scared of anything I saw in the theaters that was even remotely scary. Like I was scared of Halloween, I was scared of everything. And then I went to Butt-Numb-A-Thon here in Austin, a 24 hour set of movies, and they showed this Australian zombie movie called Undead. That made me realize that horror movies didn’t just have to be scary, They could also be kind of fun and funny and I had it in my head that I wanted to do a feature-length film. So when I saw that I wanted to do a zombie movie because I thought it would be fun, and the idea for the zombie movie just came from brainstorming.

Megan Hagins: Yeah, you were in 5th grade. I think you were 11.

EH: Yeah.

Megan, what your reaction when Emily first came to you and said, ‘I want to make a film. Oh, it’s a zombie film, by the way’?

MH: (laughs) Well, I thought it was great. She just had so much fun working with the blood and guts, she did a little bit of P.A. and made some of the blood and guts for Organic, a local indie film that she worked on when she was 10. Then she shot the behind the scenes footage for that and had so much fun that it inspired her. She made this one short film called Buddy vs. The Barbies

MH: It was really funny.

EH: No, it wasn’t.

MH: (Laughs) Well, I thought it was. Everybody who saw it would laugh and she made it all by herself. She went and set it all up. She shot it and edited it. Two days later she was like, ‘Oh Mom, look at this!’ We were just so pleased. I could see that she had tremendous potential. So when she said she wanted to make a feature-length I thought, ‘Im going to do whatever I can to help her do that,’ because I think she can.

Yeah. In the review I discussed how it’s really an inspiration to see the relationship you two have, whether it’s on-screen or whatever. I had the chance to meet both of you and you can tell that there’s a lot of respect for each other. I just think it’s really cool that you’re not only willing to help out Emily but that, for example, you did a large portion of the special effects on Pathogen, you hold the boom mic, and do craft services. Did you have a background in that or was it just like it needs to be done, you were there, so you did it?

MH: I think more the latter. (Laughs) It’s like necessity is the mother of invention. Using a little bit of my artistic talent, when I watch myself do some of those things in Zombie Girl I thought, ‘Ooh, that’s not really as neat as I could have done it!’ But it was the first time for me to do some of those things like latex mold, and it was the first time for me to do special effects in Final Cut. There were just a lot of things that I wasn’t very good at and I’d like to get better at, but I was just trying to help her with whatever she needed. I just took my imagination, applied it, and tried to find whatever I could to make it work.

Got ya. Emily, what is it about zombie films that you gravitate towards? Have you ever thought about making a comedy or drama, or do you just want to focus on that particular genre?

EH: I like how fun zombie movies are. Even if they’re not trying to be funny at all they’re just, like horror movies, they’re still fun. I don’t know, I like B-Movies. Actually, it’s funny that you should say that. I really want to do a comedy next because I’ve done two horror films. I mean two feature horror films and they’re pretty different types of horror, but I want to do something that’s not horror related.

Your second film, The Retelling, can you give us a description of what that’s about? It’s more a ghost story, correct?

EH: Yeah, it’s … do you want a plot summary?


EH: It’s basically this family, well, it focuses on this little boy. He’s 11and his family takes a summer vacation to visit their grandfather who lives in this small town. It’s creepy. And they figure out that there’s something, like their grandfather is a little eccentric, and he keeps disappearing mysteriously frequently. He goes on these walks and nobody really knows where he’s going. So the little boy and his friend follow him to try to figure out what’s going on. I probably sound super vague. It’s kind of a mystery too.

Yeah, it’s always hard when you’re trying to keep it under wraps. You don’t want to spoil it but you have to give a synopsis.

EH: Yeah, no matter how many times I plan it out in my head how I am going to say it, well, it never sounds right. (Laughs) I don’t feel like I’m doing the plot justice.

I think you’re doing fine. How much was your father involved? There’s a banjo player in the film and banjo music on the soundtrack. How much was he involved since he has a background playing that music?

EH: That was kind of the inspiration for the banjo player. It’s actually loosely based on a Japanese folk tale. The guy in the Japanese folk tale is a blind monk who plays the, umm … Mom, do you remember what that instrument’s called?

MH: A shamisen.

EH: Right. But for The Retelling we translated that to Charlie’s grandfather who plays the banjo. I don’t know, it looks kind of similar. And I knew, well, I am sitting in a room where you can count 4 banjos. So we have easy access to banjos and my Dad was able to help the actor figure out what he needed to do to look like he was playing.

I think you have great instincts and you’re very resourceful. Robert Rodriguez, another Austin local whose had success, said in book ‘Rebel Without a Crew’ that you use your resources and whatever you have around you. So I think it’s an intelligent move to use whatever is in your house or whatever. Like you did that in Pathogen, you just went to Goodwill and grabbed whatever is there.

EH: Yeah, exactly. I mean, when I was writing, well, both with Pathogen and The Retelling I didn’t really think about what I had. Well, except for the banjo thing in The Retelling. But in general I don’t really think about it and I just try to get the story written down. Then I’ll go back and if it doesn’t seem that I can do it, well, then I will change it and switch things around.

MH: I think originally she had planned to shoot The Retelling in West Virginia.

EH: Yeah, I wanted to film there.

MH: But it was just too costly. (Laughs)

Yeah. At the Q&A of Zombie Girl you said Pathogen has a 7,000 dollar budget. How did you get the budget for The Retelling?

EH: With Pathogen we just would spend a little bit of money once in a while to get something. It wasn’t like we were really keeping track. But we spent 7,000 dollars over the course of two years. With The Retelling we definitely couldn’t do that again. So I had a garage sale.

MH: Well, you created a budget.

EH: Yeah, I created a budget for everything I thought we would need. That came to 9,500 dollars. So then at school I has a big garage sale and fund raiser. And we accepted donations on the website. We raised 7,000 dollars but that was still way short of what we budgeted for.

MH: Now when you say we, Emily, at this point I had stepped away. I wanted this to be more her deal because I felt she was ready for it. It was mostly her and her crew that did all the fundraising and budget. I didn’t do any of it.

EH: It was me and other … kids.

(Laughs) Yeah. Megan, what films are you into? Do you have any favorites that you and Emily watch?

MH: Well, I do like zombie films. I like horror. I don’t really like horror for gore’s sake. I like a good story. It doesn’t even matter what the genre is. As long as it’s a good story then it holds my attention. At Fantastic Fest, two of my favorite films were shorts. One was the Nacho {Vigalondo] short. But they were my favorite films because I thought they had a great story. So I like horror, I like sci-fi. I don’t really like long-winded romances, well, sometimes if they’re really well done. I guess I like Pride and Prejudice. But I don’t usually like romance.

In the movie your phone played the ‘Star Trek’ theme, right?

MH: (Laughs) Yeah.

Are you a big Trekkie? Where do you stand in the divide between ‘Star Trek’ and Star Wars? And Emily, do you have a favorite of the two?

MH: I really never saw a divide personally. I didn’t care for the prequels of Star Wars but the originals I saw many many times in the theater. I like ‘Star Trek.’ I guess I am a biggest fan of ‘Next Generation’ rather than the classic series. Emily likes the classic series. (Laughs)

EH: Yeah, just in the last year or so I have really gotten into watching the classic series. Star Wars, it’s like I can’t really compare the two but when I was little I liked The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. When those came out I was like 5 years old. So now I am afraid to go back and watch them because maybe they won’t be good.

Yeah, you don’t want to destroy the memories of your childhood. You might find that Jar Jar Binks doesn’t stand the test of time, I think.

EH: Actually, even when I was 5 I still hated Jar Jar. There was a poster of him and I X’ed him out on it.

(Laughs) That is awesome. So what do you both say to those who would argue that zombie films can have an impact on young adults because they’re so graphic in nature? Have you had people criticize Emily’s pursuit in making a film of that nature or has there been more support?

EH: I haven’t heard much criticism. I mean, I have gotten hate mail about loving zombies. But aside from getting weird vibes from other parents, you know, but not too many. But the neat thing I find is that the horror community in general is just, I don’t know. Horror, sci-fi, fantasy, it seems like that whole group that goes to Fantastic Fest, they’re intelligent, they’re supportive, kind, and just a great bunch of people. It’s great to have a community that is so supportive of what you’re doing. So other than a few ultra-conservative parents that are parents of friends of Emily’s I don’t think I’ve seen many types of negativity.

I noticed that the community there and the audience that saw Zombie Girl was very receptive. I think everybody was looking around and saying that Emily was a very special person, but also that you’re probably the coolest Mom. I think all of us that want to make films were hoping our parents would be like that. I think Fantastic Fest and the Austin community in general has embraced what you’re trying to do. That’s pretty special.

MH: Yeah.

EH: Yeah.

Emily, did you find the attention you’re receiving as a young filmmaker to be a blessing or a distraction at times, or maybe both?

EH: It wasn’t so much a distraction. I guess I’m not used to attention, like I said before. But it’s helped me a lot because I’ve met people that I am now working with. I don’t know, it’s kind of helped my self-esteem a little bit. I’m not sure if that’s me getting less awkward or whatever. I don’t think it’s bother me too much but it’s different.

You got a letter from Peter Jackson when Lord of the Rings came out. Have you talked to him since making Pathogen or does he know what’s going on with your career?

EH: I have no idea. (Laughs)

MH: That was after the Fellowship of the Ring. We hadn’t even met Harry [Knowles] yet. But it really sparked her interest in making movies. But she really started being interested when she saw Spy Kids because it was filmed here in Austin. It had kids, it was cool, and she loved it. I think she was like 7 or 8 when that came out. So when Fellowship of the Ring came out I think it sealed her career path. But we’ve never talked to him at all really. He just wrote that letter and that was the only real communication.

Do you and Emily still go to the Drafthouse outside of Fantastic Fest for all the events?

EH: Yeah. (Laughs)

MH: Yeah, we went to the Kids Club on Saturday.

EH: That’s our usual place to go to the movies. I try to go once a week.

Cool. In 5 years what do you want to do? Do you want to stay on the path as a director or do you want to try to act? Or would that be strange to jump on the other side of the lens?

EH: I think I’m going to try and stick with directing. Once I wanted to know what it was like to be an actor, and in my 8th grade theatre class I was always the tech person. But I tried out for the lead in the play and I got it. So that’s my one acting experience. It was fun and interesting but I think I want to stick to directing.

So if Guillermo Del Toro comes to you and says he wants you to be in The Hobbit you wouldn’t pass on it?

EH: Oh, I’d do that. But I don’t think that he’d ask me. (Laughs)

Well, he’s looking for fans to be in it. Maybe you can shoot him a letter and see what happens.

EH: Yeah.

Megan, you mentioned an interest in scriptwriting. Is there a chance you two could collaborate in the future?

MH: I don’t think we share the same vision. I think my vision is a lot cornier than hers. I mean, if I wrote something that I thought was great I might show it to her. And if she didn’t like it I would try to pass it around. But I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon. (Laughs)

Well, you have a background in Final Cut and you’re learning. Who knows, maybe it will be a mother and daughter directing duo.

MH: I think you just struck a chord of horror in Emily’s heart. (Laughs)

(Laughs) It will be a back to back feature separately then.

MH: I’ll let her be the director. I wouldn’t mind doing special effects but that’s it.

You both can put a Butt-Numb-A-Thon of your own.

(We all laugh.)

MH: Yeah, maybe someday. But I’m content to see Emily move on and do her own thing. She’s always astounding me. I’d rather just be the mom and be there to support her.

Well, I think you’re doing a great job and it shows in Emily’s work. It’s a great story and we definitely see it in Zombie Girl. Thanks for taking the time out to talk to Film School Rejects. I wish you continued success and hopefully we can talk when The Retelling comes out.

EH: Yeah, cool.

MH: Okay, thank you.

For more on Zombie Girl: The Movie, check out our Exclusive chat with directors Aaron Marshall, Justin Johnson and Eric Mauck. It can be found in two parts here and here. Also, check out our Zombie Girl: The Movie review from Fantastic Fest.

Adam Sweeney has a background in journalism, having spent 4 years on the Lone Star Lutheran as an Opinions and Arts & Entertainment columnist. He graduated in May 2008 from Texas Lutheran University with a Dramatic Media degree and hopes to become a filmmaker/journalist/radio host/actor extraordinaire. He also writes film and play scripts and figures if Good Luck Chuck can make it to the big screen then why can't he? He can also be read at as a feature writer on all things basketball, and his personal blog covers everything from politics to why Keira Knightley is looking more like Jack Skellington every day. (

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