A pug is not usually the typical image of an action hero, which is why screenwriter Evan Lewis Katz, 30, decided the little canine creature would be perfect for the part in his most recent screenplay “Zombie Pet Shop.”
Last month, Katz, an alumnus of UCLA’s professional program in screenwriting, sold “Zombie Pet Shop” to The Animation Picture Company, which is planning to make it into a 3-D animation feature film.
The story takes place in a mall pet shop, where a mad scientist has developed a certain zombie toxin, which he has added to the dogs’ water supply. The toxin starts taking effect, and it is up to the pug and his gang of underdog, reject friends to save the day.
“The idea of a pug as an action hero in a movie seems very visually funny to me. They are so tiny, their faces are so scrunched, and they have breathing problems. Just seeing a pug running around kicking butt is goofy to me,” Katz said.
Whereas Katz has previously focused mainly on writing horror films such as “Autopsy” and “Pop Skull,” “Zombie Pet Shop” is written for the whole family.
Katz, who writes under the name E.L. Katz (another Evan Katz is the creator of “24″), was first introduced to the horror genre when he was a child, hanging out in his father’s used book store. Katz said his passion awakened when he started reading books by authors like Stephen King and Dean Koontz.
According to Katz, the horror genre has been a consistent voice in his life and how he intuitively tells a story; nevertheless, the departure from gore and horror did not seem that foreign to him.
“I’ve always had a thing for dark comedy, and I love animation movies. I think they are some of the best movies in Hollywood at the moment,” Katz said. “I still managed to sneak in zombies in the script, so I feel there still is a connection to my roots.”
Jeremy Platt, 31, Katz’s manager who will also serve as a producer on the film, said creating “Zombie Pet Shop” has helped reinvent Katz as a writer.
“With “˜Zombie Pet Shop,’ Evan has opened himself up to a whole new world, a whole new palette, and there is definitely something to be said for a writer who can write across the board,” Platt said.
According to Katz, when he was writing the screenplay he was warned by many people in the business that animation companies do not normally buy non-commissioned scripts, known as “spec scripts.”
“I was just having so much fun with it, and the point for me was to challenge myself and try something different, so I just kept going,” Katz said. “When I showed it to my manager and agent, they really loved it and quickly passed it on to the five or six people in the industry who are into that kind of stuff.”
Katz said the response was overwhelmingly positive, and before finally closing the deal with The Animation Picture Company, both Fox and DreamWorks were also interested in the script.
“When we sent the script to DreamWorks, they said they hadn’t seen a spec screenplay in three to four years, so suddenly the top people were reading my script,” Katz said. “Ultimately, if you do what a lot of people aren’t doing and you do it well, people notice. A lot of cool stuff is happening because I did something everybody told me not to do.”
Brian Manis, 42, a producer at The Animation Picture Company who spearheaded the buying of the script, said the company is excited about the project.
“The zombie world is really hot right now, and we felt the mix of comedy and horror was a great venue for animation pictures to move into,” said Manis, who will also co-produce “Zombie Pet Shop.” Platt said he believes the film could bring Katz an unprecedented level of success.
“With the time and energy that goes into making an animation film, I can almost guarantee it’s going to be a big film, Platt said. “There’s no reason for a studio to put that kind of effort and energy behind something unless they want it to be really successful.”
According to Katz, the first sketches of the characters are currently being drawn up, but he estimates a year could go by before production really starts.
As a result of the attention generated by “Zombie Pet Shop,” Katz said he is now working with the producers of “How to Train Your Dragon” to develop another animated movie, an adaptation of the 1970s children’s book “Professor Wormbog in Search of the Zipperump-a-Zoo.”
Despite his professional success, Katz is back on the UCLA campus this spring to take another advanced screenwriting class.
“I love this kind of thing, what can I say,” Katz said. “I’d love to teach screenwriting someday myself, it’s just fun.”