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Exclusive Interview: Co-Writer And Director Aaron Truss Discusses Zombie Film ‘Employee Of The Dead’, Which Stars Murdered ‘Harry Potter’ Actor Rob Knox

The 2008 zombie student short film Employee of the Dead on YouTube, and you can watch it for yourself in the player below. The film was written and directed by Aaron Truss and James Shovlar, and it is notable for starring Rob Knox, who was tragically murdered in 2008, at the age of just eighteen. Knox also played Marcus Belby in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which was released in 2009, the year after his death.

Employee of the Dead focuses on two supermarket workers (played by Joe Acres and Todd Stammers), as they work through a gruelling night shift while being berated by their overbearing manager, who is played by Knox. However, things soon take a turn for the worse when a zombie outbreak suddenly occurs, leading the workers to resort to desperate measures in order to survive the night. Truss himself also shows up as a supermarket worker who meets a grisly end.

As you can see, Knox delivers a hilarious and memorable performance as the overbearing manager throughout Employee of the Dead, and the young actor would probably have gone on to become a major star if his life had not been tragically cut short. Truss and Knox had been friends growing up, and they would no doubt have collaborated on more projects in the future.

Truss also produced Employee of the Dead through his production company, Q Cumber Films, which seems like an appropriate name when you see that a cucumber was used as a weapon against a zombie in the short. In the years after the short was produced, Truss went on to direct a number of other projects, including an acclaimed short film called Pareidolia and a documentary about Knox called (K)nox: The Rob Knox Story. And Truss is also heavily involved with The Rob Knox Foundation, a charity serving young people which was established in the late actor’s memory. Despite his busty schedule, the talented Truss granted us the following interview about Employee of the Dead and his work for The Rob Knox Foundation, and you can read what he had to say below.

Can you give us an overview of Employee of the Dead?

Aaron Truss: ‘Employee of the Dead‘ is a short student film about two supermarket colleagues who discover that their manager has died from contracting an unknown virus (from a shepherd’s pie dinner) and turned into a zombie. The two friends realise that to escape the store, they need to collect the keys to the entrance that are in his possession. 

How did the film come about?

Aaron Truss: Myself and my close friend, James Shovlar, were in the first year of our BA film course and our lecturer, Graeme Kennedy, had decided to set us all a challenge in which we had to script, cast, shoot, edit, and premiere our film at the local pub in Ealing Broadway. Our very own mini film festival! We were given a brief in which we had to include a certain line of dialogue and a small prop (a fridge magnet, that we slapped on to a vending machine in the opening of the film). Lazy. But we did it! I called up my close friends from school, Joe Acres and Todd Stammers, and of course the late, great Rob Knox, who had just literally finished filming his big role in the latest ‘Harry Potter‘ installment. It was all exciting stuff! Rob and I had grown up as childhood friends in Chislehurst and attended D&B Theatre School together. We’d often go to auditions together for ‘The Bill‘ or other long running shows of the day. But Rob cracked the ‘Harry Potter‘ gig! Not long later, I lost out the role of Peter in ‘The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe‘ to William Moseley – my agent had informed me it was down to him and I. Bastard, ha-ha. But Rob did it! He was going to be Marcus Belby!

It was 16 years ago, but I do remember all of us meeting at Joe Acres’ house for a table read once the script was ready and literally going into filming at Sainsbury’s in Chislehurst almost immediately! It was all so quick! But everyone loved reading their lines together, I think the table read moved to the garden with some beers…

And can you discuss the process of filming and production?

Aaron Truss: Filming and production happened so quick, but it was one of the most fun nights I’ve ever had. We had the entire supermarket to ourselves – aside from a few real nightshift workers who probably thought we were mental. I was working at the store at the time and my manager (still one of the best bosses I’ve ever known, and a massive Trekkie) Jim Deegan just let us do it! How insane is that! You couldn’t get away with something like that now for sure.

I believe we started on a Saturday night and filmed all the way through to Sunday morning, we literally filmed the sun coming up. I know Rob was in a bit of a rush to get his scenes filmed first as his brother Jamie and some friends were on their way to have a night out in Brighton. I remember fatigue kicking in very early on in production as we’d been laughing so hard trying to film one scene for over an hour. For tracking shots, I remember taking turns to sit in a trolley whilst filming (no budget people) and it almost became our mode of transport for the evening. I think we crashed into a wall at one point! It was VERY studenty, we were inexperienced, eager to be the next Edgar Wright and off to the races. I remember falling asleep on the train home after shooting, back to West London for a few hours of sleep – before going into the editing suites at Grove House and starting on the edit. We raided the local petrol station for supplies: M&Ms, McVities chocolate digestives and as many Red Bulls as we could carry – I think we (James and myself) took shifts so one of us would edit and the other one would sleep. Teenagers, am I right?

But we finished the film at the last minute, and we hit EXPORT (not knowing what format to export it as, no idea if we even knew what an H264 was back then) and we screened it at the little festival our lecturer had put on for the students. We ended up winning a certificate for BEST DIRECTORS and BEST GORE. Adorable.

What was it like working with Rob on set?

Aaron Truss: Rob was a professional, but he could also be a professional wind-up merchant. He LOVED to laugh and play pranks. He was the best, he would make you feel comfortable and even suggest ideas. I never told him how to walk as a zombie – and he went straight into classic ‘Scooby-Doo‘ zombie with his walk, and I love that! He knew it was a laugh and a comedy more than anything else. I remember, at one point, we’d finished filming his scenes as the store manager and he snuck off to go and apply his zombie make up. We were taking a break in the canteen when he pressed his zombie face up against the glass of the door and we all shrieked. He looked terrifying in person! Plus, we had no idea he was in the toilets applying make-up. He knew the brief and wanted to have fun with as much as the rest of us. ‘Harry Potter‘ wasn’t even mentioned, I’d never even asked him about it – which I regret to this day amongst other things.

Rob probably had to do the most physical stuff in the film, I do remember Rob getting annoyed that he had to be on his hands and knees a lot. Rob hated messing up lines or having to re-shoot things – which I later found out was the case on Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince too, but at least he didn’t have to keep eating profiterole in our film.

What do you hope zombie fans will take away from Employee of the Dead?

Aaron Truss: Better judgement, ha! It isn’t the greatest film by any stretch of the imagination. You’re literally watching a film about four friends, and it was the last time they would be together before one of them would be cruelly taken away too soon. I hope they see it for what it is, the seed for a great idea for a film. Who knows, maybe some poor sod will do a feature film about the events of ‘Employee of the Dead‘? I’m very surprised that we’re still talking about the film 16 years later, I know that’s probably due to the fact that Rob was murdered not long after we finished the film, I mean Rob never got to see the film – and that breaks my heart.

Can you talk about the work you do for The Rob Knox Foundation, and the ways in which the Foundation helps young people?

Aaron Truss: A year after Rob was murdered, his parents set up the Rob Knox Foundation in order to help raise awareness for knife crime in the UK – in Rob’s name. They did so much in terms of fundraising and education in a short amount of time. We also made a short film called ‘Cold Kiss‘, which featured both Joe Acres and Ray Winstone, which premiered at the BAFTA ceremony. I am now a trustee of the Foundation as well as the Co-Director of the Rob Knox London Film Festival which is an annual event which showcases new and upcoming filmmakers, actors and writers. I’m very proud to be a part of that, as it’s just hit its 15th year milestone, which opened with a screening of ‘Employee of the Dead’.

And are you working on anything else at the moment?

Aaron Truss: I’m currently part of the team that brings you STARK RAVING CINEMA alongside Paul McEvoy (FrightFest) and Jake West (director of ‘Doghouse‘), a new podcast that launched at Cannes Film Festival with some amazing guests already released and some BIG ones in the pipeline. I’m also working on my first feature film script which I MUST NOT talk about at the moment – but you’ll hear about it soon. I’m also working on some very big plans for the Rob Knox London Film Festival which, again, I’m not allowed to discuss as there’s a press release or two planned for that one. I’ll also be a part of the FrightFest 25th Anniversary celebrations in August too, as I’ll be appearing in Mark Logan’s documentary which will be showing at the ODEON in Leicester Square. I’m actually meant to be taking it easy as I had surgery a few months back – but everyone around me seems determined to keep me busy – and why not?! You only live once! Also, a big shout out to my girlfriend who’s had to put up with me being away and working on crazy projects when I should be watching ‘Star Trek Discovery‘ or ‘Glow‘ with her on the sofa and chilling…

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