Movies & TV / Columns

Amanda Iswan On Her New Action Horror Film Zeta: When the Dead Awaken

August 15, 2020 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Zeta: When the Dead Awaken

The 411 Interview: Amanda Iswan

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Amanda Iswan is a writer, director, and producer from Indonesia. Her first directorial effort, the action horror zombie flick Zeta: When the Dead Awaken, is now available on Amazon Prime Video (check it out here). In this interview, Iswan speaks with this writer about making Zeta: When the Dead Awaken, making movies in Indonesia, her movie making heroes, and more.



Bryan Kristopowitz: Why did you want Zeta: When the Dead Awaken to be your first movie as a director?

Amanda Iswan: Growing up, I always preferred to watch films from the horror genre (psychological thrillers, slashers, and monsters/aliens). But to the majority of the Indonesian audience, the phrase “horror movie” means that the movie is about ghosts, possessions, or other supernatural stuff. It’s never about monsters or aliens. So, I wanted to make something different here in my country. I wanted to make a monster horror movie, but one that emphasized the relationships between the characters to ultimately show that in the end, the human ego is still humanity biggest enemy (I’m referring to Deon’s character where he keeps acting like a brat and impulsively yells at his mother due to her past affair, even when there’s a zombie outbreak. Also referring to Reyhan’s character where he always selfishly puts his own survival and whims as the priority).

BK: Is Zeta: When the Dead Awaken a “zombie” movie or an “infected” movie? Is Zeta really the first movie of its kind from Indonesia?

AI: I would say that Zeta is more of an infected movie, since the focus is on the drama between the characters, and less on the action and the monsters. There was an Indonesian movie titled Kampung Zombie (2015) which translates to “Zombie Village.” I haven’t gotten the chance to see that movie, though I heard that the movie was about a whole village that gets an infection where they then attack any visitor who comes to the village, which happens to be the protagonist’s group. Zeta was dubbed as the first zombie movie in Indonesia because the zombie infection has a scientific explanation.

BK: What movies/stories inspired you to write Zeta: When the Dead Awaken?

AI: What inspired me was a videogame called Left 4 Dead 2 and so that’s why in Zeta there are some POV scenes when the characters are shooting the dead. Also the armory/gun boxes in Reyhan’s apartment were designed to look like a supply box in a “first person” shooting game.

BK: Where was Zeta: When the Dead Awaken made?

AI: The movie was shot all around Jakarta in Indonesia. The drone shot at the beginning was taken during the first day of Eid Mubarak, so that’s why the streets were empty. During a normal day it would be impossible to take that shot since that place (called Bundaran HI) is always packed with a massive traffic jam as it is located in the center of Jakarta’s white-collar district.

BK: How did you cast Zeta: When the Dead Awaken?

AI: We chose Cut Mini to play as the mother as she is one of Indonesia’s great actresses, and we believed that she could play the mother suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s perfectly, despite the fact that it was the first horror movie she acted in. Jeff Smith (Deon) is a rising actor that has a lot of potential, and has a good attitude as well. He never once complained about anything at all during the making of Zeta. Dimas Aditya (Reza) has acted in a lot of Indonesian movies and we thought his personality and ability for critical thinking matches greatly with Reza’s character. As with Edo Borne (Reyhan), he has experience playing a villain and we liked the way he delivered Reyhan’s lines/dialogues during the audition, even though in real life Edo is a very silly and goofy person. The main four cast are excellent actors and I enjoyed watching them improvise during the reading process, and during fighting/stunt rehearsals.

BK: How long did it take to make Zeta: When the Dead Awaken, from finishing the script to completing post-production?

AI: The pre-production took around 3 months, and we shot the movie in 15 days. Post-production took longer than we planned, around 7 months, but everything was done by around the end of 2018. But then Zeta had to wait in line since the movie theaters in Indonesia had a long list of movies waiting to be shown.

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BK: What was the hardest aspect of getting Zeta: When the Dead Awaken made?

AI: I think the hardest aspect was the fact that we had to shoot around 6-13 scenes every day, since we only have a short production time. Two of the fighting scenes (where Deon broke free of the handcuffs and fought Reyhan, and later when Reyhan broke free of the handcuffs and attacked Reza), where shot in the same day within around 4 hours. But despite all the hardships, this was the first movie I made and I learned so much doing it.

BK: How did you decide on the balance between the small, personal story involving Deon and his mother and the military aspects of the story?

AI: I wanted to show different parts and activities within different groups. With Deon and his mother, it’s all about surviving and putting aside their past and differences, and thus drama and action ensues. With the military I wanted to show more of the science aspect of the infected since the military have the resources to access/gain the information.


BK: How did the soundtrack for Zeta: When the Dead Awaken come about? Was the hard rock music used always the intention or did you sort of decide on that later on?

AI: The hard rock music was always the intention since the beginning. The main soundtrack in the opening credits is entitled “Murka” meaning “rage,” and the chorus translates to “Rage rage, even the earth itself will rage”. This is in reference to the beginning of the zombie outbreak, where the Zeta amoeba evolved from contaminated water caused by humans continuously littering and dirtying the rivers.

BK: What is the horror movie scene like in Indonesia?

AI: In Indonesia, horror movies are about ghosts and supernatural stuff. So the way the scenes are delivered are different than in the monster-horror genre.

BK: Any moviemaking heroes?

AI: It’s cliché but I’ve always admired Steven Spielberg since he’s directed a wide range of genres, and the results are all good. I also like Hans Zimmer because his scoring always delivers chills. Though recently the directors that I look up to have created films in the genre that I like, Jordan Peele and Ari Aster.

BK: Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

AI: We are currently working on a based-on-a-true-story ghost-horror movie. The script is finished and we’re now planning to develop the IP first.

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BK: What do you hope audiences get out of Zeta: When the Dead Awaken?

AI: I hope to deliver the idea that humans will be unable to fight off danger if humans refuse to put their egos aside and work as a team.

BK: Will there be a Zeta 2?

AI: As of now, we do not have any plans to develop a sequel.

BK: If you were caught in the middle of a zombie/infected outbreak in real life, how do you think you would fare?

AI: This is probably the question I asked myself the most during the making of Zeta. I always thought that I would be the smart one and could take out the undead without any hesitation, no matter the situation. But in reality, when I played “escape games” with zombie actors, I was only performing like an “average Joe” since I was scared shitless! While playing, I realized that if a zombie outbreak were to actually happen, what scares us most probably wouldn’t be the undead, but the unfamiliar places we would need to visit to get resources, since we as human beings are always scared of unknown surroundings.



A very special thanks to Amanda Iswan for agreeing to participate in this interview and to david j. moore for setting it up.

Watch Zeta: When the Dead Awaken now on Amazon Prime Video here.

Check out my review of Zeta: When the Dead Awaken here.

Poster image courtesy of Amazon. Military and zombie images courtesy of Film Regions International, Inc. All other images courtesy of Amanda Iswan.