The Mind of John M. Ware
The Thr33 Days Dead director opens up about the film, his health issues, and other fascinations
By Terrell Manasco
The face is familiar but you can’t place the name or where you’ve seen him. Chances are, if you’ve purchased a phone or electronic equipment in the past at the former Radio Shack in Jasper Mall, or you’ve driven through downtown Jasper and spotted camera crews following a rather motley horde of zombies ambling through the streets, you’ve probably seen this guy around. Yeah, he’s that guy.
He’s part of the reason the streets are blocked off so a couple of local actors and a stuntman can jump (safely) out of a second-story window next to Bernard’s and not land in the middle of traffic, which could possibly ruin someone’s day. He’s one reason a television crew for the Syfy Network spent the summer of 2014 in Walker County, documenting the highs and lows behind the making of an independent horror film, for a TV series called Town of the Living Dead, both of which were broadcast last Fall on Syfy.
His name is John M. Ware, and he is the writer and director of Thr33 Days Dead, The Little Movie That Could.
Today Ware relaxes in a chair inside a second-floor office perhaps fifty or sixty yards from the very same building where, slightly more than a year ago, actors Bryan Boylen, Gary Carreker, and stuntman Wadi Jones jumped out of that window onto an air bag. Dressed in a blue button-down shirt and jeans, his brown-blondish, freshly-cut hair pulled back, the ever-present trademark sunglasses resting on top of his head, Ware may initially appear somewhat aloof to the casual observer, but his manner is affable, easygoing, and friendly. He smiles occasionally as he talks about his life experiences, though his ride has not always been an easy one.
After graduating from UAB in 2006 with a degree in Communications, Ware wrote the screenplay for another film—which never came to fruition. Then some friends suggested he write a horror movie. “For three months the real Patrick, the real Jeff and I stayed up all night watching horror movies and wrote the script for Thr33 Days Dead,” he says.
But as he would soon discover, writing the script and actually getting it all shot and in the can are two completely different things. The first producer didn’t work out, leaving Ware and his production company, RLS Pictures, in search of a replacement. “I was working at Radio Shack, and Tina [Teeter] and Catie [her daughter] came in. I was telling Tina about the project. She was already an actress with a theater in town, and she said she’d be glad to do some acting. I said, ‘Well, I’ve got this part for a mom, but she turns into a zombie,’” he grins. “She said, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it’. She stepped up and started wrangling folks in, and she really got things rolling.”
Once he had a new producer, there were other hurdles to face. “We lost our first cast. They had other jobs and had to work so we had to recast. Then that cast didn’t work out either. We recast the role of Patrick again but then that actor moved to Michigan. We found Bryan through a mutual friend. He came in and was really good in his audition, so we started looking for a Valerie. Catie had been wanting to play Valerie for years but she wasn’t old enough. By the time we cast Bryan as Patrick, she was eighteen and knew the part really well so we got her.”
At last the movie had its cast, and shooting resumed on Thr33 Days Dead.
Then in May of 2013, John M. Ware had a stroke.
“I had taken some days off work for a dentist appointment. Tina was at my house doing some editing, and I had this bad headache for several days, but I thought it was just sinuses. She said I looked ‘spaced out’ and told me to go lay down. Later I’m in the bathroom and she heard me laughing and talking to myself. I was laughing because I was hearing my words backwards. I talked like Yoda for about an hour and then it wasn’t funny anymore.”
Ware ended up in the emergency room where doctors performed a CAT scan. He was eventually sent to UAB. “I had a gastrointestinal bleed, and lost over 50% of my blood,” he explains.
Having the stroke has given Ware a new outlook on life. “It makes you wonder, is it all a jumbled mess in there or is it clear but you can’t get it out so people can understand you? Look at Stephen Hawking. He’s still in there, but he can’t communicate as well. Muhammad Ali, he’s in there. It’s gotta be hell on earth. It makes you thankful for what you have.”
But Ware’s stroke wasn’t the only hardship that the cast endured. Due to a bad computer hard drive, they lost most of the movie footage that had been shot.
Then they lost “Chop Bone.”
Ware leans forward with arms on his knees, brow furrowed, and somewhat haltingly talks about Colin “Chop Bone” Carreker, Gary’s six-year-old son and Ware’s nephew. “He had this infection that he couldn’t fight off. His body was trying to fight it but it just…spiraled out of control. He started coughing one day but we just thought it was strep or something. Nine months later he was gone,” he says, shaking his head.
As a tribute, Chop Bone is listed as one of the producers in the movie’s opening credits. “He loved the movie. He was six years old. That kid went through hell but he kept that smile on his face the whole time.”
But even amidst all the medical trauma he was enduring, there was some good news. The day after Ware came home from the hospital, he got a phone call. Somehow, news of the Movie That Wouldn’t Quit had reached MLC Media in Atlanta, who ordered a “sizzle reel”—a video used to pitch an idea to movie or TV executives. That sizzle reel led to another one, and once Syfy became involved, Ware and Company found themselves in front of the cameras.
John M. Ware may appear somewhat nonchalant, even cavalier, on the outside, but as anyone who follows him on Facebook knows, he has views on a variety of topics. “I offend a lot of people,” he admits. “My political views are completely different than what you would think.”
He also has a fondness for professional wrestling. “I always liked Hulk Hogan. You know, ‘say your prayers, take your vitamins’. But he’s pretty much been erased from the public eye. I’m a child of the Eighties. I watched Monday Night Raw, WWF, every week.”
Ware is very vocal about his producer and friend, Tina Teeter. “Meeting Tina was the first greatest thing that happened to me. She really stepped up and made things happen. The movie, the show on Syfy, none of that would have ever happened without Tina.”
The next greatest thing?
“Meeting Robert Englund,” he answers without hesitating.
Ware also has praise for the cast. “Laura was the perfect PA, Miranda did great on sound, she and Tina both even cooked for us sometimes. Terry, Bryan, Chase, Michael, Gary, they all were awesome. Todd Ponder stepped in and played the dad, and of course, all the zombies did great. I just want to thank everybody.”
So whats next for John M. Ware? His friend and Thr33 Days Dead producer Tina Teeter has written a sequel to the independent zombie flick, and despite being unable to obtain funding so far, Ware says he’s not done.
“I’m still writing screenplays. I’m not giving up. I’ve been to the mountaintop,” he grins. 78
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