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March 6, 2009

3L Alexander Theoharis Authors Photographic Comic Series

Battling zombies in post-apocalyptic Seattle is just a typical day for the characters of the new comic book series Night Zero, written by third-year law student Alexander Theoharis, founder and editor-in-chief of The Legality.
Night Zero is a photo comic book produced on location in Seattle, Washington. It follows the lives of the survivors of a deadly viral outbreak who must learn to live together and forge a new future in the New City. Night Zero cover art
The comic is unique in that, rather than containing illustrations, it uses High Dynamic Range photographic images (“HDR”). Actors are photographed in HDR and the images go though a process called tonemapping in which digital artists transform the photos into a visual style somewhere between photography and illustration.
Night Zero is available online with one page being added every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The comic’s first volume recently became available in print.
Below, Theoharis shares some insights on how he came about writing comic book scripts and how he strikes a balance between law school and creative writing.
Q: How did you come across this comic writing gig in the first place?
A: While an undergraduate in Seattle, I used to direct the University of Washington’s improvisational troupe and I met a lot of incredibly talented people through that. I’ve also always had a passion for writing, despite what you’d expect from an interest in improvisation.
One of those folks from the improv troupe went on to start a sketch comedy troupe, and I wrote a few skits for that. After that disbanded, he and another of the former directors teamed up with the crazy idea of creating a photo comic book. My understanding is that they wanted to make a comic, but didn’t know anyone who could draw.
They shot a pilot episode, but it was lacking in the script department: it was meant more as a technical “we can do this” than as a polished piece. When it came time to shoot the first episode, I got tangled up (thanks to having written for the sketch comedy group) originally to give comments on the script, and ultimately to rewrite it entirely. Fifteen revisions later, Night Zero, Episode I: “Ashes” exists.
Q: Do you know how many episodes you will be writing?
A: The first story arc is six episodes long, and I’ve signed on for all six episodes. I’ve already written three, and they just began shooting the third (Episode II: “Quarantine” is already in the can, and started showing for free online this week). I’ve got about half of Episode IV complete.
If things go well, I’d like to continue writing other arcs in the future.
Q: Were you involved much with the photographic process?
A: The sets and shoots are in Seattle, so it’s rare that I have the opportunity to observe, let alone participate in the photography. We have a very capable team (the director, Anthony Van Winkle; the photographer, Forest Gibson; the talent coach, Tara Miller; and the production manager, Kelly Ota) who attend every shoot, in addition to others for lighting, blood, gore, and makeup effects when required. My biggest contribution to the photography was bringing slurpies one particularly hot day last summer, during an eight-hour outdoor shoot.
The team is out shooting for eight to twelve hours every weekend to keep up with the online posting schedule of three pages a week.
There will be an upcoming shoot this summer in Seattle that’s going to require cordoning off a city block and approximately 90 extras, so if anyone will be in town and would like to get themselves bloody, I’m confident there’s a place for you.
Q: Was it difficult to balance your law school responsibilities with the episode writing?
A: Law school certainly takes priority, and the vast majority of my time. I started writing last summer, so I managed to get the first few scripts completed before returning to school. Now that I’m back, my pace has slowed considerably.
Luckily, it’s an extremely enjoyable process, and writing is my creative outlet. It happily takes the place of free time — it’s a great way to unwind. Night Zero, page 39

And yes, one of the upcoming scenes in Episode IV takes place in a courtroom — keep your eyes peeled.
Q: Is this type of writing something you hope to continue in the future?
A: Twenty boxes of the printed comics arrived today, and presuming enough of them get moved to let us continue producing, I intend to keep at it. Right now it’s certainly a work of love — it’s a very expensive medium. Unlike a traditional comic book, if we want some fantastical effect or set location, we can’t just draw it, we need to build the props, get permits for the outdoor street scenes, and position lighting to get the desired result. I’ll keep doing it as long as people keep reading it.
In the immediate future I’m working on a script for a short film to be shot this summer.

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