How Zack Snyder spliced Tig Notaro into Army of the Dead a year after filming

Judging by the fact that Army of the Dead is the number one title on Netflix in Australia today, it’s a fair bet to say quite a few people watched Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead.

It’s a wild, action-packed zombie heist movie with a large ensemble cast tasked with clobbering the undead while liberating $200 million from a Las Vegas casino.

But the movie they saw wasn’t the one that was filmed. Peters, the wry helicopter pilot played by scene-stealing comedian Tig Notaro, wasn’t part of the original production and shot her part a year after her co-stars and in California rather than New Mexico.

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The role was originally portrayed by scandal-plagued Chris D’Elia but he was digitally erased from Army of the Dead after he was hit with accusations of predatory sexual behaviour by multiple women, including underage ones. D’Elia denied the allegations.

Snyder told Vanity Fair the choice to replace D’Elia was an easy one, and the right one because ultimately, “the movie is better with Tig Notaro, frankly because she’s more unexpected and she’s more fun”.

Snyder and Netflix confirmed in August that the change-up would be made and immediately went to work on the extra scenes by September, which apparently cost “a few million” dollars, Snyder told Vanity Fair.

Notaro is a cancer survivor and couldn’t be in close contact with co-stars at a time when the pandemic was still raging in the US and months before any vaccines were available. Notaro had to do her firearms training via zoom, according to Vulture.

The same Vulture piece reported that Snyder and a small crew filmed Notaro by herself against a green screen using props, laser points and tennis balls as reference points for where the other actors would’ve been in a scene, so Notaro knew where to look.

Notaro did one half-day shoot with Ana de la Reguera, who plays Maria in the film, but otherwise any scene where she touched someone was actually her assistant who was wearing a green suit.

Notaro told EW that it was a strange experience because “I was doing a lot of stuff just completely by myself. It was such a funny realisation because I could start to think, ‘Wow, I’m starring in a movie’, because it seemed like I was the focal point of everything”.

But often the scenes she filmed were inserted into large ensemble tableaus in which she’s one of a dozen actors walking down a hallway. So, when you see Notaro following the gang around, she wasn’t really there.

Snyder said to Vanity Fair that while his team had so much experience working on visual effects for big blockbusters such as his DC Comics movies, matching more mundane action such as walking wasn’t that easy thanks to elements such as camera angles and lens flare.

But it all came together in the end and viewers who didn’t know the backstory to Notaro’s casting and production may not have even noticed that anything was amiss. It’s only later they might think, “Oh yeah, that character was off by herself a lot”.

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There’s a scene in which she and Dave Bautista’s character have a one-on-one conversation was shot a year apart and spliced together in the editing suite.

Bautista told Vulture he hasn’t even met Notaro yet but was almost convinced by their screen chemistry that he had.

“It was weird because, you know, I wasn’t there,” he told Vulture. “And when I watch it, I feel like I was there. There’s a connection that’s missing there but I don’t feel like the movie misses a beat.

“Anybody who doesn’t know that that’s the case won’t pick up on it at all. Tig fits right in, and her chemistry fits right in.

“What really bothers me, when I watch this film – it bothers me that I don’t know Tig. I feel like I should know her. I want to meet her, and I want to hug her and tell her how amazing she was in the film.

“I’ve been able to do that with all my other co-stars and I haven’t been able to do it with Tig because I haven’t met her yet.”

Army of the Dead is streaming now on Netflix

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