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April 24, 2014

New Castle director, writer, producer filming zombie pilot locally

NEW CASTLE — The horror genre holds a special fascination for Tom Stoops.

He has been a devotee of that film style since he was young. So it makes perfect sense that as a director, executive producer, writer and actor, zombies would show up in his latest project.

While Hollywood beckons many aspiring actors, directors and producers, the New Castle resident is content to use his considerable talents in his hometown.

“I’ll never forget where I came from,” Stoops, 43, said. “I want to bring business here.”

His focus right now is a sitcom television pilot with a zombies theme.

It’s an unusual combination. Zombies and comedy don’t usually go hand in hand, but Stoops makes it work, and he noted that zombies have become even more popular with “The Walking Dead” aired on AMC.

He wrote the screenplay for “Mr. Z”, and will direct, serve as executive producer and act in the show. Stoops and his brother, Gerald, started Twisted Brothers Productions in 2006.

“Mr. Z” will be shot at three different locations in New Castle in June or July — a funeral home, the former caretaker’s home at Oak Park Cemetery and the Eintracht Singing Society.

After graduating from New Castle High School, Stoops attended the Dana School of Music at Youngstown State University, intending to become a concert pianist. He then attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh to study studio recording, and video and audio production, and joined a rock/metal band as a keyboard player when he was 20.

But in 1991, he became homeless, living in a 1986 Chevette for three or four months.

“I don’t look back at being homeless as a negative thing. It helped shape me.”

Through the years, he held numerous jobs but “film is what I wanted to do.”

He is foremost, a father who has custody of his three children — two of whom have special needs.

The juggling act of balancing family and career is working, although there have been some setbacks in the work arena.

Twisted Brothers Productions shot a project in Portersville but when it fell through, it was disappointing, Stoops said. However, when he was involved in a film called “Targeted for Money” done in New Castle, he became convinced that film was the direction he wanted to go.

His short story about zombies, “Soundproof” was published in the book “Dead Cold” in 2010.

“Writing, in general, comes easy to me,” he explained. “I have a great imagination.”

The main character in “Mr. Z” is Ralph Zimmerman who is a mortician and whose family finds itself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. Stoops will pitch the show to Comedy Central, Syfy, HBO and NBC.

“The best-case scenario is that it gets on TV. It’s not like anything out there.”

While shooting will most likely be done by the end of August, it will take several more months for post production work.

Fairly confident one of the four networks will pick up the pilot, Stoops also believes that Lawrence County has good potential for filming.

“I would like to open the eyes of people in the business to this area for film, and not just horror, but drama and action.”

If success finds its way to his door, Stoops wants to give back to charities including the Children’s Tumor Foundation and autism.

“We’re only here once,” he said. “Live life to the fullest.”

(Email: lhudson@ncnewsonline.commailto:lhudson@ncnewsonline.com.)

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