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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Shawn Vestal: ‘Z Nation’ zombies are up for sale

Z Nation actor Matt Davidson stands with rubber foam body of his likeness (second face from left, bottom row). The Z Nation team is liquidating a warehouse full of costumes and props used on the show. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

They came across a piece of Franken Z – a giant zombie made of other zombies that appeared in the TV series “Z Nation” – in a storage bay in northeast Spokane on Thursday.

“Hey – I played his arms!” said Matt Davidson, a Spokane man who became zombie after zombie over the course of the campy action/horror/comedy show’s five-season run.

“I kind of lost track of how many zombies I played and how many episodes I was in,” he said.

Davidson’s days as a “Z Nation” zombie have come to an end, though his days as an actor have not. On Thursday, he was looking through three storage bays full of costumes and props that the show’s producers are selling to the public Friday and Saturday at bargain prices.

It might be the most gruesome garage sale in Spokane history. Zombie parts. Zombie goo. Bottles of blood. Heads and hands. Wigs and prosthetics. Racks and racks and racks of clothing – lots of it grimed up post-apocalyptically.

“Our concept is each bay is a dollar amount,” said Marc Dahlstrom, a Spokane-based TV producer who was production supervisor on the show. “Everything in there is 5 bucks. Everything in there is 10 bucks. Everything in there is … higher-priced stuff.”

Dahlstrom said some of the more elaborate or expensive props have been returned to the show’s production company. He hopes the sale brings in enough money to pay the people he has helping him. What’s not sold will be donated or tossed.

Dahlstrom was a co-founder of Spokane’s North by Northwest Productions, which co-produced the series, most of which was filmed in and around Spokane. He now works as a freelance producer, including on many North by Northwest projects.

The show ran for five seasons on the Syfy network; it was canceled in December.

For North by Northwest, working on a series rather than feature films was a big change. Each season of filming meant 200 local jobs, and North by Northwest partner Rich Cowan has estimated each season brings about $20 million to Spokane. Hundreds of locals became zombies for a day or three. Spokane and the surrounding area stood in for the entire nation – the Northwest “played” New York City, Pennsylvania Amish Country, the Grand Canyon, California …

And the show gave some people, like Davidson, an entrée into new careers.

A former business owner in Spokane with no acting or production experience before the show began filming here in 2014, Davidson evolved from a background extra to a featured extra to playing characters with lines. He also was used as the model for many of the foam zombie bodies and zombie parts used in the show.

“I did the full body (mold), so they had my arms and legs and all that stuff,” he said.

He estimates he appeared in more than 40 of the show’s 69 episodes. One fan page on Facebook would play a “Where’s Matt?” game in each episode, he said.

Now he’s a member of the Screen Actors Guild and is in the process of auditioning for other roles. Jennifer Gatts followed a similar professional trajectory during the show – she began by running auditions for extras and serving as the show’s Zombie Mama, and wound up working as an assistant director and then the coordinator of the production office.

“She’s one of many people who started as (production assistants) or what have you and then their careers have grown,” Dahlstrom said.

On Thursday, Dahlstrom, Gatts and others were working on getting the sale ready. Some of the show’s biggest out-of-town fans were already arriving in Spokane, according to Facebook chatter, to be sure to get there first thing this morning. As any good yard-saler knows, that’s the key.

Dahlstrom talked about what’s coming next for North by Northwest and the prospect of local TV or film productions – a few smaller feature films are planned here this summer. The company is looking to land another series, he said, because that’s what keeps a crew securely employed for longer.

He was surrounded by the remnants of the show’s production. Racks of camouflage clothing. A zombie-rat, big as a dog. An old banana-seat bike. Gas cans. T-shirts from all over the country – Detroit Sucks, Portland 503, Hoopfest. Two boxes of thermal T-shirts, one for zombies, one for nonzombies.

Davidson, meanwhile, was looking over things in another bay, when he came across the Franken Z chest piece from an episode in Season 4. Davidson had to climb onto his back to portray some of Franken Z’s many limbs.

Now Davidson is traveling around the region for auditions, looking for the next step in his new career.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” Davidson said. “I started with no acting experience, so coming in here five years later, being in the Screen Actors Guild and looking for my next show – it’s a pretty big change.”