While the holidays may seem like an unusual time of year to debut a new zombie movie, both ChillerTV and creator/executive producer Steve Niles are enthusiastically ready to unleash yet another supernatural terror onto television screens this month. In a recent conference call with press, Steve shared why he is drawn to zombies and what he sees as their universal appeal right now.
First of all, were you involved in REMAINS beyond creating the source material?
STEVE: They kept me very close to it. Basically, I guess the best way to call my role was, I supervised a lot. They ran the script by me and I did set visits and I was in constant contact with the folks at Chiller and Synthetic and they kept me involved at every stage of approving makeup and, like I said, the script. But part of it is, these guys really knew what they were doing and I felt perfectly comfortable being on the coast while they were working on it. But they kept me involved quite a bit and I really appreciate that.
How does it feel to have the first original movie on ChillerTV?
STEVE: This is really exciting for me because I really like TV movies. I grew up with TV movies. . . Dan Curtis, a hero of mine, he wrote THE NIGHT STALKER shows and DARK SHADOWS and he was behind so much of these great things and he used to do all these great TV movies. And also, it used to be Richard Matheson used to write tons of ABC Movies of the Week during the ‘70s and they’re these really wonderful, pretty much exactly this kind of stuff. They were Richard Matheson-short stories turned into movies for TV. So I just have a really special affection, and I remember when they called I could tell everybody was sort of like apologetic and asked, “Do you want to do a TV movie?” I was — I’m thrilled with it because NIGHT STALKER is one of my favorite TV movies of all time. So I remember when I got together with these guys, I started talking to them about these TV movies and sort of got them in the spirit of it. So I’m thrilled and then Chiller has wound up being just — they’re already like my family. They’ve been so great in keeping me informed. Everybody has just welcomed me into the Chiller family and it’s just been wonderful. I cannot say enough about the promotion on this. It’s hard for me to even watch Chiller right now because I get sick of seeing my name all over the place. So I’m really excited and I’m excited about the movie too, because I think it really came out fun.
As an author what do you look for when you’re approached by someone who wants to turn a graphic novel of yours into a movie or a series?
STEVE: Honestly, enthusiasm for the material means more to me than a big option. Kind of a good example is what happened with “30 Days of Night.” When we were selling “30 Days of Night” it turned into a bidding war . . . The bidding war for “30 Days of Night” is the perfect example — the thing was I really didn’t care. There were three studios bidding, they all had a lot of money, but I went with the one that had Sam Raimi, attached to it because I know Sam knows horror, and that was very similar with the guys from REMAINS. Andrew reached out to me from Synthetic Cinema and he was very upfront about it. He was like, “We’re a small company and we’ve just done these things, but we really love this material,” and he understood REMAINS too, which was really important to me. And he didn’t — because a lot of times what happens in Hollywood is people will come to you and say, “Oh my, God, I love your book. Let me tell you our take on it.” It’s like, “But the book is the take.” And that didn’t happen with Chiller and with Synthetic Cinema. They wanted to do the comic book. They wanted to capture the spirit of it and that’s shockingly rare. So, their enthusiasm is what really got my attention.
Why do you think zombies so popular right now? Why are they so amazing?
STEVE: I think horror always reflects our general fears and anxieties in society, and right now — without getting too serious — right now we’re actually afraid of other people. We’re afraid of disease. We’re afraid of being invaded by people who look kind of like us. So the way we sort of express those fears are through what better than this mindless zombie hoard that wants to eat us. These are our neighbors. I mean, they’re our friends and neighbors who want to kill us and eat us. So I think zombies are a very basic way for us to confront those fears too, because the reality of it, it’s the real world stuff is so horrifying and zombies are a great way for us to sort of work through those fears, and that’s just something I feel about horror in general. I always feel like it’s a relief and we use it to like I said, to illustrate what we’re afraid of and then shoot it in the head.
What are you more partial to, vampires or zombies?
STEVE: That’s a tough one. I have to go with vampires and let me qualify that — my kind of vampires. Mean, nasty vampires that don’t want to seduce you; they want to take your blood. I’ve been writing them for a long time, I’ve developed an affection for them, and as a writer there’s slightly more you can do with that particular monster. Zombie stories are great for telling stories about humans, oddly enough, while vampires are great for telling stories about vampires because they are technically still human and have brains and lives and emotions, and things like that that you can play with. So I’d have to go with vampires.
For those who haven’t read the “Remains” graphic novels is what separates the REMAINS zombies from anything else that we’ve seen?
STEVE: Well, really, I mean that’s a big thing I wanted to bring up — or I want to talk about too, because I know a lot of people right now, THE WALKING DEAD is so popular and that’s sort of the current version of what people think zombies are. When I sat down to write “Remains,” it was the time when “The Walking Dead” was just starting to get strong as a comic, “Land of the Dead” was out. There was a zombie surge building. And when I sat down to do “Remains” I wanted to do something different, and I wanted to do something that was a little bit bigger than the question: do they run or do they shamble? And for that it seemed it like I had to come up with something that could put the audience and the characters on edge, because let’s face it, now especially, everybody knows how to deal with zombies. You board up in the house and you wait it out. You shoot them as they come to you. But, in “Remains” that doesn’t necessarily work because of the event that creates these zombies there’s actually two different kinds. And one of them was slightly more advanced and they’re eating the others and they’re evolving. So in “Remains” you can never sit back in your boarded up house and be comfortable, because the zombies will sooner or later figure out how to either climb in or pull the boards off. So I had a lot of fun with that. I had a lot of fun playing with zombie conventions, because there’s not just THE WALKING DEAD zombies, there’s the George Romero zombies, the Folchi zombies, there’s the “Return of the Living Dead” zombies, there’s the remake of “Dawn of the Dead” zombies, and I really tried to kind of have fun with all of them. And that’s another thing and it’s just a pet peeve of mine with any genre movie it bugs me when everything is all the same. Like when the STAR TREK planet where everybody has blonde bowl cuts. I’m like, “How did that happen?” Now, so I figure in a world where zombies are created and, especially in REMAINS, is because of the human accident that there would be variations of the disease based on the proximity to what happened.
Could you share what were some of the biggest production challenges bringing the “Remains” comic book in front of the camera and onto the small screen?
STEVE: Well, the biggest thing is — and I run into this a lot with comic books to movies — in a comic book you have no budget. I can do anything I want. If I want 10,000 bikers coming out of the horizon, I can do that. The artist will be mad at me, but it’s not a budget issue. So the first thing we had to do was go through the comic and there were a few set pieces that would have just been impossible, and if there is a biker scene in there that it just would have cost too much money because it literally is hundreds and hundreds of bikers approaching through the desert not realizing that they’re about to hit an entire system of wires and so they all get sliced like deli sandwiches as they ride into the city. The budget to shoot that was just way over the top, so we had to come up with other ways to do it. I’m really happy with Synthetic Cinema because the budget was a TV movie budget. I am absolutely shocked at how much of the comic that they actually got on film. They did such a good job of figuring out a way around all the — I don’t want to give too much away — but there’s a scene involving a circus prop for a sort of Cirque du Soleil-type casino. I assumed that that would just be cut because it’s so over the top and so silly, and they found a way to do it. And not only did they, they found a way to do it so that it’s really effective. So I’ve been really happy with this. I have always been a fan of low budget horror. As a matter of fact, I think in the history of horror most of our best films started with kids with not much money trying to figure out a way to make the best movie possible. And I will point to the greatest zombie movie of all time, which is “Night of the Living Dead,” it was shot for what, $70,000 on the weekends because they were making industrial movies at the time. So I think Andrew and all the guys at Synthetic really did just a fantastic job, because like I said, except for the biker hoard, we got everything in there.
Did any particular scene being shot stick out for you that you can speak about without revealing too much?
STEVE: Yeah, I was so impressed with — I visited the set with Ted Adams, who is the publisher at IDW, and we’ve been on other sets, Hollywood sets, and one of the things we noticed is when you’re on a Hollywood set it’s like, “Boy, they spend about nine hours shooting about 15 seconds.” It can get really tedious. These guys, man, they moved in like a strike team. They came in and had this hotel. They had the scenes set up in the various rooms they were going to go to and we watched them go room to room. I mean, and it wasn’t “Ed Wood,” “Reckless.” It was, they knew what they wanted. They had everything set up and spread out so they didn’t have to break everything down and reset up. So we watched them just go scene to scene to scene. It was incredible. They just moved around and it was really great watching the cast because Grant, who plays Tom — Grant Bowler, he was on set to get the zombies riled up and there’s a scene where there’s a — without giving the plot way — there’s a scene with an electronic door. And they shot it, and so I guess they did about eight or nine takes while I was there, and everyone got better because as everyone, all the actors and the director, all came together and would go like, “Okay, this is what we’re doing and this is great,” and it was a real group effort. There was nobody standing around looking bored. Everybody was involved and I hope that spirit of fun comes through because it was just great. And so there’s a scene with a sliding door, that’s all. I don’t want to give anything away, so there’s a gag that I watched them shoot and it was really fun seeing how they did it.
What do you sort of use as your guideline, in terms of what sort of things you want to write? Or do you just sort of come up with whatever you think is cool and hopefully the rest of the world will catch up?
STEVE: I was just going to say I’m just a fan of this stuff. Everything I’ve ever done has – you know, “30 Days” came out of I just wanted to do something. I mean, I didn’t get paid. When we did that comic it was for free. So Ben and I had an opportunity to do a different kind of vampire, so I did that. It’s just I’m a huge, huge horror fan. I mean I don’t think there’s — especially with the classics — I don’t think there’s anything I haven’t seen ten times. And so I have that thing in me where I want to do my versions, but nothing in me wants me to — I have a complete aversion to just doing what somebody else did before. So I always want to try to come up with some sort of fresh new take. But it really is coming out of the spirit of fun. I know for a horror writer I use the word fun a lot, but that’s really what it comes from. I carried Bernie’s Frankenstein book around, the first one, when I was kid, and now I’ve grown up and I’m working with him on the sequel. I mean, I’m the luckiest monster kid on earth. And it really is just enthusiasm because I genuinely love this stuff and I would be doing it whether they were being made into movies or comics, I’d be doing it anyway. And that’s what I did my whole life. I had this reputation of being very prolific, when in fact I’d just been writing my whole life and I just have a lot material piled up. So I have never felt like I’m predicting anything or I’m ahead of any curve. That’s a dangerous road to go down, trying to predict trends. So I just do what I like and just do what I love and I happen to love Frankenstein, vampires, and zombies.
Because most zombie movies are usually completely post-apocalyptic, why did you devise such a specific way to create zombies in REMAINS?
STEVE: Well, I hate to give a really simple answer, but in the comic I did it because it was funny. I mean, I really wanted to go for the absurdity of the situation — here we are finally figuring out that we’re going to disarm and it’s Peace Day and something goes wrong, and Peace Day winds up being the end of days. So I was going for something and I was trying to do something a little different, because most zombie movies don’t explain it, so I wanted to try to explain it. And I needed to because I knew that I was going to try to do this thing with different varying degrees of zombies — that there are different ones, depending on who was closer to the event, what happens, what kind of zombie you turn into. So that kind of came out of just trying to do something different.
Finally, how much input did you have with Evalena Marie’s character Tori?
STEVE: You know what? That was them. Grant and Evalena just read the comic, understood their characters, and did it. And I was so pleased because Tom and Tori aren’t the most flattering characters. Tom’s not the brightest bulb, and Tori is not the nicest girl, and because to me, I love flawed characters and especially flawed characters who hate each other, so I thought they played it so well. There’s some moments where Grant plays off his sort of his — he’s not stupid, he’s just a little dim. So I love his reaction when people like his ideas. And I was really glad that they embraced that. Because I tell you, that’s the kind of thing that would be — if that was a Hollywood production — Tom and Tori would become perfect people, you know? They’d become perfect people with slight problems, as opposed to playing them like real people who are a little flawed. So I honestly couldn’t be happier because what you’re seeing there is what the director did and what the actors did on their own, reading the script and reading the comic and understanding their characters. . . . But I haven’t seen the final cut with the effects added, so I’m very excited to see it.
REMAINS is a zombie invasion like you have never seen before! The 11-minute webisode REMAINS: ROAD TO RENO, prequeling the debut of the made-for-TV film REMAINS, is currently available at ChillerTV.com. Then REMAINS (starring Grant Bowler, Fringe’s Lance Reddick, Miko Hughes and Tawny Cypress) premieres Friday, December 16th at 10:00 p.m. on ChillerTV.
Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer to TheTVAddict. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).