Friday, December 16, 2011

Steve Niles on his 'Remains' in Chiller original movie


Forget zombies or vampires, but when it comes to microwave ovens, horror novelist and comic book writer Steve Niles has a scary problem. It turns out that the creator of Remains - the supernatural zombie comic adapted for a Dec. 16 movie on the Chiller Network - cannot run the microwave while also on the phone. Much like a walking dead uprising throws a monkey wrench into someone's everyday life, the microwave obliterates the phone signal when Niles is conducting an interview.

Kitchen appliance disruptions aside, Niles is having a pretty good run. After bringing elements of the Frankenstein and zombie mythos to the worlds of Batman and Superman (in Simon Dark and DC Infinite Halloween Special) - as well as creating his own originally scary stories like 30 Days of Night, Wake The Dead and Criminal Macabre - Niles is credited with a crafting a horror renaissance in comics. Niles is also a horror pundit and personality, appearing on Spike TV's "Zombie Vs. Vampire" Deadliest Warrior.

Now, his story Remains is the basis for Chiller's first original movies. Starring Grant Bowler (True Blood), Lance Reddick (Fringe, Lost), Miko Hughes (Pet Sematary), Tawny Cypress (Heroes) and Evalena Marie (Are We There Yet?), and produced by Synthetic Cinema International, Remains is about zombies in post-apocalyptic Reno, Nevada, who make things exceedingly challenging for survivors as they grow steadily stronger, smarter and more aggressive by the minute.

Niles spoke with Paranormal Pop Culture and a group of other journalists about the new movie, which airs Dec. 16, at 10 p.m. (interview after the jump).

Q: Were you involved in this production beyond creating the source material? A: You know 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. Q: 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? A: Honestly, enthusiasm for the material means more to me than a big option ... [This is when the signal breaks up due to the microwave] I don’t even want to - this is so embarrassing to tell you what that was. My wife forgot you can’t run the microwave when I’m on the phone ... So yeah, the bidding war for 30 Days of Night is the perfect example of, - 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, you know, 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, you know? They wanted to capture the spirit of it and that’s shockingly rare. So, their enthusiasm is what really got my attention. Q: Why do you think zombies are so popular right now? A: 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 you know the way we sort of express those fears are through what better than this mindless zombie hoard that wants to eat us. You know, these - 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, 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, you know? Q: How does it feel to have the first original movie on Chiller?
A: You know this is really exciting for me because I really like TV movies. I grew up with TV movies. Dan - I don’t even know if this name will mean anything to anybody on this call, but Dan Curtis, a hero of mine, he wrote the show, the Night Stalker shows and Dark Shadows, and I mean 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 this - a really special affection. Q: What are you more partial to, vampires or zombies?
A: That’s a tough one. I have to go with vampires and let me qualify that. The - my kind of vampires ... Mean, nasty vampires that don’t want to seduce you; they want to take your blood. I just - 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. Q: For those who haven’t read the Remains graphic novels is what separates the Remains zombies from anything else that we’ve seen? A: 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, Walking Dead is so popular and that’s sort of the current version of what people think zombies are.vWhen I sat down to write Remains, you’ll - you remember this, it was the time when Walking Dead was just starting to get strong as a comic, Land of the Dead was out. There was just sort of - 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 - 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 know? You board up in the house and you wait it out. You shoot them as they come to you, you know? 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, and there’s - so you can’t - 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, you know? 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,” you know? 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 of the - based on the proximity to what happened. Q: What were some of the biggest production challenges, you would say, bringing the Remains comic book in front of the camera and then on to the small screen?
A: 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 - people who read the comic 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, you know? 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 Synthetic, 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.

Q: You seem to have a knack for figuring out or anticipating what the next wave of the genre is going to be, so you manage to do that with vampires with 30 Days, with zombies with Remains, and even now the Frankenstein book that you’re doing ... What do you sort of use as your guideline, in terms of what sort of things you want to write?

A: 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 [Templesmith, Niles' artist collaborator] 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 10 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 to - but that’s coming - it really is coming out of the spirit of fun. I know I - for a horror writer I use the word fun a lot, but that’s really what it comes from, you know? The Frankenstein book is - I carried Bernie’s [Wrightson]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, you know? I mean, I’m the luckiest kid - 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, you know?

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.

Q: Are any plans to do anything with Cal McDonald [from Criminal Macabre], either for the small or big screen?

A: Well, he is spoken for. Right now Cal is being developed at Universal Studios for a feature movie. And after being through multiple studios we finally have - Universal really gets it. And they’re letting us do it as an R, because for years people wanted me to do it as a PG-13 movie and I was like, “Have you read the comic?” Like there’s really not a lot of PG-13 stuff to Cal. As a matter of fact, I had breakfast with Mike Richardson from Dark Horse yesterday and we discussed it, and we will hopefully have some really good news in, I’d say, the next six months or so, but I’m continuing with the comics. As a matter of fact, I turned in the latest installment of Criminal Macabre yesterday, and so we’re keeping the comics going, we’re going to bring the novels, we’re going to reprint those, and keep all that going. But yes, there’s - something will happen with Cal McDonald and if it doesn’t pan out as a horror movie, I agree with you that I think it would be a wonderful series, especially just because, there’s, I don’t know, I hate to say this, but there’s 20 years of material. I’ve been writing him for 20 years now, so we could have many seasons if we got it on TV.

Q: Most zombie movies are usually completely post-apocalyptic in so far as we don’t know how it happened, it’s so much of a (fete accompli), so to speak, why did you devise such a specific way to get the ball rolling?

A: I hate to give a really simple answer, but in the comic I did it because it was funny, you know? I mean it was the - I really wanted to go for the absurdity of the situation that, 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, it really was - 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. You know that there are different ones, depending on who was closer to the event, what happens, you know, what kind of zombie you turn into. So that kind of came out of just trying to do something different.