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Remains Interviewby Pattye Grippo    

Steve Niles

This is an interview with Steve Niles on December 7, 2011 about the television movie Remains.

Question:
Were you involved in this production beyond creating the source material?

Steve Niles:
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. But, they kept me involved quite a bit and I really appreciate that.

Question:
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 Niles:
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.

Question:
I want to ask you about zombies and why you think they're so popular. What do you think it is about it right now?

Steve Niles:
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. 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.

Question:
Paradise Lost, where are you guys on that right now?

Steve Niles:
I'm writing a script that I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to go into protective custody when the artist reads it, because if you've ever read Paradise Lost once the war starts everything is in the millions. So, for the first time in my life I'm writing a comic book and I'm literally going like, I am so sorry, but a million angels come swirling down.

I'm really having a lot of fun with it. I'm working from Alex Proyas's script, so not the poem. If I was working from the poem I would not sound nearly as chipper. But, Alex Proyas wrote this incredible script and that's what I'm adapting. And he really figured out a way to strip it down to the basic story where you're dealing with basically the story of Lucifer and his relationship to the Arch Angels and how the whole division started, and I'm really having fun. I think it's going to be - and then Michael Kaluta is doing the art, so if he doesn't kill me it's going to be a beautiful book.

Question:
How does it feel to have the first original movie on Chiller?

Steve Niles:
You know this is really exciting for me because I really like TV movies. I grew up with TV movies. 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 a really special affection.

And I remember when they called I could tell everybody sort of like apologetic, ???Do you want to do a TV movie???? And I'm thrilled with it because, just Night Stalker being one of my favorite TV movies of all time, you know? 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 is already like my family. They've been so great in keeping me informed. Shane and Tom and everybody has just welcomed me into the Chiller family, and it's just been wonderful, and 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.

Question:
What are you more partial to, vampires or zombies?

Steve Niles:
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 you can play with. So, I'd have to go with vampires.

Question:
For those who haven't read the Remains graphic novels, what separates the Remains zombies from anything else that we've seen?

Steve Niles:
That's a big thing I wanted to bring up 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. When I sat down to write Remains, it was the time when 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 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 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,??? 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 based on the proximity to what happened.

Question:
You mentioned on Twitter that somebody approached you about a stage production of one of your properties. What was it?

Steve Niles:
Yeah, I'll tell you what, I can't say which property yet because I haven't actually met with them. We want to make sure it's possible. But, what I can say is it's going to be one of mine and Bernie Wrightson's.

Question:
Could you tell me what were some of the biggest production challenges, bringing the Remains comic book in front of the camera and then on to the small screen would you say?

Steve Niles:
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 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 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 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.

Question:
Was there any particular visit or any particular day or scene being shot really stick out for you that you can speak about without revealing too much?

Steve Niles:
Yeah, 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,??? you know? 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 everybody - 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, doing it and 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.

Question:
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 Niles:
I was just going to say I'm just a fan of this stuff. 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 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 it really is coming out of the spirit of fun.

For a horror writer I use the word fun a lot, but that's really what it comes from, you know? 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'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.

Question:
Are there any plans to do anything with Cal McDonald, either for the small or big screen?

Steve Niles:
He is spoken for. Right now Cal is being developed at Universal Studios for a feature movie. And after being through multiple studios 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.

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.

Question:
Because most zombie movies are usually completely post-apocalyptic in so far as we don't know how it happened, why did you devise such a specific way to get the ball rolling? And I was wondering if there were any other ideas you used or you were considering for that?

Steve Niles:
I hate to give a really simple answer, but in the comic I did it because it was funny. 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.

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 what kind of zombie you turn into. So that kind of came out of just trying to do something different.

Question:
In the case of Evalena Marie, how much input did you have with that?

Steve Niles:
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 and there's some moments where Grant, he's not stupid. Like I said, he's just a little dim, so I love his reaction when people like his ideas. I was really glad that they embraced that because I tell you, that's the kind of thing 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.

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