• Steve Niles talks about ‘Remains’

  • 16 DEC 2011|BY JOE NAZZARO

  • Steve NilesRiding the current wave of zombie-mania is Steve Niles’ Remains, Chiller’s first original made-for-TV movie, which debuts Friday, December 16th. Based on the 2004 graphic novel by Niles and artist Kieron Dwyer, the tongue-in-cheek horror film follows a small group of survivors who find refuge in a Reno casino after an accident turns the remaining population into ravenous zombies. During a recent interview, Niles talked about the challenges of bringing his graphic novel to television, as well as his thoughts on zombies in general…

  • Having written 30 Days of Night and Remains, are you more partial to vampires or zombies?
    That’s a tough one. I’d have to go with vampires and let me qualify that and say 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 and I’ve developed an affection for them. As a writer, there’s more you can do with that particular monster. Oddly enough, zombies are great for telling stories about humans, while vampires are great for telling stories about vampires. They are technically still human and have brains and lives and emotions that you can play with, so I’d have to go with vampires.

    How were you involved with the production of Remains aside from writing the original source material and acting as a producer? 

  • Steve Niles Remains

    They kept me very close to it. I guess the best way to talk about 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, from approving makeup and like I said, the script, but part of it was that with these guys, you really knew what they were doing and I felt perfectly comfortable being on the other coast while they were working on it, but they kept me involved quite a bit and I really appreciated that.

    Why are zombies so popular right now?

    I think horror always reflects zombie our general fears and anxieties in society, and without getting too serious, right now we’re actually afraid of other people. We’re afraid of disease and of being invaded by people who kind of look like us and what better way to express those fears than a mindless zombie horde that wants to eat us?  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, because the reality, the real world stuff is so horrifying and zombies are a great way for us to work through those fears. That’s something I feel about horror in general. It’s a release, and like I said, we use it to illustrate what we’re afraid of and then shoot it in the head.

    What makes the Remains zombies different from other zombies we’ve seen in the past?

    That’s a big thing I wanted to bring up, because for 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, and Land of the Dead was out, so there was a zombie surge building. And when I sat down to do Remains I wanted to do something different.  I wanted to do something that was a little bit bigger than, do they run or do they shamble? 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, everybody knows how to deal with zombies: you board up in the house, you wait it out, and 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 are actually two different kinds. 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 are not just the Walking Dead zombies, there are the George Romero zombies, the Fulci zombies, the Return of the Living Dead zombies, there’s the remake of the Dawn of the Dead zombies, and I really tried to have fun with all of them. It's a pet peeve of mine with any genre movie, is it bugs me when anything is all the same. It’s like the Star Trek planet where everybody has blonde bowl cuts. I’m like, ‘How did that happen?’ so I figure in a world where zombies are created, and especially in Remains, it’s because of the human accident, and that there would be variations of the disease based on the proximity to what happened.

    What were the biggest challenges in terms of bringing Remains to the small screen?

    The biggest thing, and I run into this a lot with comic books to movies, is 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 you know 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.

    For people who read the comic, there is a biker scene in there that 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, 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’m absolutely shocked at how much of the comic they actually got on film. They figured a way around a lot of things. I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a scene involving a circus prop from 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, but they found a way to do it. Not only that, but they found a way to do it so it’s really effective. I’ve been really happy with this.

    I’ve always been a fan of low-budget horror; as a matter of fact, in the history of horror, most of our best films started with kids without much money, trying to figure out how to make the best movie possible. I will point to the greatest zombie movie of all time, which is Night of the Living Dead, which was shot for what, $70,000 on weekends while they were making industrial movies at the time. So I think Andrew [Gernhard, the producer] and all the guys at Synthetic really did a fantastic job. Like I said, except for the biker horde, we got everything in there.

    Were there any stand-out moments when you were on set?

    I visited the set with Ted Adams, who is the publisher at IDW, and we’ve been on Hollywood sets, and we’ve been on other 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 moved in like a strike team. They came into this hotel and had the scenes set up in the various rooms they were going to go to and we watched them go room to room. It wasn’t Ed Wood reckless; they knew what they wanted, they had everything set up and spread out so they didn’t have to break everything down and re-set up, so we watched them just go scene to scene to scene. It was incredible. And it was really great watching the cast, because Grant Bowler, who plays Tom, was on set getting the zombies riled up.

    There’s a scene where, without giving the plot away, there’s a scene with an electronic door and they did eight or nine takes while I was there and every one got better, because all the actors and the director all came together and said, ‘Okay, this is what we’re doing,’ so it was a real group effort. Nobody was standing around looking bored. Everyone was involved and I hope that spirit of fun comes through, because it was great. I don’t want to give anything away, but it’s a gag I watched them shoot involving a sliding door, and it was really fun seeing how they did it.

     A lot of zombie stories don’t explain the events that create their zombies. Why did you create such a specific reason for the zombies in Remains?

  • 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. And I was trying to do something a little different, because most zombie movies don’t explain it, so I wanted to try and explain it. And I need to, because I knew I was going to try to do this thing with different varying degrees of zombies. There are different ones, depending on who was closer to the event, determines what happens and what kind of zombie you turn into, so that came out of just trying to do something different.

  • Speaking of different, you’re working on an adaptation of Paradise Lost?

    I’m a 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 saying, ‘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’ script, 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. He really figured out a way to strip it down to the basic story, where you’re dealing with the story of Lucifer and his relationship to the Archangels and how the whole division started. I’m really having fun. Michael Kaluta is doing the art, so if he doesn’t kill me, it’s going to be a beautiful book!