"Steve Niles' Remains" Airs on Chiller

By Jamie Ruby

RemainsRemains is based on the graphic novel that was written by Steve Niles (30 Days of Night) and illustrated by Kieron Dwyer. The film takes place in a post-apocalyptic Reno, Nevada, and is about what happens after most of the world's population has been turned to zombies. The movie follows a group of survivors as they battle the undead.

Niles, who also wrote the story for the film, took time to talk to the media about his project, set to air on Chiller on December 16th.

Q&A with Steve Niles, Executive Producer of Chiller's Remains

December 7, 2011

RemainsQUESTION: The trailer for the movie looks terrific. I'm really looking forward to seeing the movie. 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 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. 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 and we had to choose between (unintelligible) was which one was (unintelligible)...

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 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 up front 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.

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.

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? Why are they so amazing?

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 the way we express those fears are through what better than this mindless zombie horde that wants to eat us? You know, 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 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 illustrate what we're afraid of, and then shoot it in the head, you know?

Does that make sense?

QUESTION: Totally, yeah, totally. And I have to ask you quickly just because I love this stuff, "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" there isn't - 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.

But, 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 Archangels 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. 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 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 there was - everybody sort of like apologetic, "Do you want to do a TV movie?" And I was - 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 has wound up being just - they're 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: Well, hopefully that means we'll see more of your stuff in the future.

STEVE NILES: Let's just say there are talks. We are talking.

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 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 - or I want to talk about too, because I know [for] a lot of people right now, The Walking Dead is so popular and that's the current version of what people think zombies are.

When I sat down to write Remains, you'll remember this, 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 "do they run or do they shamble?"

And for that it seemed 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, [so] 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 a pet peeve of mine with any genre movie – it bugs me when everything is all the same. Like 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, because of the human accident that there would be variations of the disease based on the proximity to what happened.

Did that make sense?

QUESTION: You had 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, so essentially what we're going to try to do is do a live Bernie Wrightson comic. And Bernie wants to paint the sets, so I'm going to have a problem now with - the backdrops are going to be original Bernie Wrightson art and I'm going to have to like - they're going to be more valuable than anything. So, what we're going to try to do is do a live comic on stage.

QUESTION: Could you tell us 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?

STEVE NILES: 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 Synthetic, Andrew and all the guys at Synthetic really did just a fantastic job, because like I said, except for the biker horde we got everything in there.

QUESTION: You mentioned you had done some site visits during the production. 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: 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 go scene to scene to scene. It was incredible.

They 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, "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, 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: For those of us that have followed your career pretty closely, Steve, you seem to have a wonderful knack for figuring out or anticipating what the next wave of the genre is going to be, so you managed to do that with vampires with 30 Days, with zombies with Remains, and even now the Frankenstein book that you're doing with Bernie seems to be coming out before this next big wave of Frankenstein projects.

What do you 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'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.

I'm a huge, huge horror fan. 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 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. The Frankenstein book is - 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, you know? 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 are any plans to do anything with Cal McDonald, either for the small or big screen? And I couldn't help thinking in the course of this conversation, with this introduction to Chiller it would seem like an awfully nice place to maybe do something with the character if he's not spoken for already.

STEVE NILES: Well, 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?" 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, 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 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.

RemainQUESTION: 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 fait accompli. 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, you know? 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 came out of just trying to do something different.

QUESTION: I noticed that the cast was particularly spot on and I was wondering, especially in the case of Evalena Marie, who's Tori, is just perfect. How much input did you have with that?

STEVE NILES: 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 and there's some moments where Grant plays off his - 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 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.

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