Interview: Roger Conners – Director of Night of the Living Dead: Rebirth
The original Night of the Living Dead is without a doubt one of the most influential horror films of all time. All self-respecting horror fans have watched it multiple times and will still be awed by its sheer awesomeness. Roger Conners was such a huge fan that he is currently working on his own version, titled Night of the Living Dead: Rebirth. Check out our interview with him below and contribute to the film here.
Dread Central: So, why did you choose to remake Night of the Living Dead? Were you big fans of the original?
Roger Conners: To say I am a fan is a total understatement. Not only was Night of the Living Dead my first exposure to the horror genre, but it also remains my single favorite film to this day. It completely defined my taste in cinema and sparked my interest in being involved in the industry at a very young age.
DC: Is this a remake of the original or a new story?
RC: It’s a remake, but the storyline and the characters involved have been updated to feel a bit more contemporary. Fans are certainly going to see many of the classic moments recreated, but there will also be a multitude of new plot twists that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats.
DC: And what exactly is the “Rebirth” in the title referring to?
RC: I went with “Rebirth” for multiple reasons, but mainly it’s because it truly is a totally new take on the classic storyline. We’re not just dealing with a remake in the sense of retelling the story; we are completely updating it to make the whole thing feel relevant for today’s viewers. The original film, at its core, is so much more than an average zombie movie. From a filmmaker’s perspective, Romero’s masterpiece also succeeds as a highly advanced social commentary. The movie dealt with an array of issues that were prevalent at the time of its release, and we definitely wanted to tap into that aspect of the story. My goal with “Rebirth” is to recreate that element of the original, but for a modern audience.
DC: What stage of production are you currently in?
RC: We’re about 90% of the way through principal photography. We have a few scenes left, but they’re the ones that are really going to make or break the film. They are the ones that the fans really anticipate and they expect you to get it right or else they will hate you forever. I definitely don’t want to be known as the dude who ruined a classic. That’s a lot of pressure.
DC: Alvin Hudson plays Reverend Harold Cooper; is he the villain of the film?
RC: He definitely is! He still possesses many of the traits that the original Harry displayed in the original, but his religious extremist mentality definitely takes his personality to a far darker and more hateful place. He holds a lot of hostility in his heart, and he refuses to budge on his beliefs, which are cause for much tension with the other survivors.
DC: Can you talk about the rest of the cast?
RC: I’d love to. Many of the original characters return in some form. Ben is portrayed a bit rougher around the edges, much more along the lines of the original script before Duane Jones stepped in and polished him up. I don’t think anyone could truly recreate that performance, so I opted to take a different route and pay homage to the source material. So Ben is a truck driver, as he was originally written.
Another character who is very much a hat-tip to the original script is George, the caretaker of the cemetery who ends up joining the other survivors inside the farmhouse. I was hesitant to add a new character, but there needed to be some fresh elements to my story so I ended up getting a little creative. Anyone who has ever read the original script knows that the character of Judy was not part of it. She was written specifically for Judith Ridley, and the character of her boyfriend, Tom, was originally the elderly cemetery groundskeeper. So I figured, “What the hell,” and wrote that character into the story. And, in tribute, I named him George.
The only character who has been drastically restructured is Barbra. She is no longer part of the storyline. I know people are going to be upset with this, but I need to just get it out there. However, there is a new character that is heavily based off of her, down to the classic trenchcoat. His name is Adam, and he is a 23-year-old gay male. Now stick him in that house with Reverend Cooper, who has been completely based off of Fred Phelps, the former head of the Westboro Baptist Church. See where I’m going with this? Remember that “social commentary” aspect I was attempting to recreate? Well, there you. That is just one example of where we are going with this film.
DC: The original is in the public domain and has been remade many times; what makes yours stand out?
RC: I feel there are multiple aspects about “Rebirth” that set it apart from the rest of the remakes. First, before I go on any further about my own film, let me make it clear that I am oftentimes a supporter of remakes in general. If it’s handled properly, the movie can certainly become a classic by its own right! I mean, look at John Carpenters The Thing. That movie is a masterpiece on so many levels. Now, if the movie is handled poorly, what does that really do to diminish the quality of the original piece? If anything, does it not just bring a newfound attention and appreciation to the source material? I don’t know; clearly this is all just a matter of opinion, but that is my stance on the matter.
Now as for why I feel “Rebirth” deserves the attention and support of fans of the original film? To tell the truth, because I am one of you. I’m as diehard as they come. This movie defined my childhood and spawned my passion for cinema in general. I am doing everything in my power to respect the source material, breathe new life into the storyline, and overall make sure that I create the best film I possibly can. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. This is my passion project. It was only a matter of time until I had my turn with it!
DC: Why do you think that zombies have achieved such huge cultural status recently?
RC: I feel everyone has their own reason for loving the zombie genre, but I think that there are a few universal reasons for why they’re so scary and continue to work in such a heavily saturated market. The idea of a loved one returning without absolutely any sense of reason or motivation aside from their desire to kill you is terrifying. There is no hesitation. No debating the matter. There is a complete loss of identity there, and that is horrifying! And let’s be real, what do we find more interesting and, in turn, terrifying than death? It’s scary as hell because none of us completely know what is in store! So then this whole zombie concept comes along, and it provides an answer to that. And that answer is scary as hell! The recently dead get up and kill! Those they kill get up and kill! Death equals more death! What is scarier than that?