Carsten talks with James Plumb, director of the upcoming British zombie-horror film “Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection” about his approach to the cult movie, why he almost didn’t do it, why remakes usually don’t work, and the pains and gains of low-budget independent filmmaking. You can find out more about “Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection” and watch the first trailer in our feature right here on HorrorBug.
Carsten: Hello James, how are you doing?
James Plumb: I”m not too bad. Its the middle of the day there for you?
Carsten:Yeah, here its 1 pm. Bright and sunny and warm outside.
James Plumb: Ok, we haven’t had the sun out today. (laughing)
Carsten: So, Night of the Living Dead – how did you come up with the idea to do a remake on that? I think its pretty daring to tackle that one.
James Plumb: Yeah. I can’t take credit for that. It was actually the producer’s idea, Andrew Jones. We nearly worked together a couple of years ago on an original project of mine called ‘Acts of Godzilla’ and it doesn’t quite come off. In the UK the indie film scene kind of fell apart a couple of years ago and there wasn’t just any sort of mid-budget films being made. So Andrew got in contact with me around May last year and suggested that he had this zombie project in mind. Would I be interested? And, I mean, since we nearly worked together, I’m just been making low budget shorts, mostly in the horror genre, I was intrigued. But I couldn’t think of a zombie hook, something that could actually get me excited about doing a zombie film. I’m a massive fan of zombie films, but I was aware of so many bad zombie films, I didn’t want to kind of add to it. I’ve never said no to Andrew, because you don’t say no to a producer when he’s got an idea for a project. So I said ‘I’m intrigued, I’m interested, so let me know what you’ve got’. Then he came back to me with the idea of ‘Night of The Living Dead’, but as a UK remake, and that caused me kind of not to reply to him for a couple of days. I mean the 1968 one is pretty much close to a perfect film. Not just horror film but perfect film. It’s such a lean film, there’s not a lot fat on it, it’s a real kind of low budget, sets out what its meant to do and succeeds on every level with what its meant to do. So I hesitated again about the idea and I started to write an e-mail, explaining my reasons why I wasn’t gonna do it and that became a list which almost became a manifest about what I didn’t wanna do in zombie films. Which was, you know, like the usual things that you see in zombie films nowadays, which is a group full of strangers locked away together, bickering for 90 minutes… and then people calling that character development or exposition or whatever else. So I put together this list with all these things that kind of said why I didn’t wanna do the film. And by the time I finished the list I realized that it was quite a negative list. But it actually mad me realize what I did wanna do, so I thought, OK, rather than e-mailing this to Andrew, I’ll be meeting up with him, because we live only about an hour away from each other. After meeting up with him I kind of explained to him my reservations and he said ‘Fine, we’ll do whatever you wanna do. As long as we keep the cool concept’, which was the isolated farm house out in the middle of nowhere and the undead hoards attacking that farm house. ‘As long as we keep that cool concept, you can go off and do what you want.’ Which I didn’t expect him to say and I said it to a lot of people going through remakes. I don’t have a problem with remakes, I just got a problem with bad films. I just think there’s a van diagram with bad films and bad remakes. There is a big chunk in the middle which would be bad remakes, unfortunately. I think the problem with a lot of these being made by – is it Platinum Dunes? – the ones that were churning out the remakes from the 80’s, slashers and everything, ‘Friday the 13th’, ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ and all those. For me it is that they are just taking the best bits, you know, the plot points which are the best bits and then recycle them and throw it back up on screen. I’m a child of the 80’s, a VHS kid, and I was raised in a video shop really, and for me Cronenberg’s ‘The Fly’, Carpenters ‘The Thing’ and Kaufman’s ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’,… you know, those were remakes. And to be honest, for me personally , they were strictly originals. And what I liked about those films was that they looked at the concept, the original concept and some of the themes from the usual films, and that was pretty much all they took and they went off and made it their own thing, and that was really what I was using as a model while we were coming up with ‘Night of The Living Dead’. One example of what we did, we kind of ditched automatically the group of strangers. We do have some characters from the original film – we are still respectful to the original film – but for me the central thing was the idea of this family unity, who care for each other, looking after each other and fighting together. And its very hard to have that family unity that kind of works together. For some reason its very popular to put a bunch of strangers together, and you kind of have them argue with each other for an hour and a half. I mean, once Andrew sold me on the idea of the project we had about two meetings where we just threw ideas at each other. Andrew ran away and wrote the first draft very, very fast and then threw it over to me and then I did about three subscreen drafts after that. And in late September last year we started shooting the film. But Andrew, the producer, he’s got a phrase for the film which is ‘companion piece’. And I think that’s the same with all these studios that say reinvention or reboot or whatever else. I don’t have a problem with the remake tag, I just think unfortunately remake at the moment is synonymous with a lot of bad films that are coming out which bring nothing new to the table.
Carsten: In many cases it seems its a cashing in on a franchise that was big and is not at the moment, so just do something under that title and make it fly.
James Plumb: Yeah, yeah. I mean to a certain extend I would probably say we’re guilty of that. I mean, we are low budget independent filmmakers in the UK. There is not a lot of money flying around here. I don’t know what the American indie-scene is like, but in the UK there isn’t anybody. So you either import an American star, you know, we fly Tony Todd over here, or we flew Robert Englund over here. I’ve worked with people who were doing that. So we either fly the stars over and make a film based on those names or we do something with ‘The Night of The Living Dead’ as a brand name. Hats off to Andrew, that was his idea. We were able to get funding based on that film, based on the brand, if you like. For me really the idea was to take the cool concept and see what else we can do, see what else we could explore, see what different things we could do with it . There are, obviously, NOTLD, the original, is such a powerful film that I don’t think any zombie film is really kind of broken out of its shadow since 1968. So yeah, we play with a lot of the genre standards that were kind of established in ’68. But we have fun at the same time as well.
Carsten: And from what I understand you’re not only re-creating that feel of the original, being a low budget movie, on screen. You also did that on set, because from what I heard shooting was done within 12 days.
James Plumb: That’s right, yeah. The principal photography was ten days in a row and then we had two pick up days the weekend afterwards, and that was to shoot the prologue and the epilogue as well. I’m a massive horror fan and grew up reading about the exploits of Sam Raimi, Wes Craven, they were making ‘The Last House on The Left’ and ‘Evil Dead’. And I think that is how horror films should be made. Low budget people just going out there. We were staying in a holiday cottage and filming in a holiday cottage which was made for a family of four and there was a crew of seven and this cast of another seven, they were cramped into this thing. Terrible food, no sleep,… it was great. I absolutely loved it. We will shoot another film in April and can’t wait to get stuck in it again.
Carsten: Well, I guess that makes it easier on the actors to portrait a miserable situation then?
James Plumb: Definitely. We had just a great time with the actors, nothing that you would call a name. But in some ways I’m always a bit resistant with kind of stars, if you like. It always seems to be that you’re watching ‘House’ in the foreground instead of watching his character. And for a low budget film, well, we wouldn’t have to afford the stars. But, too, if you don’t have any sort of preconceptions about these actors, if you haven’t seen them in other things, then it’s a lot easier to believe them in this situation. And again, we were renting this little farm house out in the middle of nowhere, this family unit and, you know, its based in that farm house. Its very claustrophobic, very pathetic. It was really good to be in a house like that. for the ten days of shoots. Because it was brutal and the great thing about low budget filmmaking is that everything goes wrong. So you have to have a plan B and a plan C, because sometimes those plans B and plans C are better than what you originally wrote in the script. So a lot of happy accidents added up shooting it and it was a lot of fun putting it together in the editing room in the last couple of months.
Carsten: With NOTLD, let’s say, now transplanted to England, what has changed? Basically in a nutshell; how is your companion piece different from the original as far as the content is concerned?
James Plumb: Well, its shot in Wales. Its one of these things, NOTLD could have taken place anywhere. I mean, it was a farm house in America, it could have been a farm house in the UK. And I think what’s great about the original: its timeless, it doesn’t have geographical boundaries. And I found, when we were writing the script, although there are kind of modern traffics, the modern mobile phone has made the horror film a different kind of place, now we’ve got information at our fingertips, we are able to contact people via Skype, you know. With this one I think the UK thing, I mean there are certain sub-cultures in the UK, which are kind of prominent now and … we don’t want to give too much away. We want some secrets to the film when it comes out, some surprises at least.
Carsten: Of course.
James Plumb: We have some UK sub-cultures that are prominent in the film, we call them hoodies. I don’t know if that’s kind of common over there.
Carsten: It doesn’t ring a bell at the moment, but it almost seems like a spoiler. So don’t go there.
James Plumb: OK, I don’t wanna release too much. But we have things that obviously play in the 21st century UK, really the story is pretty timeless. It’s a family trapped and the dark, forces trying to get in, and that family is kind of under extraordinary pressure. Yeah, it’s a timeless tale that we have kind of just taken and put a little spin on.
Carsten: When will the movie come out?
James Plumb: Well, right now I’ve just been speaking to the composer, who’s mixing the final score with the film. So we’ve got some territories we’ve already been sold to, some territories in Europe. We’ve got some nice big companies interested in the US and the UK and Australia. So at the moment we are just looking at good deals because the cast and crew weren’t paid upfront, they’ll be paid at the back end. So we are looking for the best deals for cast and crew because we want to keep working with these guys, we want to keep making this leverage of horror films. So at this stage we have got real estate. We will gonna do some cast and crew screening very shortly. Which will be great. We are trying to get the group back together again. It was odd, we finished shooting and kind of got back to civilization, not being covered in fake blood, not having zombie parts to stumble over like dismantled arms and legs. But, yes, we will have coming out some announcements shortly. The interest has been amazing. It got a blast when the poster came out and we released the teaser the end of last year. We got some serious offers as well, which is really good, you know, this is my first film, and I think it is a bunch of a film, we are not going to pretend otherwise. I think the amount of effort of cast and crew that was put in in those twelve days really pays off and we have something quite special there. So I really can’t wait for it to get out for people to see it.
Carsten: So we are looking at news for upcoming worldwide release pretty soon.
James Plumb: It should be very soon, yes.
Carsten: Did you use any CGI in that movie?
James Plumb: We used some, just to kind of add extra kicks, with the kind of low budget horror film like that. I’m not a fan of CG splatter. I think its been over used. And I think to me producers and perhaps directors … It appears to be that the higher budget films kind of go to that first rather than try to create practical effects. So we had very talented make up, the people we worked with on the last short before NOTLD which was ‘Final Girl’ and so I brought that make up team back, because I wanted to work with them again and everything we wrote in the script we tried to do physically on set. And, like low budget films, 9 times out of 10 we got what we wanted, 1 time of 10 it didn’t come off. You know, you got 15 people staying around trying to get this effect to work, heads exploding and what not. So through various techniques we got something, so that we could then, when we got back into the editing room, could key something in. So there was a physical effect and what we’ve done only with a couple of these, we kind of punched them up digitally. So we just give it the extra punch for the audience. But, what was good is, if you have some physical effect on the set, you get an idea of the shadow and the gravity and the weight of the effect, so with keying something in we just give it an extra little punch. In an ideal world I would have loved just doing everything with practical effects. You know, I’m talking about John Carpenter’s “The Thing”. That’s an amazing work with just practical effects. And, to be honest, modern CGI just comes nowhere close. I think the human eye can still register when something is computer generated, a computer effect, or if it has a physical presence on set, especially with horror. The blood flow or whatever. There is something about liquid and gravity and stuff which I haven’t seen recreated very well in CGI. The only one I kind of go in, and it was important for me, was ‘Starship Troopers’, which is probably about a decade ago. The ‘Starship Troopers’ for me, I bore into it totally. I can’t think of another CGI film I kind of got as caught up in as much and haven’t been distracted by the effects, since.
Carsten: Although we’re talking about an imagined story, when it comes to the visuals nothing beats reality.
James Plumb: Oh, definitely. Of course. And with our story, it was interesting, as a massive horror fan, when we got to the phase with the gore, obviously I got very excited, like a kid in a candy store, kind of playing around with exploding heads and severed arms and what not. But what I found in the editing room is although, there is a lot of gore and when the story does call for gore it will satisfy the gore hounds out there. We don’t just throw it in needlessly. It is one of those things where we have a reason for cutting to something nasty happening rather than going ‘Oh, 5 minutes is up, let’s throw the special blood at the camera again’. We’ve used some sort of restraint on that.
Carsten: So the story is in the foreground. Its not one of those sensational remakes that just go for blood and gore and take it a step further than the original is, its really about the story.
James Plumb: Yeah. I mean, what was interesting for me, it kind of came when we were re-writing the script, was the fact that its like a character drama. You’ve got six family members trapped in the house. Its a lot of tension between the characters although they are a loving family, but there is some kind of tension building up that bubbles to the surface. So that’s really what we found,that its kind of a character piece. Part of my list when I was trying to explain why I wasn’t gonna do the film was that characters do things because the plot calls them to do it, rather than its how you actually react in this situation. Another interesting thing is that gun laws are much more controlled in the UK, so early on we knew we would not have any kind of shotguns. When there are no weapons, its a big deal, its a powerful thing, that kind of really helped, the fact that our characters, if they were confronted with killing a zombie or dispatching a zombie, it would be a big deal and a difficult thing and it would have an effect on these characters. Its not as easy as double tapping something in the head and moving on and not being affected by that. All of our characters are normal people. Day to day every mans characters, and so, when they are faced with dispatching something, it is a big deal for them. So yeah, as much as possible when we were writing it, we go ‘okay, how would we actually react in that kind of situation?’.
Carsten: From what you told me you are already in preparation for your next project, right?
James Plumb: Yes. Again working with Andrew Jones was great. As a producer for a low budget film he was just making sure that everything turns up when it needs to turn up on set. So you get the toys to play with. And also, he was making sure that everyone was fed and everything else. When you are out in the middle of nowhere you don’t have many choices when it comes to catering. You get the one caterer who is there from fifty miles around. But for some reason, despite it being the shit job, he really wants to work with us again. I think we announced it last month we are going in to doing ‘Southern Night, Bloody Night: The Homecoming’, which again is another remake. Have you seen the original film, the 1970’s film?
Carsten: I saw it a long time ago.
James Plumb: Its one of those films where its got some really, really good bits in it and its very atmospheric, its very different from NOTLD. It really plays on atmosphere. But there are really interesting things with the characters going on. When Andrew came to me with the idea for the project, it was very difficult for me to say no, cause there were things with the characters which, in the original, I can see why they crossed over. But I think there are some meaty kind of things we can do with the lead characters. It’s a very different kind of piece. Its a slasher film rather than a zombie epic. But too, there is very much a lead and a leading lady, whereas the last one we worked on was very much a zombie piece. So I’m looking for those kind of challenges as well. I always wanted to get my hand on a slasher film. The short film I did before NOTLD was ‘Final Girl’, which was more like a kind of homage to those 80’s brutal slashers, backwoods with a machete. But this one’s more a refined mystery killer slasher film. In some ways the original is kind of an American giallo film. It’s a very convolutive plot, there’s a back story about ancestors, incest and everything else. And so I’m a massive fan of jello films, and when I watched the film. I knew Andrew was calling it the proto-slash.. And so that’s gonna help to lead what we are planning to do with some of the visuals, you know, again doing those nice killer pov shots. I’m a very visual director, so, again while writing the script I’m writing in kind of set pieces and scenarios, where I know we can push ourselves as film makers, and hopefully captivate the audience.
Carsten: We can look forward to something completely different in the further future. A different sub genre.
James Plumb: Yeah, I mean, to be honest, the exciting thing about working in horror right now, is that some of the different sub genres seem to be so successful. I mean ‘Devil Inside’, which is a found footage film. There is a lot of interest in the found footage sub genre, which again I think there are plenty of things that could be done in that sub genre. ‘Blair Witch’ cast such a long shadow over it, follows kind of the same plot, the same structure as that. So, a friend of mine, who also has another film coming out this year has that excellent script for a found footage film, which kind of flips it. Whereas in most found footage we are kind of with the victim, we are running away from things. This one’s much more of a predatory thing, where we are with the bad guys if you like. So its a found footage film where we are chasing the victim.
Carsten: That would definitely put a new spin on the found footage films.
James Plumb: Yeah, well, as far as I’m aware its a new spin on it.
Carsten: It definitely is.
James Plumb: (Laughing) Its hard to keep up with the horror stuff being made at the moment. I think that’s a great position to be in. As I said, as a kid of the 80s we got scrapped here in the UK with stuff that was released on VHS and wasn’t always very good stuff. So the fact now that there are so many distribution methods, watching stuff straight off the internet, streaming or downloads, DVD or Blue Ray, whatever, we have our choice. The sheer amount of choice out there is just very appealing as a long time horror fan.
Carsten: James, thank yuo very much for your time and we are looking very much forward to the release of ‘Night Of The Living Dead’.
Still photography by Victoria Rodway.