Last time I interviewed Andrew Jones he was a director talking about his gritty, powerful drama The Feral Generation. Four and a half years on (in January 2012) he’s a producer talking about a Welsh ‘re-imagining’ of Night of the Living Dead! As ever, he provided detailed, fascinating answers to my questions.
What is the legal/copyright situation with regard to calling a film Night of the Living Dead?
“The original 1968 film fell into the public domain after the original distributors failed to put a copyright notice on the original prints of the movie. This has resulted in various distributors around the world being able to release the film without a licensing fee and for producers to be able to remake it. Obviously this isn't particularly pleasing to the filmmakers behind the original film and there are many fans of the original who have criticised filmmakers and distributors who take advantage of the public domain status. I understand the criticism but all of the filmmakers behind the original film have gone on to have successful careers and are now multi-millionaires as a result of success they've achieved with their subsequent films. So it's not like by using that title we're pissing on people who are in poverty.
“Getting a film financed is a difficult process and the current climate dictates that something with a known title has a far greater chance of investment than something original. That may sadden some people but that's just the way it is. Film-making is a business and a hard nosed one at that, so you have to try and play the game if you want to get a foot on the ladder. Ultimately once you make money for someone else you will get the opportunity to do a wider variety of projects.
“Some fanboys have accused us of exploitation but that's what the film business is! Every film made happens because the producers or studios feel they can make money out of exploiting a concept that appeals to a particular demographic. But where we differ from the studio remakes is we have the independent freedom to do something unique and different with the Night of the Living Dead concept. Just because we have a known title that's no excuse to make a shit film. We've worked hard to make sure we make a good movie that will please horror film fans, because ultimately we are horror fans ourselves.”
To what extent, if any, does Night of the Living Dead: Resurrection tie into the existing continuity of the original NOTLD or any of the various sequels/remakes?
“There are some familiar characters from the 1968 film and there are some elements of the story that play on the audience's knowledge of the original. But we use that knowledge of the original to surprise the audience with plot twists as we take the characters and story in a new direction. The best thing about having a concept that's been done to death is people are familiar with it. So we've had great fun using that to mess with people's expectations. Anyone who goes into this film expecting a retread of the original film is going to be very surprised.”
In an age when video shelves are awash with zombie films, what makes NOTLDR different?
“I guess the most obvious difference is our setting! I don't remember a zombie movie set in West Wales with Welsh characters before. But beyond that our characters have emotional substance and there is genuine suspense and atmosphere throughout the film. There is also an underlying social conscience as the story touches on very topical issues such as how the younger and older generations react so differently in times of crisis, as well as universally relatable family dynamics. So I believe we have a lot more going on beneath the intestine ripping than other low budget zombie movies.
“I wish I could be more specific about the elements of the plot that make this different but that would involve giving away major spoilers! In this age of technology when plot details for movies are often revealed by someone on the internet before filming has even been completed, we are happy that so far we've managed to keep our big plot twists secret. The less you know going in the more impact the twists will have.
“Although we will no doubt be measured against Romero's movie, comparing the two films is pointless. The original is a classic and no matter how good a film we make we will never match the cultural and cinematic impact of that film. Bottom line is we're not looking to make The Godfather Part II. This is not high art. We've made a gritty low budget horror film that has all of the elements genre fans will love; suspense, intensity, gore etc. When those things are done well, you have an enjoyable horror film and that's what we have here.
“What I've found interesting about some of the criticism on message boards is that people point out that this film is low budget like that's a bad thing. It's amusing to hear that because those same fans complain about how studios remake the horror classics with big budgets and as a result the remakes have none of the gritty charm or soul of the original films. Every great horror film I've ever loved, without exception, has been a low budget affair. The original Night of the Living Dead, Last House on the Left, Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Hills Have Eyes. There's something about the stripped down, gritty quality of low budget horror that makes it a far more visceral and frightening experience than the glossy studio movies. As a horror fan I long for the return of the quality low budget horror that we saw in the '70s and '80s, so as a producer I want to make horror films that try to recapture the vibe of that wonderful era.”
How did you and director James Plumb come to work together?
“We originally met a few years back and talked about working together then. But at that point I had a lot of different balls in the air so it didn't happen. But I've long admired James' short films and I noticed how creative he was able to be with a shoestring budget. I've often thought that low budget separates the men from the boys. A great director will be able to use the budgetary limitations to his advantage and come up with unique ways to shoot. James has always been able to do that. So when I envisaged a low budget British re-imagining of Night of the Living Dead I knew James would be the right director because he is a great visual storyteller. He doesn't see a limitation, he sees a challenge.
“I had an opening scene I had written for a previous unfinished script called ASBO of the Living Dead. We took that as the opening scene for this project and discussed ideas for a new approach to the original story. It was clear we were on the same page creatively as we loved the same horror movies. I wrote a bare bones first draft in five days and then I turned it over to James and told him to make the subsequent drafts his own. After two months the script was complete and then we secured our financing from Independent Moving Pictures to begin production.
“I believe a producer should always allow a director to make the film his own. Otherwise what's the point in hiring someone else to direct? Although I've directed before I never had any desire to muscle in on James' territory during the filming. That's because he is a remarkably assured director with a clear vision. Having someone like that in charge of the creative direction of the project makes my job as producer so much easier. I can concentrate on the business side of the film knowing that the creative side is in the right hands.
“I always think projects run into trouble when you have producers and backers trying to have too big a say in the creative process, you end up with a script or film without a distinct authorship and inevitably the working process becomes a strained one. I think it works best when the producer concentrates on the business and administration aspects of the project, and the director focuses on the creative. That's how the working relationship between James and I has developed and hopefully it'll carry through as successfully on many other projects in the future.”
Apart from producing NOTLDR, what have you been up to since The Feral Generation?
“The Feral Generation was a satisfying creative experience but after filming it turned into a bit of a nightmare. We had four producers who all had something good to offer, but they all had different ideas for the direction of the project and even though the film had DVD distribution offers it wasn't commercially released because of disputes between the producers. I don't think one particular individual was at fault, I just think too many cooks spoil the broth. I didn't exactly cover myself in glory either, I was clueless about the business side of film-making and I acted like a total prick back then. Now I would have handled that project a lot differently. But ultimately the experience set me in good stead and since then I've had other interesting experiences that I also learnt a great deal from.
“After Feral I tried to get a project off the ground called The Beautiful Outsiders, which was a Bonnie and Clyde style movie set in Wales. We initially had great fortune with it, managing to get a lot of ‘name’ actors involved in supporting roles and securing Michael Douglas' son Cameron in the lead role. Cameron became an associate producer on the project and was set to bring in his father as Executive Producer. We were well on course to have the whole project financed at that stage and then Cameron got busted in America for being a crystal meth dealer.
“Of course that was a great surprise to me because he had been nothing but professional in my dealings with him. It was a strange time, I had People Magazine, gossip website TMZ and British newspapers contacting me to dish the dirt on Cameron, asking if he had used drugs during the development of our project and stuff like that. So we ultimately had to distance ourselves from Cameron and we released a statement to the press confirming we had terminated our agreement. Unfortunately in doing so we lost out on financing the film with Michael Douglas' involvement.
“We tried to rescue the project by quickly replacing Cameron with Lost Boys actor Corey Feldman but what we found out is that Corey is not seen by certain people in the industry as a financially viable leading actor. The amount of agents and investors who told me that because of his reality TV work he was not someone they wanted to be associated with was extraordinary. It's a pity, because I think Corey is a really good actor who still has a lot to offer. At that stage the project was becoming more trouble than I felt it was worth so I sold the script to a US production company and moved on.
“Around the same time I was also attached to write and direct a remake of The Driller Killer and that looked promising, but ultimately it became clear that the two individuals who held the rights to the original (one of whom was Abel Ferrara) were never going to reach an agreement on financial terms. So after a year or so of wrangling and negotiation it didn't happen. That's just the way it goes sometimes.
“After that I did quite a few writing jobs. One of the commissions I had was from Ovidio Assonitis, the producer who gave James Cameron one of his first directing gigs on Piranha II: The Spawning. I wrote a remake of the 1974 Exorcist rip off Beyond the Door for his company KOA Entertainment. That was a pretty fun script to write, but after turning in the second draft Ovidio wanted to take the story in a direction that I wasn't interested in going, so I bowed out at that point. I don't think they've made the movie yet, although I'm sure they plan to at some stage.
“In the last couple of years I've done associate producing on other people's projects and ended up becoming more interested in producing than directing. Moving into producing was also influenced by my experience on The Feral Generation. I was powerless on that project because I didn't have my own production company involved and I wasn't a producer. Now on everything I do my company North Bank Entertainment has a controlling interest because I don't want to be in a situation where the production and sale of my movie is at the mercy of other people.
“Creatively, I've also moved away from wanting to make dramas. From a business perspective, gritty dramas have a limited commercial potential. Thinking about the wider UK indie scene, I'm sick of so many British films being kitchen sink dramas or mockney gangster films. I think we should be concentrating on making a wider variety of genre pictures and it's nice to see that many independent producers in the UK feel the same way. From a personal viewpoint, I feel horror movies are my true calling. I grew up watching little else. I had Freddy Krueger's image on my Birthday cake when I was six years old! Kind of twisted when you think about it because the character is a child killer, but I loved those movies from a very young age. So it feels natural to now be making horror films.
“My school of thought on film producing is very much the same as Roger Corman's approach. Find a concept that makes sense creatively and financially, then produce the film economically and utilise new talent. Hopefully, North Bank Entertainment will help shine a light on undiscovered British talent and launch a lot of careers. I've no interest in moving to London or LA so we're trying to create our own little indie film factory here in South Wales.”
Finally, what is your own favourite zombie film?
“Obviously the original Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead are classics but my favourite zombie movie has always been Day of the Dead. I enjoyed the more thoughtful approach to the material that film had. It tackled the philosophical questions of a scientific approach versus a military approach, plus it had the best special effects of any Romero zombie film. The characters were also great in that film: Logan, Bub and Rhodes. I could watch Joe Pilato as Rhodes all day long, it's such an enjoyable performance. ‘Choke on 'em!’”