Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated" - An Interview with the Curator and Producer, Mike Schneider

Who's kidding who? Of course there's a part of me that wishes that I could just spend my days writing, working on projects, talking with and helping indie horror filmmakers, watching movies and playing the odd video game. Problem is, currently, none of those activities are classified as 'paying jobs'. Maybe a script of mine will get optioned. Maybe one of our projects will get picked up. Maybe someone will pay me six figures to sit on my couch and play my PS3... maybe. Joking aside, that's really what we're trying to do over here at Dead Harvey. We want to figure out how to make money in indie horror. We want to help YOU make money in indie horror. We want to create new markets in indie horror. We want this whole little sub-genre to rise up from the ass-end of Hollywood and for us all to get paid (and paid well) for what we love to do... right? Well, right? I think so... do we want to turn our 'art' into a 'business'? Really, right now, indie horror is an art. The arguable definition of art is "the human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature". That's one definition, but the long and short is, money is nowhere to be found in the definition of 'art'. In fact, when you start to cater a visual art to consumers in an attempt to make money, some would argue that it ceases to be art. Mike Schneider's "Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated" is art... plain and simple and, I have to say, it was refreshing to watch.

Truth is, we all started as artists, didn't we? We fiddled with cameras, we doodled in our notebooks, we put together little videos. That's art... we weren't doing it to make money. Somewhere along the way, we realized that if we want to keep doing this, we better figure out a way to make money at it. That's where business crept in and, possibly, some of the art was sacrificed. "Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated" is like an adrenaline rush of horror art... a kick in teeth reminder that, really, what we're all about IS art. I don't know about you, but all through high school and, later, film school, I would doodle and draw homages to some of my favorite horror films, all while some professor droned on about the Russian surrealist movement. THAT'S what this film is all about. Over 100 horror artists, using every type of medium possible; doodled, sketched, animated and painted scenes from "Night of the Living Dead" and Schneider put it all together over the original audio track. It's a project that's unlike anything I've ever seen and it's a true reminder of what horror, for a lot of us, is really all about. Sure, we all need to make a living, but hopefully we can remember to do that without sacrificing too much of the art. We had the pleasure of discussing the project with Mike Schneider...

Let’s just get right to it… NOTLD:R is just about as interesting a project as you’re going to find these days. Tell us a bit about it and where did the idea come from?

Artists have always been the 'other', those things working outside of the mainstream culture who bang up against its edges as they try to grab an audience and influence their perspective. Driven by an unstoppable need to create, the post modern artist continues to shuffle forward even after accepting that the traditions of art are dead. Questioning the role of identity, exploring the nature of absence, and constantly appropriating, the ghouls can serve as role models.

While watching a battle-worn copy of Night of the Living Dead, it dawned on me that this project should be approached as a horde with all of the individuals working independently toward the same goal. In effect, Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated turns Night of the Living Dead onto itself.

What would the budget be for a project like this and where did it go?

Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated did not touch a penny in production. Relying heavily on free software, found materials, and hand-driven processes, this project was created completely by volunteer artists out of love for their craft and the original film.

How did you go about contacting all the horror artists and what was their reactions like? Was there anyone that declined and why?

At first, there was a question of why we would invest so much time and energy in working with an existing film instead of creating a 'new' movie. Fan artists naturally understood that there was something to be gained by the artist's hand and so they were some of the first to sign up. Once we started having artwork to show, others saw freedom in the project and merit in the idea. Soon more and more artists began to join us.

As one would assume, when talking about a project which was not touching money in production and would not be taking any money in profits, there were artists who backed away. I would argue that if money is your prime motivation that you are a hired hand not an artist... but I'm a bohemian communist so, if I believed in contracts, I'd be under one to say that. To be completely honest, this was an experimental project and from the start, nobody (myself included) knew quite what to expect from it. I posted the call to entry everywhere it would stick and the artists who had the passion to work without pay and the balls to work without guarantees stepped forward.

I guess an obvious question is, does Romero know about it and, if so, has he seen it and what’s his response?

Contact has been made with different members of the '68 production, however, I respect their anonymity and will not speak on their behalf. Their words have been exploited enough and, as a fan, I won't exploit them further.

As a fan who knows the film quite well, I just found myself more into the various art forms and mediums… not really following the story. However, I assume the film is made for fans, like me. What’s the reaction been like from other fans?

I have received words of love and hate and I see both as valid. Rowdy theaters, horror hosts, and audience participation all add to the experience but can also distract someone from the movie if they don't enter them with the right mindset. Art is really no different. What all of these things offer is a new prospective to frame how you view something that you already know. Some fans relish the chance to gain a new experience with a film they love while others see anything outside of 'their frame' as an un-welcomed distraction. As is said of religion, some read the books and others recite the words.

For the fans, there is a benefit to re-framing something, particularly through art. Scientifically speaking, when you view something repeatedly your mind stops observing and starts recalling the memories you have associated with it audio and visual cues. When you offer an alternative to these cues, such as new visuals, you mind recognizes that there is new information to take in and begins watching it again. Once your mind is given multiple sets of visuals to associate with the same sound, your eye begins scanning for both sets of cues in the video and that results in you seeing things in the original film which you may have previously over looked... no matter how many times you have seen it.

Though initial audiences seemed somewhat polarized, it appears that as people become more familiar with the project and it's intentions, the audience has become increasingly receptive to it. I can't say for sure if this is the project finding it's audience or more people talking the project on it's own terms but either way, this is a good sign for the project. I have no allusions that this experimental piece is going to be for everyone but hopefully, it will serve the viewers who are open to it.

Okay, tell us a bit about yourself. What are your influences and what got you into indie film?

I'm a conceptual artist and an experimental animator working in the anti-art traditions of the incoherent, dada, and fluxus art movements. Raised in front of a TV, I feel at home with media. Blending elements of science, art and media, my fine arts work has been refereed to as, 'thinking of abstracts and searching for their edges.' Though I am not bound to any particular process, an underlying theme that extends through much of my work is exploring the mechanics of communication.

Particular influences include Marcel DuChamp, PT Barnum, Go Nagai, William Castle, and Al Feldstein. Their willingness to take risks and drive to to pull ahead of the curve is an inspiration. Their commitment to their ideas and devotion to their trade is something we could all learn from. In a world full of wooden manikins, these men were about as plastic as they come..

Film school: Yes or No?

No. BFA: Fine Arts Studio: Sculpture, BS: Art Education: Painting and BFA: Fine Arts: Digital Media. I have also worked both in production and in a small traditional (hand) animation studio. I believe we must remember that film is a type of animation... not the other way around.

When you set out to make NOTLD:R, what was your goal? Was this pure art form or were you looking for some sort of financial success? How would you like the film to be distributed?

I guess, I got sick of seeing these beautiful works of art on the cover of piss poor films. I'm sure we've all had a moment where we see a box and think, 'wow that looks cool,' only to get home and find that the person who made that box isn't even involved with the project. What if the whole project was art?

On a personal level, I'm nostalgic for a time that was before me. This prospective is undoubtedly romanticized but when I think back to the early days of film, everything seems so new and exciting. Film makers back then had no choice but to experiment and find their own way. Horror in particular was the playground for various techniques as it blurs the shadows between reality and fiction. I decided long ago that I needed to work my way back to that point before I would be ready to call myself a film maker. There are so many assumptions which I need to unlearn.

As far as distribution, I've split my energy between traditional and nontraditional approaches. There will be a wide DVD release by Wild Eye Releasing that will be chocked full of bonus features as well as an official torrent release through Demonoid. There will be numerous free streaming and download versions available and we continue to offer up free screening rights to independent theaters/ festivals/ art spaces and free broadcast/ webcast rights to numerous horror hosts. This is a project created by the horror/ art community and so it should be free to that community.

I’d think that this is a perfect film for the film festivals. Did, or do you plan to, enter the film in to any festivals? What are your thoughts on the indie horror festival circuit?

We have taken the vampire model here and gone where we are invited. We have screened at festivals, organizations, colleges, high schools, bars, independent theaters, art centers, online, broadcasts, and, heck, even in a virtual theater within the game Second Life. Like working on anything else, the more you plan, the more you assume and the more you limit yourself... so, I opted to make myself approachable and then accommodated the opportunities which opened up to us. Anyone who has a venue or platform and would like to show NOTLD:R should email me at shenlon@hotmail.com so we can set it up.

As far as the 'indie circuit', it seems like an oxymoron doesn't it. If you are truly independent then why the heck are you hopping in a prescribed path. Independent productions stem from grass roots traditions which involve one person talking to another person. There are plenty of independent venues out there which are starved for content and getting strangled out by this studio system so do each other a favor and work together.

Talk about the horror and indie horror scene. Where do you think it is now and where do you see it going?

Honestly, after watching many horror films, I find myself more interested in where the genre has gone then where it is going. I see the current state sort of like a car wreck. Yes, there are flashing lights and gore but if you focus on that you're going to get stuck in traffic while they scrape those special effects off of the road.

As I mentioned earlier, I'm more interested in turning around, getting off at some other exit, and looking for an alternative route then waiting in line to rubber neck at the accident up ahead.

Where can people find out more about NOTLD:R or check it out?

The project's website is notldr.com. As far as checking out the project itself, we will be appearing on numerous net and broadcast based horror host programs and continue screening in various independent venues strait through the wide releases online and on DVD at the end of April. So contact your local horror host or independent theater to see if they will be showing it. If they aren't yet, then have them email me at shenlon@hotmail.com and I will work with them to rectify that and get the project playing in your area.

What’s next for you?

We have already started the early stages of production on the next project in this series, 'Unseen Horror'. Unseen Horror turns a similar approach (inviting artists to come, select scenes, and animate/ illustrate them through their own style/ media then curating the results) towards old time horror radio dramas. These radio dramas were independent film before there was independent film and contain some of the greatest horror stories that you've never seen preformed by some of the most talented actors of all time. Through our artwork, we'll help to usher some of these stories into the visual culture. Anyone interested in working with us (artist or otherwise) should email mike@unseenhorror.com.