Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Classic Gets Reanimated...

“… an unreviled orgy of sadism…”

This was from Variety Magazine’s review of George A. Romero’s 1968 film “Night of the Living Dead”. Thankfully, few people listened to the review. The film has gone on to become not just one of the most acclaimed horror films of all time, and one of the most acclaimed films period. Its shrewd blend of B-movie thrills, unprecedented gore, real chills and a political undercurrent reflective of its time made it a box office hit and secured the film’s place in cinema history.

What many people don’t know is that the picture lapsed into the Public Domain because the distributor, the Walter Reade Organization, neglected to put a copyright indicator on the prints. US copyright law at the time required such an indicator. That’s why if you throw a rock in Best Buy you’ll likely hit a copy of NOTLD, usually piss-poor transfers with crappy cover done by shady looking DVD companies. And even worse, one of our finest filmmakers got royally screwed. But there’s an upside…

The public domain status has allowed curator Mike Schneider to bring about one of the year’s most interesting film projects – Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated. Keeping the existing audio track and painting over the video, Schneider put out a call to artists and animators across the world to put their own stamp on the horror classic. The result? The classic tale of terror is now told through a variety of fine arts and animation techniques – traditional animation, CG, stop motion, oil painting, watercolor, ink – even sock puppets, tattoos, t-shirts, and Barbie dolls – all synched up to the original audio track.

The project had its last call for entries just a few weeks ago, and is now in post production. I got the chance to grill Schneider on this cool new film project.

How’d you come up with the concept? And what were your next steps after that in getting the project off the ground?

"I'm a conceptual artist and a film geek. I wanted to bring them together. I love the freedoms and expressive qualities of art but it's so esoteric that it alienates people outside of the art community. You have these really complex languages which are already foreign to most of the audience and then the artwork speaks in colloquial expressions, idioms, and abstract poetic metaphors about largely intangible ideas. How the heck are people who aren't raised/ trained in that language supposed to be able to get anything from the gallery?

I had a peanut butter in my chocolate moment. My thought was if I take a film and treat that as an art space... then we have a place that more people will feel comfortable walking into and as a result a space where artists could show their work to this larger audience. What this would do is give the audience a way to enter into the work and then they can appreciate the freedom and expressive nature of it all instead of trying to figure out what the heck its suppose to be.

So I started this thing off doing Last Man on Earth as a solo project. Great idea but flawed... pretty soon I was as trapped, isolated and overwhelmed as Price was in the film. By best estimates, it would have taken me about 15-20 years to fill an entire film with my own artwork. I soldiered on but was watching other films in between working to keep my mind bringing new ideas into the work. Anyway, one day I popped in my battle wary copy of Night of the Living Dead. Then I came to this line: 'That's my point! There's not going to be five, or even ten! There's going to be twenty, thirty, maybe a hundred of those things, and as soon as they find out we're here, this place'll be crawling with them!' - Harry Cooper (NOTLD '68). I realized that I was approaching it all wrong. Artist's aren't meant to be the ones trapped... they are the creatures banging on the windows trying to 'get into your head'. Artists like those things have strength in numbers and so this project shouldn't be a solo art show... it should be a group show... plus with a whole bunch of artists and animators involved it was a hell of a lot more realistic on top of everything else. So I changed horses and reframed the project as a mass collaborative. Thus Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated was underway.

I wrote up a blurb I passed around to artists/ animators I knew. Largely the response was, 'Why would you do that?' The split seemed to be between the people who didn't get the point of making a film out of art and those who didn't get the point of why it needed to be a film which already existed.

I then started throwing blurbs on Craigslist... again the response seemed more of people questioning the few things I established as controls then experimenting with everything else I left opened. It dawned on me that there were fan artists on youtube and deviant art who were already doing NOTLD work. I thought if I started by getting some of them on board then we'd have work to show. In the mean time, I started working on my own segments so I had something to show for myself as well. We were a group of maybe a dozen artists but even then there was enough artwork that it started to make sense to other people. We had our first press coverage about a month into the idea and from there the group and collection of work kept growing. The rest is history."

What was the initial reaction to your pitch?
"At first, artists wanted to question the few things I established instead of playing with everything that I hadn't, filmmakers and animators didn't seem to get why it had to be a film that already existed and people already knew and the fans seemed outraged that we were 'messing with Romero's classic'. Once we had some work in, artists started to come around to the idea (though they still wanted to question the rules), as did film makers/ animators (though they wanted add and change things about the film), and even the fans started to take it all with a grain of salt as they started to see things in the collection of work which interested them. It took a bit more work before the visuals really had a presence to themselves. Once it started to look like an impressive project it became more attractive to other artists. The more work and artists involved, the more fans saw things they liked and started to come around. Now the arguments and counter points never really went away but as the amount of work keeps growing it starts to take on a life of its own and where as people will always still have their 'what if's' they can appreciate the fact that our project has become much more then just a hypothetical idea. I'd say as far as the overall tone we've come a really long way. I'm really starting to feel like there are people who 'get it' and from there I hope they enjoy the works they like and appreciate that there are other people who are enjoying the works they don't."

What was your reaction when the first entries started coming in?

"Honestly, I was split. The works which followed the idea and artists who did their own thing with it were great but others seemed to miss the point. When I tried to illustrate thing with filters and/ or the first artworks coming in but then there were people who latched onto the visuals instead of the concept.

It took me back to teaching. If you don't show the class examples most of them will be lost. If you show them one or two examples they will copy those examples verbatim. It isn't until you show them a board full of examples that they start to find their own ideas in between the other works.

A project like this really has the same set of circumstances... once we had a website covered with artwork online suddenly the group started to grow overnight and as we go the artists are all feeling the freedom to try new things and take chances in their artwork. The project has become even stronger for it."

Do you have a favourite entry/segment so far? Or if not a favourite, which one’s been the most surprising?

"No on both accounts. I entered this project without any expectations visually so there isn't any chance of something which will really surprise me because I've openedly requested everyone to bring what they do to the party. As far as favourites, there are some works which are more appealing to me visually and others more appealing to me conceptually but in reality no individual work speaks to me as much as the juxtaposition of all these things sitting next to each other under the frame of the same project."

What stage is the project in now, and when can we see the finished film?

"We are in post production. We are filling spots between artwork with more artwork and then are all going to critically review the timeline offering up alternative work for anything which feels like it's bringing the quality down. We're shooting for festivals and independent theaters in the fall and a DVD by winter. It's a long way to go but considering how far the project has come over the last 11 months, I think we can do it."

What’s been the most challenging part of the process?

"Our biggest challenge is the unforeseeable circumstances which have been plaguing the artists and everyone else. Between the skyrocketing job lost, wide spread illnesses, deaths in their families, and just Murphy's law, a lot of our artists have had to face a lot of hardship throughout this project. We solider on but I know these circumstances have made the work slower developing and have caused many artists who desired to participate forced to back out of the project because their lives were too trying. The work which is being done by these artists even through these hard times is a testament to their passion and their love for the original film. Still it's been a challenge because as an artist and fan myself part of me wants to extend things to allow all of these people time to get their lives back together while part of me feels that it would be a disservice to the fans and artists who have been pushing themselves so hard not to move forward. As John Lasseter once put it, 'Animation is never done, it's just released.' So though we are working to finish the film for release... should the climate change and the clouds part... who knows what the future holds."

There’s a lot of public domain flicks out there… any you’re thinking of tackling next?

"Actually, the next pass through we're taking another step forward with this idea and will be working with old time horror radio dramas instead. Before there was a home movie market or much in the way of independent film, if a story wasn't mainstream box office material it never received the green light to become film. So not to be completely wasted, they found themselves a home in our homes as radio dramas. Well written and aptly performed by the masters of the horror genre, theses stories have fallen into obscurity because they lack the visual stimulation needed in our ever growing visual culture. By pairing our artwork and animation with these radio dramas, our next project 'Unseen Horror' will give these stories the screen time they deserve and help them find a home in the DVD collections of horror fans everywhere. Anyone who might be interested in participating in that next project is advised to sign up for more information here : http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/unseenhorror/"

Have you spoken or had contact with Romero on this? Has he offered any feedback? What about the film’s surviving cast and crew?
"This is a complicated question which I'm going to attempt to answer very carefully. We have presented the materials and received some acknowledgement that it has been heard about and seen. In respect and restraint, I will not be making any statements on their behalf. Should they at some point wish to publicly comment on our project either in the form of praise or criticism, they do so with my blessing. Also for what it is worth, I do not wish for our project to be considered as an alternative to their film but rather as a supplement for fans of their original work to see the responses which other artists have had to this cult classic. A true fan tries to support the art, not exploit the artists and so I encourage everyone to do the same."


Anonymous said...

Its a truly stellar project. Mike has put something together very special and I think I can speak for fans everywhere when I say its a perfect homage.

Patrick Pierson

Post a Comment

Twitter Updates

    follow me on Twitter

    My Blog List