The Pending Horrors Of Roger Conners: Part I” can be viewed by hitting the highlighted link. Below is the continuation of our conversation where we discuss a bit more of his project “Night Of The Living Dead: Rebirth”, “Slay Bells” (working title), as well as his further pursuits as director.
Our conversation continues with the question of Adam. Rebirth’s slightly different yet familiar storyline as a tribute to the original while bringing a new look to the social commentary heavy classic.
ROGER CONNERS:…since the age of seven I have considered two films to be my all time favorites. The first is "The Wizard of Oz" and the second is the original "Night of the Living Dead". These two films are the reason I wanted to start acting to begin with. I can still remember the very first time I saw "Night of the Living Dead". It left such an impression on me and, to be real, sort of messed me up for a few years. I was so terrified of the film that I couldn't even look at the VHS cover without shaking. I can honestly still remember the musky scent of my grandfathers old video cabinet and even that would make me uneasy. For months I had nightmares, yet for some reason I also maintained this strange fascination with the film. I would draw images from the movie on my placemats and recreate scenes with my action figures, yet I couldn't bring myself to watch it again because I was so terrified. Finally I got over the fear and was able to view it again, but that infatuation never faded away. The fear I experienced just developed into this strange appreciation I have for the film. I will always love it and have fantasized of being able to pay homage to it. Rebirth is merely my ultimate fan-film. It's genuinely a dream come true.
So what topics are relevant today?
Without answering that directly, I'll throw out a few of my adjustments and you can get where I'm going with this.
There is no Barbara in this script, however there is the character of Adam and he is gay. The Cooper family still remains in tact and their characters are reminiscent of the originals, but Harry is now Reverend Harold Cooper and he is very much based off Fred Phelps, the creator of the Westboro Baptist Church. You get where I'm going with this?
A SOUTHERN LIFE: Completely, the film is drawing a bit off very relevant issues and social commentary in today's culture, with gay equality seen in a vulnerable yet affirmative gay lead, homophobia, things that we face today playing out in a microcosm event, so how was it seeing this dream realized? I saw the footage and I have to say that Rebirth is a cut above the collective past revisions!
ROGER CONNERS: Oh man, it's seriously amazing. Like I said its a dream come true.
A SOUTHERN LIFE: Showcasing the conflict that has arisen in society with the struggle for LGBT equality, battling hatred and homophobia in a microcosm much like the original did with the struggles of its time, how has it been seeing a long time dream realized?
ROGER CONNERS: First of all, thank you for saying that. My DP Noelle Bye is just absolutely amazing at what she does. I've worked with her a handful of times and I trust her more than anyone in the area. She works so hard and has grown so much as a filmmaker over the last few years!
As for the movie itself, man I am so excited to see this thing come together. I've always idolized George Romero for the social commentary he includes in his films and would love to have the same impact with my work. I can only pray that his fans understand the passion I have toward this project and that it's honestly merely intended to be my tribute to the source material.
A SOUTHERN LIFE: There is a powerful movement in our culture today taking place that shows, one day, we will all be accepted and truly equal in life and liberties. With the films you have worked on, highlighting the Adam character in Rebirth, the movement seems to be penetrating the horror community as well. Have you found this to be true, or has there been any resistance to LGBT storylines in the community that you have noticed?
ROGER CONNERS: To be honest, I have yet to receive any real backlash against Adam's character (or any others I've portrayed for that matter) which gives me hope toward the future. I was heavily disappointed about the recent surge of negativity toward "The Walking Dead" regarding the gay kiss, especially since the show is full of violence and cannibalism. Hell, they showed a child perform an impromptu C-section on his own mother resulting in her death. They've shown children die multiple times! Yet a gay kiss is too provocative? How disheartening.
I anticipate an eventual backlash, but I also expect that to be eclipsed by the support of everyone who knows how absurd that mentality really is. Homophobia is no longer the norm. I have seen so much love from my growing fan-base and that really drives me to keep expanding on my pro-LGBT material. My goal has never been to make movies that merely appeal to the gay market. Ideally, I hope to create films that appeal to the general public that simply include strong gay characters. Chill was by no means a "gay film", yet it has a gay lead. And you know what? Thus far, people have loved it. Gay and straight alike.
A SOUTHERN LIFE: Not only do you portray an iconic character from the film as a gay male lead, but you also direct on "Night Of The Living Dead:Rebirth". What was it like directing this film, knowing the special meaning the film holds for you, and balancing both hats as director and actor?
ROGER CONNERS: It was a lot of pressure, but in the best way possible. Since I am such a diehard fan of the original, I'm constantly trying to compare my work to that footage and ensure I'm living up to the quality and suspense. At the same time, I don't want to it to be a scene for scene remake. Luckily, I've had a great group of talent both in front and behind the camera to support me and help guide me when I'm spinning so many plates. They've been such a blessing. All in all, I love the pressure and don't have much of a dilemma with handling so many titles. I sort of enjoy it, to be real!
A SOUTHERN LIFE: That is how it should be, an all inclusive representation shown not as an abnormality of extremes, but as a simple truth of what makes up our society! Over the past decades more gay characters and storylines have appeared in pop culture, more noticeable in horror & sci-fi genre mediums of late. It is sad how the reaction toward TWD's showing of a normal, healthy gay storyline, but I was shocked over the response to the Cheerios commercial as well! It is clear that the bulk of your work included positive LGBT aspects to the stories. Not so much as gay cinema but simply as horror. From chill to the current film you are working on, Slay Bells. Tell me a bit about this film's story and especially the character you play- Lady Athena.
ROGER CONNERS: I was pretty thrilled with the opportunity to play a character who represented another aspect of our community. Lady Athena is a drag queen and definitely a bold personality to go with that. I'm a huge supporter of everything LGBT related and I feel privileged to have the chance to portray a character who gives me such fresh material to work off of! She is so fun but also written to be a real human, not just a spoof or a parody. Sure, she has her comedic moments but she also tends to be the most real character in the whole film. I think she will prove to be somewhat cutting edge and ahead of her time, especially for appearing in a film that didn't necessarily need to include such a unique character.
A SOUTHERN LIFE: Ah so the film isn't John Waters-esque trash cinema satire? What is the atmosphere of this film, and what can fans expect from Lady Athena and the rest of the characters in Slay Bells?
ROGER CONNERS: Well to be honest the director is a HUGE John Waters fan, but keep in mind he has had a huge impact on bringing gay-media to the public-eye. John Waters does push boundaries, but he also introduced personalities such as Divine to movie-goers who probably hadn't had exposure to drag queens prior to that. So I do have respect for John Waters and his films, no matter how "trashy" they may be.
Now Athena does have her moments of glamour, please be assured! She has two lavish dance numbers and a costume change along with a barrage of witty jokes that go hand in hand with her personality. But she also proves to be the brains of the group and quite the fighter. That girl is determined to make it out alive!
A SOUTHERN LIFE: Oh of course Waters is iconic and his films are amazing! My instinctive response was that this film would be reminiscent or in the vein of John Waters. I just didn't want to presume so, in light of the darker horror elements.
ROGER CONNERS: I assure you that you shall receive both glamour and horror in large amounts. Athena is a character unlike this audience has experienced and I feel that they will come to accept her with open arms.
A SOUTHERN LIFE: She sounds like a force to be reckoned with, and visually Athena is set to be an cult, iconic character! So how has the filming experience been on set, both with the director and your cast mates?
ROGER CONNERS: I've known Eddie Lengyel for almost ten years now and our relationship is one for the record books, believe me. We've had our ups and downs believe me, but at the end of the day he is one of my closest friends and we really just get each others visions. In this business it is so easy to become passionate and opinionated and the sooner you realize that, the less conflict you can avoid down the road!
As for the cast, I am really just amazed by the level of talent in this one! I'm working with some really amazing actors in this and I honestly feel the pressure to up my game! Everyone is so wonderful though and I've made so many amazing friendships on this set. I feel our chemistry really translates well on film. I think viewers will pick up on that immediately!
A SOUTHERN LIFE: The onset chemistry is important, as a fan and movie reviewer I can usually tell if the cast click or not off set. It can kill a film. Sounds like that will not be a problem for Slay Bells! Tell me about some of the darker elements of the film, are the scenes surreal, giallo or more visceral splatter-gore?
ROGER CONNERS: You know, this early on it's kind of hard for me to real go in depth about it. I haven't filmed any of my violent scenes yet, however I know that there is a lot of gore to balance out the humor. The movie is definitely going to have it's moments of humor, but I'm pretty confident that the suspense and violence will take precedence. I suppose only time will tell. These things always take on a mind of their own. But no matter what I can assure you that there will be blood!
A SOUTHERN LIFE: Everything about this film has me excited to see the final product! It sounds like a film the fans will really enjoy-gay and straight alike. Which is how cinema should be! I want to thank you so much for taking time out to talk with me. Before we end this interview is there anything that I didn't get to that you would like to discuss, future projects or plans?
ROGER CONNERS: Oh wow, now that's a loaded question! Aside from all my films I also wanted to point out that I helped co-direct the music-video for "Centerfold", the first single from the "Raw Focus" soundtrack! It's performed by the stunning Cali Miles and it's definitely a banger! I think the gays will love this one so make sure you guys check it out!
Aside from that, I'm just excited for the future and I really want to thank all of the fans for their support! Also, thank YOU for always supporting my projects as well as for hosting this interview! I love your blog and think you're great! Sitting down and chatting with you is always a pleasure!
A SOUTHERN LIFE: How was it directing this [music video]?
ROGER CONNERS: Directing is something that I really love and have always wanted to explore further. I've found that I naturally have a good eye for these things and really enjoy giving guidance to my actors to help create the perfect moment. I can only hope that they feel I am a capable director!
As for the music video specifically, I really enjoyed that experience and hope to get the chance to work on more of them. Cali Miles is so natural on camera and she just exudes sex-appeal, so I barely had to direct her! Working with her was a joy and I really hope this track proves to be a success for her!
A SOUTHERN LIFE: So will we have to wait for the film to be released to see the music video? Is the single out now or is that marked for later on as well?- Can you tell I am eager to check it out!
ROGER CONNERS: I'm so happy you asked
(At which point Roger sends me the link to Cali Miles “Centerfold” video)
A SOUTHERN LIFE: I love the stripped, industrial, urban style against the glam sex look. You're talent translates well as director! I think Cali will do well as a up'n'coming gay icon. So how has the response been thus far? She is obviously already set to be a horror hottie!
ROGER CONNERS: Oh the gays are loving it! And not only did she record the single for our soundtrack but she also makes a cameo in the film! She was such a joy to work with and I really want to see her break out in the industry (more so then she already has that is)!
A SOUTHERN LIFE: Well congrats on the response, and I am sure Cali will be on everyone's lips soon enough! So any directing projects in the pipeline that we can look for, horror or music side?
ROGER CONNERS: Well I did put my project "What We Saw" on hiatus in order to pursue "Night of the Living Dead: Rebirth", but I certainly do intend to start production on that in the next year or so. I love that script and cannot wait to see it come to fruition. Aside from that, I really do hope to see "Chill: 2 the Bone" happen sooner then later. As I said earlier in the interview, that all just depends on the success of the first one. I love the idea for the sequel and think that the trilogy could really prove to be something awesome!
A SOUTHERN LIFE: It sounds like the future is set to be as busy for you as well, I hope Chill 2 gets the green light also, and hope to see "What We Saw" develop fully as well. You will have to keep me informed if the project moves forward, not if but when!
ROGER CONNERS: Oh always! You're one of my most trusted go-to's! The great thing about the independent horror scene is the fact that it is such a tight-knit community! I have a few bloggers I have gotten to know really well and consider good friends! I love having a chance to share my craft with them and always appreciate their feedback and promotion!
A SOUTHERN LIFE: It goes without saying that it has been a privilege to be among those bloggers you you call friend! Thank you for letting me take up your time and I wish you nothing but positive response as all these films edge toward release!