No one can deny the significance of George A. Romero’s classic addition to the horror genre in Night of the Living Dead. Since its inception into the annals of cinema back in 1968, NOTLD has continued to captivate audiences, helping to plant a seed of deep admiration for horror and independent moviemaking in so many. One of those individuals struck by the genius of NOTLD is Roger Conners. After contributing to and starring in several fan-favorite indie horror flicks like Teacher Shortage (2020 – read our review here, Mother Krampus 2: Slay Ride (2018 – read our review here) and The Curse of Lilith Ratchet (2018 – read our review here), Conners has finally fulfilled another dream of his, to direct a feature, and he did this with his 2020 film, Rebirth (read our review here).
Available to stream via Midnight Releasing is Rebirth, Conners’ thoughtful, contemporary salute to the timeless tale of the undead descending upon an isolated farmhouse. We were excited to discuss with Conners his directorial debut, what the genre means to him, and his connection to Romero’s classic.
PopHorror: You have been a horror fan since childhood, with Night of the Living Dead especially leaving a lasting impact upon you. What is it about the genre that you have continued to find so appealing?
Roger Conners: Horror has always been a genre that has celebrated the outcast. The strange ones, the nerds, freaks, geeks, and weirdos who rise above and—ideally—overcome malevolent forces, even when the odds are stacked against them. I think good horror is created with its fanbase in mind. And you and I both know that no other genre our there has a more passionate and diehard following.
PopHorror: With acting roles in celebrated indie horror hits such as Mother Krampus 2: Slay Ride, Teacher Shortage, and The Curse of Lilith Ratchet, you have become a favorite familiar face, but you have also shared your talents as a writer and more for several movies. Was becoming a director always a goal of yours?
Roger Conners: As soon as I stepped on my first filmset, I knew that I was in my safe space. Cinema was my canvas of choice, and I wanted to explore all elements of the medium. And let me tell you, I really have done everything. I’ve designed creatures, done hair and makeup, costumed, learned basic FX makeup, run audio, ghostwritten for director’s AD’ed, you name it.
I realized pretty early into my journey with indie film that I was just as invested in what goes on behind the camera as I was performing in front of it. I’ve always been the kind of personality that pays attention to little details, and that’s a great quirk to have as a filmmaker. Production value is oftentimes my main concern, so if I’m working with next to nothing, I want to find a way to give off the illusion that that wasn’t, in fact, the case. My fellow collaborators call it “the gay eye.” I take that as a huge compliment. I go in and add the frills that give the final vision an additional layer of wow factor. I knew it was only a matter of time before I wanted to apply that wow factor to my own production.
PopHorror: I know Night of the Living Dead has been a lifelong favorite of yours, but what about it made you so adamant about bringing to the table with Rebirth?
Roger Conners: I’ll be the first person to admit that Night of the Living Dead has been redone to death. That being said, I feel the core story is so strong that it easily lends itself to reinterpretation. I knew that if I was going to take this on, I had to approach the sacred material in a fresh and relevant way that didn’t just feel like another rehash. I didn’t want it to feel like just another zombie movie, because at its core, Romero’s original film is so much more than that. That movie is such a time capsule for that era and expertly touches on so many relative topics from that time without forcing it down your throat. I decided that, in order to do this tight and do Romero justice, I needed to handle my material the same way. Focus on the state of the world today, present day topics that would resonate with viewers, and inject that into the horror, the tension and the suspense. I simply opted to prioritize the cultural and social commentary first and foremost, and then layer in the moments of horror around it.
PopHorror: I was really struck with the overall set design; it was thoughtfully ambiguous with its time frame. How did you approach this aspect of Rebirth?
Roger Conners: I’m really proud of what we pulled off regarding the overall production design for this film. I knew I wanted it to feel somewhat preserved in time. Aspects of it feel straight out of the original film, from Johnny’s car to the interior of the farmhouse and some of the wardrobe choices. Then you have the technical aspects that come into play involving cell phones and the updated news footage and all, so you can’t quite pinpoint what era it is exactly. That was my goal. Culturally, not much has changed since the original film was unleashed on our society. We’re still fighting many of the same fights. Black Lives Matter, the fight for LGBTQ+ equality, the ongoing battle that is the poor vs. the rich; it’s all still so very relevant. I felt the visuals in my film should reflect just how little change we’ve actually experienced since then.
PopHorror: This month celebrates your birthday—Happy early birthday, Roger!—Pride, and your feature film directorial debut. You have faced a lot and accomplished even more. What does this moment in your life mean to you?
Roger Conners: Thank you so much! My goal has been to get this out before I turn 35, and this summer marks that year for me. So I actually did it, and that’s truly empowering. I must state that I simply couldn’t have done it without my amazing team, and I look forward to working with them on future projects! My goals are simple: bigger budgets, grander productions, and larger releases. I know what I want, and it’s onward and upward from here!
We would like to thank Roger for his time, and we hope you check out Rebirth, now available to stream on Amazon. For press, contact publicist Sharry Flaherty of Samera Entertainment at firstname.lastname@example.org.