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An Interview with John Johnson, the Director of the PLAN 9 Remake

Carl chats with Darkstone director John Johnson, who talks about his remake of Ed Wood‘s Plan 9 From Outer Space.

(See also: SF Signal’s interview with Plan 9 novelization author Matthew Warner.

CARL SLAUGHTER: Why a remake of Planet 9 from Outer Space?

JOHN JOHNSON: I have known Conrad Brooks for many years now, and we would talk of Ed’s work and crew on their many films and adventures and I always felt for the man. No matter how hard he would try, he never seemed to get a break. Then on the set of one of my other flicks, a PA in a hypothetical question asked me what film I’d remake if given the chance. And my answer…Plan 9 from Outer Space. Mainly for the reason that Ed meant for this film to be taken seriously and affect audiences in a hard way, but he just couldn’t seem to get it there. So now, 50 years later…I’m gonna try. It’s not so much a remake…As a tribute to the film and the man himself.

CS: How much of the original went into the remake and how much was added/changed?

JJ: The skeleton of the original story is there, but the two films are very different. One being more than 3 zombies. Also our Plan 9 is more of a love letter to mixed genre films as well as Ed Wood and what he means as a filmmaker.

CS: Plan 9 has more hard science than most zombie movies. You’ve got a lead role scientist spewing scientific principles, data, and analysis, and offering strategy based on scientific deductions and assumptions, pretty much nonstop throughout the movie. How did you integrate the hard science into the plot?

JJ: Well, being a bit of a science nerd as well as co-producer David Simmons, we spent many nights throwing around ideas and research. The original story plays with ideas of science theory quite a bit, so why not dig in and play with some facts to build the fiction on?

CS: Did you write all the hard science dialog or did you use a consultant?

JJ: Simmons and I wrote it together.

CS: In the opening scene, Mr. Lobo’s comes across as an egotistical has-been jerk. This is reinforced in the second scene when he berates the convenience store manager for not selling him booze. So the audience is expecting him to be the coward-naysayer-betrayer of the story. But after the zombies attack, he flings himself into the heat of the battle, and stays there. Plus he supports the other fighters. What’s the explanation for this surprise character twist and how do you turn him into the hero of the story?

JJ: Well, Criswell has the strongest arc of all the characters in the film. Purposely done. The jerk in these films, never really does, so I thought why not flip the script a bit. Also in my convention travels I have met a few down on their luck talents that once had more of a shine. And I truly believe that they all can be redeemed. Whether they are given another chance or humbled, that shine can be returned.

CS: Plan 9 is a war movie and plenty of humans fall on the battlefield. How did you decide with characters would survive and which would not?

JJ: Believe it or not, I rolled the dice on some if they weren’t already in play for the story to die or live later. I knew we had to lose someone in a scene and I thought that assigning each character a number would be a fair and heartbreaking way to tempt fate. So I would say 10 or more died because literally their number was up.

CS: Some of the towns people stand their ground, some try to flee, some assault the fortress of the beast. SPOILER. Characters in the first and second category generally don’t fare well. Characters who decide to take the fight to the enemy suffer a lot of casualties but prevail. Is there a message here about how to deal with evil?

JJ: Perhaps. Also I may have by that point loved some of the characters too much to kill. And most of my films have a strong good vs evil concept. Seems to be ingrained in me.

CS: More than one character who in the opening scenes appear to be losers/misfits evolve and surprise the audience, themselves, and their teammates about what they are made of. Was this deliberate?

JJ: Very much so. My life is surrounded by misfits. And I can’t help but to love them.

CS: What’s the deal with people stripping?

JJ: The 1st one is because a good number of people who commit suicide strip to do so. It is theorized that they do by connecting with their inner-selves or the earth or simply go out the way they came in. The 2nd one is making fun of myself and my previous choices in the film.

CS: Is Plan 9 tribute, spoof, parody, satire; true horror, sci fi, and drama; or some combination?

JJ: I wouldn’t say Parody so much, but other than that… All of the above.

CS: Any tropes, themes or character development I overlooked?

JJ: Perhaps. I would recommend renting the movie 10 more times and share with friends. See what ya missed!

CS: In the last scene, the civilian ad hoc assault team town survivors are headed for Montana to fight more zombies. Will there be a sequel?

JJ: Unknown. Depends on how this one fairs with audiences. God help us in the future.

CS: You’ve collaborated with some of the actors before. Namely Mr. Lobo and Monique Dupree. What is it about working with these actors that made you want to bring them back?

JJ: Talent and indie star power. But more than any other working together we became friends. Makes creating with them so much more fun.

CS: Was Plan 9 released in cinemas or DVDs? What was your marketing strategy? Was the film profitable?

JJ: Few screenings in theaters (One of which in Poland). The marketing is handled by Spotlight Pictures (international) and Gravitas Ventures (domestic), to be honest, I didn’t have a lot to do with marketing. They say there will be a DvD release 90 days after VOD release. As for profit, too soon to say. It’s all still happening.

CS: Is piracy as bad as entertainment spokesmen have claimed? How has piracy affected you as an owner of a movie production company? Any solutions?

JJ: Ooh, that’s a deep one. Yes, pretty bad. Has affected me as much as others. No idea how to fix the issue. The film world as of late is constantly changing. The problems of today will be trumped by the problems of tomorrow. The way we watch movies is changing almost daily. We shall see!

CS: Darkstone does mostly horror, right? Where do you get your ideas and material?

JJ: Mostly yes, but we have done all of the above. Westerns, comedies, etc. I have been very lucky to always have 10 ideas brewing. Not sure where they come from, but grateful to have them.

CS: What’s on the horizon for John Johnson?

JJ: A series based on the cult video game franchise from the 90’s. Also a nap.

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