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Local enthusiasts get a look at Plan 9

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By John Barnhart

    A science fiction film shot primarily in Bedford, got at good response from the 1,300 people who attended MystiCon, a sci-fi convention held in Roanoke over the weekend. A three-minute scene from the feature-length motion picture was named the MystiCon Fan Favorite Film.

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    John Johnson, CEO and owner of Darkstone Entertainment, which is producing the film, had been noted for complaining that the movie industry has tended to make bad remakes of good films. Johnson said that he was asked what movie he would like to remake. “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” was his reply.
    That’s what Johnson did. Instead of a bad remake of a great film, Johnson set out to produce a good remake of what is considered the worst film ever made.
    Edward Wood produced the original Plan 9 in 1959 and Johnson said that Wood only spent six days shooting the entire movie. The film has been noted for extremely crude special effects. Movie special effects, back in1959, weren’t up to today’s standards, but Plan 9’s didn’t come close to meeting the standards of the day. What’s more, Johnson said that Wood included footage from other films and these didn’t match what he had done for Plan 9.
    “I wanted to take the story they wanted to tell and use  the best of special effects we have today,” Johnson said. “It was cool to take these new tools to his film.”
    He spent 30 days shooting the film, plus several more days for pick-up shoots. Johnson said that pick-up shoots are done to fill in gaps that a filmmaker notices as he assembles his final product.
    In his 21st century remake, Johnson retains the plot of the original, in which aliens try to take over the world by raising the dead as zombies, but updated it and expanded it. One expansion is that the original had three zombies. Johnson’s remake has a lot more. He had a cast and crew of 700.
    “Most were zombies,” he said.
    Keeping faithful to the plot, Johnson retains the original three zombie characters, but they are joined by a lot more.
    Johnson has not only increased the number of zombies, but they are better zombies thanks to the efforts of his wife, Mariah Johnson. She’s a special effects make-up artist and the two met when they were working on a film.
    “I make people look very, very scary,” she said.
    “It was definitely the most intricate and difficult thing I’ve ever done,” she said of the Plan 9 project. “We had several days when we had 50 zombies that had to be made up and be on set at a specific time.”    
    But, she said it’s fun to take normal people and transform them into something else.
    “It’s art, in a way, but my canvas is a person,” she said.
    The extras also like it.
    “They want to go into Wal-Mart wearing it,” she said.
    John Johnson said that Bedford is a great place to do a movie. He set the film in a small town and wanted it to look like it was such an out of the way place that the sheriff had not upgraded his equipment for a long time. Mike Brown loaned them an old cruiser that his office uses in parades and found him some old equipment.
    He also had good words for D. W. Lawhorne, Bedford’s director of public works, and Sergei Troubetzkoy, the Bedford area’s director of tourism. Johnson said that both had very detailed knowledge of the area and helped him find places to shoot. All he had to do is tell them what he needed and they told him where to find it.
    “Bedford is very supportive of the arts,” he commented.
    The three-minute scene that won Mysticon fans’ admiration takes place in a gas station and one of the actors in the scene, Mathew Ewald, plays a young man named Jimmy. He and his brother are telling others what they’ve just seen in the graveyard — the dead beginning to come out of their graves. They’ve seen hands pushing up through the sod.
    “This is the end of the world, the dead are walking” said Ewald, describing his character’s view of the situation. “His only focus is protecting his brother.”
    Ewald is 30 and has been a professional actor since he was 17. He’s played a starring role in Galidor, a Fox science fiction adventure series. He has also played a young James T. Kirk, portraying the Star Trek starship commander as a midshipman in a Trek New Voyages: Phase II episode called “Origins.”  In addition to the two TV series, he has been in 32 films.
    A Minnesota native, Ewald credits his parents as being the launching pad for his career. They made it possible for him to head for California, when he was 17, and landed his first role after a three-month effort.
    “My mom actually came with me,” he said. Ewald said that, without his parents’ early support, his acting career wouldn’t have happened and he’s been able to live his dream, thanks to them.
    He loves acting.
    “It’s not only my profession, it’s my greatest passion,” he said.
    He’s passionate about his role in Plan 9 and it shows as he describes his character who is an ordinary young man who steps up and does what he needs to do when thrust into an awful situation.
    “I’m a huge fan of the horror genre,” he said, describing his interest in Plan 9.
    He’s pleased with the result and said that the special effects are great.
    “You’re seeing people that look atrocious,” he commented.
    Johnson is planning an August premiere, probably in Roanoke, for Plan 9 from Outer Space. He said he would love to premiere it in Bedford, due to the support he got from the community, but Bedford didn’t have a proper venue.