Without Night of the Living Dead, there would be no Zombicide. The film is one of the best-known and most influential horror movies ever: the seminal work that crystalized zombies as unintelligent, but determined, undead flesh-eating creatures. It’s spawned countless sequals - official and decidedly not official – and ignighted an entire sub-genre of pop culture; the zombie genre itself has become an evergreen mainstay in film, TV, gaming, and merchandising.
However, the film is also well-known for its confusing copyright history, which has plagued the movie since its debut. In order to clear things up, we talked to brothers Russ and Gary Streiner of Image Ten, who were members of the team that produced the movie.
What is Image Ten, and how are you involved with Night of the Living Dead?
Russ Streiner: George Romero, Gary Streiner, John Russo, Vince Survinski and myself, all worked at the production company The Latent Image, that George [Romero] and I formed to produce TV commercials and industrial films. Karl Hardman and Marilyn Eastman worked at Hardman Associates, Inc. doing primarily audio and radio work. The two groups, in addition to three other close friends, Richard Ricci, Rudy Ricci and David Clipper; decided to join forces to create Night of the Living Dead - hence, Image Ten Inc. was formed in 1967.
Gary Streiner: The name Image Ten came to be because there were ten original investors that each invested $600. That $6000 was all we needed to purchase the film stock to shoot Night of the Living Dead. Because we were already a production company, we owned all the equipment needed to make a movie, so off we went and did it. We had free range to make the film we wanted with no clients to interfere. We had a lot going for us, but George was our quarterback and the person that tied every ounce of everyone’s energy into what is Night of the Living Dead. He made us laugh a lot while shooting, but when we sat in the screening room to see his rough-cut assemblies it was wow. We didn’t know what people were going to think, but then again, we really didn’t care. We loved it, and it was ours.
We know there's a lot of confusion out there about Night of the Living Dead being in the public domain. How did that happen?
Gary Streiner: What turned out to be a simple error, something that fell through the cracks, put a black mark on Night until this very day. At that time, a physical copyright notice needed to be placed directly on the film prints. When the film’s name was changed from Night of Anubis to Night of the Living Dead, that notice was not put on the film.
Russ Streiner: Continental’s film lab, a division of The Walter Reade Organization, was charged with the task of changing the title. However, in the rush to get the release prints made, they failed to include the copyright notice along with the new title change. This all happened without Image Ten’s knowledge.
The day after our premier the film went into immediate release to the public. There was no opportunity to retrieve the prints and to correct the copyright issue. We disputed that status and argued that Image Ten was the only rightful owner of the work. That dispute continued for almost 50 years.
What's the status now? Is it still in the public domain?
Gary Streiner: In 2016, we had the great fortune of having the Museum of Modern Art decide that Night of the Living Dead was worthy of being preserved in their amazing storage facility. Because that restoration was done by artists on every single frame, it was considered by the Copyright Office “new work”, and we were able to get the restoration copywritten. That’s when the real opportunity opened for us. Even though the 1968 release will always be in the Public Domain, the restored version is the one everyone wants.
Russ Streiner: Image Ten also controls the rights to the the images and likenesses of all of the principal cast members, making it virtually impossible for usurpers to bootleg the film or clips from the film without being in violation of the law. This also includes merchandise and thngs like that.
What was your involvement with CMON to develop the game?
Russ Streiner: My grandmother had a saying that went: “Too many cooks spoil the soup.” Image Ten had the right team working with the right team from CMON to create a wonderful working arrangement. I stayed out of the direct involvement so as to not “… spoil the soup,” while still making sure the game was true to what makes Nights of the Living Dead so special. We loved the idea of people being able to essentially “play” the film.
Gary Streiner: When we originally spoke with CMON, they reached out to us when they discovered we were the rightful owners of Night of the Living Dead, and they explained they wanted to make a game that honors the film and it’s legacy, while making sure the original creators had a pretty large involvement. I don’t want this to come off like some cheesy TV ad, but I have been in the business world all my life, and in my book, CMON rates a 10+. Very quickly in working with them, we became true partners. They cared about the integrity of our property. They got very excited about all the assets Image Ten could bring to the table.
What's next for Image Ten and Night of the Living Dead? How will you continue to support the film you made?
Gary Streiner: To be honest, I don’t really know what’s next for Image Ten and Night. But I do know how I will continue to support the film I helped make. I’ll do it with the same energy and pride and enthusiasm I did as a young man in my early 20s in 1968. I know, like CMON, another great opportunity will drift in our door. It’s happened since 2016, when The Criterion Collection said they wanted our movie in their collection. What an honor!
Russ Streiner: Image Ten has the extreme good fortune to have created a brand name that is known around the world. We are always open to opportunities that can carry Night into new and exciting places. Image Ten is very pleased to be partnered with the first-class board game publisher CMON. I feel the designers, artists, and marketers at CMON will deliver, in the Night of the Living Dead: A Zombicide Game, the same kind of engaged game play that has caused the film to become a classic among fans.
CMON is honored to be working with the original creators of Night of the Living Dead to bring the film to the tabletop. The Kickstarter is live now!