George A. Romero Speaks From The Lund IFFF: "I Am Writing A Comic For Marvel"
Being used to Godzilla and Hammer fare, which I loved but weren't scary to me (I had already experienced the mind-bomb that was Friedkin's The Exorcist by that time) I was the sarcastic one that night, more-so than my beloved cigar-chomping movie host. My "show me and prove it" attitude had given way to abject fear within 15 minutes of the film's beginning, and I spent the rest of that fateful viewing scared out of my little wits, right down to making my Mom come with me to the bathroom for pee breaks during the commercials.
As I got older I saw both Dawn/Day Of The Dead on first release in theaters, and while other kids noted Star Wars as their favorite trilogy, I held up Romero's Dead films as the series as my favorite films of all time (along with the aforementioned The Exorcist). Nowadays as a contributor to both thsi site and the long running horror film bible Fangoria, I still look to those first three films in Romero's Dead universe as some of the greatest fright films made, ever. With their sometimes not-so-subtle social metaphors, and all the wonderfully visceral fx, to say Romero and his work have had a profound impact on my life would be an understatement.
Luckily, this Creature Features kid has had the opportunity to now have an audience with The King Of Zombies not once, but twice. First was at ZomBcon in Seattle, where we had a 90 minute discussion in front of an intimate crowd, which was just about as life changing for me as the first time I saw the man's NotLD. The second is thanks to my friend, Christian Hallman, who hooked me up with the always affable and genuine Romero, who was recently serving as a judge at the wonderful Lund International Fantastic Film Festival over in Sweden, where Christian serves as a director of programming. The following interview is the result of that conversation, and if you enjoy it even a fraction as much as I enjoyed conducting it, my work here will be done.
So without any more hyperbole, here is the man who brought the celluloid apocalypse shambling forth on dead legs and changed the face of terror forever.
TWITCH - So what time is it over there in Lund, George?
GEORGE A. ROMERO - It's twenty to three, in the afternoon. What time is it where you are?
TWITCH - It's about twenty to six in the early morning. It's dawn...and I'm dead! [laughter at the crummy pun] Ok ok, bad joke. It's early and I'm not on my game yet! But anyway, how are you enjoying your visit to Sweden?
ROMERO - Well, as you know, I'm here for the Lund International Fantastic Film Fest, which is a sister festival to Sitges and many other Fantastic Film festivals that I have attended. They invited me here, and asked me to be on the jury, and it's great. So here I am, looking forward to seeing some films.
TWITCH - So are you just hanging out, or are you over there also for the new updated Document Of the Dead, the Roy Frumkes documentary?
ROMERO - Well, no. But Roy is updating the film, and he'll even be shooting at my funeral! But I'm not here with any specific film, I'm here to look at films, and pick as a jurist, one to award the prize.
TWITCH - Very cool. No pressure on the other genre film makers then!
ROMERO - [laughs] I hope not.
TWITCH - This being a general discussion, I guess we can kind of go all over the place. To really open things up...the rules of your zombie films, man. For nerds like me your word comes from on high, and we embrace what you lay down almost like it's Asimov's Laws Of Robotics. Yet you yourself don't really adhere to them film to film, which of course drives us uber fans a little crazy, and has started many a good natured argument in many a horror convention hall!
ROMERO - Oh I'm sure it has, and I've been involved in many of those arguments myself. I think NotLD is the only film where I hadn't really thought about rules yet, I hadn't developed the zombies yet? I didn't even call them zombies in that first film. I don't know...the only thing I've really changed is do they eat something other than human flesh, and that's really in the last film. But, then again, in the first film, NotLD they were eating bugs off trees. I think those are the only, you know [laughs] where have I gone astray otherwise? You tell me.
TWITCH - Are we ever going to see the proposed sequel with the survivalist guys who have the warehouse in Diary?
ROMERO - I don't know. I don't know if that's the one I want to make. You know if it comes time to make another one, I just don't know. I'm kind of waiting for something else to happen in the world.
TWITCH - You should move back to the states, it's happening here buddy!
ROMERO - Yeah I know, I know. I don't know how to do an economic crises among the zombies though!
TWITCH - You've said if you were ever given something like fifty-million dollars, you'd just make ten five-million dollar movies. In that regard, what is next? Or even what is the next project you'd dream to make? Is there a novel out there you want to adapt, even non-dead related?
ROMERO - I am in fact adapting a novel right now, and it is a zombie novel, but it's not my kind of zombies. It's a novel called The Zombie Autopsies written by a Harvard medical doctor. It's a wonderful book and I'm having a wonderful time adapting it into a screenplay. I am also working on an original story, which I guess if I had to categorize it, I would say it's a psychological thriller. it's....mmm, Psycho like? But it's not really. I don't know how to tell you anything more without giving it away. But in reality I don't actually know for sure what the next one is going to be. It often comes up out of the blue. You just don't know which one the money is going to come through for. I am also writing a comic for Marvel. I'm writing it now, but it's plot is a secret.
TWITCH - Awww c'mon George, just a little nibble? A tid bit?
ROMERO - Well I can tell you it won't involve any of their on-going characters, there will be no superheroes. But it will involve zombies!
TWITCH - I know that you prefer to look ahead, and don't watch much of your own work after it's complete. I wonder how you, for lack of a better term, "calibrate" your work. In that regard too, what kind of director do you see yourself as?
ROMERO - I see myself as a director who is still learning. I'm still learning how to control the pencil. That's it. As far as calibrating my own work? I don't know. I get an idea for a film and I act on it. I sit down and bang out a script. But that goes back to it's all about getting the financing. I've written a dozen scripts for every one I've gotten to shoot. I try not to get too attached to anything I write. I mean I've been involved in some big projects, that looked like they were sure -fire, then never happened. I had a project at MGM called Before I Wake. I wrote a script for The Mummy that got approved, before the version we ended up seeing. But MGM wouldn't let me out of the original deal, so that's another one that never happened. I was on Goosebumps The Movie (from the RL Stein series) and was positive that was going to get made. Didn't happen.
TWITCH - Talking about sitting down at writing a dozen scripts to one that's made, how hard is the writing process for you?
ROMERO - Well, if I have an idea I like it actually comes pretty easily. Obviously you face the blank page initially, but yeah when I have what I think is a good idea it flows pretty easily. I try to get through a first draft as quickly as possible, then it's easier to play around with revisions and all that. It's much more pliable.
TWITCH - Since you've moved to Canada, have things changed for you as an artist? Or does it even make a difference?
ROMERO - You know that's hard to say. One thing is the crews have a much greater higher work ethic. That's my opinion. Back in Pittsburgh with my old crew and friends, we had a great time and everything was wonderful. Once I was bounced out of that and Pittsburgh went south and there wasn't much production, it became a lot of hire-on guys, who were just sort of doing a job, and I really got sort of upset with that. I was used to people who really cared about the projects we were doing, and it was just great. So I think I've found that again in Canada, and I work pretty much the same people on every project. It's kind of back to the old days of having really cooperative and very creative crew people, that you can bounce ideas around with. True collaborators.
TWITCH - We spoke at length at the first ZomBcon in Seattle, and about your favorite filme Tales Of Hoffman in particular. I know you wonder why someone would watch Dawn Of The Dead two hundred times (guilty here!), and considering that, what you say to your fans who may not have ever seen a Bergman film such as The Virgin Spring (which was remade as Last House On The Left), or an Antonioni film like Blow-Out (which influenced your friend Dario Argento profoundly) ?
ROMERO - Well those types of films have always fit into my life. Back in the days when I was in college for example, those films were hit. They were coming in on regular theatrical runs back then, so it was easy to find them. My friends and I went to see all kinds of European films, more-so than the American stuff. There were screens that would only show those films, so we were always going to see a Bergman, or a Fellini, or something else. We were well exposed to those things. Today no one is exposed to them.
You got to Pittsburgh today and no one is showing them except for the film society. We can't even see them in Toronto. There's one theater that occasionally brings in so-called serious films. But what is it? It's something like The King's Speech, which is actually a biggie that is already reaching in audience through Canada and the USA. But what would I say to anyone? Go find them. Go to Netflix, go to Hulu, go where you need to find them. Any thoughtfully made film is part of the vocabulary and very important.
SCREENANARCHY - Wonderfully said sir. Look out Lund, here come da judge!
ROMERO - (laughter)
And at that, once again I say what an honor it was to speak with Mr. Romero again. A true independent, who lives to work.
Remember to keep your eyes peeled ScreenAnarchistss for more interviews conducted from the Lund International Fantastic Film Festival, coming over the next few days.
An expanded version of this interview can also be heard soon on The Night Crew podcast. Updates coming!