Before Robert Kirkman ever imagined the world of "The Walking Dead," the undead were brought to life by visionary director George A. Romero in "Night of the Living Dead." The classic horror film would launch an entire genre and inspire countless filmmakers to create their own zombie epics.
Now the man who has given entire generations chills is coming to Chicago for a rare convention appearance. George A. Romero will be a special guest at FLASHBACK WEEKEND where he will be re-uniting with cast members of his "Night of the Living Dead" sequel "Dawn of the Dead."
Calling from his home in Toronto, Romero spoke with me via telephone. We discussed strange autograph requests; figuring out trends in horror; the challenges of film finance; and I even pitch him a movie idea!:
Geek To Me: It is rare for you to attend conventions, so what is it about Flashback Weekend that made you say “I want to go to this show” and what are you expecting from it?
George Romero: Well, I’m not necessarily expecting anything different at the show. I’ve been there - I think - twice (laughs). I’ve been there before and I really liked it. They do a great job with it. Several of my colleagues and friends are going to be there, so it’s just a good one to do.
I haven’t done any in a couple of years. I’ve been holed up, sort of writing and staying off that circuit for a while. I’ve done a couple of appearances, but not signings. This is the first time I’m going to be out there at a table. It’s always fun. I like meeting the fans. It’s great.
G2M: Do you have any previous experiences that were peculiar or chuckle-worthy that you’d like to share?
George Romero: Well (laughs) I’ve had a couple of strange requests for me to sign. Somebody’s ass (laughs)-
George Romero: -somebody’s breast. And so I sort of make it a rule now. I tell people I won’t sign body parts. But they go and get it tattooed, you know? And I don’t want to be responsible for that. (laughs) When they grow up and decide they don’t really want that tattoo anymore. So I just don’t do body parts anymore.
G2M: Have you ever had an interaction affect the type of story you wanted to tell?
George Romero: No, not really. I mean, I mostly tell stories about zombies. I did write a script once about one of these conventions. And it never got off the ground. I was never able to sell it. I think the studios thought it was to “elite” - no - too specialized. That the general public wouldn’t appreciate it, or get it. So I did do that once, but that was specifically to write about one of these conventions.
G2M: You’re known for the horror genre, zombies specifically, but have you ever had the itch to dabble in another genre? Have you ever thought “I wanna do a romantic comedy.”
George Romero: Well, you know I think some of my zombie films are comedies. (laughs) Truly. I go for the throat sometimes with the laughs. The last one I did, “Survival of the Dead”, had some real Chuck Jones slapstick humor in it. I love that. But I’ve never wanted to do a flat out spoof. I do have - again - a script that is a complete comedy. It’s zombies but it’s just silly all the way. It doesn’t deal with the apocalypse, anything like that. It’s sort of like the Coyote and the Road Runner. So that script I have out there. I’ve shown it to a couple of people and once again nobody wants to do that broad a comedy with zombies. Despite “Zombieland” which was pretty hilarious.
G2M: You’ve been in the business a very long time. You’re a respected name in the business. Personally I find it astonishing that your name can’t get a particular project launched. What do you think is the reasoning behind that?
George Romero: I think basically I’ve always been this little sort of maverick off in the woods somewhere. I think I’m like John Waters or one of those guys. I don’t think anyone particularly trusts me. I’ve only had two budgets that were close to twenty (million). One was “The Dark Half” and one was actually “Land of the Dead.” That was because I had Steve King on board with “The Dark Half” and that made the sale, basically. And the other one was I had a strong producer named Mark Canton who was able to get it financed through Universal. So I always have sort of a partnership there. I’m not particularly interested in doing bigger budget stuff either. The last two films I made were hovering between 2 and 3 million. I prefer it, you know? All the executives go away (laughs) and I can’t pretty much do what I want. And I’m very content doing this. I always have been.
G2M: Speaking of funding, there is a trend where name filmmakers are going to crowd funding sites like Kickstarter; Zack Braff and Spike Lee both have Kickstarter campaigns that are quite successful, getting their films financed without any studio input. Have you ever looked at crowd sourcing like that?
George Romero: Hm. I have. I’ve thought about it but I’ve never really pursued it. I know I’ve had a couple of people pitching me for it. I have a business partner. A long-term business partner, and he basically decides which way to go with these projects. We’re just sort of hoping for the best out here. (laughs) Again, I’m not desperate to try and get something going. Nor do I have a project right now that I’m particularly passionate about. Otherwise I might try something like that. I really don’t have anything right now that I’m dying to do.
I’m working on an adaptation of a novel by Steven Schlozman called “The Zombie Autopsies.” And I’m writing a comic-book series right now, which my partner and I hope will become a film. Again, because of the comic-book, it might have enough clout to get financed. So we’re taking a traditional route, making enough money to just live the way I want to take it easy.
G2M: With all the experience you have in film, what advice do you have for young filmmakers who want to do what you do?
George Romero: I would say don’t make a zombie movie. (laughs)
George Romero: I go to these conventions and you know, I always walk away with at least a dozen or more movies that these young filmmakers have made, and every one is a zombie film! It’s just too much. There’s really a glut out there. And a lot of them are not thoughtful. They’re just sort of all about the blood and gore, and I think they’re probably easy to do. And fun to do, I guess. But I would say that there are just too many of them out there. Try to do something else. (laughs)
G2M: What do you think is going to be the next big trend in horror?
George Romero: I really don’t know. I don’t know if zombies are going to survive, I really don’t know. I was talking to Guillermo Del Toro about this, and he’s got a place here. I live in Toronto now and he just bought a place here. He shot “Pacific Rim” here. And he’s doing his series up here based on his novel “The Strain.” And we were just trying to dope that out. He says “basically a part of me is still a 14year-old. And I make stuff like Pan’s Labyrinth that I feel love and passion for. Or I’m a 14 year-old making movies I’d like to go see.” And that’s basically where I’m at. I don’t wanna try and predict what the next trend is gonna be. I mean vampires seem to have run their course. (laughs) Maybe not. But, there aren’t that many monsters that you can turn to. I think they’ve basically been used. So when something comes along like “Cabin in the Woods”, I think it’s the unique stuff that scores. I think “The Conjuring” is doing pretty well right now, at least here in Toronto. And it’s usually somebody has a sharp enough idea that’s different enough from what came in the last few years, and horror runs that way, basically. It runs in spurts. “Friday the 13th” comes out and suddenly there’s nine more of them. “Saw” comes out and seven more of those. (laughs) It’s like people don’t wanna think. The hardest thing is to get originality on the first one. If you’re doing “Saw” 1, to get the distributor to put enough printed advertising behind it in order to make it score. That’s the trick, you know?
G2M: Finally, a lot of filmmakers and celebrities are active in social media. How can people interact with you, whether it be Twitter, Facebook, a Tumblr page, where can they find you?
George Romero: Nope, I don’t do any of it. (laughs)
George Romero: I really don’t want to. I had a website once, way back in the early days of the net. And I would diligently answer everybody’s questions. And pretty soon they would all start talking to each other and dissing each other, and calling each other a**holes, and it just became a chat site, having nothing to do with me. And so I just gave up on it. I don’t do any of the other things now. I certainly don’t want to be out there commenting on politics. I don’t want to be out there saying “hey I went to the mall today and got a great pair of shoes.” What am I gonna do? (laughs)
George Romero: I’d rather be here with my wife, taking it easy, and trying to write something meaningful.
G2M: I had an idea for a horror movie where it’s about a social media site that come to life and tries to kill you if you quit using it. Eh? Eh?
GR: That’s pretty good! There have been demon computer movies but not for a while. You should write it! (laughs)
G2M: I’m pitching George Romero! Thanks for taking the time to talk.
George Romero: Thank you.
GEORGE A. ROMERO WILL BE APPEARING AT FLASHBACK WEEKEND, August 9-11, 2013
Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare, 5440 N. River Road, Rosemont, Illinois
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