Catching Up With George A. Romero


On Survival, the new “rules” and the future

Meet the new George Romero. Same as the old George Romero, but now happily living in Toronto, Canada (he relocated from Pittsburgh a few years back) and laying to rest the first quartet of Dead films (from Night to 2005’s Land) to make way for a new set that began with Diary of the Dead and continues with Survival of the Dead.

A described modern “western,” the film – the second in a proposed new quartet but Romero’s sixth Dead picture – drops Diary‘s Alan Van Sprang, reprising his role as Sarge, into a bitter quarrel between two families on an island of the coast of the U.S. What’s the dispute about? What to do with the walking dead, particularly family members and friends.

Romero visited Los Angeles this week, and I reunited with him to pick his brain about his latest opus. At 70, the man clearly has much more to say cinematically and is cognizant of the fact that he may have to get picky about the projects he commits himself to these days. As I came to find out, if his future means spending more time with maggot-ridden walking corpses, he’s okay with that.

Shock Till You Drop: You’re getting a wider exposure with Survival. It’s out on Xbox and VOD… There’s a greater accessibility, I guess you could say.

George Romero: It’s great. Let’s hope it works. I’d like to see it do well. If it does what Diary did…with the first four films, I was never able to cross over any of the characters because they’re all controlled by different people. But here we’re in an ownership position. When I did this film, I got this conceit: What if I take minor characters from Diary and come up with different storylines. I’d love to do that set, for the first time, a collage of everything I feel I need to say about zombies. I don’t know if that will happen, it completely depends on how this film does.

Shock: And what you have to say thematically, I suppose.

Romero: Yeah, well, this is a pretty broadly themed film. It’s not about what’s happening today, really. I have a few ideas that are about human foibles and why can’t we get along. That’s what all of my stories have been about.

Shock: Did you want to take a break after Diary. Develop something not dead-related?

Romero: We were. We were working on a couple of other projects, Peter [Grunwald] and I. And we still are, but this was definitely motivated because Diary did so well. It cost so little to make but it went on to make lots of dough. It still is. It was logical, financially, for them to want another one. And I was quite pleased with that. If this does well, I’d love to do more. I wish I could do the other two as one production, but we’ll see.

Shock: What instigated the decision to toy with some of the rules you established in your Dead universe this time?

Romero: I’ve had my eye on these other stories so I get to interweave them a little bit. Nobody knows there’s one big rule change in this. The characters don’t even find out because they’re too busy shooting at each other. The humans don’t know. But I love playing with things like that and there are a couple of other things I’d like to do and do them in the context of this interwoven stories. We’ll see.

Shock: But to change the game, change the rules…are you telling the fans, “Take the initial four films and now strap in for a new quartet?”

Romero: That’s exactly it. I’d like to set up the rules more. Zombies don’t run. [laughs] A little bit of that stuff. Do they shit? There’s a lot to discuss here. I have all of those ideas spinning in my head and I’d like to put out my own little bible. And if there are any questions left unanswered…well, I’ll answer them on e-mail.

Shock: With Survival you’re going back to traditional filmmaking after the first person approach you took with Diary…

Romero: It saved our sanity as filmmakers and mixed it up to do it that way. When I got this idea, it grew. I said, war, conflict, I wanted to use an island. Then I thought of William Wyler’s The Big Country. That was our model. I sat down with the d.p., production designer, everyone and watched that. We went widescreen, didn’t mute the colors and tried to make it look that way. I wish we could go back and do another one in black and white, but no one will f**kin’ let me. We shot this on the Red camera, you could probably get a good black and white out of that, time it differently. Get a good image.

Shock: There appears to be a certain manic urgency with which your working. Is it the technology that’s getting you more excited? Even the zombie kills are more over-the-top since you’ve been utilizing CG.

Romero: I couldn’t do gags like that back in the day. That’s great. Using CG saves you a lot of time. A squib goes bad, then you have to clean the walls and you lose half an hour. These films, we have 25 to 28 days to work. It’s tough. The weather killed us on this one and we went over three days.

Shock: But if you had the cash and time, would you return to practical?

Romero: I’d love to, I love the way it works. But I’m comfortable now. It depends on the trade-off. If we’re going to spend that much then they want more control. I’d much rather work with the creative control and not spend the money. I’ve never been in a situation where there’s enough money anyways. The Dark Half and Land of the Dead were the biggest budgets I had, but it was never enough.

Shock: Do you ever get the urge, though, to pick up where Land left off?

Romero: Eh, no. [laughs]

Shock: Did you write yourself into a corner there?

Romero: Yeah, sort of. You have to go Beyond Thunderdome with the story. I don’t think I want to do that. I don’t want to get to the point where zombies rules the world. And I don’t want to get to the point where it’s just everybody living together. I think I got as close as I could to that with the end of Land where they decide to lay off for now. I don’t think so. Especially now that we basically have a whole new franchise. I would like to just do this set and scram for a while. If I have the energy and I’m still on my feet, we have a couple of projects I’d really like to do. Keep them within a budget because I don’t want to come down here and have to pitch anything for a year and a half.

Shock: Talk about this book you’re at work on.

Romero: It’s a zombie novel I was contracted to do. But I didn’t sign the contract because I didn’t want to have to deliver at a certain time. I’m unclear on what my ideas are. I’ve been working on it, I have 150 pages. But I have to get Survival off my back and find a couple of months where I can sit down and decide whether I want to do the rest. How long is this zombie thing going to last? I don’t know. I have some ideas in there. It’s hard to find ideas that I don’t want to save for film and think about what’s new or different in a novel. The only thing is that I can write it bigger. I don’t know, man.

Shock: Is this something you learned from doing the comic book Toe Tags? Writing big, but having some ideas that are ripe for film?

Romero: That was too big. It was stupid because I think I might have been able to make a movie deal on it if it was producible, but it’s not. I’m talking to another comic book group now about doing some, not necessarily zombie, stuff.

Shock: Are you a gamer like John Carpenter? Have you played Left 4 Dead and games like that?

Romero: Nah, I’m not a gamer. I’d love to write a game and people are always nibbling at me to do one, but I’d like to have something to say about the story. They feel they’re the specialists though and just want me to slap my name on something.

Shock: You’re tinkering with a script for a Season of the Witch remake? Why and what do you have planned?

Romero: It’s the only film of mine I’d like to remake. I was too young to understand womens issues and womens lib. Not very well acted. The people raising the money shorted us by a 100 grand, so we had to finish the film on $90 thousand. Then, over the last few years, I said it’d be stronger if the film focused on a strong woman and smashed the ceiling, who is quite powerful. But in her personal life she’s being crushed. I have pages written on a new script, but I don’t know… Again, it’s age, time creeping up on you, you have to pick your shots. I have several things and one of these days I’ll be forced to make a decision on which one to chase. If this happens, I’ll be perfectly content to do these other two Dead films. In fact, it’d almost be like a vacation. I already have the ideas and I could use that time to be noodling something else. It’d be like having a steady job for the first time in my life. I am hoping that happens.

Shock: Are you happy with the move you made to Toronto? There seems to be a very fine line between old George and new George we’re seeing these days.

Romero: I love it. I think so, when I was in Pittsburgh I was always working with the same people and I love that family relationship. Now I have a new family. It’s not going to go away. The Pittsburgh family went away and now they’re trying to come back with the new state incentives. Toronto ain’t going away with it’s infrastructure and stages. I love the people I’m working with and the city. I’m a permanent resident there, I’m still a U.S. citizen, but the health insurance there is pretty damn good. [laughs]

Survival of the Dead is now available on VOD. It opens in limited release on May 28.

Source: Ryan Turek, Managing Editor