This past Sunday (August 11th) at Flashback Weekend 2013, Chicago horror fans were treated to a rare appearance from legendary filmmaker George A. Romero, and here’s Part 1 of some highlights for those of you who aren’t in the Windy City area.
Romero’s panel discussion was moderated by WGN Radio’s Nick Digilio and Steve Prokopy from Ain’t it Cool News, and during the 45-minute panel Digilio, Prokopy and a handful of fans were able to discuss a ton of great topics with the iconic director, including his thoughts on what’s happening with the zombie subgenre these days, why Martin will always be his favorite of his films, how the now defunct studio Orion messed with the ending of Monkey Shines, working with Stephen King, his Pet Sematary script that never happened and much, much more.
So much more, in fact, that we’ve had to break up Romero’s panel into two parts; check out the first installment from Flashback Weekend below, and look for the second part tomorrow.
Question: We always start our interviews with this question- so, what’s pissing you off these days?
George A. Romero: Well, what’s pissing me off the most is that everybody’s doing zombies (laughs).
Question: Is anyone doing it right?
George A. Romero: You know, I thought Frank [Darabont] did a great job with the first season of “The Walking Dead.” That was great.
Question: Moving away from zombies, a movie that I’d like to talk about is Martin; can you tell us about that project began?
George A. Romero: That’s a long story; initially I wrote it because I thought it would be great to write a comedy about a vampire and all the problems he might have. I thought that would be cool. I heard there were a couple of vampire comedies being made and so the idea was just sitting around in my mind and it just evolved into Martin. What if some poor mixed up kid’s family had this superstition where they believed they were vampires? So it just evolved that way.
And I just loved it. I loved that it was in a little town named Braddock that was decaying- it’s still decaying actually. They’re waiting for the mills to open again. So I don’t know… I just love it. I was also able to make every single shot that I wanted to make, too, and you just can’t do that anymore. I had a wonderful crew; at the time we were working non-union. I had a bunch of friends who were on the crew and were willing to just stick around late into the night to do whatever I’d ask them to do. It was great; I still stay in touch with a bunch of those guys.
Question: The previous panel was Stephen King-related and I know you two have a working relationship; can you talk about what it is that you enjoy with your collaborative relationship with him?
George A. Romero: Oh yes, Pet Sematary [the previous panel]. I love Steve; I don’t know what attracted us to each other initially. I think it was when Warner Bros. made the introduction. That was when I had Martin at a little film festival in Utah that would become the Sundance Film Festival. So a couple of executives from Warner Bros. came to see it; they called me up one day after the success of Carrie and they wanted me to meet this writer named Stephen King. He lived up in Maine and so they bought me a ticket and sent me up there and I met Steve; he cooked me up some fiddleheads and that’s how we met.
And he gave me a copy of The Stand while I was there; he said “I’ll never make a movie out of this because I’ll have to cheese it up. I’ll have to cheap it up.” (laughs) Then he said, “And I don’t want to do it for television either because then I’ll really have to cheap it up then (laughs).” But we didn’t end up working together on The Stand- we didn’t end up working together on Pet Sematary either. I actually had done a screenplay for Pet Sematary and I was going to shoot it but I got caught up working on another movie at the time, Monkey Shines.
For Monkey Shines, Orion made me change the end of it. We had shot it; it was all in the can, but they wanted to put another “shocker” on the end of it. They complained about the end of the movie, but what they were really interested in was the fact that at the end the guy has to recover. The only way we got to make the movie in the first place was that the producer agreed that the ending would have the guy recovering.
Question: Working with studios is not necessarily your favorite thing; how did it work out for you on Land [of the Dead]?
George A. Romero: That was actually an independent movie, we made it with an independent producer, Mark Canton. He basically did a negative pick-up deal with Universal and he had an inside track because he used to be the president of Universal. So that was really an independent movie. Creepshow was another independent movie; that was acquired by Warner Bros. after they saw it at Cannes.
But I have to say that I was terrified of working with Universal, but no, they were gracious. They were really nice and they just got the movie. The guys at Orion, though, which was supposed to be a “filmmaker’s studio,” well- it was the pits working with them. They were doomed to go bankrupt; they had Silence of the Lambs and they didn’t know what to do with it. I went to a screening there one day for Monkey Shines and they all came in from just seeing Silence of the Lambs. They said, “Oh man, what a turkey.” They made every bad pick possible.
Question: Because you always have such interesting things to say with your zombie films, was it important to you that they always say something important?
George A. Romero: It was and it still is; with the first one, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t really think it was a serious film. I didn’t even think they were zombies- I didn’t call them zombies either. I didn’t even have rules for them on Night [of the Living Dead]. It wasn’t until I made the second film that I realized it needed to say something.
So after Night, people began writing about it like it was an important film, so I thought that the next one had to say something or else (laughs). Now with the second one, I knew the people who developed that shopping mall and went to see it before it was open, and I just saw it as a temple to consumerism. So it was really on the second film where I began to hone those messages. Now, it comes first; it’s so important. I always tell people the story can go fifty ways from Sunday, but it’s the message that needs to drive everything.
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