Published at: Feb. 20, 2008, 11:44 a.m. CST by merrick
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
There's a slim chance you've heard that Mr. George A. Romero has a new zombie flick out. You may have also heard that the mainstream critical press has pretty much gotten behind his new zombie flick, both as a scary-ass movie and as a dead-on, scorpion-sting of social commentary. At age 67, Romero is just as angry at the establishment as he's always been--maybe even a little bit angrier. There's no reason to go into his filmography or even his list of projects he'd like to do next (that list doesn't change much year after year); you know what he's done and what he's capable of. And DIARY OF THE DEAD is pretty darn magnificent.
I've interviewed Romero a couple times before this, but I've never heard him quite so excited about a film. I think the early response to DIARY has energized him to a degree. He's made a film that he's not only proud of, but also others outside of his normal fan base are excited about as well.
I only spoke to George for about 15 minutes this time around (on Valentine's Day no less), but there's a good chance I'll be talking to him again later this year in connection with a Chicago-area appearance he'll by making June 27-29 as part of the Flashback Weekend Horror Convention (www.flashbackweekend.com). This year marks the 40th anniversary of the release of the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and there's a fantastic cast reunion planned here in Chicago (from what I understand this is part of a world tour the cast and Romero are doing; this appearance marks the exclusive Midwest engagement). More on the event when it gets a little closer on the calendar, but there are few things more enjoyable in the world than hanging out with Romero in his element, surrounded by his adoring fans.
Anyway, here is my conversation with the often-imitated, never-matched George Romero. We cover a lot of ground in our short time.
Capone: Hey, George how are you doing?
George Romero: The mighty Capone. Good to talk to you again.
Capone: Thanks, and congratulations on this seriously kick-ass movie.
GR: [laughs] Thank you.
Capone: And I'm looking forward to you in Chicago in June. That'll be fun as always. And I don't know if they told you, but I'm hosting a screening of DIARY tonight. Zombies on Valentine's Day.
GR: Oh my god. It's not exactly a loving movie, is it?
Capone: DIARY reminded me of conversations I've had with friends in recent years about where people would turn if the dead did actually rise. Back in 1968, people would have turned to radio and television. Today, it's the internet. It's blogs, YouTube, all sorts of viral videos. How does that fact sit with you? Anytime a major catastrophe happens, people race to their computers for the latest updates.
GR: Well, I don't think that it's 100 percent that way yet, but that's certainly the way it's leaning. I was watching CNN on Super Tuesday, and right in the middle of all this political discourse, a Hurricane was hitting Arkansas.
And Wolf Blitzer turns away from the political screen, and says, "Okay, anyone out there in Arkansas who can get me a shot of this hurricane, I'll put it on the air and I'll send you a CNN mug!" It's like everyone is being invited to report on the news and being seduced into it. But at the moment, it's still being reported by the mainstream media. At least news is or at least what pretends to be information.
Unfortunately what's out there in the blogosphere and the dangers of it, is that it's not so much information as it is opinion, observation, viewpoints, perspectives.
So in this film, I think I'm trying to talk about both things, about people who are being seduced into becoming reporters and believing that they're doing good and believing that they might even be able to save lives or help, almost to the point of losing track of their own survival even. At the same time, this whole twisting thing. What concerns me the most is that this whole new media world, it can really be used to twist.
If Hitler were alive today, he'd never have to go into the town square; he could throw up a blog. He wouldn't have to risk taking tomatoes from the few people that disagreed with him. Any reasonable-sounding viewpoint would have an outlet. Jim Jones, man, we'd all be drinking the Kool Aid [laughs].
Capone: Old-fashioned, word-of-mouth days are gone.
GR: Really! You don't have to be there, that's the difference. We're all connected. There's this web that is more than just a…the word web was always used to describe the Web. It's a web and it's just as sticky as a spider's web.
Capone: With a capital W and a small one.
GR: [laughs] Yeah.
Capone: Why did you decide to start fresh with DIARY's story? I hate the word "re-imagining," but it actually applies here. This story starts on Day 1.
GR: You know, it's complicated to answer that because I don't know how to shorthand this, and I know we don't have a lot of time. After LAND OF THE DEAD, I thought things had gotten very big; it was going THUNDERDOME.
I said, where do I go from here? BEYOND THE PLANET OF THE APES? I just wanted to go back to do something small, and I had the idea that I wanted to do something about this emerging media culture that we're in. And I thought, well, perfect way. So I thought, I'll go back to the first night.
There's a series of short stories called "Book of the Dead." Major science fiction and horror writers contributed stories to this, including Steve King. And I said, I can do that to. I'll just go back to the first night. I wanted to use film students who were out shooting their own class project.
They have a camera, and the shit hits the fan, and they start to document it. But if it's three years into the phenomenon, they wouldn't be going to class anymore. So, it all just fell into place. I wanted to drop back; I wanted to do something smaller. I wanted to get back to the roots a little bit, and I had this idea. It's all timing, and timing is everything, and it came together.
Capone: People always talk about your zombie films as these excessive gorefests, which they certainly are. But the sequence in DIARY in the hospital is one of the downright scariest scenes you've ever directed.
GR: Oh, man. Well, I'm glad you think so.
Capone: There are other scenes too, but that one, I cannot shake. Are there certain tension elements that you can achieve with hand-held digital that you couldn't with traditional filmmaking?
GR: I don't think there a big difference. First of all, with digital, first and foremost the reason I love it is because, particularly when you're making a low-budget film, our tradeoff on this film is to do it as inexpensively as possible.
That was the tradeoff for having control, and it's really the first time I've had absolute complete creatively control on something since NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. What the digital stuff allows you to do is get off the set. The most expensive time in the production of any film is the time spent on the set. And if you can get off the set, fine.
One actor points the gun, the zombie falls, paint in the gun flash, paint in the splatter, and you don't have to worry about…if the squib goes wrong, you've got to repaint the wall, you've got to re-rig the zombie, and all of the sudden you've lost and hour and half. It enables you to get off the set.
Obviously some of the stuff, like the acid gag, there's no way to do them without doing the digitally, but normally squibs and gunshots, you try to do them practically, but half the time literally if the shutter is in the wrong position, you don't get the gun flash, so it's much easier to paint it in later and you're done; you got the scene.
Capone: People have compared this film to the recently released CLOVERFIELD. I don't think that's a fair or accurate comparison. Have you seen CLOVERFIELD?
GR: I haven't seen it, no. I didn't know that anybody was contemplating it; I didn't know about [Brian DePalma's] REDACTED. We thought we were going to be first. As it turns out, we're part of a trend. [laughs]
Capone: And obviously, there's a difference between found footage versus your film, which is meant to be a finished student film, with editing, titles, even a score.
GR: That was the idea. I mean, we basically said, these kids are films students. They're going to put their best foot forward; they're going to finish this movie, stick music on it. I actually took those couple of minutes at the beginning of the film to explain that that's what they were doing so people wouldn't think it was just me. Of course, it is me, but I wanted people to think it was them. I still don't know who processed that footage in BLAIR WITCH. They found it in the woods, but who processed it? Who made the work print? I don't know [laughs].
Capone: What else is pissing you off these days? There are references to other things in the film, Katrina being the most recognizable, I think.
GR: I think Katrina is so recent and it was so strong and such as resentful thing that that stuff stands out. But we looked at hours and hours of news footage from all kinds of sources, and we wanted to create a little quilt of images that would recall stuff we've seen over the last 10 years on that box. I didn't mean to load it so heavily toward Katrina, but I think that the Katrina images are so memorable that people hook onto that. There's actually a picture of an atom bomb in there too, which is almost subliminal. We were just trying to create a crazy quilt of media images.
Capone: You repeat your NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD "voices of authority" voiceovers in DIARY, and it took me a while to realize who some of those voices belonged to. How did you make that happen, because it makes for a great makeshift narration and exposition tool.
GR: Yeah, and that's exactly what it was: makeshift. We shot all the principle sequences, all the principle action. And we came back to the cutting room, and we said, "We are now Deborah. We're making her movie [called THE DEATH OF DEATH]. And we recorded probably 100 pages of material, and did some of it improv, and we would try a line here and there, literally try it on for size.
We tried a million different approaches to it until we found the one we thought was right. In the end, we had a movie that had four voices on it: my girlfriend, me, the producer Peter Grunwald, and the editor. And we can't put the movie out with just four voices on it, so initially I called Stephen [King], he was the first guy. And I said, "Steve, I need this kind of preacher guy. Would you consider doing the voice?" And he said sure. We were able to do them all over the telephone because none of them required fidelity, because in the movie, they're all coming over some sort of electronic medium. Steve said yes, great. Then we called Quentin [Tarantino], and we called Guillermo [del Toro] for the immigration perspective.
Capone: And his was the first voice I recognized. But that perspective he offers about the living dead being the ultimate immigrants crossing the border between life and death is fantastic.
GR: [laughs] They're crossing the big ol' border, man. Forget the Mexican-U.S. border.
[At this point, the publicist chimes in to say that our time is nearly up.]
GR: Oh I'm sorry, man. These things are all too short. Unfortunately, this is bad timing. We need to talk when this shit isn't happening.
Capone: It's not a problem. We'll definitely talk when you're here in June and probably even before that leading up to your appearance here at Flashback Weekend.
GR: That'd be great. Next time, we'll have to have a beer or something.
Capone: I would absolutely love that. Take it easy.
GR: You too, and thanks for all the support on this.