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Exclusive interview with George A. Romero
By James Whittington, Thursday 20th November 2008

Mention the name George A. Romero and one instantly thinks of the black and white horror classic Night of the Living Dead. Well Mr Romero is back with his fifth “dead” movie, Diary of the Dead and we were lucky enough to be able to grab him for a few moments for this exclusive interview. 

ZONE HORROR: Where did the idea for Night of the Living Dead come from and how has the huge success of the film changed your life?

George A RomeroGEORGE A ROMERO: (laughs) Well it changed my life meaning that is the only reason that I’m talking to you! (laughs) While the idea was not necessarily original, the idea came from the Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend which is back with us now with Will Smith and big Hollywood effects. But I had read that novel and thought that it was about revolution and it was the 60’s we were sort of angry guys thinking that the 60’s hadn’t really worked. And that’s where the idea came from, doing something about a revolution that people failed to recognise and respond to inappropriately and that’s really where it came from. I never thought of these things as zombies, basically back then zombies to me were those guys in the Caribbean doing the wet work for those guys who ran the plantations and I never really thought of them as zombies until people began to write about them and call them zombies. I don’t know if I can take any credit for creating a new kind of zombie. Maybe if I did do anything it was to create the idea of the zombie being your neighbour, neighbours are frightening enough.

ZH: Why did you go back to being an independent film maker for Diary of the Dead? Did making Land of the Dead put you off studios and all the hassle they gave you?

GAR: I have absolutely no complaints about Universal, they basically let me make the film that I wanted to make, I just found that when it was finished that I didn’t know where to go from there. It just got so big that it lost all connections with its origins basically. I just wanted to see if I could go back and I could do something small. All of my zombie films have been basically grown out of observations that I’ve made about what’s happening there in the outside world and this was the fate. I had this idea, I wanted to go back and do something small and we found producers who were willing to finance it and give me the controls that I wanted which was absolute. It’s really the first time I’ve made a film since Night of the Living Dead where it was completely mine.

ZH: Diary of the Dead is an intelligent and compelling horror movie, what made you return once more into the land of the living dead?

GAR: Ah, I’ve never left (laughs) I have to concede that no matter what’s happening in the world I can glue zombies on it and get some kind of a movie deal on it. I don’t think I’ve ever left; it’s my kind of platform. Maybe I’m the Michael Moore of Horror!

ZH: That’s not such a bad title to have! Diary of the Dead is not as bloody as some of your past zombie movies, a lot of the gory stuff happens off camera. Was that something you did on purpose, to censor the film?

DiaryGAR: We had no censorship worries at all; I actually thought it was more affective. I mean the kills are pretty gruesome. When you’re shooting objectively, when you’re just shooting a regular movie you can go in for close ups you can dwell on things that makes it, I think, feel a bit more graphic. And it is more graphic because you’re actually going in shooting close up’s, you know, and extending time. This, because of the premise, needed to be shot by the characters and from a distance, they’re not gonna rush in and get a close up (laughs) and I wound up thinking that the way it’s more effective, standing back and viewing it and it also plays into the feel of the film which is the whole idea of that everyone’s a camera. You know, most people have shot home movies and it’s never perfect, there’s never a close up so it’s just what you’re able to capture.

ZH: The film has a strong message about the world we live in, how the media reports news and how they put their spin on it so was this a personal movie and how do you feel about the way the media behaves?

GAR: I think that the media behaves predictably I don’t have a particular complaint about organised or established media and that’s not what the film complains about either. It’s really this emerging multi-tentacled beast that we’re all captured by, you know, Blogs. Hitler wouldn’t have to go into the town’s square today at all! He’d throw up a Blog and have a million followers if he sounded reasonable, and that’s the stuff that worries me, it’s that what bothers me. We’re having this intense political race here and right in the middle of Super Tuesday CNN says “We have a report of tornadoes in Arkansaw, if you can give us a shot of it we’ll put it on the air and give you a coffee mug!” and everyone’s obsessed by this. People are just waiting to see if they can get a plane crash and sell this stuff. It seems like that has become the new reality. We live for the media.

ZH: The young actors give very realistic performances in Diary of the Dead, was it hard to cast this movie?

GAR: It wasn’t hard, in fact it was a great relief because there was nobody over my shoulder saying you had to use Dennis Hopper and John Leguizamo or whatever, I loved those guys, they were great, they did the job but I’d much rather cast, in particularly with these people who are all young. The only young people who are stars just cost a fortune to cast so that’s part of it, so I have this belief that if you don’t know who the people are you’re a bit more on guard, you’re don’t know exactly what’s going to happen to them, they don’t bring any baggage to it and I like that idea very much. I also like the idea of getting a bunch of people who really want to work.

ZH: Scott Wentworth gives a standout performance as Maxwell, the world weary, alcoholic tutor; did he remain in character on set?

GAR: (laughs) No, he didn’t! (laughs) Oddly enough he’s from Baltimore, I mean he’s just not at all what, he’s not that character in real life. Not at all. But he works steadily, we have in Ontario, Stratford Ontario which is a company that does Shakespeare plays where I first saw Scott and that’s where he comes from. So he’s a pure technician if you will.

ZH: The ending is deliberately left open for another instalment, will there be another page to this diary?

GAR: You know I have no idea. Land of the Dead was wide open for a sequel, I just have no idea. Actually if you think about it except for in the first film everybody dies, I’ve sort of left things open in all of the films just in case. But I’ve never really felt an urge, there’s never really been anything else for me to talk about or want to go on about the same story. I mean if I was forced contractually to do a sequel to this film yes I have an open door there where I can just pick it up.

ZH: Always have a Plan B!

GAR: (laughs) Yeah (laughs)

ZH: George A Romero, thank you very much.

GAR: My pleasure

Thanks go to the Greenroom Digital team for arranging this interview.

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To Read our review of Land of the Dead Click Here


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