Today B-D caught up with iconic horror director George Romero to discuss the Blu-ray/DVD release (8/24) of the latest in his series of Living Dead films, Survival of the Dead, which had a run on small screen formats (VOD, Amazon, Xbox Live, the Playstation Network) before moving into a theatrical release earlier this year. Inside you can check out what the director had to say about the allegorical slant of the film, getting back to small-scale moviemaking, and the future of the Living Dead franchise.
BLOODY DISGUSTING: In most of the ‘Living Dead’ films, there’s some kind of an allegory at work. So what’s the allegory in this one?
GEORGE A. ROMERO: I’m afraid I have to be a little long-winded here. After I made the first four films, the last one, ‘Land of the Dead’, was sort of the biggest budget, and it was Hollywood, and even though Universal was good about it – I mean, they basically let me make the film they wanna make – it was a bit discouraging cause the distribution was sort of lackluster, and I was frustrated, and I wanted to go back to the root. And I had this idea even while we were shooting ‘Land of the Dead’. I wanted to do something about emerging media, citizen journalism, and all of that. So I had this idea for ‘Diary of the Dead’ and I figured I could make it for very low bucks.
And we found these partners, a company called ArtFire, who were willing to finance it as long as it was under $4 million. So we were able to do it for around $2.5 [million]. And because we did it so inexpensively, even though it had only a limited release, it wound up making a fortune worldwide, after videos and everything else. So they wanted another one, so I said ‘uh oh’. Cause I wasn’t used to…the ideas have always come first, I mean the underlying theme, except for the very first film, which I hadn’t sort of found my roots yet. But the ideas always come first. So now all of a sudden I have to make one of these without inspiration, so to speak. [Laughs]
So I said ‘now what if ['Survival'] makes a lot of money, and they’re gonna want another one?’ So I had this brainstorm that I would take minor characters from ‘Diary’. And I developed three storylines that I could use and this is the first one. Now, I don’t know if the other ones are gonna get made, but I’m ready to do them, if this film winds up making a lot of bread. So I have to use them in [service of a] sort of a more universal theme, not necessarily something that was in the news, although conflicts are always in the news.
So what this one’s about is feuds…enmities that don’t die, wars that start and people forgot why they started [them], but they just know, ‘you’re my enemy!’ And you know, you can think of it as Northern Island, or the Middle East, or the U.S. Senate. It’s just about these automatic enmities that people develop. And that’s basically the theme of this film.
I’m enamored with the idea of trying to do a couple more of these, if it happens. And I’d like to do them in different styles. So this one, because I have these two old guys…I thought of this old William Wyler Western called ‘The Big Country’. And I got the production designer and the D.P. and everybody together and we all watched it. And I said, ‘why don’t we make it sort of look like that?’ So we went widescreen, 2.35, didn’t mute the colors, so it had sort of a Western flavor to it, even though it’s contemporary. On this island I decided to do away with cars and use horses. [Laughs]
So it’s a conceit, but it makes it more fun for us as filmmakers. And if we do another one, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll try to do it noir, or…I don’t know. But I love just sort of playing with the medium that way. There’s also a lot of humor in this film. It’s right out of Chuck Jones’ playbook, there’s a lot of sort of really ‘Looney Tunes’ moments in this thing. So I guess leave me alone and give me the creative control, and what you get is…you know, you can blame me for it all the way. You know, I never know if this stuff is working. They’re all little conceits and fun that I’m having, and I hope that it’s fun for the audience too.
B-D: You really do seem to be going back to your roots as far as making these films on a very small scale, independently…
Oh, very. I mean, there’s no comparison. I would live here if I could. If we get to make these other two ['Dead'] films I’d be in hog heaven, man. I’d love doing it, I’d love having the controls again. I mean, I really haven’t had that kind of experience since the very, very early days, and it’s great, you know? You feel like you’re really doing your own work, and you’re able to do whatever you want to do. So there’s nothing like it. And it’s liberating for the rest of the crew too, cause they don’t have to, you know, wait for memos to go through. [Laughs] They can just come to me and ask me a question. So it’s just so much easier. It’s not even so much about where do you spend the money, it’s about where do you not spend the money, which is just as important as where you spend it. More important, I think.
B-D: I was interested after hearing this was shot in the style of an old widescreen Western how you felt about the fact that it premiered on Video on Demand and other small-screen formats before going to theaters. Do you feel anything was lost watching it on a small screen?
Well, I think it is. Although I’ve never been one of these guys that says, ‘oh, you have to see a movie big screen’. That’s just never been my thing. I presume it was letterboxed, so at least you get the whole image. But I’ve never been adamant about that in any way, actually. You know, you make movies on a small screen, so you never see them big until it’s too late…you wind up using your instincts to interpret or translate what it’s gonna look like when it goes big. But I’m always amazed, actually…my stuff, when I see it big there’s always a couple of little things that don’t work exactly right. It’s so hard to make decisions on a small screen…particularly cutting decisions. You know, where they eye moves…or you want to move the audience’s eye. And when you see it big it’s just so different…so I didn’t mind that. I hope it was letterboxed, I don’t know.
B-D: It’s definitely a departure from ‘Diary’, which was pretty much shot the opposite way.
Very much, yeah. Oh, very much. [Laughs] No, this was really trying to look like an old Hollywood Western. A big old sprawling kind of Western. And the D.P. just did a sensational job with it. I mean, I can say it cause I didn’t do it. It’s really a beautiful-looking film.
B-D: Talk about the extras on the DVD. There’s a ‘Walking After Midnight’ documentary, what is that?
Beats me. [Laughs] That’s all it says?
B-D: Yeah, under the specs it lists a ‘Walking After Midnight’ documentary and a ‘Sarge’ short film.
Yeah, no, generally I don’t. I do all of the interviews and commentary and all that, but I generally have nothing to with producing that stuff. So I’m not sure what any of it is…I’ve heard that it’s really great stuff. I’ve heard that there’s a documentary on there about making the film which is really accurate and a lot of fun, but I haven’t seen it yet. I don’t’ have a copy of it yet.
B-D: So you might be watching it for the first time with the rest of us.
On the extras, certainly.
B-D: You mentioned there are a couple other minor characters from ‘Diary’ that you’d follow for the next two. For the next film, which character would that follow?
Well I’m not sure. I have two storylines…I don’t know if you saw ‘Diary of the Dead’, but there are these African-American guys who are also sort of deserters, who are looters. That would be one group. And the blonde that gets away in the end…she wasn’t a minor character but she survived and takes off after the other guys lock themselves in the mansion. I’m also intrigued with the idea of being able to re-use characters and have them meet up with each other again and re-use story points and so forth. I’ve never been able to do that because the first films are all owned and controlled by different people. So I’ve never been able to sort of bring characters back. You know, I’d like to see Big Daddy’ while he was alive. I’d like to see ‘Bub’ while he was still alive. But I can’t do it because I don’t own it.
B-D: I heard you mention in another interview that you and your partner were developing another non-zombie horror movie. And I was wondering if you could talk at all about that.
Well, I can’t really tell you the storyline because it’s sort of a one-trick pony and I’m trying to keep it secret. But it’s a non-zombie horror film, and for the first time really in my whole career…you know, people call me the ‘scare guy’ and I don’t think of my movies as scary at all. Not since ‘Night of the Living Dead’ when I was trying to sort of get under your skin a little bit and make it kinda creepy, I’ve sort of gone comic book with everything, and the scares are just sort of tricks, you know? Loud sounds, quick movements…they’re not the kind of films that get under your skin. So this is a psychological drama, it’s psychological fear. We’re working on it right now. In fact, I’ve been writing the script. I should have it finished in a couple of weeks.
B-D: Can we expect any kind of an announcement on that soon?
Oh, I don’t know. You know, if ‘Survival’ winds up making a shitload of money, I’ll be doing a couple more zombie films. I’d be happy to do that, I mean it’s the closest thing that I’ve ever had to sort of having a job and knowing what I’ll be doing for the next two years. So I would welcome it if it happens. If it doesn’t happen, we’ll chase this one…if it’s not zombies when it’s me, it’s much harder to find the financing, you have to sort of jump through hoops and convince people the project’s worth doing. And at my age, I don’t know. I’ve sort of had it with that. You never earn a platinum card in this business. You have to always convince people and do the pitches and all of that, and I’m no good at that but…anyway, as far as announcing it I don’t know. We’ll see.