King Z

Bring out your dead: An interview with zombie-master George A. Romero

FILMMAKER INTERVIEW In the event of an actual zombie outbreak, legendary horror director George A. Romero would no doubt survive. For one thing, he stands an imposing six-feet, five inches, and happens to maintain an anti-zombie stronghold — er, getaway — in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where he'd just been vacationing before the press tour for the sixth film in his "Dead" series, Survival of the Dead. Plus, Night of the Living Dead came out in 1968, meaning Romero has more than 40 years of experience wrangling the undead. I asked him about that, and more, on his recent visit to San Francisco.

SFBG Did you ever think in 1968 that you'd still be making zombie movies in 2010?

George A. Romero Never. And I never thought of it as a series — it was a film. I didn't want to make another one, especially after [Night] got "discovered." I said, I really can't do another one unless I have a strong idea. Ten years later, I knew the people who were developing the first indoor shopping mall that any of us had ever seen, near Pittsburgh. I went out to visit it before it was even open, and the trucks were bringing in all this stuff, and I said, "Jesus Christ, it's like this Taj Mahal to consumerism" — and then I said, "Ok, this might serve."

Completely serendipitously, I got a call from [Italian horror filmmaker] Dario Argento, and he said, "George, please, you must make another." He flew me over to Rome, stuck me in a little apartment, and told me to write the script [for 1978's Dawn of the Dead]. That's when I first started to think, "Boy, I could have fun with this." I could express myself, express my politics a little bit, poke a finger at society, and bring the zombies out every once in a while. The first four [Dead movies] were more than 10 years or more apart from each other. And I liked the idea that they were snapshots of different decades, stylistically and everything else.

After Land of the Dead (2005) — which was the first sort of big one, and I'm not sure I should have studio'd it up, if you know what I mean — I wanted to do something about emerging media and citizen journalism, so I had this idea to go back to Night [for 2007's Diary of the Dead], go back to the roots, do it real guerrilla-style. Just like with Night, I thought it would be a one-shot deal: "I'm gonna take this little sidebar now, and try to have fun while I'm at it." [The company that financed the film] gave me final cut, creative control — first time since the very early films that I made — and [since] I stayed within a certain budget range, even though it had a limited distribution, it wound up making a lot of money. That's why [Survival of the Dead] is here.

SFBG Survival of the Dead spins off a minor character from Diary of the Dead. Did you have that story line in mind while you were making Diary?

GAM When [the financers] said, "Well, we made so much money, we gotta do it again," I said, "OK, what if we do it again, and it makes a lot of money? You're gonna want to do it again. So why don't we go in thinking of a plan? I could take these characters from Diary, I had 'em all picked out — we could make three films, and I know exactly where they're gonna go. And I will interweave the stories and introduce plot elements that recur, and characters that meet each other again." Which is something I always wanted to do, but I couldn't with the first four films because they're all owned by different people. So I said, we'll take a broader topic like war, enmities that don't die, and do this sort of structured set piece. Small budget but bigger scope. Then I thought, well, let's play around with style too.

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