• Home  
• News  
• Photogallery  
• Program  
• Cinema  
• Literature  
  Interview with George A. Romero  
One of the most evident characteristics of Diary of the Dead is that it is low budget, like your first zombies films. What compelled this choice and structure?
It was very liberating. With the last zombie film I did, we weren’t wealthy but it was much bigger. It was a stretch, it was very ambitious for its budget so it was a struggle all the way through. We had stars and schedules we had to keep. Universal was good to me but when you have a master you can’t improvise and you need to write memos to get permission to do anything.

Initially, I was going to do it non-theatrical. There’s a film production school in Florida and I was going to do it with students, really under the radar, with private money, for $500000, just to take a breather, to relax a bit. But then Artfire was interested, they saw the script, and said “You can have all the freedom you want, but let’s do it with a bit more money and release it theatrically.”
I was still able to make the movie with friends and it was really the first time I’ve had that kind of experience since Night of the Living Dead.
How has your vision of the world and of the US in particular changed in the meantime, since Night of the Living Dead?
I’m a bit more in control. When I see Night of the Living Dead – over and over again! – I see all the flaws. Only in the last three films I’ve made do I feel I’m in control, in terms of where to move the eye, what kinds of shots to take, and so forth.
I don’t know if I have a style but I know I grew up ripping people off: Welles, Hitchcock, Michael Powell. Because when I started out it was expensive, you couldn’t “sketch” with a video camera. I’m still looking for a style but I think I know where to put the camera now!
In the meantime, three years ago, I left the US and am now living in Canada. I shot a film here called Bruiser, then Land of the Dead. I developed friendships with people with the same political sensibilities and am now trying to get permanent residency. So work brought me here but politics fuelled the fire. And Land of the Dead was more “in your face” political.
What do zombies represent for you? Are they a reflection of society, of so-called normalcy, or a pure extension of your love of horror?
In my mind they’re not a metaphor. Or, rather, they could be a hurricane, they’re a natural disaster. They represent revolution, but the revolution could be a tornado. Zombies are tongue in cheek. I’ve said they’re us and too many of us walking around dead in reality, but really that’s just an inside joke.
From the beginning I wanted them to be an extraordinary phenomenon and show how people don’t change to accommodate that. But most of my stories are human stories or if they are political then they’re snapshots of the times in which the films were made.
How is Land of the Living Dead political?
Well, with its references to the Twin Towers, to life pre and post- 911. Everyone’s trying to keep people happy with fun and games now. Dawn of the Dead was a comment on consumerism and in Day of the Dead I observed that no one trusted anyone anymore.
But I want to separate real politics from social criticism. I think Land of the Living Dead is the only one of the films that referred to actual government politics.
The new film is about the media explosion. We’re all connected to web, everybody’s a reporter, everybody’s got a camera. But this may be more dangerous than when information was controlled, I’m not sure.
So your idea to make a film within a film in Diary of the Dead came from the need to comment on present-day media saturation?
Yes, we’re all so seduced by it. I remember when there were three networks in the US and even then people chose what they wanted to listen to. Then came cable and the slants became obvious: CNN was liberal, FOX was right-wing. Now it seems like they’re all preaching to the converted. And today some radical could come along and preach destroying the planet and have a million followers!
When we talked about news being controlled by networks, by the power media, the public didn’t see this control but flocked to what they wanted to hear. Nowadays, no one is managing this and everyone is seduced by it. Everyone wants to be a reporter of some sort. They’re seduced into writing their own blog. Some may be genius analysts but there are also a lot of lunatics.
Was a structure in which the protagonists “control” the image as they shoot a filter of sorts?
I thought it might make [the film] more realistic. I didn’t want to have beauty shots of the gore and I thought it might make it more realistic and refer people to their own home movies. Media students are going to be most seduced by this, I think. It seemed like right setting and gave me the opportunity to use subjective camerawork, which we see so much of. Even political debates are being held on Youtube now instead of by a moderator. We’re seduced into thinking we’re all part of a worldwide community, but what kind of community and what are its rules?
But things also evolved as we were finishing the film. I wanted it to be raw, unedited. I thought: “Wait, these are film students, they wouldn’t do this or that.” Then I decided Debra had to finish the film and she’d do a craftsperson’s job, so it would also include material downloaded from the Internet. That part of the structure, that kind of narrative, came about in the cutting room. We didn’t change the footage shot although we did shoot one other scene later, with the farmer, because I realized we didn’t have a zombie! And everyone loves the Amish farmer suddenly. He’s the one who’ll be signing all the autographs at the conventions!
Did the actors improvise much or was there a very specific storyboard/screenplay that they followed?
There was little improvisation. There was some in the dialogue but the actors still had to make the point. Mostly, though, they added the profanity. I didn’t write all those “fucks”! The film seems loose, shot with the camera going in and out of spaces, the house, but that had to be planned to the last detail. The camera saw 360 degrees often and there was no place to hide lights. But the actors were all theatre actors and I think if I’d told them we’d do it all in one take they would have said ok. They’re not like film actors, who ask “What are we shooting today?”
There was really no room for physical improvisation because the camera needed to be fixed. But I don’t insist on my words, just as long as they understand the gist.
You say that the new film is not a fifth installment of the zombie saga but a new beginning. What do you mean by this?
It’s not a fifth installment in that it’s not three years later. The first time I referred to a time frame was in Land of the Dead so you get an idea that everything’s been going on for three years, also by the state of the city. The first four films loosely refer to that time frame. The world disintegrates a little more each time and in the fourth film they’ve built a haven against this problem. This was an obstacle for Diary because I needed to go back to the first night otherwise the students wouldn’t still be in school and teacher would be dead!
So it’s a new take on the old beginning?
Yes, exactly. I even used newscast video from Night of the Living Dead, very subtly, so it’s happening simultaneously.
Is it true you’re already working on a sequel to the film?
Yes. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing but I have a lot more I can say about the media. And for the first time it will be a continuation, with the same surviving characters coming out of the house. I think they decide the safest place for them might be an island. And I can make some kind of “Lord Jim” thing! I’m hoping to do that this summer because the last two were made when it was very, very cold. It’s hard to ask 100 zombies to get into a freezing lake, but I do provide the brandy!
Rumor has it you’re also working on the remake of one of your little-known early films, The Season of the Witch.
Witch is the only one of my films I’d like to remake. I loved the idea but we were underfinanced, we lost a lot of funding we were promised at the last minute, and I felt it wasn’t executed that well. The film is about a woman disempowered by friends and her husband, who can’t act on her own until she discovers or believes that the practice of witchcraft has liberated her. This is bullshit, of course, because it’s just a crutch. Today I’d make her powerful in life but still personally disenfranchised. But it’s a lot harder today to be a guy and write about women because everyone’s so sensitive. Then it was enough to say “I’m a women’s lib guy” but now you have to be more realistic. I have 60-70 pages so far but it’s not next.
I also have a balls out zombie comedy I want to do. Literally a coyote and the roadrunner situation, but with a zombie and a human. I have a Montreal actor in mind for zombie, he looks just like Wile E. Coyote. It was finished before we even started making Diary of the Dead because after Land of the Dead I wanted to do something I could have fun with. So while I refined Diary of the Dead I wrote the comedy. I couldn’t resist making Diary first but I have this silly side of me and I need to do [the comedy]. It looks like we’re very close to financing this so I don’t know if it will be next. But if everyone including the Weinsteins want a sequel [to Diary] that’s a force of nature that can’t be stopped.
You and Dario Argento [this year’s film jury president at Courmayeur] have had similar career paths. Not only were you born the same year but you made your directorial debut in 1968 and he in 1970.  And you were both at the Toronto Film Festival this year with your latest films. What do Argento and his oeuvre mean to you?
I credit him for reviving my career, he was responsible for Dawn of the Dead. I adamantly resisted making another zombie film after Night of the Living Dead. It took years for people to start writing politically about the film, calling it an essentially American movie, which I never thought. And that created even more pressure for me.
Then I happened to socially meet the people who built that shopping mall [in Dawn]. It was the first closed shopping mall, near my house. And when they told me it housed everything it took for someone to survive in there forever, even a bomb shelter – bing! – a bell went off in my head. The film wouldn’t be in a farmhouse but in a mall and I could talk about consumerism! I had this idea and it was serendipity – three weeks later he calls me for first time, we didn’t even know each other.
He said, “Hello, I am Dario Argento” and I said holy shit! He asked if I was working on anything, he told me I absolutely had to make another zombie movie. When I told him I had this idea he invited me to Rome, he stuck me in an apartment and in between wonderful dinners hosted by Dario, I wrote the film.
I think he’s one of the giants and that some of his stuff is masterful, Suspiria, even the early stuff, just fabulous. We even did a film together but we weren’t on each other’s sets unfortunately. But he’s definitely one of the masters.