Zombie film legend George Romero talked with zombie author Max Brooks, along with surprise guest J. Michael Straczynski, about the past, present, and future of his undead features at the Comic-Con International in San Diego on Thursday.
The first topic of the panel was Romero’s upcoming film, “Diary of the Dead.” “It’s not a continuation,” Romero said, putting to rest the idea that the latest in the line of “Dead” films was a direct sequel to “Land of the Dead.” “It goes back to the first night when the dead are coming back.”
Romero revealed that the style of the film will take a different approach from any of the previous films. Shot entirely on subjective camera and security camera footage, “Diary of the Dead” will follow the story of a group of college students experiencing the first night of a zombie breakout. “That’s what this one is, it’s about a bunch of college kids that were out doing a school project when the shit hits the fan.”
When asked what inspired the premise behind “Diary,” Romero explained that he makes his movies based on what he sees in today’s world. “‘Land’ is about the Bush Administration basically,” Romero said. “And ‘Diary’ is about YouTube.”
The film will premier at the Toronto Film Festival in September.
Once Max Brooks, enjoying the chance to talk with Romero as much as anybody in the crowd, opened up the Q&A session, the panel attendees were privy to a short auto-biography of Romero. The filmmaker told how he learned how to edit film alongside news editors, and then while working for various studios where he almost started a number of projects that never saw the light of day.
“I made more money than I’d ever made in my life but I didn’t make movies.”
Even television companies couldn’t help as a creative outlet, TV at the time not being ready for Romero’s style of programs. Romero worked with Martin Scorsese on a never-to-be-aired project on ABC called “Hotel Hell.” “So, some TV exec said ‘George Romero and Martin Scorsese… screw it, let’s do ‘ALF,”” Brooks said.
On the subject of money, Romero revealed that he rarely sees the profits his films produce. From losing the copyright to “Night of the Living Dead” to companies selling the rights to his movies to themselves, Romero doesn’t receive very many royalties. Surprisingly okaywith that, Romero explained that even if he had all the money in the world, it wouldn’t change how he made his movies. “I’ll make ’em as long as I’m standing,” he told the convention goers.
Even though Romero is heralded as the man who created the zombie genre, that wasn’t his intent when he made “Night of the Living Dead.” Originally, he was simply looking for an extraordinary event to happen to mankind that he could use to push his characters to the edge. The original title of the movie was simply “Night of the Flesh Eaters” until it was later changed.
“And that’s how we lost the copyright,” Romero said.
When asked about how audiences of that time period responded to the content of the film at the time, Romero was happy to share how proud he was of the script and how it was received. “You have a black man hitting a white woman in the ’60s,” Brooks said.
Romero told the audience that he had written the script colorless and were adamant about sticking with it. “We decided that was what we were most proud of. That when Duane decided to do it we didn’t change the script.”
The colorless script wasn’t the only issue the film faced. Some distributors wouldn’t take the movie at all unless it was rewritten to have a happy ending. “And naively we just said ‘Oh yeah, fuck you.'”
Of course, “Night of the Living Dead” was released and it did turn a profit, up until people found out that it wasn’t copyrighted. In spite of the copyright issues, Romero is very happy with how things turned out with the film. “There’s a lot of movies made around the same time as Night of the Living Dead. They’re not around anymore,” Brooks said.
What the movie lacked in financial profits it made up for with an extraordinary fanbase. Romero commented how interesting it was that fans of the genre were so split on opinions about his movies. “There’s such a huge fan base out there for the genre I find that there’s pretty mixed reviews for whatever I do,” Romero said. “You can’t get the whole army together.”
After Brooks suggested playing the various factions of the genre fans against each other like little tribes, the panel was interrupted by a welcome surprise in the form of J. Michael Straczynski. “Probably the highlight of my career is meeting George Romero,” Straczynski said.
Straczynski wasn’t there entirely for Romero. He announced that he had been hired by Paramount to adapt Max Brook’s “World War Z” into a feature film. “The draft has been turned in and good things are happening,” Straczynski told the audience.
Straczynski sat with Romero and Brooks through the rest of the panel, as the Q&A finished up with short discussions about zombie walks, video games and the purpose of Romero’s films. Romero explained that his films aren’t slashers and that they’re about humans under pressure in a crisis.
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