Most Recent Film: Land of the Dead
Best Film: Dawn of the Dead
Most Underrated Film: Martin
Did You Know: He was arrested by security guards in 1954 for throwing a burning dummy off of a rooftop while making his first 'feature,' The Man From the Meteor.
Why He Matters: After being known for years as that "zombie director" (though his films were always so much more than that), with almost all of his older horror films currently being remade, he's now getting the respect he deserves.
Social commentaries in a zombie movie? That was writer-director George A. Romero's intention throughout his trilogy of Dead films, something that still gets lost by gore fans and mainstream critics who viewed his films as nothing more than exploitation.
"I'm not the kind of guy who just wants to go make a movie about a guy with a hockey mask and knife," says Romero. "I'm always trying to put a little something extra in there and express my opinion on things and take a position. It's important to me. I was just reflecting on what was going on in American society."
Hence, 1969's Night of the Living Dead was about the fallout of the Vietnam war and society's lack of communication during that era. In 1978, Dawn of the Dead was about a consumer society gone awry, and 1984's Day of The Dead was about the boom collapsing and "the people who were making all the bucks weren't the people on the streets."
While there was a Dead film for each decade, Romero sat out his popular franchise during the '90s, not due to lack of trying, but rather being in development hell on a number of other projects that never came to fruition. Incidentally, he was originally slated to helm the zombie video game adaptation Resident Evil.
Eventually, Romero hit upon the idea for Dead Reckoning in the late '90s, with his fourth chapter about "ignoring the problem." While it took time to raise financing, that all fell apart after 9/11 took place, but it also led him to rethink the script somewhat and re-christen it Land of the Dead.
"People are living in a barricaded city, living foolishly as if the world hasn't change, and there's this administration that loosely resembles the Bush administration," explains Romero. "The Republicans the fat cats they live in this one high-rise downtown that is very fancy, while everybody else is relegated to this ghetto. So my initial model was thinking about the homelessness problem, and now it's a little more about terrorism and the administration is a little more militaristic and aggressive."
Also during this time, the whole climate for horror movies changed as well. Horror movies became big business, and studios wanted a part of that. Whereas ten years ago, a studio wouldn't be caught undead greenlighting a zombie flick, now they were spending $15 million on a remake of Romero's Dawn of the Dead. Universal was so anxious after that success, they gave Romero carte blanche himself to bring Land of the Dead to the big screen and even moved it from its October debut to its early summer release.
"They really let me make the movie I wanted to make," says Romero, who realized he needed an R-rated cut for theaters but was also comforted in knowing the Unrated edition would arrive on DVD shortly thereafter. He also used some CGI trickery to cover up the gorier parts for the R version.
"I walked people past the foreground against a green screen, so I could drop them in wherever I wanted to," says Romero. "That way you don't lose what's going on. You sort of mask it a little bit."
While Romero has been making films for almost five decades, he still feels the best advice he could impart on new filmmakers is to "learn about everybody else's specialty so you don't get ripped off."
"When a director of photography says he needs a bigger lighting package, you ought to be able to say, 'No, I want to use the money somewhere else,'" says Romero. "What I try to do is make everyone focus on the movie the big picture and that's hard some times if you don't know enough about what that guy's job is over there. That's the best advice, other than I haven't learned. Christ. How many movies did John Ford make 150 to 200? This is my 14th film as a director. Every time I go out and shoot, I learn a little more how to us the camera, how to move the eye, so it's a very slow learning curve."