This Sunday, I will be hosting a conversation with George Cameron Romero at the Salem Horror Festival, followed by a screening of Day of the Dead. If you live anywhere near the Salem area, I encourage you to come out, as this festival has just started and has a lot of great events planned in one of the greatest cities to visit in October. For those unable to make it out, I recently caught up with George talk about his filmmaking career, get an update on his "Living Dead" prequel, and I learned about a VR project he has in the works as well:
Was filmmaking something that immediately interested you growing up? Or did you gain more of an appreciation after spending time with your father on-set?
George C. Romero: I think my first sort of experience where it really affected me deeply was on the set of Knightriders, which was an old movie he did with Ed Harris. I was pretty young, it was the first time we ever saw what went into a day in the life of a filmmaker, I think that was what really kind of solidified [becoming a filmmaker] for me that day. I came home and told mom, "Well, I guess I'm gonna make movies...", and she said, "Well, shit…” [laughs]
So, that was probably the most defining moment having to do with him when it came to the decisions that I made about my life moving forward and my career.
And ever since then, I’ve been making movies about everything and anything. Any camera I could find, you know I would just grab it and make a little short film. It’s funny… if you asked a therapist, they'd probably tell you it was about my dad versus the artist, but for me I've never been able to draw a distinction. It's always been one and the same. You know I mean, my dad was the guy I would go places with and people would freak out when they'd see him. I think that the hardest line to draw was the one that basically made me never want to go around anybody saying I deserve anything as his kid. So I think that's what made me, the exposure to him is what made me go pursue my career independently of you know trying to go out and claim anything as the offspring of a famous person.
Obviously your father faced many challenges in his career. What was the best advice that he gave you?
George C. Romero: My father had an edit screen at home in his room, and he was cutting a film and I was just hanging out watching him, and he said: "always cut wide.” I don't think he realized at the time, I think it was a throw off piece of artistic advice, but I don't think he realized just what a good piece of life advice that was. I hear it all the time in my head, I hear his voice saying: "always cut wide.”
I think that's probably the most poignant piece of advice the man ever gave me because it holds true to everything from art to business to you know always want to leave yourself room to refine. You know broad strokes are great for the beginning, but it's always good to whittle down after you've got the broad strokes made. And that's good with contract work, business negotiation… I mean literally it's good for everything. So I truly think that might be the best piece of advice the man ever gave me.
A project you had been working on with your father was a prequel to Night of the Living Dead called Rise of the Living Dead. My understanding is that the project is still moving forward. Can you give our readers an update on it?
George C. Romero: The title is just officially, simply: The Rise. And it is sort of my personal prologue to his early work. I wrote it back in 2010 and I've spent a lot of years wrestling with, and you know the goal was always for the two of us to make it together. He wanted to do it and I wanted to do it, but now that's never gonna happen, so to me it's literally the best way I can think of to kind of honor his career and his life is with a piece of art that I've created being a product of him.
I think The Rise is going to be something that old fans and new fans will enjoy. It addresses a lot of things and goes back to the early days of George and his work and everything he was trying to say and do. So I've worked tirelessly on it and there's much more than a movie to it, it's become everything from a Dungeons & Dragons-style tabletop role playing game, to a film, and [more].
It's one of the most exciting things I've ever done in my life and while I'm in the processes of all of these negotiations I'm sort of hindered as to what I can say, but I can say that it is the biggest and best project I've ever come up with and it comes from the right place, which is a place of love from my father and for the artist George Romero.
Do you know where you're going to be filming? Any shooting planned in Pittsburgh?
George C. Romero: As of now, I'm scheduled to shoot in Kentucky, which is great because, geographically, it's all very similar. I've got like a four hour drive from Evans City [PA] to where I'm planning on shooting in Kentucky. So, it's pretty cool. Kentucky just happens to be my home and you know I operate between there and Los Angeles. A large portion of the film doesn't even take place in the United States anyway; it takes place during the Vietnam era.
Aside from The Rise, what other projects are you working on that you’re really excited about?
George C. Romero: I'm working on a couple of virtual reality projects that are very exciting to me. One of which is very non-zombie or creature related. It is simply a psychological thriller that I would like to think is one of the most twisted stories I’ve ever written. It's called Sunken, and I think it's going to be the little movie that could. It's the most claustrophobic thing I've ever written.
It's going to require a VR headset, but I'm also going to do it traditionally. So we'll hopefully do a simultaneous release between traditional theatrical and virtual reality.