October 1, 1997
Shooting: Day Two
As much as my body wanted sleep, my mind had other plans. All night long, whenever my sleep state got even the slightest bit close to wakening, a voice inside my head jumped to attention and screamed: "Romero!" "Zombies!" "Romero!" "Zombies!" It was a brain chant I think any fan of Romero zombies in a similar position would find impossible not to fall victim to. Because of this cacophony and the sudden surge of unwelcome adrenaline that followed, I was unable to sleep. What the hell, I concluded, throwing the covers off, a body can take a little abuse now and then -- that's what it's for, no? I was up just before eleven, with only four and a half-hours sleep under my belt.
I was too late for the continental breakfast at the hotel (which was actually quite good) so I walked over to an I.H.O.P. down the road. Major mistake. My first serving of pancakes had a long hair lying across the top. My replacement dish was so rubbery I could only eat a quarter of it. I recalled a Far Side cartoon with a bunch of Vikings pulling up to a restaurant called 'International House of Gruel'. I figured this restaurant must have been Gary Larson's inspiration for that comic.
Set call was at 5 p.m. I arrived around 4 p.m. with the gang. Mad George was not on hand today, he was out working on another commercial. A few of his staff would be handling the day's zombies. Today's schedule was, fortunately, not nearly as manic as yesterday. There were less than half the shots on the agenda and the total number of zombies needed was five.
George Romero pulled up just before five. He and Jason came strolling around the trailers. Like yesterday, the crew stopped to gather around. After the crew returned to work I was finally able to corner George.
Up to this point I hadn't much of a chance to conduct a formal interview with him. Only little, irrelevant questions posed under less than ideal situations. On a whim, I asked George if now might be a good time to talk. He motioned to a couple of director's chairs sitting out front of the actors trailer and said we should sit there. The two chairs, to my horror were of decidedly differing highest. One was low to the ground, and the other was sky high. Looking at them I thought, as the subject of the interview he should get the taller chair, but he's so tall to begin with that if he sits on the tall one I'm going to get permanent neck strain looking up. George, I then noticed, was staring at the chairs too. Obviously the same thing occurred to him. Sure enough, the ever gracious director motioned for me to take the tall chair. *Whew* We sat down in the shade of the trailer and, with me looking down on George, I zoomed through a quick interview. Done, I thanked George for his time.
"Is that all?" he asked. He leaned back in his chair. His fingers intertwined and he rested the palms of his hands on his belly. "I'm not going anywhere-- fire away."
Actually, the moment was rather pleasant, and I could see that George felt more a desire to sit back, relax and talk than to go about overseeing the shoot (especially since everyone was busy doing what they knew had to be done). The sun was nearing the horizon, the sky was warm and clear, and graced with a soft amber tint. It was one of those golden moments where you just want to sit and spill your guts (so to speak).
Not one to waste a golden opportunity, I jumped to attention and rattled through a few more questions, relying on prewritten ones and ones that followed the course of the conversation. As we spoke, I focused on George. This, I felt, was a moment long in the coming and I wanted to savior it. From time to time I did peek out into the world around to notice my Japanese bosses eyeing me. I could see them wondering what I possibly was doing for so long with George. Afterward, looking at the time, I realized we'd been talking for over an hour. It was more than I'd hoped.
I don't think that the pleasure of talking with George Romero can be properly expressed. His mannerisms, the way he arranges his words, the gruffness he adds to his voice to emphasize certain points, it all adds up to conversational joy. But, as much as I could have sat there all night (in the time we had spoke the day had passed to twilight and then to darkness), I insisted we stop because the shoot would require his attention. After gathering my things, I walked with George and Jason into the prison to begin the night's shooting.
The first scene up was one where 'Actor X' is pushing a clip into the butt of his supergun. From his right, the shadowy hands of several zombies appear. In a panic, he bursts down a long hall of jail cells. Decaying zombie hands thrust out as he zooms down the hall.
The hall was tight and the crew had to squeeze behind the camera. George, walking constantly between the camera and 'Actor X' down the hall, had resumed the role of director. He was intensely focused on the moment.
This shot of the hall run was difficult to achieve for timing had to be perfect. As 'Actor X' passed the bars, hands had to shoot out with the camera swinging to catch the make-up on the final zombie. 'Actor X' ran the hall almost a dozen times, each time coming close to smashing into the crew behind the camera -- myself included! The shot took almost an hour to achieve.
During the next shot, a visitor came to the set. It was Pasquale Buba, long time friend and editor on every Romero film since Knightriders. For this project, too, George requested him as editor. George gave Pat a big "Hey!" But since he was at work, he could only give his friend a moment. So, Jason, Pat and I took to talking.
Pat has of late become a much in-demand editor in Hollywood. He had recently completed the Al Pachino film 'Looking for Richard' and the Johnny Depp directed film, 'The Brave'. Talkative and cheerful, Pat told me how he had met George and about the many films they've worked on together. He mentioned about his stint as a biker on Dawn of the Dead, and his brother Tony's reason for picking that large, ridiculous Mexican hat from wardrobe (he wanted to make sure that people would notice him). Tony, he mentioned, now makes documentary films.
The last few shots were done quickly. A shot of 'Actor X' gathering up ammo; one of him removing a rifle from a rack and, the last, him tossing the rifle, which will be integrated with the shot of Adrienne catching the rifle taken the previous day.
The shoot, scheduled for a 3 a.m. wrap, was finished by 11:30. On completion, a cheer rose from the crew. Romero was all smiles. Those not involved in the physical wrap went outside. The reporters were waiting for the star and the director. Romero and 'Actor X' walked out together in conversation. Cameras flashed in a blinding glare as the two stood arm in arm grinning for the media.
It was dinnertime and though the shoot was done, we still desired food. I found a spot with the DP and assistant director and listened as they ran through stories of past jobs, horrible film experiences and enjoyable ones. I was surprised to find out that the DP had been camera man on 'Evil Dead 2', a film whose photography has always impressed me, as well as 'Scream 2' and 'Lost Highway'.
Before leaving, I gave George my best and he asked if I'd be at the interview session at the Four Seasons Hotel this Friday. "Not if I can help it," I replied. Not that I would turn down any opportunity to see George, the truth was -- I was exhausted. Between the jet lag and the running around I was ready for a long, Rumplestiltkin-like sleep. Not sure I'd see him again, I said my goodbyes and then found 'Actor X' and his father alone beside their trailer. They were laughing and hugging. I thanked 'Actor X' for his time between set-ups to answer my questions and wished him the best of luck. We shook hands. His father and I parted with a solid handshake. Though 'Actor X' was only fifteen, he had an adult's sense; I would miss him.
With dinner finished, the van came and took us back to the hotel in Hollywood. I managed to get to sleep sometime around 3:30 a.m.