Are you able to enjoy watching your own films?
Years later. Only years later. When you remember the tensions and the conflicts and the, 'Oh shit, I should have done that', it's just impossible. So I try not to watch them.
Then, which of all your films is the one you enjoy watching most.
Probably Knightriders' even though I don't think it's my best film. I think Martin is my best film.
Tell me about the production of Knightriders.
Oh boy, that whole company, that whole production was so fraught with problems at first, but then everyone got with it. I have nothing but good memories about it. Ed Harris was fabulous, I mean, he really was the king. Everyone just really got into their roles. We basically camped out in the boonies. We were in motels, but it felt like camping. We wound up shooting something like 86 days, and out of that, 49 days, or something like that, rained. We had a tornado. Nobody gave us a snowball's chance of getting the movie finished, but everyone pulled together and got it done. Everyone hauled butt and worked. So, my memories of that production are fond ones.
How did you get Ed Harris for the movie?
We met him through a mutual friend who had just cast him in his first movie, which was Borderline. It was a Charles Bronson thing. I hadn't seen that yet but a friend of ours, who was a casting director, said you really ought to meet this actor. I met him and my wife and I loved him.
I saw him on Broadway in the play, Precious Sons. He was just great. I met him twice when I worked in the Brill Building on Broadway.
You worked in the Brill Building?
Do you know the Brill Building?
Yes, of course.
I worked there for many years.
Speaking of Knightriders, was that your telling of the break up of Latent Image?
Well yeah, no…well, the Latent Image break up, maybe, because that was a while before. I don't know how much that influenced me. And I was right in the middle of this relationship that I had with Rubinstien and the new company that we had called Laurel. And at that time things were going pretty well. But I think that it was a little bit about trying to get an industry going in Pittsburgh and pulling all the people interested in the medium together and trying to do real stuff. Not think of yourselves as, you know, the back-lot kids. It's a little bit of that. Other than that, it was just really an idea. I've always been into the Arthurian tales, and so I was just trying to find a way to make it fly. So it probably borrows more from Camelot than it does from my life.
Could you clarify the rumor about the re-issue of Night of the Living Dead with new scenes, ala Star Wars: The Special Edition.
That was a crock. Somebody put out a press release. Oh, right, because of Star Wars. The guys back in Pittsburgh said, 'Maybe we should try to re-release Night of the Living Dead.' I said, 'Hey, look around and see if there's somebody who wants to do it.' I just said that casually to these guys and they started to put out press releases right away. I never thought anyone was going to bite on it -- and nobody did. There are too many weird issues with Night of the Living Dead, copyright issues. I don't think anyone's going to spend any serious money to revamp it. I was never interested in doing it anyway. I'm sort of in a trap with that. The company that made the original film still exists, all 26 investors are still alive. They got hideously ripped off over the years. They got their money back, but they should have had a franchise. There were all kinds of mistakes, legal mistakes, and technical mistakes, like when the copyright mark got left off.
My understanding is that legally you don't have to have that mark. That it's still copy written.
Well, you do. You can't really protect yourself otherwise. We won one lawsuit but it was only because we won it through Laurel and we had some money. It just costs so god dam much to go and defend these things or try and stop the pirates. It becomes impractical.
Do you feel you'll ever make another living dead movie? Do you have the desire?
I do have a desire to. The one I want to make though, nobody wants to finance particularly.
What is that?
I have this conceit that the films represent the 60s, 70s, and 80s and I'd love, before it's too late, to do the 90s.
Two and a half years ago, in another interview, you said that you hadn't figured out what the 90s are. Have you figured out the 90s yet?
Well, I don't know. I think the way I would do it is that the zombies would just be the homeless. In other words, it's -- yes -- there are a lot of them around, but people are just keeping on. Outdoor cafes keep on operating; the fuzz keeps them away; apartment buildings have electrical fencing to keep them away. We'd take precautions, but nobody really is trying to solve it. They're there, but people ignore them. And that's the nineties: Ignoring the problem is the nineties.
I read your original Day of the Dead script and loved it, would you go back to that original script in anyway?
If somebody would do it. I don't think that anyone will. That was about six or seven million then on a shoestring. Now it would be fifteen million and no one would do that without a rating and that defeats it.
Do you think that's still a problem? What about the adult ratings?
The point is that when you have that rating your advertising is limited; nobody wants it. Every once in a blue moon someone will take a chance on it, but it's too hard.
Every now and then you used to announce that you're going to make the film, 'Shoobee Doobee Moon'. What's up with that?
That fell by the wayside. That was going to be the third film picture in the deal with United after they picked up Dawn for distribution. They made a three picture deal with us. It was Knightriders, Creepshow, and Shoobee Doobee Moon was going to be the third one. But it never got made and blew away right then and there because they had the rights to the screenplay. I wasn't writing it and the guy that was writing it, they just never liked the way it turned out and he could never buy it back. It's not a script that I wrote and I never thought that it had gotten to where it should be. It's also not the kind of thing that anyone now is going to finance either. It was silly. United also had done a spoofy thing called, The Creature Wasn't Nice.
I never heard of that.
I think they wound up calling it, Spaceship and it was with Leslie Neilsen. It was like a Leslie Neilsen movie before people knew that Leslie Neilsen was going to make that kind of movie.
What's become of your last three announced films, Before I Wake, Black Mariah and The Mummy?
The Mummy blew away. I was working on Before I Wake at MGM and at the same time I was writing the script for The Mummy. They actually went into production on Before I Wake and spent about a million. The offices were open, the designs were done, we had locations picked. It was up and rolling. Then, they put my partner and I on a hold deal and held us for three months on some extra money. Twelve days before that deal was up Universal approved one of my Mummy drafts and they actually made us a pay or play offer on it. So we called MGM and said, 'Hey guys, if you have any intention of doing Before I Wake please tell us.' But they wouldn't let us out. And over that twelve days The Mummy just blew up. Then, Before I Wake went to Fox and that is the one that's been in development hell. We had that at New Line and then when we left New Line we took it with us to MGM and when they bailed on it we took it to Chris Columbus, who really liked the script a lot, and asked Fox to buy it and Fox bought it. Then we did more drafts and more drafts over at Fox and it just went on and on. Then, because of all the costs attached to it that had accumulated, it became very expensive -- not by Godzilla standards -- but it was the high twenties and that makes it cast dependent.
Isn't that what a regular feature costs these days?
No, it's not. There's a rumor that that's the case, but it's really not. Everyone wants, particularly in genre stuff, to stay around twelve or lower, if possible. I don't know what Scream was, but it was probably around that, twelve, thirteen million. But there's a sort of max limit, and if you cross that line you have to have big stars and then genre stuff has a hell of a lot of prejudice against it.
Do you like working with stars?
I don't see the difference. It depends on the people. There's an aesthetic difference sometimes. I mean, there are some scripts where you should have unknown faces.
Any plans for, Romero, the actor?
No, no. Not right now.
What projects are you up to now?
We have several other things now. I have a project that I'm doing with an independent producer named Joe Wizam. And then I'm partners with Ed Harris on a project. We have something we really want to do. His wife Amy Madigan would be in it as well. It's called Quevira and I love it. Then, I have a little thing that I wrote. I've been trying to find these smaller projects that you can do for six or under. So I wrote a spec script called Bruiser, which is also something that I really love. But I think that it's a little hard for most people. That's the reception so far; that it's a little too dark. I have a recent thing which I'm in love with. I didn't write it. It's sort of a homage to Night of the Living Dead. The writer really hit the nail on the head. It's a great script, it's got all the humor and stuff and I really love it. It's called, Red Eye: Flight of the Living Dead.
I like the sound of that one!
You've often been described by actors that have worked with you as being a dream director: gentle, considerate and open to input. Yet, I've read where you've called yourself a control freak. How is it that you can strike a balance between two vastly opposite poles?
Well, it's two different things. I believe when we're out here working it's like a ball team. I'm happy for collaboration. The control stuff is really much more when I get in the editing room. It's the battles with the studio and with the people who want to change things. That's the shit that drives me nuts. You can have a five million dollar budget and there are five million ways you can spend it. And these guys are saying, 'Well, we want to save three hundred grand for re-shoots, and we want to save seven grand for scoring.' And I'm saying it doesn't matter. That's the kind of control I'm fighting for. Working with actors, people that are really involved in the process and that are really collaborators, I'm delighted. Even short-comings, even a performance that's not quite there -- so what. I mean, so what if the horn in the orchestra is a little off.
I have a question that has been nagging me for god knows how long -- I read once where there was a 173 minute version of Dawn of the Dead. Is this true?
There was. But it doesn't exist any more. It was an interlock cut. It was the very first cut. It was rumored forever that somebody had that cut. That the lab had made a print of it, but it never happened. It never left our shop. It never left my table. It was literally interlock. We used to have our own dubbers, we did it all right there, so it never left. It was almost three hours.
Do you consider the long version of Dawn of the Dead a director's cut?
I hate that! I just don't like that. It's become a sales tool; an attached phrase. Half the time the director's cuts you see aren't really that. Sometimes it's a studio cut just a little longer.
What are your thoughts on the Argento version.
He didn't get it. He didn't get the humor. He was trying to make it into something else.
I've met a few of the guys from Dawn of the Dead, like David Emge…
But the big mystery seems to be Scott Reiniger. Where is he?
He's lives here. He lives right here in LA. You know what he did? When the O.J. civil trial came up…I don't know how much that was covered in Japan.
Only the media circus. It was like: Look at what those crazy Americans are doing.
Right. The criminal trial was like the biggest soap opera. Here, people watched it and devoted themselves to it, but the civil trial wasn't televised. So somebody got the idea to dramatize it everyday. So they would write a script, what happened that day, shoot it like a soap, and they had actors playing all the people and Scottie directed that.
I'd heard some rumor that he was a Hollywood tour guide.
No, well he doesn't work a lot. He's done all kinds of things. But he keeps his hand in, directing plays every once in a while. He's cooking. He hasn't been a success by some standards, but he's a great guy.
Are you reader?
Well, I'm not an aficionado, but when I'm not reading to find a property, I love Henry James. I read a lot of Lovecraft and Poe.
Some of your films have political elements, consumerism messages in Dawn of the Dead, sociological ones in Knightriders, marriage roles in Season of the Witch. Do you consider yourself political?
I'm not a crusader, if you know what I mean. I'm just an observer. I'm really just--I don't know--just a family guy, man. That's the one thing I think that I've been able to preserve by living where I do, just staying in the middle. I just like to hang out with the kids. I've never been an activist in that sense. Luckily, I've been able to get some of the things that I think out there. Maybe that's enough satisfaction.
How would you describe a day in the life of George Romero?
Lately, I don't know. (Laughs) Jason (his assistant) and I just had burgers at a block party last week. (Laughs) Not much happening, man. Just making sure the kids get to ballet and all that.
How many children do you have?
Two, plus I have a son from a previous marriage. He's off on his own. I have, at home, a fourteen-year old daughter and a six-year old boy.
I saw her photo in an issue of Japan Fangoria once. Did you ever get that issue?
No, I can't get Japanese publications in my neighborhood. And you can't buy them Golden Bats either! (Referring to two boxes of Japanese cigarettes given by one of the crew members from Japan.)
You like those?
Yeah! I do. I do!
Well, George, thank you very, very much for your time.
Thank you, man. I'm glad you're here and it was nice to meet you.