So, you don’t make a zombie film in the 90s, and now it’s two in three years. Are you making up for lost time?
George A. Romero: [laughs] No! I missed the 90s because I was swallowed up in development hell there. I had development deals, made a lot of dough, never made any movies. And basically, I fled and did a little film called Bruiser. I’ve just scrammed and that’s why I missed it.
I had had the idea for Land Of The Dead back then, but I reworked it. Actually, it was — I think — probably thankful that that’s the way it worked out. Post-9/11, it was a much stronger film, I think. That’s what happened with that. When I finished that film, I took a look at it. I was happy with the way it turned out. There was a lot of talk about a sequel and I thought, where the hell am I going to go from here? First of all, I didn’t have an idea and I didn’t want to get involved. I had completely lost touch with the origins of this thing. I wanted to see if I had the chops and the stamina to go back and do a little guerrilla film. Initially I wanted to do something about this emerging media, and I had a little sketch of the script. I was basically ready to go and take a vacation and do it at a film school where I had taught a couple of classes, just to have some control and to do something small.
And Diary is very small — much smaller than Land, which had a $15 million budget.
GR: Yeah, the people at Artfire read the script and said, “We’ll let you have the control if you can make it under four.” I had the idea, and it did grow. I wanted to go back to the beginning. There are a lot of other elements involved here. We lost the copyright on Night of the Living Dead. That’s basically a public domain film and all the other films are owned by somebody else and you have no action in it. So that was also a motivating factor.
I’m glad you mentioned Night, because I thought that Diary was much closer in tone to that movie, and Day Of The Dead, whereas Land and Dawn were poppier. Was that deliberate?
GR: I agree with you. I was trying to do that. I had a conversation early this morning about, “Well, what if they want to make a sequel to this?” Well, this is closer to Night, so maybe we need to do something that’s closer to Dawn. A pure comic book thing.
Are you going to do a sequel to this?
GR: I don’t know what to do. If I had to do a sequel right now, I’d finish the story and start it with the same characters, which is also something I’ve never done. I’m hoping that it’ll all blow away. I’m hoping that if Barack Obama gets elected, I’ll have something to talk about. More importantly, if he gets shot!
I’m intrigued that you and Brian De Palma have made similar films at the same time, with this and…
GR: Redacted. I haven’t seen that and I haven’t seen Cloverfield. I guess there’s a collective subconscious. I don’t know because I haven’t seen those films but I don’t know that they’re exactly about the same kind of thing. I think it’s an influence and where does it come from? It seems to me that this is more of a response to reality television, than it is to this age of New Media. I don’t know if any of these films really speak to that. Redacted, I guess, is helmet cameras, right?
Yeah, and CCTV footage. But it’s interesting that two old stagers-
GR: We’re New Yorkers! [laughs]
OK… New Yorkers, would be drawn to this new form of expression. Were you attracted by the immediacy?
GR: It’s not so much the immediacy but the danger of it. Right in the middle of Super Tuesday in the America election process, they interrupt the election results to say, “We have reports of a tornado touching down in Arkansas. Anyone out there, if you can get a good picture, send it in, we’ll put it on the air and we’ll send you a mug! Be careful!” And people are out there waiting for something to happen. Everyone has a camera phone. The shootings at Virginia Tech, all the footage we had was footage from camera phones. It strikes me as quite dangerous. If Hitler was around, he would never even have to go into the town square. He could throw up a blog and forget about it.
You’ve got a no-name cast this time around, but I detected a few famous voices playing newscasters, including Simon Pegg and Guillermo del Toro.
GR: What happened was, we shot the film in 20 days and then we went back and we had enough money to shoot three more days and that was it. All we could afford was to get the principal footage in the can. We knew we could come back and do the narration portions and the news stuff. There was some of that in the script but we said we can refine it later because it’s all just audio. We shot the film and we came back and we kept writing things and we kept writing dialogue and we would try it on for size. We were all recording – it was me, my editor and my girlfriend and we were sitting there with a finished film but it was all our own voices. So first I called Stephen King and he said, “Sure man, I’ll do it,” and I called some of my other buddies and I’m very grateful that they all said yes and were all willing and able. It’s a vote of confidence.
How did you decide who to single out?
GR: I called people whose work I respect and who I’ve been able to hang out with without having any altercations! [laughs] I tried to call Dario but I couldn’t reach him. [laughs] I don’t know… I guess with subtitles, but he may not have been distinguishable. Tom Savini is one of the voices. I wish that Tom would get back into the biz, so to speak. I think he’s more concerned about being an actor. He wants to be an actor now. He should get back into it.