George A. Romero’s latest film, Diary of the Dead, examines the so-called ”media octopus” and the obsession with capturing everything we see on film. (Oh, and some corpses rise from the dead to devour the living, too.) Romero’s now in his fourth decade making Dead movies — his seminal Night of the Living Dead was released in 1968 — and his return to independent filmmaking after 2005’s studio-backed Land of the Dead. Following a screening of Diary of the Dead in February, Romero spoke with EW.com about working for a studio versus indie filmmaking, the movie he’s always wanted to make — Tarzan — and his connection with Martin Scorsese.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: At Sundance, you said that you felt you couldn’t really make films with a studio anymore. Why is that?
GEORGE ROMERO: There’s a different kind of responsibility that you have when you’re working for a studio, which is to make [your film] bigger, make it more about action, make it more about the values that they value, instead of being able to do something a little more personal. I was very worried when we made the deal with Universal [to make Land of the Dead]. But they really let us make the movie. My complaint was just that it was a grueling process, and the film had gotten too big. All the pressure, and the dough, and everything that comes with that, becomes a burden. I’m happy to do it; I’ve never said no to any studio that has invited me to work with them. But given my druthers, man, I’d rather stay at the $2 betting window and make little movies that I just really care about. For [Diary of the Dead], it was wonderfully great to just be free and do whatever we wanted to do all the way through post-production.
Would you ever do a franchise film?
If I loved it, maybe. I mean, the movie I?ve wanted to do ever since I was a kid, don?t ask me why, is Tarzan. So if somebody came along and said, we’re going to give you a bunch of money to go make Tarzan, I would immediately say yes. But then they probably wouldn’t want me to do the real [Edgar Rice] Burroughs version.
Do you read the criticism of your work, positive and negative?
I read some of it. It’s really hard because it’s very personal. You don’t like to read the bad stuff, and the good stuff you don’t believe. I don’t get much out of it one way or another. I don’t know if you ever saw Sunday in the Park With George, but that’s what it’s like, you know, people talking at you and talking about you and I think sometimes you’re better off just leaving the room.
Are you a fan of Stephen Sondheim?
Oh, yeah. Sunday in the Park, I have it in the car, I listen to it all the time. I love it.
Would you like to have made Sweeney Todd?
I don?t think so. Not in that way. It would have been nice to make it a little smaller.
Any reason why your dogs make cameos on your DVD commentaries?
Yeah, dogs, cats, kids, whatever. They used to come and shoot them at [my] home, so it’s like, anything goes.
It makes the commentaries a lot more fun.
I love doing those things. You get back together with your buddies. When we were doing Knightriders, man, [Tom] Savini and I were sitting there weeping. That scene when Ed [Harris] gives up the crown to Tom, we were literally both in tears, just remembering it and being moved by it.
You and Martin Scorsese are both native New Yorkers, both began as independent filmmakers, both wear big black glasses. Were you two separated at birth?
Sometimes I think we were. There’s a story [there]. The film that made me want to make movies was a Michael Powell film called The Tales of Hoffman. There used to be a show called Million Dollar Movie in New York, where they would show the same movie two times a day and three times on the weekend, and they showed Tales of Hoffman, and oddly they also showed Welles’ Othello and Welles’ Macbeth, [but] I fell in love with Hoffman.
In those days there was no videotape, so if you wanted to have a movie at home you had to go rent a 16mm print and a projector. So whenever I had enough dough that’s what I would do. I’d get the projector and I’d rent The Tales of Hoffman. I was the only guy in New York, that was taking this movie out, until one day I went down there and they said, ”Oh, this other kid has it.” ”What kid?” I said. ”Some kid in Brooklyn.” Over the next couple of years whenever it was out, this kid had it. And that kid was Marty.
Want more? See a video clip of George A. Romero talking about the role social satire plays in his zombie ”thrill rides” such as Diary of the Dead. Then, relive the history of the Dead films — both Romero’s and his clones — with our zombie-movie photo gallery.