Warning: contains spoilers, strong language, and some gore.
The University of Pittsburgh has acquired the George A. Romero Archival Collection, a massive archive that includes materials from the full span of his career, from his earliest short films to his final projects. There are drafts of genre classics like Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead that show their evolution throughout the process of pre-production, supplemented by boxes and boxes of documents detailing their production and reception. But the largest and most revelatory component of the archive is the hundreds of projects that Romero never got to make. He only made 16 features in his lifetime, but he was a hugely prolific writer, with dozens and dozens of complete screenplays and many many more proposals, treatments, and partial works.
This talk will give a brief overview of the material in the archive, focusing on what the unfilmed and unpublished projects tell us about Romero’s larger themes, with pictures and clips of work from the archive that has rarely or never before been publicly viewed, and how that work recontextualizes his genre films. It will then focus on the specific case study of his early approaches to “found footage” mockumentary horror, which he tied to multiple projects about Bigfoot and other pre-human creatures and communities, before incorporating it into his 2006 zombie movie, Diary of the Dead.
About Adam Charles Hart
Adam Charles Hart is the author of Monstrous Forms: Moving Image Horror Across Media (Oxford UP). He has taught at Harvard University, North Carolina State University, and the University of Pittsburgh, and is currently a Visiting Researcher at the University of Pittsburgh Library. His writings on horror films and video games and on the American avant-garde cinema have appeared in Discourse, The Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, Imaginations, Studies in the Fantastic, The New Review of Film and Television Studies, and the edited collections Gothic Cinema (Edinburgh UP) and Companion to the Horror Film (Wiley-Blackwell UP). He is currently at work on two monographs: a critical study of the work of George A. Romero and a history and theory of handheld cinematography in film, television, and video called The Living Camera: The History, Politics, and Style of Handheld Cinematography from 16mm to GoPro.
The following is a transcript generated by Otter.ai, with human corrections during and after. For any errors the human missed, please reach out to email@example.com.
Scot Osterweil 00:46
I want to welcome everyone to this evening’s colloquium. I’m Scot Osterweil. I’m the creative director of the MIT education arcade. And I’ve been coordinating this fall’s colloquia.
Scot Osterweil 00:57
Just my usual announcement, which is, if you are someone from the MIT community, you’re probably automatically promoted to a panelist, which means at the end of the talk, you’re free to sort of ask questions out loud, verbally. If you are an if you’re an attendee, you’re also welcome to ask questions to the q&a channel on zoom. So if if I happen to recognize if somebody I may promote you to panelist, but otherwise, you can use the QA QA function, just to raise questions. Um, and with that, I’m going to turn over, I’m going to turn over the event to Professor Heather Hendershot, who’s going to introduce our speaker. And so Heather, take it away.
Heather Hendershot 01:45
Hello, and Hi, in particular, to those of you who have not yet met, it’s nice to see you and little tiny squares on my screen,
Heather Hendershot 01:54
crushing your head.
Heather Hendershot 01:56
I’m really delighted that we’ve got Adam Hart here. speaking to us today. He is the author of this book, monstrous forms Moving Image Horror Across Media, which is a fantastic book. He is currently working on two other books, one on George A Romero, and also a historical and theoretical study of handheld cinematography, and film, television and video. Um, and I mean, as far as the Romero book goes, it’s hard to imagine anyone alive in America today, or in the world who is better positioned to write a book on Romero from the archival standpoint, at least. So I’m really excited about that. And I’m also really excited about the other book on handheld cinematography, it engages with the avant garde with cinema, very pay with newsreels, TV documentaries, just a whole range of texts. There’s one essay that’s from this forthcoming book that’s already been published in Discourse that I encourage you to check it out in that in that journal. Um, and just in general, I really appreciate Adam’s work for its theoretical and historical rigor, but also, you know, for the clarity and the precision of his prose, it is really a delight to read his work. Adam is taught at Harvard at North Carolina State University at the University of Pittsburgh. He’s currently a visiting researcher at the University of Pittsburgh libraries, where his work centers on the George A Romero collection, which he will tell you about right now. So on to Adam.
Adam Charles Hart 03:39
Hello, everyone. Thanks so much, Heather. Thanks, Scot. So I’ll just say To start off, that I’ve done a few versions of this talk. And some are a bit more sort of a slideshow, of all the cool stuff from the George A Romero archive. This one is a little bit more focused. But there’s some digressions into a bunch of just like, hey, look at all this cool stuff I found. But I can certainly indulge in much more of that in the QA or if you wanted to follow up, you know, by email or whatever, at a later time. I’m always thrilled to talk about this stuff. Okay, so I’m going to try to share my screen.
Adam Charles Hart 04:30
Adam Charles Hart 04:41
Adam Charles Hart 04:44
All right. So this talk is an early attempt for me to process the gigantic mass of material that I’ve been sifting through from Pitt libraries George A Romero collection, which they acquired last year. So Again, this is a bit more focused, but that’s not to say there isn’t digressions. The story that I’m going to tell in analyzing a later film of Romero’s veers from beatnik theater to 2001, A Space Odyssey fan fiction, to Bigfoot to the Pittsburgh Steelers to a Florida Community College and a few other points in between. And it’s an evolving story. In very literal ways. I spent the last few months sifting through hundreds of scripts and boxes of materials. But I’ve also been speaking with Romero’s collaborators, and trying to track down leads about other projects. One of the amazing things about this archive is that even though we have literally hundreds of hundreds of projects, we have about 300 scripts for unproduced films, the coming to about 100 120 distinct individual projects, but everyone that we spoken to mentioned some other additional project that they worked on with George Romero. So we’re finding more and more and one of those leads suddenly started to pay off in the last couple of weeks. So one of the projects that we’ll be speaking about today, briefly, is a short film that’s basically unknown ever been screened publicly called Jacaranda, Joe, that Romero filmed in the 1990s. But, again, it’s never been publicly screened. And suddenly, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve been able to get in touch with people who worked on it, and people who may have additional materials. So while I’ve been, you know, digging through the archive here, I guess I’m also working to build the archive and all sorts of ways. And so, you know, we’ll we’ll see where all of this lands in the next few months. Um, but anyways, I have been calling this talk and it’s focused on cameras and filmmaking in Romero’s movie, remarriages movies, what the hell’s with that camera anyway.
Adam Charles Hart 07:17
So, Night of the Living Dead debuted more than 50 years ago, in Pittsburgh on October 2 1968. And nobody involved really knew what to expect. A plucky band of 20 somethings but by co writer, director and cinematographer George A Romero had made what they call a Pittsburgh’s first feature film, shooting largely in a farmhouse just outside the city. This ultra indie low budget exploitation movie would somehow grow in stature over the next decade or so, getting a shocking amount of respectability for a black and white movie from Pittsburgh, about flesh eating corpses. But the team that had worked around the clock for more than a year saw almost no direct profit from a movie that truly changed horror and in a lot of ways also changed independent cinema, distributor and competence put the film in the public domain, which meant that anybody with a print could show it for free.
Adam Charles Hart 08:16
Well, distributor greed kept the filmmakers from seeing all but a fraction of the box office. It was a success in cinemas but because it was in the public domain, it became a staple of late night programming for any TV executive looking to fill time for free. And so throughout the 1970s and into the 80s, it went some pre internet version of viral and scarred several generations of children channel flipping late at night in the process. So the team managed to get several more features under their belt in the next few years, trying to expand their palate beyond the black and white gut cruncher that made them famous. But all those movies were woefully unsuccessful, playing only a handful of theaters and not receiving any widespread distribution. So the team disbanded more or less. Romero stuck around in Pittsburgh continued writing scripts, and continued working to build a local industry making commercials TV industrials, but he would really only get the chance to return to features by returning to the horror genre. And by returning to his very first film, with a sequel Dawn of the Dead, but even then, it took the cloud of high profile fan, Dario Argento and his European dollars to get it financed. That sequel, Dawn of the Dead would be a substantial hit, but he stayed in Pittsburgh as independently as he could.
Adam Charles Hart 09:43
Over the years. His brief dabblings with the margins of studio productions were wretched experiences, and in 1999, after about a decade of frustration and inability to get a feature into production, he moved his filmmaking a few hours in worth to Toronto were a friendlier tax code and government support made intimate, independent productions easier to undertake. So Romero never sought to become a horror specialist. And he certainly never intended to corner, the market on flesh eating zombies, but it wouldn’t work. And he found ways to bring themes, tones and styles from his other projects into the films he was able to make. And for filmmakers, fiercely independent, and as far removed geographically from Hollywood as he was, he had a productive career, directing 16 features, several of which have become Beloved, even outside of the genres diehards. So he and his friends invented a new Monster, the undead zombie, that had taken hold in the global imagination in a way that maybe no other 20th century monster had. When was the last time a filmmaker invented a myth as pervasive and recognizable as the Romero’s zombie the stumbling corpse driven only to feed on the living? Every horror fan knows and loves Freddy and Jason and Michael and even Frankenstein’s monster, and Bela Lugosi Dracula. But how many Jason movies were made in South Korea in the 2010s already out arthouse legends like Jim Jarmusch making Nightmare on Elm Street movies, how many of my all my Michael Myers musicals Have there been? And I just recently learned of the existence of Disney Channel, zombie teen musicals, which I suppose I have to figure out a way to watch now just out of pure curiosity sake.
Adam Charles Hart 11:41
To find other kinds of films with this sort of global footprint, you’d probably have to go to gigantic blockbusters like Jaws, and Star Wars. But that kind of pervasive cultural influence comes at a price. We know Romero is the man who gave us zombies and who made a bunch of zombie movies. And that’s how distributors and financiers knew him as well. His few attempts to stray from zombie and zombie adjacent movies did not leave much of a dent at the box office. And if some of them recuperated as cold classics over the years, they didn’t necessarily help him get his next movie finance. After night. He was the zombie guy to studios, to funders to audiences to critics to fans. He never exactly resented that. He once likened it to a golden prison in which the food is the best food you’ve ever eaten. But it was limiting in a way that did not reflect his full artistic ambitions. He stumbled backwards into horror after failing to get funding for previous features. Most heartbreakingly for him wine of the fond, which we have production materials and a script for it’s an artsy coming of age story tinted with allegory that set in the Middle Ages and clearly influenced by Ingmar Bergman, and Orson Welles. So in 2019, when the University of Pittsburgh libraries acquired Romero’s archives, we started to see a very different story that could be told about George Romero as an artist. The archive shows a remarkably prolific writer whose interest so I guess this is the actual archive here, whose interest went beyond horror and way beyond zombies, Western slapstick kids movies, sci fi, epics, cartoons, talky dramas, and on and on and on. In all, we have more than 300 drafts for about 120 different projects that Romero never got the chance to film or publish during his lifetime. There are mentions of at least a dozen more that we have come across in contracts, and in correspondence or in conversation with former collaborators. Nearly everyone we spoken to has mentioned at least one other project that Romero worked on, including works with multiple drafts, they got far enough into production to begin raising money. As a writer, he was astonishingly prolific.
Adam Charles Hart 14:15
It’s clear that some of the shorter treatments were written because writing them was fun. So here we have an x rated Frankenstein spoof called Peterstein. That was written in the 1970s from the 90s. A bonkers little TV treatment called nuns from outer space. about aliens that happen to resemble nuns and their language happens to remember biblical speak. The utterly delightful monster mash this is my absolute favorite thing in the archive. Monster Mash is a comedy about a team of mutants, monsters, creatures in the light who travel around the world to administer emergency medical trials. treatment to wounded and alien monsters like themselves. The title would be stylized with ma sh all capitalized. It’s hilarious and delightful and even though it’s only 12 pages long, Romero manages to work in a rousing indictment of the capitalist healthcare system. In his brief proposal, and if filming, it would have required an effects budget, roughly equal to the full budget of his previous several features combined. It ends with a jokey decoration, the project’s financial promise. Think of the fun No, forget the fun. Think of the toys. The TV series The animated version on Sunday, Saturday morning think of the bucks. Written in the mid 90s when all of Romero’s projects seemed to be cursed, and film after film turned to ash.
Adam Charles Hart 15:48
The irony of this conclusion was thick and bitter and press premise on the assumption, the very idea of a George Romero movie with a blockbuster budget was utterly absurd. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t have fun writing it. So other stuff that we have. In the archive, we have photos of just amazing behind the scenes photos that have never been seen before, and script pages from Night of the Living Dead, that tell us a whole lot about the actual production. This is my all time favorite bit of marginalia. From the shooting script of Night of the Living Dead. George realized that he needed corpse shots for a particular sequence. Here we have an early version of Martin, which is my favorite of Romero’s movies, which is not at all about a teenage vampire. It’s about the vague on we have a middle aged businessman. And through this early fragment into the early drafts, we can trace its evolution to into what it is on the screen. He made a he wrote a bunch of scripts for sci fi epics in the 1980s, including War of the Worlds a collaboration with fellow yinzer and Marvel Comics legend, Jim Shooter, a sort of setting the future space superhero story. And a, you know, maybe my second favorite thing in the archive, which is materials for a stage adaptation of a space rock sci fi musical tales of Hoffman, so that he wanted to stage at Carnegie Mellon University.
Adam Charles Hart 17:37
Okay, but we’re going to focus here on diary of the dead and tracing back some ideas from that. So in my book, and elsewhere, I discussed the so called found footage horror movie typified by Blair Witch Project internal activity. And there I aligned the diegetic camera, the camera that’s recording within the world of a film with a kind of vulnerability. It’s a look that’s associated not with the power and control of what apparatus theory has dubbed the gaze, but rather with weakness, danger and exposure. It’s always partial and fragmentary and always reminds the viewer of all the unseen space just out of frame and all the unseen threats that may be lurking there. It’s exceedingly rare for a camera operator to survive a found footage film, which might not seem unusual for a horror film taken in isolation, but the format of it guarantees the death of the protagonist more reliably than any other sub genre. So you can see what I mean here you guys hear Eric? Okay.
Adam Charles Hart 18:54
That’s a very young
Guys What’s happening? Hello. Hello.
found this in one of the other rooms tell us your name.
Give me a break. Jake,
You see how it feels to have a camera shoved in your face.
Adam Charles Hart 19:31
Okay, so Romero in one of what would be the first wave of found footage movies. There’s a weird sort of lacuna where Blair Witch Project comes out in 1999. And then in 2007 to 2008 a bunch of found footage movies including Cloverfield, wreck from Spain diary of the dead and the first theatrical festival version of kernel activity all came out one after another and so unique among those Romero is stigmatizing the problems and sort of moral failings of filming. But he’s also aware of this sort of fragmentary partial nature of, of the camera and calling our attention to everything that we can’t see. Okay? So, um, shoot lost my place. All right. So in diary, which follows a group of University of Pittsburgh film students and their professor, as the zombie apocalypse breaks out during the filming of a cheesy student horror movie, the director of that student film Jason creed, decides to document the chaos with his video camera. Remember, his movie consists of sounded images recorded by creed and its friends, including his girlfriend, Deborah, we just saw we as I suppose the film’s nominal protagonist, they are not just camera operators, but also editors, compiling their footage and uploading it to the internet as they go.
Adam Charles Hart 20:59
Unlike many of that first wave of found footage, horror movies were watching a completed film, rather than raw footage. So uniquely, the film openly pathologizing Jason’s need to film and keep filming, with other films with other characters seeing it not just as a distraction, but an intrusion, a way of avoiding engagement with a trauma befalling the world that includes the sometimes urgent danger that flesh eating zombies inflict on his friends. He insists on experiencing the world through the lens of his video camera, and then uploading the next part of his movie to social media each time he finds a connection. Again, the film pathologized is its compulsion, likening it to the zombie virus itself. The few surviving characters ending the film, shooting each other in security monitors, after locking themselves away from the world in a panic room of a friend’s mansion. The lens of the camera makes them unable to interact with anyone on a human level. It makes them in essence, less human, feeding off the pain and suffering of others. And it seems to be transmitted transmissible to anyone who picks up a camera. It came easily to you didn’t it says the film Professor Maxwell here, calling Jason’s film a diary of cruelty. This is them shutting themselves off at the end of the film. And though Deborah, her professor and one other students survived the zombies by locking themselves away from the world, they’ve been infected by the camera virus. Deborah finishes the movie and uploads it online.
Adam Charles Hart 22:37
In her voiceover, she makes it clear that she’s finishing it for Jason, an act of disavow that rhymes with Jason blaming his infection on his professor earlier in the film, and which has implications for the film’s understanding of the camera and the camera virus. She’s been overtaken by Jason’s illness and has resigned herself to her fate. There’s no sense in her work of Dr. urgency, no enthusiasm in her voice. Jason, she says thought he might be able to make a difference, maybe change the world. She has taken up his mission, but she’s merely going through the motions, no effect no drive of her own. She’s alive but isolated, active her activities having been reduced to the blank consumption and production of images, the completion of someone else’s work, work which seems to actively to the test, as if she lacks a will of her own. She is essentially a zombie.
Adam Charles Hart 23:32
As with most found footage, movies, the camera operator Jason dies and then the typical way of found footage is now zombified friend, still in costume from the mummy film sneaks up behind him off camera. Luckily for the purposes of Deborah’s edit, he manages to turn around just in time to catch a glimpse before the attack. So this is what I mean when I discussed the inherent vulnerability for them fidget footages diegetic camera, source of anxiety and found footage horror comes from the urgent knowledge of the disparity between the cameras viewpoint, and the possible allegations of threats. But it tends to be used as an attempt to assert control, capturing the threat in your camera stabilizes it, and seems to provide the kind of distance or even security that Jason presumes for himself. But those around Jason, they clearly understand him to be hiding behind the camera as an act of both cowardice and even cruelty, filming and perhaps making zombie movies in particular, because Jason is making a zombie movie. I’m being fundamentally inhumane. So, why the film ends with a coda that doesn’t appear in most drafts of the screenplay, and why
to play it. It’s a little less than a minute. For those of you who see Night of the Living Dead once said he thought he could help
should look familiar, maybe even save some lives. This is the last thing he downloaded before he died.
A couple of hometown Joe’s who went out to shoot at targets. That day they used people, dead people, you know, just for fun. There was one target that was different from the rest. A woman tied by her hair to the branch of a tree. The boys had this one set up just for kicks. They got out their favorite 12 gauge and
are we worth saving?
You tell me
Adam Charles Hart 25:44
if anybody here is squeamish, I apologize. That is the only bit of gore that I’m sending your way in this talk. I think. Okay, so for those of you who have seen other living dead, this is deeply familiar. in that film, Ben, and I’m gonna play this. on mute while I talk. Ben, the African American hero, it’s a lone human of the main characters to survive the night after surviving an onslaught of the undead. He is as we see here, he’s killed by a posse of local hunters and police, all white varying German shepherds who mistake him for a zombie and shoot him right between the eyes.
right between the eyes.
Good shot. Okay, he’s dead. Let’s go get another one.
Adam Charles Hart 27:10
Apologies to anybody who hasn’t seen it for spoiling the ending of a 52 year old film still, we’re seeing them. So in night, the tragedy the gutting emotional devastations of the ending comes not just from the death of the charismatic hero, but from the realization that this white posse fails to recognize his humanity. In the original script, they realized their mistake, adding a note of bland non committal regret. It’s too bad an accident, the only loss we had the whole night in the finished film. Instead, as soon as he dies, the film immediately cuts to still images of Ben’s body being dragged with meat hooks and lifted onto a pyre. So diary has none of that narrative motivation to its zombie hunting Kota. It’s simple, dumb, cruel spectacle, a bloody target practice, with the targets being people, dead people. But Deborah identifies one zombie different from the rest, a woman tied to a tree branch by her hair, the clear sadism, misogyny and lack of empathy. For zombies or humans or anything, the sheer lack of recognition is chilling, and the film fades to black with Deborah morosely questioning whether humanity even deserves to be saved.
Adam Charles Hart 28:30
The monstrosity of filmmaking and filmmaking as a pursuit clearly reaches a pinnacle and Romero’s work here is it’s hard to go any farther. Where this statistic spectacle for the camera becomes an indictment of the whole of humanity. with cameras in 2007, getting smaller and cheaper, and starting to migrate onto our phones and computers. We were all becoming filmmakers and we’re all becoming consumers of images. What damns us as a society is not that this video was filmed by a couple of quote hometown Joes, or that people watch it, that it’s downloaded over and over again. This is perhaps an unexpected conclusion from a horror filmmaker whose movies in the 60s 70s and 80s were gory enough to scandalize more conservative viewers, and earn a few bands around the world. This suspicion of filmmaking, however, was something that he had been working through for a very long time. Excuse me. So this is where I’m going to indulge in a few archival digressions, but it all comes back together a promise and an envelope, and an envelope marked old writings in the archive. There were a number of short stories, fragments and treatments that Romero wrote in the 60s and early 70s, including two versions of a story, one of which is titled enemies. Neither is dated, but I feel safe assert, asserting that the one on the left, the untitled shorter story came first. As it is a barely elaborated, barely altered version of the first segment of 2001, A Space Odyssey, in which two tribes of pre human apes fight over territory, and then on the right and what I’m presuming to be the second version, which retains some of the same descriptions of characters, and a basic framework, Romero digs deeper into the psyches of the proto human characters into the functioning of their society.
Adam Charles Hart 30:28
Through Romero’s films and screenplays, zombie films, in particular, tend to be more immediately concerned with the monstrosity of humans, vibrating, violent and cruel, racist, misogynist, classist, exploitative, and he thinks of monsters as a kind of radical alternative to humanity, and crucially to human civilization and structures of society. If zombies are fairly blank ideological vehicles, safer their function of overturning everything and feasting on the remains, there’s still a progression throughout his career as he becomes increasingly concerned with excavating traces of humanity amongst the groundling feeding on dead and zombie society doesn’t necessarily necessarily model a kind of utopian community. Some of his creature scripts do. The zombies always suggest an end to a society to a cool society, expressing more than anything else, an urgent desire to start over, but the creatures tend to provide a different model you can follow. So, Around this time, or possibly a couple years later, Romero was on his own in debt and unable to raise money for future productions. He was writing a ton, but getting nothing made besides commercials and the occasional commission. That is until he met a video maker and technician named Richard Rubenstein, who interviewed him for a small industry publication called the filmmakers newsletter in 1973. In those days video also Intellivision, and after hitting it off, the two of them started cooking up ideas for collaboration that could help restore America’s fortunes in the world of production. Working in Pittsburgh and utterly unwilling to leave, Romero was far from the centers of production financing. He had a tarnished track record and a negative balance in the bank. But he did have something a kind of unique kind of local resource that was utterly unique to this to the city. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who along with a pirates and a handful of other athletes, were leading a remarkable sports renaissance in a city that was otherwise rapidly declining in both economic and cultural standing. Like other midsize cities with longtime sports franchises, the Steelers were incorporated into the DNA of the place, an essential cultural institution, and at no time was that more true than the 1970s and at no time, were they more popular outside of the city, either.
Adam Charles Hart 33:05
So, in 1973, Romero made a 50 some minute documentary about the Steelers most popular player running back Franco Harris, that served as a sort of proof of concept for the next sports documentary, oj simpson juice on the loose, which was broadcast on national network television in 1974. If you’ve heard of it, it’s because it received a minor revival in the 90s as some of Romero’s collaborators tried to capitalize on exploit symptoms newfound infamy.
Adam Charles Hart 33:40
A brief aside, Romero was always a vocal fan of Kubrick and a mix of slapstick and blacker than black satire of a film like Dr. Strangelove can be seen in most of America’s films of the 1970s. But weirdly, the oj documentary was also a tribute to Kubrick. The original concept for the film was to give it a title acknowledging Simpson’s newly broken rushing record that rift on Kubrick 2003 yards a football Odyssey titles, I have to say were never a strength for Romero, but that initial inspiration remains in the opening of the film, which is a highlight montage set to Zarathustra. So based on the moderate but important success of the simpson documentary, Romero and Rubenstein use the the Franco doc which they had finished as the pilot for a new TV series called The winners that they’d spent the next year that they’d spend the next year and a half producing. It had no network home, so it was more like a group of specials produced under the banner of the winners than a conventional television show. It consisted of profiles of prominent sports figures, largely but not exclusively, Pittsburgh figures, like pirates Hall of Famer Willie Stargell, professional wrestling pioneer Bruno sammartino, and NASCAR legend Mario and Ready. And most importantly, three more documentaries on various Steelers players. Romero directed a handful.
Adam Charles Hart 35:08
The Franco doc and the Bruno sammartino doc are particularly wonderful, as they double his idiosyncratic portraits of the city and its fans. But it provided Romero and a growing family of crew and collaborators with regular work, laying the groundwork for a film industry in the Steel City, and making it possible for America to continue working in Pittsburgh with local talent. But it would be several years before you would get to make another feature. So during the production of the winners, Romero and Rubinstein were still trying to get features made. And of course, the most logical possibility was a sequel to Romero’s massively successful debut. In early 1974. He met with American International pictures founded by Roger Corman, along with James Nicholson and Sam Markoff, although only ARCA for me at that time, about producing a sequel called Dawn of the Dead. The initial idea for Domine was always was already there, a small group of survivors secluded from the chaos and the zombie apocalypse in a shopping mall. Though it would be several years before the familiar narrative structure and cast of characters from the finished film would fall into place. Hmm. No film came from that meeting. But the feedback was crucial for Romero’s efforts over the next few years. AIP was interested in interested in producing it, but they were at the time looking to market their films to quote niche audiences. So they wanted Romero to rewrite it for an all black cast and they wanted to put a superstar athlete in the lead. Now there was really only one athlete popular enough to star in a movie at that time, and Romero had just made a documentary within OJ Simpson. But Romero quickly found out that oj wasn’t available was an interested, he was already starring in a studio super production, the Towering Inferno, which would have been both occupying Simpson’s time and probably pushing him out of reach for AIP budgetary possibilities.
Adam Charles Hart 37:15
So this AIP collaboration fizzled out, but the idea of using a high profile athlete to get a feature made clearly stuck with Romero. He had grown very close to both the players and the executives of the Steelers. And if Franco Harris wasn’t famous enough to open a movie made even on the margins of Hollywood, he might be enough of a draw for the purposes of Romero’s ultra indie low budget productions, so he came up with two projects for Franco working with a Steelers organization to various degrees on both of them. The first is a truly bizarre spoof of 50 creature features and teen movies called monster movie, in which Franco and which ever Steelers they could get to show up would play horny college athletes trying to survive an alien invasion. It obviously never went anywhere. But Romero obtained an official partnership with the Steelers for a second, a movie called footage which is yet another atrocious title, devised by Romero upon referring to the creature Bigfoot. It’s built around a film crew that’s that’s recording images, footage, and possibly a triple Pon also on NFL football. It’s a sort of promo found footage film built around a film crew and the images they’ve recorded but never actually screening the footage within the structure of the film. So there are several versions of the stories with sometimes big variations.
Adam Charles Hart 38:45
And it’s unclear as they’re not dated, which versions come earlier or later. The basic story is about a TV show called outdoorsman, USA, or some slight variation on that which Franco would have started the guest host on the TV show, a famous NFL quarterback and one version, a country music superstar as well. The show’s crew and hunting experts would lead him through the woods in search of game, or at least that was the show’s premise. In the film, they encounter a baby Bigfoot, and someone carries a crying child back to their camp. The baby was not alone but part of a society of big feet, living deep in the woods, and they rush after the kidnappers. The humans in all versions respond immediately with gunfire. In one minute. In one version, a crew member sees that the big feet are intelligent enough to understand what guns are. So he holds his barrel against the adorable baby big foots head as would Night of the Living Dead.
Adam Charles Hart 39:49
The bulk of the film is devoted to arguments within the group of humans and demonstrating their own inherent monstrosity, which is contrasted directly with the family can concern and love of the Bigfoot society. He’s also clearly working out some of his frustrations with the industry, as the slimy anti semitic producer tries to force the camera operator to give him the film of the big feet with a camera operator resisting, because he knows that that would ensure the destruction of this natural community in the woods, one version of the film, one version of the film ends with a camera a camera operator and the athlete winning the moral arguments returning the baby Bigfoot and discarding the film, ending with the big feet celebrating. They don’t understand what film is, of course, in the script ends with them throwing the reels in the air like streamers. In some versions, Romero returns to the hostage taking, as the producer holds a gun to the baby’s head, while an adult Bigfoot sneaks up behind him and tears him into in another the adult big feet towering over the producer, throw him in the cage the producer had built to keep the baby having been driven insane by the trauma in screaming making sounds that quote, are almost identical to those of the baby Bigfoot. The producer is the villain and an all these the cinematographer and crew only earn absolution by destroying the film.
Adam Charles Hart 41:26
Here are some of the designs fat Bigfoot is your new favorite monster, he’s my friend and yours. I was able to track down one of the artists who does not remember this at all, but after jogging some memory, this, there’s no explanation for what this is, but it was included alongside the design. So it’s assumed that this is some kind of a makeup test. Um, uh, so one of the artists who are able to crack down, we just sort of spit balled for a while and our best guess is that he would have gotten this job through art college. And so Ramiro would have had some contact at various art colleges and just put up a flyer soliciting designs for big feet for a movie and offering you know, whatever little bit he could pay, which was probably fine for college students in 1975.
Adam Charles Hart 42:30
So this was yet another project that never materialized, at least not in that form. But the idea never died. George Romero loved Bigfoot, and he loved the idea of building a story around a camera crew in the forest. In 1994, George Romero was invited to Valencia Community College, a small but highly respected school in Florida, to shoot a short film as part of an innovative, new endowed position. This was a remarkably fertile period for America, the writer but an exceedingly difficult one for America, the director as project after project fell through, and this offered the increasingly rare opportunity to actually get behind a camera. The film Jacaranda Joe was the first that Romero shot wholly outside of the Pittsburgh region, in the arrangement with the college was such that none of his usual crew would be participating. So not only has it never been screened, it’s almost entirely unknown. We have a script, storyboards, and a bunch of production documents, and I might have tracked down more. I’ve spoken to people who worked on it. It was indeed filmed and edited and it ran about 18 minutes long.
Adam Charles Hart 43:45
So Romero conceived of the script as proof as a proof of concept for a feature. So although it’s structured to stand on its own it consistently gestures towards larger arcs. The film is entirely different from footage built around a Geraldo like talk show called Remington, in which the sleazy host interviews, a series of guests with info our opinion on the opinions on the latest regional news, which had brought hundreds of people to a small town in search of a glimpse. A film crew shooting a TV show about hunting and the outdoors in their guest host a famous athlete encountered a hairy ape like creature in the swamps near Jacaranda, Florida. The creature was dubbed Jacaranda Joe, and this is Joe. Okay, so, uh, footage, use the device footage the 70s film, or script use the device of a film crew to discuss the ethics of filming, and to distinguish mundanities greed and pettiness. From the more perhaps stereotypically natural existence of the Bigfoot community. We would never actually see the footage that was filmed by the camera operator. That was again the crux of the dramatic conflict within the film. The footage was never found, but gleefully destroyed before it could be developed or viewed by anybody. Jacaranda Joe takes the next step in actually showing the footage with attention to using device of a sensationalist talk show. This was Romero’s attempt, as he put it, to see if audiences could be scared by a documentary format.
Adam Charles Hart 45:23
Let’s see in both footage and Jacaranda, Jo, human like creatures in the wilderness offer sharp distinction to the humans and film is essential to that distinction. In footage, it provides the potential to profit while ensuring the destruction of the community. One whose survival is crucial for Romero precisely because it suggests an alternative possibility for existence, to the greed and violence of humanity, and of course, the film industry. In Joe that community may have already been destroyed. Because of the video, crowds have flocked to the area, roses, souvenir stands and food carts line the main street of the closest town and bikers rally nearby for the hell of it. We get only the briefest of glimpses of the creature with no indication of the larger swamp ape community or family. What we get instead is a representative of the miccosukee tribe.
Adam Charles Hart 46:20
Another brief digression. One of the actors considered for the role of Benjamin the miccosukee tribal leader was a local actor and author of Choctaw Cherokee descent, who provided the producer with detailed notes on Benjamin’s portrayal that author who had not yet published his first novel was owl going back, who had quickly become one of the most revered horror novelists in the country. And fully separate from this project, a collaborator with Romero on yet another film for which Romero failed to gain financing. So Ben up his role is cliched to say the least. But he voices a strong critique of the violence and indifference of white society. He had been arrested for killing a panther with his bare hands, as was required to join us tribal council. And on the talk show he gets in a shouting match with quote, redneck hunters who want to shoot more animals. He responds more Panthers are killed by rental cars than by Native Americans, when they get indignant at his own transgressions. But he goes further, asking white society to respect the laws of his community. Just as the indigenous peoples have respected there’s Benjamin’s moral code requires him to tell the truth, which as he points out, white societies Judeo Christian rules do as well. So in both of these, sorry, so the use of diegetic sorry, I just got lost my apologies. Okay, so I’m in in Jacaranda, Joe Benjamin, helps to align the critique of modern society that Romero associates with filmmaking with a kind of more quote unquote stereotypically natural existence when it’s not fun, problematic, obviously. Okay, so this use of diegetic camera operators to depict filmmaking as a corrupting force, however, goes back even further past past footage past the 1970s. even beyond the start of Romero’s own film career, there are of course predecessors to the found footage horror film that were hugely influential to Romero, including peeping Tom, a film in which avoider murders women with a camera outfitted with a knife, and Orson Welles radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. Powell and wells were two of America’s favorite filmmakers mentioned frequently in interviews as influences and inspirations. War is actually directly referenced in diary and Romero had clearly been thinking about it at least since he wrote his war of the world script in the 1980s. Well, Powell was not only possibly Romero’s biggest inspiration, but he became a friend of Romero’s late in pals life. right around the time he would have been working on Jacaranda, Joe.
Adam Charles Hart 49:29
So both of those works have been mentioned by critics and fans as clear ancestors of The Blair Witch Project. But there is one work that to my knowledge never has, and it is even more crucial to Romero’s artistic biography. In 1960, just after he turned 20 years old, Romero joined his friend Rudy Richie in a small production of jack Gilbert jazz play, the connection, the sensation of New York theater in 1959, the essential avant garde theater troupe The Living theatres production helped inaugurate a new era of American drama. Largely plotless. The play consists of a bunch of beatniks and junkies and jazz musicians waiting for their heroin dealer. Romero who would later claim that he was recruited primarily because he was large, played leech, the owner of the rundown loft in which all the junkies await their fix, accompanied by an opportunistic writer and two cinematographers, all of whom hope to event to ultimately exploit these subjects for a film. One of the subjects grows frustrated and unleashes on the filmmakers, accusing them of treating his life and the lives of his friends as a freak show. So the influence of this laid back almost structuralist improvisatory collaborative play was a parent even in something like Night of the Living Dead. If the connection is about a bunch of junkies stuck in a stuck in a craft the crappy apartment until their Dior’s arrives, getting more and more jumpy, intense. The night basically transposes as basic dynamic to the wildly fantastical dynamic of the zombie apocalypse. Um, but even at that stage of it even at the earliest stage of his career, filmmaking is opportunistic and destructive. It fundamentally exploits its subjects and asserts a dehumanizing distance from behind the lens. Romero Of course, did not write the connection. In any discussions of influence, however, formative they may be are fuzzy at best, but there seems to be a direct line between the connection and diarrhea of the dead with a remarkable consistency. It’s even there in Night of the Living Dead, where the news crew led by beloved local TV host and newsman and Romero’s early benefactor chili, Billy bill Cordell, is benign and apparently performing essential work. But even a cuddly local hero like chili, Billy is aligned with the all white posse that shoots Ben right between the eyes. But of course, with diary, the denunciation becomes explicit and explicitly aligned with horror movies. As Jason’s hacky mummy movie we see at the beginning of the film, gives way to a grittier, more realistic zombie movie that destroys the lives of everyone around him.
Adam Charles Hart 52:28
So there’s undoubtedly some dimestore psychologizing of Romero himself that we could do, and we might not be incorrect. But I want to think of this as intentional rhetoric, one that is consistent with a filmmaking ethos that drove him to remain independent, remain far from the centers of finance in production, adopting a mode of filmmaking that is collaborative and unregulated that remains flexible and open to change over the course of shooting in invites contributions from everyone on set. What makes in diary, the dead the filming virus, so seductive and so dangerous, is how easily it becomes exploitative and alienated, alienating how quickly it becomes an agent of distance. If he’d been infected by the camera virus, he’d spent a lifetime interrogating it even trying to combat it. But he was always ambivalent about his legacy in his career, and for him, the diegetic camera and eventually the found footage film was an especially potent means of making critique.
Adam Charles Hart 53:34
So as I said before, the diegetic camera in found footage horror tends to communicate vulnerability first and foremost, offering a partial fragmentary view of a scene, which monsters and other threats might be lurking. The camera operators and diary Jason in particular, use their cameras as a way of distancing themselves from the events in front of them. But that distance primarily manifests in a lack of intervention. Jason cannot help or offer support to the to the people who are in danger or suffering, because he is hidden behind his camera, and in the end, zombie sneaks up behind him and bites him as soon as he spends his camera around. The camera is ultimately impotent, signaling both a lack of control and a lack of protection, driving away his friends endangering them and ultimately causing his own death. The ending in which survivors lock themselves away from the world to edit the footage and film the security mom monitors ironies as Jason’s fantasy of the cameras gaze. They’re kept safe, but only by literally locking themselves off from the rest of the world. If this is ultimately what Romero thinks of the cameras, powers and dangers, it’s a critique a denunciation even in which he includes himself. But the critique also offers a path to a solution. It filmmaking is up isolating and inhumane, but it requires a communal collaborative approach, when which issues the temptations of big budgets studios, in which allows for a kind of collective expression, or at least an expression of community. To paraphrase Romero from an interview in the 1980s, the greatest tragedy of a zombie apocalypse would not be for humanity to be overthrown. But for the survivors to fall back into old patterns, and society to reset as it was before, diary is his most pessimistic work, because he can’t see to the other side of the camera virus has infected everyone. And even if we survived the flesh eating zombies will be making and consuming images on our own forever. Thank you.
Heather Hendershot 55:54
Thank you so much.
Heather Hendershot 55:56
Heather Hendershot 55:57
can you guys hear me?
Adam Charles Hart 55:58
I can hear you. Oh, good. Hello, thank
Heather Hendershot 56:00
you so much, Adam. That was really, really fascinating. It was wonderful to see all those archival materials. Um, I wonder if I, I’d like to kick us off with two questions, and they’re totally different. One is about diary of the dead, which, um, you have so ably explained as a critique of filmmaking and the notion of the camera virus and so on. But it also is very much as you know, a sort of attack on social media, and phones and blogs, and the kind of it’s kind of a grumpy old man movie in certain ways of like,
Adam Charles Hart 56:39
hundred percent. Yeah,
Heather Hendershot 56:40
but they’re, you know, um, and I wonder if you could talk about that angle of the film, which, of course, is sort of ironic, because it’s a film that mostly saw digital distribution, and people probably watched on their phones a lot and stuff, you know, because it was so minimally distributed. Or that right? Um, so that’s, that’s one question. And the other one is totally different. And it’s, you know, when you were talking about some of the earlier films, you know, after neither Living Dead, um, you kind of hopped over a freak show. And I’m wondering if you talk a little bit about creep show, a place within his career. And, and, you know, I’m just thinking about it financially, because you’re talking about so many of Romero’s struggles, and creep show. I don’t know the numbers at all, but I would be shocked if it were a box office disaster, it seems so marketable. It’s got some of the biggest stars, he had probably the biggest stars he had before Land of the Dead, right? I mean, like how Holbrook first Ed Harris is not like big at that point. But, you know, it’s got Stephen King. So it’s got some sort of cult appeal from that, or Adrian barbeau. Fritz Weaver. So I’ve just those two questions if Yeah.
Adam Charles Hart 57:53
So I’ll start off with creep show. So after the success of Dawn of the Dead, he was able to parlay that into a three picture deal. And he had financing and creative freedom for the first and only time in his career for those three films with some caveats. One of them was going to be a horror film that was a collaboration with King and the other one had to be another sequel to Dawn of the Dead. So Day of the Dead would be the third one creep show would be the second. And the first he just had complete free reign. So he makes Knight Riders, which is a movie about a modern day motorcycle jousting troupe that’s modeled after Camelot and Renaissance fairs. It’s crazy. I like the film quite a bit. But the idea that he could have thought of that as commercial in any way is remarkable. But crypto did fine. Like it didn’t do great. It didn’t do terrible. It sort of found its niche audience on video over the years. It I think it was number one at the box office, the first week that it opened. And then the studio for some reason, pulled all ads, and it sank very quickly. So like, again, it did fine, wasn’t a disaster, Day of the Dead was a disaster. It was a film that was you know, Dawn of the Dead. Like has a lot on its mind. But it’s also like candy colored and fun and funny. And Day of the Dead is grim and kind of unpleasant in a lot of ways. And did not excite audiences in the same way. And the failure of Day of the Dead killed a lot of opportunities. Whereas creep show like again, it did fine, but they have the dead was always going to be the next movie. Yeah. But the other question wait was Question.
Heather Hendershot 1:00:00
Sorry, the dad is a cranky old man movie about Oh, yeah.
Adam Charles Hart 1:00:03
Oh, absolutely. And it was made in 2007. So like the height of MySpace basically. And there’s very clearly a kind of grumbling towards young filmmakers, like, especially young filmmakers who want to be horror guys, that you see in a lot of Romero’s, like, just very, like interviews and writings and in his films late in his life, I think there’s, for him kind of a little bit of resentment, resentment that he got saddled with, or there’s all these people who are like, that’s their only aspiration is making a dumb zombie movie or whatever. Um, but he also clearly sees, okay, so if it is a grumpy old man movie in which social media is the problem, it’s coming before Facebook before iPhones had been, had been introduced. And I think that what he’s seeing is not just like the kids with their phones, but everybody turning into someone who’s experienced with each other is mediated by screens. And as he would understand that, as filmmakers, as photographers, and as audiences, which is a kind of relationship that he’s very suspicious of, and that he’s always sort of trying to arrange new arranged new configurations for, for how the filmmaker can relate to audiences. And so, you know, I would have liked to have had a conversation with him, you know, in the 2010s, about what he thinks of all these kids in his in their phones. But, yeah, I mean, he tends to align technology of any kind with a kind of corrupting influence with this, you know, kind of stereotypical ideal of a more natural kind of existence that you see with big feet, or, you know, the proto humans and his Stanley Kubrick fan fiction, or, you know, once again, very problematically with the miccosukee tribe in Jacaranda, Joe. And to some extent, kind of with the zombies and like Land of the Dead, or survival. So yeah, I don’t know. He’s always going to grumble about it.
Heather Hendershot 1:02:46
Great, thank you. Who else has a question? Amber,
Ámbar Reyes 1:02:54
thank you. Hi, ma’am. Thank you so much for your talk. I was wondering if you know, which was the last clip that he wrote that couldn’t produce? Because I mean, like, you have been telling us that he couldn’t produce alert. But I like the last one, because he died or something like that. And what I was also wondering, what do you think he would be producing right now? Like, we’d all these like social media together.
Adam Charles Hart 1:03:22
So it’s difficult to say, because at a certain point in the 21st century, in particular, he realized that not only it like it had gotten worse, not only was he could he only get funding for horror, but he could only get funding for zombie movies. And more than that, only for living dead sequels. So that’s a lot of what he worked on in the last like 10 years of his life, basically. But the last script that he worked on, that I know about, is an adaptation of a novel called the zombie autopsies, which was written by Steve Schwarzman, who’s like a buddy of mine, he teaches at Harvard, in the psychology department, and they were never able to get funding for it. And they worked on this for a couple of years, going all around, you know, Hollywood and independent producers and all that and just never came to anything. But the last thing, so there’s there’s two final projects that are both really interesting, and they’re both written. One is a short story called The Liberator. That’s a Gollum story that you can find online. It was a collaboration with his longtime friend, George nama, who’s currently married to his ex wife, Christine Forrest, but who he’d known since the 1950s. Like since he first moved to Pittsburgh. And, you know, George was the one who actually introduced him to the owners of the Monroeville mall, so that he could shoot Dawn of the Dead there, they’ve been talking about collaborating for a while.
Adam Charles Hart 1:05:03
So George nama is a renowned visual artists now. And this collaboration was for a gallery exhibit, where nama would provide the visuals, etchings, and Ramiro would write a story. And it’s, in some ways very much a grumpy old man story. But it’s really fascinating and moving and you can you can find it online. It’s a it’s a catalog for the exhibit, but it contains the full story. And the other thing was, at a certain point, when he realized he wasn’t going to get, maybe he wasn’t going to get to make a film again. But he definitely wasn’t going to get the kind of budget he wanted again. So we started writing a novel that was about a quarter a third of the way done when he passed away. And it was an attempt to kind of summarize, but also further the zombie mythology and trying to tie everything together. It was finished by Daniel Krauss after Romero’s death and came out a couple of months ago, it’s called the living dead. It’s really great. And you may find a character about halfway through who shows up named heart. It’s not a coincidence. It’s the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me, which is that in the George Romero, zombie novel, my buddy Dan wrote me in as a character. So yeah. But other than that, I don’t know what he would be working on, because you see just like a drop off in production at a certain point, when he sort of like he’s old, but also like, just like he had had in the 90s and early 2000s. So many projects fell through. And like that happens to any filmmaker. But when you’re working like as independently as he did, like, everything has to go right for a film to get made. So like, one project got cancelled, because it was too similar to this new Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock movie called speed that was gonna beat them to theaters, there was another one where somehow it all hinged on getting a star like Sharon Stone to be in it, and they somehow got the money to offer her $12 million, or something like that. And she turned it down, because she didn’t want to be in a fucking ghost movie. He, he does that kind of impression when he tells the story. And there’s just like, lots of little things like that. And it just happened so many times that, you know, like, at a certain point, and at a certain point in your life, like when you’re in your 60s, I think you stop writing a script every day. And stop, like having that ambition to make your science fiction epic that adapts tales of Hoffman into a space rock musical. You know, in. So it’s mostly zombie stuff in the 21st century. And not much else, besides the projects that God made? After like, 2005 or six? Yeah.
Heather Hendershot 1:08:28
Who’s next? I can’t see everyone’s hand. But I see Laura.
Laura Partain 1:08:35
Hey, Adam, thank you so much for your presentation. I found it fascinating. I have to admit that my question is coming directly from what you presented. And because I myself and have not watched these films, I don’t do well with her. Although I very much appreciate her. I’m trying to get better at that. So I’ll make it a point to watch some of these soon. My question is kind of thinking about like two questions, but one is thinking about how you you talked about that there was increasing isolation or he represents increasing isolation due to the over mediatization or us each other through screens only. and wondering if there was also influence particularly of kind of neoliberal policies that were coming out in, you know, the 80s 90s that were affecting the Pittsburgh community if that had any effect on on his work as well. It’s, it’s just hard for me to, you know, when I hear things about isolation, or even when you’re talking about what seems to be ethics of care with Bigfoot, and caring for the family, it’s really hard for me to think that that may not have had some sort of influence on him. And I’ll quickly add the second one just so anyone else can get in. The second one has to do with I was really interested when he talked about The use of a black character in his first film and, and that that wasn’t necessarily a choice and how interesting that is, but that it seemed like he almost leaned into kind of a racial narrative in terms of, it’s hard to ignore the it looking like a racial lynching the way that the final film came out. So I’m wondering about the effects of that, if you could just talk about this two things, please.
Adam Charles Hart 1:10:25
Yeah, absolutely. So, um, in terms of, like, the, the politics of the 90s and 2000s, um, it drove him out of Pittsburgh, basically, you know, the, the tax code and various other, you know, right wing, or neoliberal, sort of changes within the state made it almost impossible for him to film here. And so it doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me that all of his stuff in the 21st century, you know, for films that he shot in Toronto, or at least in Canada, they all feel very, they’re very much about isolation and seclusion. It’s not that that’s not there before, but it seems to have like a different sort of manifestation in those movies. Because like the community in Pittsburgh, and the city, in the sort of family of filmmakers that he had developed, were all, always incredibly important to him, you know, you see you read interviews with him from just after Night of the Living Dead, or actually even before that, and he’s as interested in building a film industry in Pittsburgh, as he is in making the next movie. Now, of course, he’s, you know, obviously interested in making the next movie also. But, you know, he, he doesn’t leave for Hollywood, which, you know, if you don’t make any money off of Night of the Living Dead, the way you cash in on it, is to use it as your calling card at all the studios and then get that gets you in the door. But that never even occurred to him. Instead, he wanted to build Hollywood on the mom, which is not a very catchy tagline, but which I see repeated a few times in the early 1970s. And so, you know, when he has to like it, it very literally drives him away. And at a time after, which, like, in the early 1990s, like he seemed to have succeeded, there were a bunch of high profile film productions that he did not make. That was that were in Pittsburgh. And so like, his friends, his colleagues, you know, a whole new generation of filmmakers, got to stay in the city and got to keep working. And you know, there wasn’t really a film school here at the time. And so, you know, there’s a whole generation of film crew and producers and such who basically learned how to make a movie on the set of Silence of the Lambs or Night of the Living Dead, or, you know, this really strange john Landis movie called innocent blood, or some of George’s like, late 80s, early 90s Productions. And then over the course of the 90s, it basically makes it impossible for mistake. Um, I do think that he thought about things in a sort of, he did have a political perspective on on the world, but that the way that it would have manifested most viscerally for him was in that literal exile from the community that meant so much to him. And, God, I did it again, I forgot what the second question was.
Laura Partain 1:13:47
In the Night of the Living Dead,
Adam Charles Hart 1:13:49
Laura Partain 1:13:50
Thank you that thank you very much for the first answer as well. Okay.
Adam Charles Hart 1:13:53
Um, so, you know, he always he always claimed that it was completely unintentional, that Dwayne Jones, the actor was just the best actor who showed up. Um, but that’s bullshit. Like, yes, they did not write a script, intending it to be, you know, intending it to be like a civil rights, you know, didactic, cracked or whatever, but you don’t have a script in which a black man slaps a white woman and shoots a white man and then have you know, like a white posse with German Shepherds, kill him. You don’t do that unless you know that what the political resonance is like, these are choices that you know, you would have to be not just naive but stupid to not understand like had some kind of meaning. And you know, it. I think that at some level, he recognized that that gave the film, a kind of thematic ambition that a lot of that a lot of horror Films didn’t have, although it’s not uncommon for a science fiction film, and George was a huge fan of like 50 science fiction. You know, in later years, he and other like, horror fans would kind of denounce there’s a corny science fiction explanation about radiation from the moon or something that may have caused the dead to rise. I don’t know, we shouldn’t have no no explanation, no explanation that makes it cheesy and corny, but that’s what he was into. He likes cheesy science fiction movies.
Adam Charles Hart 1:15:31
And it’s not unusual for science fiction movies to have that sort of political commentary, particularly about racism and intolerance. Like, that’s something you see in, you know, 50s and 60s, science fiction over and over again. Um, and so, like, I think at some level, he recognized that he could use this movie for that. I think, like, he’s sort of a, you know, like, more sort of, like, middle of the road liberal in the sense that he’s much more concerned with, like, acknowledging the, like, the value of one’s humanity, rather than exploring the, you know, like, specific oppressions of being a black man in America in 1968. Or, you know, like, the, the specifics of what misogyny or homophobia means at the time that he’s making a film. But that doesn’t mean that they’re, they’re completely absent, like, he’s, you know, has this kind of vague sort of a humanist approach to politics, vaguely humanist, I, you know, whatever, anyways, um, but he thinks that it’s important, and he and he’s really driven by this sense of like society needing to change even in his more optimistic views, like, is he is more optimistic movies are mostly optimistic about like, being able to tear down the whole system and start something else. You know, at night writers, which, again, bizarre movie bizarre choice to make, like, I got free rein, I’m gonna make the motorcycle gesture movie, like, that’s what crazy. But it’s all about like a community that sort of forms on the outside of society with its own rules. That’s all about like, honoring each other, and following a different code than everybody else follows. And so in a lot of ways, like Knight Rider feels like this key to his entire filmography, you know, of him wanting to build a different kind of society, basically. Yeah. long winded answer. event, but, yeah.
Vivek Bald 1:18:00
Thank you so much for your for your talk. I wanted to follow up on what you were just saying. And also, I mean, just it seems like there’s a theme throughout much of what you’re talking about, in which, you know, that makes me think that the kind of critique of the act of filming critique of the camera as as sort of dehumanizing
Vivek Bald 1:18:40
on on a more specific level, could, could that be seen as a critique of Hollywood itself, you know, from someone who was an outsider, not just by choice, but also by these constant rejections, right. of his scripts. And and so even the idea that you just mentioned, a creating an outsider society, you know, echoes with what you were saying earlier about the kind of outsider community of filmmakers that he fostered in Pittsburgh. So I’m curious to hear about, you know, either specifically in the archive in his own writings or interviews or letters, you know, what, what you found of him talking about Hollywood as an industry,
Adam Charles Hart 1:19:29
he absolutely hated it. Um, you know, he I think he’s one of those people who never sold out because he was physically incapable of doing so. You know, he got a couple of opportunities as a teenager to be like a PA, on some Hollywood productions, including one, I think North by Northwest. And it really sort of soured him on the way that Hollywood works. You know, he liked Hitchcock, but he was never like a, he was never somebody who he brought up in, you know, like in interviews as an inspiration or something like that, and I think it’s because of that experience, where everything seemed so rigid. And Hitchcock was always sort of in battle with the studio having to find ways to work around them. And that largely came through like, very inflexible planning for everything. But what he really disliked about Hollywood was this sense of the sense of exploitation at the expense of the filmmakers, this sense that, like, the people who are making the film don’t get to decide what the film should be. And in his, you know, his for tations, with Hollywood with a film called monkey shines, that’s, you know, it’s good, but flawed, let’s say, he was forced to film a, like, an absurd, happy ending, that, you know, takes place in the, well, in the building that I’m in right now, it takes place right outside of it. So, like, I kind of appreciate that about it. But I, you know, he’s, it’s, it is absurd, and is experienced filming the dark half Stephen King adaptation with, you know, a, what they used to call a mini major studio was the worst experience of his life. His wife at the time, believes he had a stroke in the middle of it just from stress.
Adam Charles Hart 1:21:48
And, you know, when all of that money gets involved, and all of those, you know, intermediaries, then it becomes the decisions are not made, based on what makes the film better or worse, in the kind of free flowing way that you’d like to work. And that he thought was a lot of fun, sort of disappears. And so in the 90s, you know, I said he couldn’t get a film made. But he was able to get a bunch of scripts sold. And I think he just sort of like, had a sort of working retirement like he was around 60, at that time, and he loved writing, he managed to make it into a sort of collaborative effort where he would work with his producer, but he’d also bring in, you know, novelists, and filmmakers, and all sorts of people and they’d, you know, like, they’d drink and smoke, and come up with a new script. And if he was all alone, he just like wake up in the morning and put on ESPN or old movies and start typing away at his typewriter. And so in a lot of ways, like, that sort of becomes his vocation more than actual filming of movies. Um, but, you know, there was a lot of resentment that was obviously changed with bitterness. You know, at a certain point, he did like he would have liked to have sold out to make War of the Worlds or his adaptation of the stand, or, you know, like he did have like big ideas. But Hollywood basically considered him and immature, even though Dawn of the Dead and Night of the dead had been, you know, big hits, because he had never worked in the studios before. So I think that only sort of cemented his resentment of Hollywood. Yeah.
Heather Hendershot 1:23:52
In that context, could you talk briefly about Land of the Dead as a studio picture, I saw him at a screening of diary of the dead. And he wasn’t completely negative about land of the dead, but he had not enjoyed the production experience at all. And he expressed quite a bit of relief, you know, to do the diary of the dead after that, and you know, just enjoying no longer being beholden to the suits who are bossing around and so on. I mean, at the time, I thought, yes, but Land of the Dead is like really solid, and in many ways, a better film than diary, the dead. Yeah, but that’s not how he saw it, I think.
Adam Charles Hart 1:24:32
So I’ve talked to a couple of people who worked on land of the dead, and it was it was kind of a horrifying experience for George because it was so intense. It just required so much of him in the sense that he was, you know, like, he was not just making the film but like answering to all of these suits and managing the sort of logistics for what we was probably his biggest production at that point. And, you know, I think he’s very bad at the logistics. He’s a terrible businessman. He’s terrible at organization, like his ideal is kind of Night of the Living Dead. Like he always was sort of like, trying to chase that Dragon of Night of the Living Dead. But with money enough to print out a new draft of the script, when they made some changes or so that everyone didn’t have to sleep on the floor of the house. They’re they’re filming in. But Land of the Dead was the film on which like, it had been so long since he had had a hit. Like his entire career, his ability to ever make a film, again, was writing on it. He had made one film in the previous decade. And it was bruiser, a film, which I’m guessing nobody here has seen, because almost nobody has seen it. And certainly, okay, I should have known. But not very many people like it
Adam Charles Hart 1:26:14
it was a pretty notorious flop. And the only way you know as with Donna, the dead, making another sequel was the only way he could get back into feature filmmaking. So so much was riding on it that he just like was putting in 20 hour days, he was like, in his way he would have been in his 60s at that point. So he, you know, was exhausted? And like, I don’t think he could physically have ever done that again. I do think that his opinions of his movies are largely based on his experience filming them. Yeah. So he loves night writers because it was the most fun movie. Like he hung out with his friends in the country. And you know, like he Ed Harris got really close. And they rode some motorcycles and made the Tom savini pose in a speedo. And, you know, like, just had a bunch of had a bunch of picnics and such, you see the behind the scenes, pictures, and it’s like one big party. But you know, like Land of the Dead, I think is one that he likes the movie fine, but he does not look back on it with particular fondness. For that reason, I think
Heather Hendershot 1:27:37
I would put in a quick plug for land of the dead because I know some of us here don’t want to I think Laura identified herself as not watching a lot of horror films. And maybe some of you haven’t seen many or any Romero movies. And Land of the Dead is a real standout for me as a not a post 911 movie, and as a film critical of George W. Bush, and maybe the first theatrical feature, American theatrical feature to really kind of take that on in a serious way through the allegory of science fiction slash horror. So I think it might be a good starter film for some people who maybe don’t come to it as zombie lovers or if you’re not as but when you sit in that political context.
Adam Charles Hart 1:28:23
Yeah, it was, I mean, it was the most political theatrical release of was that of whichever year was released, like just after the Iraq war started, and it was like, you know, there was no other theatrical film that was that explicitly political. Yeah,
the only other thing I can think of around that time it would be the masters of horror episode homecoming, which is not
ethical film, but like, if another zombie movie,
right So Laura just said like that could get me into horror. I would also recommend the masters of horror Showtime series episode called the homecoming, that is a zombie episode that is very harsh about George W. Bush.
Adam Charles Hart 1:29:03
Yeah, for some reason, the like, elder statesman of horror, got together and decided that zombie movies in 2005 or 2006 zombie movies were the proper vehicle for denouncing the Iraq War. In inland of the dead Dennis Hopper is doing it Donald Rumsfeld impression. And you know, like the it’s it’s his most explicitly political film with like a capital Pete like, it’s about politics. You know, I think that subtlety is overrated as a as an aspect of cinema.
Heather Hendershot 1:29:43
Yeah, homecoming homecoming, which is not Romero to be clear. It’s um,
Heather Hendershot 1:29:47
is it Joe Dante?
Scot Osterweil 1:29:48
It’s true, Dante. Yeah,
Heather Hendershot 1:29:49
yeah. Um, but uh, homecoming, like features voting prominently, like zombie voting. Yeah, I want to say more than that. But we’re at a moment we’re thinking about voting on ticularly good.
Adam Charles Hart 1:30:03
And I’ll just I’ll just say like so, um, you know, this, this talk was cut down considerably from the first draft that could have lasted three. But one of the things that I talked about in there was, you know, it’s not just that Romero kind of stumbled backwards into horror after he couldn’t get other stuff made. But he kind of only made one movie that ever tried to scare people, like Night of the Living Dead was a very scary movie for 1968. I don’t know if it’ll give you nightmares in 2020. Not just because, you know, reality is scary enough. But, um, you know, after that he would use horror as a way to, you know, tell different kinds of stories, whether it’s a zombie movie, or a vampire movie, or, you know, creep show, which is like an adaptation of 50s or a transposition of 50s. You know, cheesy horror comics, like, they’re all thought of as horror, and I guess they are, but it’s not horror in the sense that they’re trying to, like, scare you or give you nightmares. They’re using monsters and horror tropes to do whatever he was interested in, basically.
Heather Hendershot 1:31:25
Um, it’s 635. We could take another maybe one last question. If there’s any I cannot see your hand. So hop in if you
Heather Hendershot 1:31:35
anyone, I think there’s a question in the q&a. Oh, uh, sorry.
Heather Hendershot 1:31:42
Heather Hendershot 1:31:44
Heather Hendershot 1:31:45
Tim Jackson, what
Heather Hendershot 1:31:47
was his history with brother blue? I always thought it was wonderful for the storytellers legacy that he was in nightriders.
Adam Charles Hart 1:31:54
Yeah, um, I don’t have a ton of insights into that. He was George’s pretty terrible at keeping records. And most of the production documents that we have are from the 80s 90s and 2000s, when somebody else was keeping records. So we don’t have a ton. But what I do know about brother blue is that he was somebody that George knew from Pittsburgh, like he just he knew him from, like, working in or, you know, like, traveling in the same circles. He was local color, not unlike, you know, Heather and I are both huge fans of a documentary called Sweet Sal. That’s about just like a local guy in Braddock, who’s, you know, strange and delightful and just completely charismatic and charming. And George just put him in his movie in night writers. And, you know, he had written the part of Merlin for a, like, a black man, supposedly, Morgan Freeman read for the part. But he only read for the part. This is the way George would tell the story, so that he could lecture George afterwards and say, this part should be a part for a man, not a black man said, well, it says in the script, black man, and that’s the character. And so it’s a strange little anecdote. But I think he always had brother blue in mind for it. Like whether or not he could have hired Morgan Freeman, that would certainly put the it would put the film into it would make it something else for sure. But he is he’s kind of him himself. Like he’s given a character and, you know, lions and all of that. But he’s asked to bring that sort of local color in a way that Ramiro often likes to do in his movies, especially at that time, when he was, you know, really sort of tapped into Pittsburgh, I guess.
Heather Hendershot 1:34:07
Great. Well, thank you. And thank you, Ambar, for pointing out that I’d missed that one in the q&a. Um, I think maybe we’re ready to wrap up. Thank you so much, Adam, for your time and presenting all this really interesting material. And I encourage anyone who has more questions or thoughts or follow up to get in touch with Adam directly. And I’m sure there’s so much more to share. So thank you for joining us.
Adam Charles Hart 1:34:38
Thanks, Heather. Thanks. Thanks, Scott. Thanks, everybody. This was a lot of fun. And, yeah, no, I put my email address in the chat. And you know, if anybody has any follow ups, please feel free. I obviously loves talking about stuff so don’t, don’t hold back.
Heather Hendershot 1:35:00
Thanks so much. All right, I’m going to end this meeting now then
Heather Hendershot 1:35:06
Bye everyone. Thank you. I
Adam Charles Hart 1:35:07