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A Day With George Romero (Rare Photos)

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One of the joys of working for “early” Cinemax was that the powers that be left the channel alone.  Programming would come up with festivals and “packages” and producers like myself could put together fun, under-the-radar stunts to help market them… I was known as “the horror guy” so when Programming created a George Romero Film Festival, I was asked to do an interview and shoot “wraparounds” (intros and outtros) to the films – Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Creepshow and Martin.  This was 1990s George Romero, so he was still based in Pittsburgh. I hired a local production person to scout likely locations, including “THE” cemetery.  In a stroke of zombie Kismet, she stopped for gas, asked for directions to “the cemetery where they filmed Night of the Living Dead” and the attendant said his parents had been extras in the film!  They were immediately added to our interview list…

Mini NOLD reunion with extras from the film.
©Mark Cerulli

In person, George couldn’t have been nicer: tall and smiling in a khaki safari suit and totally willing to hand off his day to us. He had no entourage, just a young assistant who he was trying to help forge a career in pro wrestling of all things.  Romero walked my small crew and I around the Monroeville Mall, pointing out filming areas and mentioning that they were allowed to shoot at night, but HAD to be out by 7AM due to mall walkers.  He joked that the last thing he wanted was for a zombiefied extra to give an exercising senior citizen a heart attack!  As we walked around a few people pointed at him, but by and large, the locals just went about their shopping; George was one of them, no big deal.   I asked why he remained in PA when the film business was concentrated elsewhere.  His response proved how insightful the man was:  “I want to live in a ‘real” place. New York was too much of a head jam and LA isn’t a real place.”  How true that is!

Romero being interviewed in a familiar setting…
©Mark Cerulli

Then we moved on to the Evans City Cemetery.  As we rolled onto the grounds, George leaned over and said, “They’re coming to get you, Barbara…” I absolutely treasured that moment!  We set up chairs in and among the graves and did the interview.  It was a beautiful fall day and we practically had the cemetery to ourselves!  I, of course, popped the Duane Jones question: did he cast him because of his color?  George said not at all, he got the role because he was “the best actor I could find.”   We spoke about his other films – he discussed working with huge Madagascar hissing cockroaches for Creepshow, filmed in a warehouse in Pittsburgh.  (I mentioned running into actor E.G. Marshall on a commuter train and telling him “I had a bug problem…” getting a faint smile in return.)  He also hinted at some wild times with Leslie Nielsen.  When I asked for specifics, George said, “Oh, I can’t blow Leslie’s cover.”  So you could trust George with a secret, too…

After the cemetery, it was on to The Farmhouse.  Our location manager had asked for permission to film there, never got a response, so we just jumped out and grabbed a few shots of George walking the perimeter, pointing out where his zombies came from.  (That kind of guerilla approach would never fly in today’s lawyered-up corporate environment.)

George Romero at the farmhouse location…
©Mark Cerulli

We wrapped our day with a mini NOLD reunion at the house of the gas station worker whose parents had been extras in the film.  George was very happy to chat with them and they were delighted to see him again.  Their scrapbook came out and inside was a treasured family item: their invite to the film’s premiere.   Interview wrapped, George was off in his SUV with his assistant.  Getting to work with him was a true career highlight. I will always remember George Romero’s warmth, intelligence and wry sense of humor about the film industry.  He knew where he fit in and was perfectly happy there.  His iconic body of work, of course, speaks for itself and will endure forever.  Thank you, George.

George Romero with then-Cinemax writer/producer Mark Cerulli
©Mark Cerulli



About the author
Mark Cerulli
Mark was an award-winning writer/producer for HBO for many years, creating on-air content and interviewing over 100 filmmakers and actors. He has also produced content for Monsters HD, Sundance and Epix. He produced DVD docus on two James Bond films and produced/directed DVD docs on the Halloween series for Anchor Bay. He has had four screenplays optioned, including one by HBO. His website is: www.iluminar.tv
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