Walking Dead Greg Nicotero Film George Romero Night of the Living Dead – Deadline
EXCLUSIVE: While many San Diego Comic-Con attendees dress up as flesh-eaters or attend zombie-themed events, filmmaker Greg Nicotero and his Monster Agency Productions have teamed up with Jimmy Miller’s Mosaic to put together a film about the 1968 production by George Romero. film night of the living dead. Of unlikely origins and with a budget of around $15,000, the film hatched the entire zombie genre and is arguably considered the greatest horror film of all time.
Nicotero is one of many creators in film, television, and video games who have benefited from Romero’s pioneering of the carnivorous corpse genre. He directed 39 episodes of The Walking Dead, including the series finale that he is still finishing. Although he has a long list of genre credits, Nicotero actually learned his trade on Romero films. They’re both from Pittsburgh, and therefore Miller by the way, and they all knew each other well. Nicotero said the idea for the film came about after attending a memorial for the late Romero. There, he overheard the filmmaker’s old friends swapping stories about the making of his breakthrough film. The luck that these Pittsburgh creatives who made commercials and industrial films together could produce such a revered horror film on their first try still blows Nicotero’s mind.
“They really had no experience,” he said. “One of the actors was the makeup artist. It was this group that had done some commercials, sitting around saying, hey, we should do a movie. And someone in the group said, yeah, ‘Let’s do a horror movie. They’re still making money. I like that spirit of a group of people coming together not really knowing what they were doing and fighting their way through.
“They found this rickety old farmhouse in Pennsylvania,” he said. “One of the interesting things for me is when you watch the film, it has this film noir feel because of the way the lighting is. A big part of that is that they just didn’t have the money to afford a lot of lights. So they created a very unique lighting style for many scenes, which played into the pattern of what Night of the Living Dead is all about. Even when they were hitting the prints for distribution, they were using cheap film stock, so there was a lot of contrast. Everything that was black became black and everything that was white became really white. It added to that weird film noir vibe, what’s gonna come out of the darkness and grab me? It was a perfect storm of events with a group that loved working together and rolled up their sleeves.
Nicotero said the cemetery is a pilgrimage destination, where Romero shot the opening scene when a zombie interrupts two siblings as they lay a wreath on their parents’ headstone. Nicotero said he took Simon Pegg and Quentin Tarantino there to stand at the famous location. The farm has long been demolished. “It’s not like Fighting spirit where they moved the headstones, the cemetery is exactly as they left it,” he said.
After Romero’s memorial, where his friends remember Romero’s on-set antics and eccentric mannerisms – “he wore a cape to go out with friends, dressed as Zapata from Viva Zapata, and he had no game with girls” – Nicotero had the idea for the film he will direct. They have obtained the necessary rights and are working with Romero’s widow, Suzanne DesRocher-Romero, Nicotero and Miller producing with Brian Witten for Monster Agency and Mr. Riley for Mosaic. They go to the writers immediately.
“What I want to do is Ed Wood-style film that shows the heart and character of this guy, with the backdrop of this seven magnificent version of a band that had no fucking idea what they were doing, getting together to do night of the living dead.”
He’ll shoot recreated scenes from the original film in black and white, but the rest in color, explaining that you have to be able to see things like how they melted chocolate to serve as blood.
Besides being an unsung horror film pioneer, Romero’s experience on his most famous film was ultimately painful. night of the living dead grossed $30 million and around $200 million, making it one of the highest-grossing movies in history with that $115,000 budget. Rather than making Romero very rich, one mistake left a wide opening for opportunists to ravage his film, well, much like zombies.
“That was the rub,” Nicotero told Deadline. “They changed the title at the last minute. Originally the film was called Flesh Eaters Nightand at the last minute they changed the title to night of the living dead, of which they inadvertently left the copyright. Only after night of the living dead came out if they realized it wasn’t copyrighted and that’s why there were so many versions available on DVD. They went to court with the Walter Reade organization, which dropped the copyright. Thus, George’s first foray into the film world was marked by copyright lawsuits, which they lost. I believe that if this had been copyrighted, George’s career would have taken a completely different direction. But he was a slave to a clerical error that cost him millions and millions of dollars.
From his base in Pittsburgh, Romero continued to exploit the zombie and horror genre with his films, and it was there that Nicotero met him when he was 15. be a doctor for another kind of slice and dice game. Nicotero has worked on many Romero films, including the zombie sequel The day of the Dead. He said Romero refused to leave his home base for Hollywood and didn’t often bristle at the fact that a cottage industry had been created by the zombie genre he had more or less created. But sometimes he did.
“When the first season of The Walking Dead came out, Frank Darabont said, you should call George and see if he’s interested in directing an episode,” Nicotero said. “I called George, and he kind of laughed. He said, ‘Look, for a long, long time I was the only kid in the sandbox. Now you have video games, you you have books, you have DVDs, movies. I’m okay with my zombies being my zombies and your zombies being your zombies. I respected that. He totally invented the genre. How not to be hurt when something you created is appropriated by video game makers? I really attribute the revitalization of zombies to video games. As soon as you had a first person shooter video game with resident Evil and house of deathit opened up the zombie genre to a new generation of people.
Where does all this place Romero in the pantheon of horror filmmakers? Nicotero placed Romero near the top, in part for the way he dropped subtle messages like consumerism in dawn of the dead, or the courage to cast a black actor – Duane Jones – to play the take-over hero who, shockingly, is shot in the film’s final frames, mistaken for a zombie after his harrowing evening. Was there a cultural point about racism that Romero was making because law enforcement snipers didn’t bother to check if the black protagonist was alive before shooting him? Nicotero believes him, even though Romero shrugged off such things, saying Jones was simply the best actor they had and that was just the best way to end the movie.
“I put George in the same category as Tobe Hooper or Wes Craven, those renegade, maverick young filmmakers who opposed the system,” Nicotero said. “At the time, they were like, ‘you can’t show that, it’s too horrible.’ Or, ‘you can’t show it, it’s offensive.’ Meanwhile, with the period, and the United States being at war and social upheaval, they were like, you can’t tell me what I can show. I will show whatever I want to show. The result of this has been Texas Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, all these really hard and awful horror movies. George was one of the first to oppose the system. When people said, you have to move to California, you have to be in Hollywood, he said, “No, I don’t”. I have Hollywood right here. He was loyal to his team, to his city, and he continued to make all his films in Pittsburgh. It was another way for George to say, I’ll do it my way. Jimmy and I wanted to celebrate him and our home in Pittsburgh where he made his movies.