We got there an hour early to ensure good seats (gotta see Veronica up close!), and were pleasantly surprised that George Romero was talking to a full house with the writer of World War Z (and the Zombie Survival Guide) Max Brooks. The panel was really informative and fun, Brooks is a smart guy and kept it light and funny. Romero had some great stories about working in New York City and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania before he turned the horror genre on it's ear with Night of the Living Dead.
Interesting tid bit, alot of you may know Romero got screwed out of a ton of money on the original Living Dead by the Studio, that's why he made the remake in '90 so he could cash in on what was rightfully his. But he told us he got screwed because the studio bought the movie with the copyrighted title Night of the Flesh Eaters and they changed the title to Night of the Living Dead and because of the title change he lost the copyright on it.
Romero talked about being young and brash in Hollywood, saying they could have sold Night at a few major studios including Columbia, but they didn't because the studios wanted the classic UN-happy ending changed and Romero would have none of it. Brooks asked Romero about inventing the genre of Zombie movies and Romero said he wasn't really inventing a new type of monster as much as ghoulish type creatures that he based off the vampire monsters in the book I Am Legend (There's a movie version out this summer starring Will Smith, and a Charleston Heston movie in the 70's called Omega Man which is practically the same thing). It was a little strange hearing the zombies were a rip-off of I Am Legend, but it was refreshing to hear him plainly admit it, where there are countless ripoffs that never admit it, and hey everything's derivative of something else in one way or another.
He had a funny anecdote about he and Scorsese being the only 2 guys in NY at the same time renting the same 16mm print of a movie no one's ever heard of. They didn't know each other at the time but they knew of each other because if Romero didn't have it out "This Scorsese kid from Queens" had it, he said they finally meet years later and laughed about it and that on the DVD copy of this movie they both have commentaries on it. He talked about the fact that he made the most money in his career during a 10 year period where he developed a ton of projects that never saw the light of day, including a horror TV series. Then Romero talked about the creation of Dawn of the Dead.
"I didn't want to do a sequel just for the sake of doing a sequel and I really didn't think seriously about doing one until I socially knew people in Pittsburgh that developed that shopping mall. It was the first big indoor shopping mall in Pittsburgh and they invited me out to come take a look and I said, you know you've got civil defense supplies here, this could be a shelter and people could survive here, they could have anything they wanted and I said there it is!...I actually started to write and this is pure coincidence that Dario Argento called me up and asked if I had any interest in doing a sequel, another dead movie and I said funny you should ask I just got this idea, so he flew me over to Rome and put me in a little apartment and he said (Romero impersonating his Italian accent) 'You wright-a, you wright-a', so that's what I did".
Romero was really funny and cool and you really get the feeling that he was really just a normal guy who found himself revolutionizing the horror genre. Romero mentioned that each dead movie was allegorical for the time, including his last movie Land of the Dead being about the Bush Administration. He said he liked how Zack Snyder made the Dawn remake, but that it was more of an action movie and lost the point of the original. Romero has a new project coming up called Diary of the Dead but we didn't hear much about it. Romero also said he has a cool new project in mind but kept cryptic about it, "I have one really sorta balls out zombie comedy thing that I'd love to do...I can't tell you, it's too fragile..it's sort of a one trick pony and I don't want to give it away"
Screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski showed up and talked about wanting to make a Night of the Living Dead TV series with Romero for years (might as well Babylon Fields got axed), starting with the first night and having a 5 season arc with the destruction of man kind. Then Straczynski told the audience about adapting Brooks Novel World War Z into a script "I was hired by Paramount to adapt his book to a feature film... and when I heard it was available I crawled naked and bleeding through five miles of broken glass and monkey vomit just for the chance because this is an extraordinary book!" While he lauded Brooks' book, Brooks slowly started moving under the table where Straczynski said "While your down there" and the crowd exploded with laughter. Brooks talked about how he signed an agreement with his publishers not to make a graphic novel based on WWZ for five years so it wouldn't compete with the book, but he will be making a graphic novel version of the Zombie Survival Guide.
Overall it was a great panel and we felt lucky to have stumbled into it. Someone asked Romero if he was planning to work with Simon or Ed anytime soon again "Simon just did a voice..did a news man for me over the phone for Diary" So there you go Romero fans. If you want more next weeks show (on 8/11) will have some clips from the panel