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Posts Tagged ‘George Romero’

“While there have been better-made horror movies in the 50 years since, some even directed by Romero himself, and there have been bigger budgets, better actors and more scares, there may not be any single denouement and message more frightening than the one George Romero leaves us with at the end of Night of the Living Dead.”
Richard Newby
The Hollywood Reporter, Sept. 28, 2018

“I went to Pittsburgh to go to college at Carnegie Mellon University and met some people. I‘d always loved movies – I was always a fan – but I never imagined I’d be able to work professionally in film; I thought you had to be born royalty or something.”
George Romero
BFI interview

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One of the projects I’m working on at home the movement during this lockdown is archiving old tapes. I game across a talk that producer/writer/ director George Romero did in 1995 that was sponsored in part by the Florida Motion Picture & Television Association, Metro Orlando Film & Television Office, Valencia College, the Enzian Theater.

Years before Flashdance, Silence of the Lambs, and Hoffa made Pittsburgh a production hub, Romero’s Night of the Living Dead set the early stage for Pittsburgh’s feature film production in 1968. Lesser known is who provided the unusual assist in Pittsburgh became a hub for horror films.

Part of the answer is Mr. Rogers—at least according to Romero.  The public television station WQED in Pittsburgh is where Fred Rogers began working in 1953 on children’s shows.  In the early ’60s Rogers  developed a show called Misterogers in Toronto, but returned to Pittsburgh in 1967 and started taping Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood beginning in 1968. Except for a five year hiatus starting in 1979,  it ran until 2001.

Here’s a snapshot of what Romero said in 1995 about what made Pittsburgh a production-friendly town.

“There’s a community in Pittsburgh that started around  the time I did and we were just tenacious about wanting to work in this medium.  Luckily Pittsburgh had a very active PBS station which was originating some programing. And I think Fred Rogers, Mr. Rogers, is responsible for a lot of the crew people that work in Pittsburgh. Though he probably wouldn’t admit it when he sees some of the movies out there.  Because of things like that and KDKA was a very active station doing it’s own production as a Group W station there. And we were starting to make features. We had a production company there that initially was making commericals and industrial films and the like. And there were also big corporations there like Westinghouse, GE, US Steel that had in house production service arms, so there was a lot of hardware and equipment. Much of it left over from a time that immediately predated videotape when film was being used for everything from news broadcasts to commericals. So for me, I was sort of at the right place at the right time.”
—George Romero

But Romero said success did not come quickly, and until his commercial/industrial business took off he worked on productions where “he got people coffee, brought their cars around, and worked for free basically….and it was rough for several years.”

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A Not So Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

The odds are good that anyone working in production  on any level for more than six months has an eclectic mix of projects on their resume.  So it’s not unusual to think that some of the same PAs, grips, gaffers, set builders, camera assistants, and camera operators who helped put together iconic children’s programing in the Pittsburgh, were some of the same crew that helped put together iconic zombie films. Here’s a partial list of Romero’s films:

Night of the Living Dead (1968)
There’s Always Vanilla (1971)
Season of the Witch (1972)
The Crazies (1973)
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Day of the Dead (1985)
Monkey Shines (1988)

Other Hollywood films shot in Mr. Rogers’ general Pittsburgh neighborhood:
Flashdance (1983) 
All the Right Moves (1983)
RoboCop (1987)
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Hoffa (1992)
Wonderboys (2000)
Rock Star (2001)

And the Hollywood—Pittsburgh connection continues to this day. Here are some more recent films shot there:
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)
Concussion (2015)
Southpaw (2015)
Fences (2016)
Last Flag Flying (2017)
Sweet Girl (2019)
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2019)

Romero attended Carnegie Mellon University, but his archives were acquired by the University of Pittsburgh.  The same school where Rogers  did some extra graduate studies work in child development with child psychologist Margaret McFarland,  According to Wikipedia, McFarland “was his consultant for most of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhoods scripts and songs for 30 years.”

And it’s worth pointing out that there were actually films shot in Pittsburgh before either Romero or Rogers were born— even before there was a film industry in Hollywood. Visit the website for Films of the Westinghouse Works, 1904.  

Some of those were shot by Billy Bitzer who went on to work with “the father of film” D. W. Griffith. 

P.S. Back around 1999-2000 I did a three day video shoot in Pittsburgh and actually worked with a cameraman who was related to George Romero. I didn’t have the insight back then to asked if he’d worked on any of the Dead movies or on any of Mr. Rogers’ 895 programs shot there. And I did cross paths twice with Mr. Rogers himself on the campus at his alma mater Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.

Scott W. Smith 

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“I love the concept that your friends, your neighbors, the people you know best and trust most become your enemies, and that’s a pure, primal concept that digs deep into the soul and human psyche and human fear. I thought, what a great subject to explore.” 
Director Breck Eisner
(A quote not about a documentary on the Hollywood film industry, but the concept behind his film The Crazies)

Last night I went to see The Crazies, the first full-bore Hollywood feature that was shot & widely released as a part of the Iowa film incentives. (Yes, the ones that are fading away.) I’m not really into the zombie-like thing but was pleasantly surprised how good the film was and how enjoyable it was to watch. (72% on the T-meter over at Rotten Tomatoes and a healthy box-office.)

The cast led by Timothy Olyphant was super and the pacing of the movie was excellent. Screenwriters Scott Kosar and  Ray Wright set the George Romero remake in a small town in Iowa. The Midwest peacefulness was shattered from the start when the first crazy walks onto a little league baseball field with a shotgun. It was an effective way to set the tone early. Some stories need a little setting up, but like Jaws, The Crazies sprints out of the gate and never really stops until the end.

I didn’t know until after the film was over that former Disney CEO Michael Eisner’s son, Breck Eisner, directed the film. Turns out the director who is in his mid-thirties is a USC film school grad and spent 10 years directing big budget commercials as well as some TV programs and the film Sahara starring Matthew McConaughey. Even though he’s Michael Eisner’s son (which I’m sure has its advantages and disadvantages) he’s still been at it for 15 years as he develops his craft. (A favorite theme of mind.)

“The greatest moviegoing experience of all time is Raiders of the Lost Ark, maybe just after Star Wars. So there was an element in me who as a kid just loved those kinds of movies and was excited to make one. When it came to The Crazies, getting an opportunity to do a darker, more intimate, character-based, more personal movie was something I really jumped at and wanted to do. It’s much looser, much more intimate – it’s a completely different type of movie, for sure. It’s not about scope; I really got to dive into character and relationships and really spend time in those worlds.

But still, shooting horror is like shooting action. They’re very closely-related cousins. You’ve got an action sequence, it’s built up, you’ve got a number of shots to build up to the big climax, and then you quickly resolve it and hopefully do a couple of spins on the way. With horror it’s the same way – it’s all about the suspense, it’s all about the pieces and shots and angles and how you build up to the big climax and the resolution, so it’s a similar muscle that’s flexed.”
Breck Eisner
Cinematical interview with Todd Gilchrist

Scott W. Smith

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