Remembering George Romero

George A. Romero (1940 – 2017) by Edgar Wright

It’s fair to say that without George A. Romero, I would not have the career I have now. A lot of people owe George a huge debt of gratitude for the inspiration. I am just one of many.

Without George, at the very least, my career would have started very differently. My future in film really started when I became firm friends with Simon Pegg while we were making ‘SPACED’ and we realised that we were both obsessed with ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ and George’s work.

I had been infatuated about George’s work before I saw it, scouring through horror and fantasy magazine for stills, posters and articles way before I was old enough to see his movies. When I finally did watch, on VHS or late night TV, the likes of ‘Night Of The Living Dead’, ‘Martin’, ‘Dawn Of The Dead’, ‘Creepshow’, ‘Day Of The Dead’ and others, I was a true devotee to all things Romero.

Later, after making ‘Spaced’, myself and Pegg had this wild notion of making a film that took place in George’s universe, but with a distinctly deadpan North London response to his Pittsburgh zombie epics. The resulting film ‘Shaun Of The Dead’, would obviously not exist without the master himself and when we completed the movie, we decided that we should try and contact George and screen the film for him. To us, his was the only opinion that mattered.

Universal contacted George and screened the movie for him while he was on vacation in Florida. I remember being bemused that he watched the movie with a studio security guy in the theatre. As if George himself would pirate the movie! Even If he did, he would be more than due some profits from our cinematic valentine to him.

Later that night, George called us in London. I remember standing in my flat in Islington when I got the call from him and he couldn’t have been warmer and kinder about the movie. I remember him saying that it was ‘an absolute blast’. That indeed became the sole poster quote for the movie in the United States. I frequently think back to this moment of standing in my house as the moment my life truly changed and the world got smaller.

Over a year later George asked us to come to Toronto and appear in his new movie ‘Land Of The Dead’. We had our make up done by KNB FX in LA and then flew out to the chilly night shoot set to meet the man himself. We had sent George a ‘Foree Electric’ name tag as a token of our gratitude for his poster quote on our movie and he was wearing it when we met. Meeting the man himself was just amazing, as anyone who knew him will attest how funny, smart and genial he was.

When we shot our brief cameo as ‘Photo Booth Zombies’, it was such a trip being directed by the ‘King Of The Zombies’ himself. We couldn’t believe we were being told what to do as zombies by the man himself. He actually had no notes and said ‘You guys know what you are doing’. Later we would both actually feature on the one sheet for the movie in our make up, which blew my inner horror geek’s mind.

The day after we shot our cameo, I do remember something else that George said. We had coffee in a Toronto hotel with him and he asked me and Simon what we were doing next. I replied that we were making a police action comedy. ‘Oh, not a horror, then?’ he replied, ‘So you’re getting out.’

This was a telling statement, as there was always the sense that George had interests in film that stretched beyond the realm of horror. But even if he was pigeonholed somewhat in the genre realm, one of the reasons that his work resonates still is because of fierce intelligence and humour behind it. His zombie films alone are the work of a major satirist, being highly vivid socio-political metaphors and sometimes better records of the years in which they were made than countless serious dramas.

While genre films are often dismissed when people are talking about classic cinema, there is absolutely no denying the seismic impact his movies have had and continue to have in the world of film, TV, comics, video games and literature.

The last time I was in contact with him, was last year when it was announced on the internet that he was to have star in his honour on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. I e-mailed him to ask when the ceremony was, as I would like to go and here is just part of his very droll and typically modest response.

From: George Romero
Subject: Re: Hey George.
Date: August 31, 2016 at 9:01:53 PM EDT

So nice to hear from you. You are the first person of note to have responded to the announcement of my “Star” on the “Hollywood Walk of Fame”. If I had been given a date for the “ceremony”, I would certainly have passed it on to all who might have been amused. As of now there is no definite date. Once a date is determined I will alert you and my children who, at this point, seem to be the only amused parties…I fully appreciate that some day in the future one of my kids might be walking along Zambeezie Street in L.A. and wonder why his or her father has his name embedded beneath the dog shit. Thousands of people, stepping over that same dog shit, if they can decipher the time-crusted lettering, will ask, “Who the fuck is George Romero?” Only you and my children will know.

Thank you for knowing.
Love,

George

This was the last e-mail I received from George. He is, as ever, being way too hard on himself. For just his very surname, ‘Romero’, immediately conjures more images and themes than 99 percent of writer/directors out there. I look forward to whenever they do lay down the star in his honour, but he is already is a bright shining beacon in the film universe.

R.I.P. to the lovely George. Knowing your movies, I have a feeling you will be back.

Edgar

  • Arnav Chakravarty

    Hey Edgar, It is so refreshing to see an accomplished film maker like you being so candid and approachable with a blog like this. I am a film maker like yourself who is inspired by what you do. Scott Pilgrim and Shaun remain my benchmark to understand visual comedy and now Baby Driver has become my go to movie to understand timing and visual flair in action sequences. I am a very big fan of your work and would love to assist you in your next film and work as an assistant director.

    Will it be possible for me to send some of the short films and ads I have directed along with some of my scripts to present my case ? How can I reach you ?

    Really hope for a revert.

    Arnav
    arnav.chakravarty10@gmail.com

  • Workshed

    The Alpha/Intervision VHS of ‘Dawn’, that I first rented from Mexborough’s legendary ‘Home Video Library’ – the first in Yorkshire (where I had a Saturday job when I was thirteen, 1982) – remains one of my most treasured, sentimental possessions (with the BBFC reclassification I was offered ‘any nasty you want’, not that Dawn was banned, obvs). I’ve been offered the Earth, and I wouldn’t sell it for a gold pig.

    Edgar, can you call Savini and ask him what’s happening with the (supposedly amazing) 3D transfer of Dawn, and whether we are likely to see the big screen release that was promised (please)? And if you see our ol’ buddy, Benny Wong, say, ‘Two Wongs (for he is now two) don’t make a Wright’.

    • Michael Diaz

      I actually met the producer during a screening of dawn of the dead this weekend. He is currently working on the 3D transfer but doesn’t seem like they have a release date nailed down yet. Hope this helps.

      • Workshed

        Tell him, ‘This week would be an opportune time to announce a re-release in IMAX’. 😉

  • sdfalk

    A beautiful piece of writing Edgar.
    As a fan of the very much underrated director,
    it was a lovely, touching read.

  • dtp

    Every interview I’ve ever seen with George shows a kind, gentle, and very intelligent man. This heartfelt tribute appears to confirm that was indeed true. George deserves so much respect for keeping most of his movies in Pittsburgh, and for making such thoughtful and topical films, genre aside. Here’s hoping films like Martin are reassessed and get the attention they deserve. Shamble in peace, Mr. Romero.

  • MoonTopples

    May we all be so lucky as to have an eloquent and thoughtful friend pay us this sort of tribute when we die. Beautifully written, Mister Wright.

  • Margaret Robinson

    A lovely piece honouring Romero.

  • zid

    This is the best tribute ever. I’ve been a fan of George’s since I was eight years old. His movies have taught me a lot about death (and life). The man has inspired so many people. He was a true original. Edgar thank you for sharing this with us and for doing his legacy justice in your own work.

  • cb_books

    This means more to me than any tribute I’ve read. I love your films and I love all that is Romero. I championed ‘Martin’ for years, after watching it in a (maybe) one week run in the worst of the worst cinemas in Toronto. But ‘Night of…’ is the mold that was never broken. His legacy will be felt forever. Never met the man, but through your post feel a whole lot closer to him. Thank you.

  • Eric Fernando Raigosa-Sanchez

    I have a massive Woodrow Wilson for Hot Fuzz, Shaun and World’s End. Inhave to know something Lord Wright…any plans to do a cross over movie of the ice cream trilogy? Do it man!!!! I wanna see Nicolas Angel, Shaun and Gary King fighting zombie alien creature things.
    Rated R: Exesive gore, martial arts violence, vulgar language and graphic nudity throughout. 🙂

  • Eric Fernando Raigosa-Sanchez

    Wow Lord Wright, what a great way to say goodbye to a legend of horror–but more importantly :A beyond awesome human being. I evy you for knowing and befriending my hero. Just another reason why you and Pegg are my heroes as well. Mark well my words, as a writer and hopeful director one day….I will continue to honor George for years to come. My children and grandchildren will k ow sho the fuck George Romero is.

  • James Salter

    That was so beautifully written, so meaningful and heartfelt. I am not as eloquent with my words but I shall try. George had a huge effect on me (and so many others) as a teenager in the mid to late 80’s, having watched many of his films as an art student. Several of my friends and I would take extended lunch breaks and sneak off to the student rec room to watch horror films by the giants that are Romero, Carpenter, Cronenberg and the up and coming (Peter) Jackson. He will live on through his films and films made by others and through his fans. RIP George

  • I remember reading a review of “Night of the Living Dead” – which turned out to be written by Roger Ebert – that was less than kind and made me definitely not want to see the film (although I was too young at the time to have seen it anyway). But, when “Dawn of the Dead” came out and I read about it – was it in “Fangoria” magazine? – I made my way alone to a theater and the movie blew my mind, and upset my stomach. It was definitely my first experience with that level of gore that
    we now see pretty much every week on The Walking Dead. I bought the tie-in novel but there was no
    wearable merchandise that I could find so I had an airbrush artist make a t-shirt for me of the poster art on the front and the name of the film in big black felt letters on the back. A year or so later, a theater in town began to show it as a Saturday night midnight film, a la “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. I used to wear the shirt to those screenings where we would wait to see how many people left the theater
    in the first ten minutes of the movie due to the gore.

    “Shaun of the Dead” blew my mind in a similar – but decidedly more comedic – way. A friend had a tape of it before it came out in the U.S. and told me I absolutely had to see it. As a huge fan of British comedy AND zombie films, I fell head over heels in love with that film and Edgar, Simon and Nick. That led me to “Spaced” which I got on Region 2 DVD (and had to buy a DVD player that I hacked to ignore the region code on so I could watch it) which made me fall even more in love with those geek geniuses. Then followed rest of the Cornetto trilogy, “Scott Pilgrim” (the first blue-ray DVD I ever bought) and, now, “Baby Driver”.

    So, knowing that George Romero essentially gave birth to Edgar’s career (at least in the current timeline), that makes me even more appreciative of the work and genre he created. RIP, Mr. Romero.

  • Geoff Burkman

    Thank you for that, Mr. Wright, as well as the great work you’ve done yourself. Just, thank you…

  • sidy ka

    He inspired a generation of filmmakers that anything can be real if you try hard enough god he will be missed

  • Tara Murphy

    Oh man, was that a blast from the past. Land of the Dead was the first real feature I worked on. A freaking George A. Romero film, and working for freaking Greg Nicotero! And then the Shaun of the Dead guys showed up! And I got to clean up Simon Pegg! Every day was amazing, despite the weeeks and weeks of night shoots and cold. George was such a kind and gentle man. It was an honour to be there and an honour to even share a space with him. Gone too soon.

  • cubbies1967

    This-“For just his very surname, ‘Romero’, immediately conjures more images and themes than 99 percent of writer/directors out there.”

  • BugChasingCharles

    Thank you for this beautiful tribute. I really enjoyed reading this and hearing about your relationship together.

  • XPGAMER Annilator

    I was lucky to meet george at nec Birmingham and even though there was a long queue he took time to talk to me and looked through a dawn of the dead book he did not even knew was made. He even wanted to take it home with him but my younger brother took it of him and he just smiled and laughed at him. And dis extra signatures for him. Many thanks for the zorror horror industry and being different i making films. RiP George.

  • Thanks Edgar. I was lucky enough to have met him and thanked the man for the influence (and great VHS memories from watching the Alpha Intervision VHS of DOTD back in 1982). He inspired me to study film and the nuances of cinema and social theory (at its best, or worst).

  • Michael Grover

    A wonderful remembrance, written by a true fan. Thank you.

  • paddybass

    Actually tearing up reading this. George was an inspiration – his clever social and political satire has influenced me in these early formative years of my career. I cannot believe the reverence that you have displayed here. It’s truly beautiful. So many people don’t respect what’s come before them and influenced and inspired their path through life & their careers. Seeing you write such a touching and moving post has made me believe there is hope. For us all.

    Thank you Edgar.

  • trillo81

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

  • DMCC

    Ha, I had your face on my wall for years and years, without me realizing!

    Thanks for your heartfelt post here, we’ll all miss Mr Romero, and our thoughts are with his family at this time. A true legend of cinema.

  • Willowy04

    Wow Edgar, what a moving and sincere tribute. George would’ve appreciated and been touched by your words. Rest in Peace, Mr. Romero.

  • Nic Farra

    It was quite by accident that I first saw Dawn. I’d recently become fiends with another actor slightly younger than me who shared my taste in schlock. He rang me excitedly to tell me “the best double-feature EVER” was about to screen that Sunday and that I HAD to go. I’d seen Conan the Barbarian before, but the second feature was one I’d never heard of. Dawn opened a new world for me that combined the schlocky glee of whopping the top of guy’s head off by helicopter blades with the edge of the seat tension of maintenance-zombie hunting down David Emge among all the ducts and pipes that could have sat happily in the chemical plant scene in White Heat. Dawn had its hooks into me. I loved the ratings obsessed TV director losing his shit over the crawlers being cut, the materialist fantasy of the shopping mall, the unhinged mayhem of the bikie gang, the redneck beer party mowing down hippie zombies, but I think most of all the line “They’re us” rang truer than anything else. They are everywhere in this world. They clog the aisles in the supermarket, they shamble through malls all over the globe and the only lust that gives their lives meaning is for consumption. My birthday’s coming up, and if anyone really loves me, they’ll send me the Hare Krishna action figure. That’s all, thanks to George, I want out of life.

  • Mark Ashby

    What a wonderfully moving tribute to George Romero

  • Thank you Edgar , such love for such a wonderful man !!

  • Mendes Soze

    Thanks for this piece Edgar, like you, Romeo has been a massive part of my life from an early age, as much as Carpenter has.

    May he rest in peace…. But not for too long eh!?

  • Thank you for this.

  • Rhys

    Thanks for this, a lovely piece.

  • d@rth t@ter

    Superbly put sir, thankyou

  • Brennan Wyatt

    This is a touching tribute to the Godfather of the Dead. R.I.P.

  • Beautiful! George will truly be missed in the horror and film community.