Zombie Master George Romero on "Hollywood Mafia," Cable TV's Appeal

"You can be a little tougher on cable. You don't have to be as gentle," the 'Night of the Living Dead' director said at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
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George Romero

Zombie master George Romero is bringing his Empire of the Dead graphic novels for Marvel to TV.

And true to form for an indie film pioneer never part of the Hollywood studio system, he'd prefer that the comic book series' small-screen adaptation land on cable, not network TV. "You can be a little tougher on cable. You don't have to be as gentle," the Night of the Living Dead director tells The Hollywood Reporter while attending the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

The turn to TV is a result of Romero proving unable to secure financing for his typically small, super-low-budget indie zombie pics. "The Hollywood wisdom is you can't make money with a zombie film unless you put big money into it. You have to invest $200 million to make the film fantastic. I'm the opposite of that," he explained. 

Besides, Romero is no fan of The Walking Dead, the hottest zombie fare on TV, or VFX-driven zombie tentpoles. "Brad Pitt was the guy that took the big bite with World War Z, and butchered it basically.... The zombies were like army ants. It was like the remake of The Naked Jungle," he said, recalling Byron Haskin's 1954 film about a plantation overrun by a giant column of army ants that starred Charlton Heston.

So he welcomed an invite from Marvel to complete the Empire of the Dead series, as it portrays a world of zombies and vampires. Now, as Demarest Films shops the project to broadcasters, Romero welcomes taking part in the golden age of TV.

"You have Netflix and all these companies taking chances. Even traditional cable companies can now do a Homeland or Mad Men. So the boundaries have been moved out," he said.

Romero's need for the creative control and innovation not possible in network TV comes from the zombie godfather long having shunned working or living in Hollywood. "I've stay away from Hollywood as far as possible. I made all my movies in Pittsburgh or Toronto. I'm not comfortable. I've never looked for a big project," he said.

That meant being a wayward indie maverick outside the studio system, along with other industry pioneers like John Waters and actor-turned-producer and director Tony Bill (The Sting). "There was that whole Hollywood mafia — [Martin] Scorsese and [Brian] De Palma. I respect them all, and I respect many of the films they made, but it's not my cup of tea. I didn't want to be a Hollywood guy," Romero says.

He adds that working outside Los Angeles came in part from career success often proving fleeting in Tinseltown. "What happened to Bob Evans, or to Tony Bill? They were hot for a while, and just like everything else in Hollywood, all of a sudden you're yesterday's pizza," Romero said.

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