So on with part 2 of GR's visit to Romero's LOTD, sorry for the delay and hope you enjoy it, thanks again to Graham for allowing me to re-interpret this article that original appeared on Filmthreat.com
REFLECTIONS ON AN ENCOUNTER WITH THE WELL-DRESSED MAN
And yet, the next morning, they get even more incredible (it helps if you read this story in the tone of me being an excited child at Christmas, by the way, to capture my mood on this set visit). I go downstairs to eat a hefty, fine breakfast (the waitress instantly taking to my Scottish accent, as north American women often do) and as I am being led to my table I spy none other than the legendary…
When I was younger I was a MAJOR Hopper fan. I saw all the obscure films of his I could, and loved his madness and damaged drink-and-drugs-and-dementia-and-expletive-laden style. Seeing the Well Dressed Man sitting only a few tables away with another man I don’t recognize is a total trip, and all through eating my excellent food I plot and plan about how to approach and speak to him, cos I have to, cos, well, it’s THE HOP, isn’t it? I know he is in the film cos I have picked up wee details about it here and there, but have purposefully avoided reading the script online or checking out the pictures from the set that have been turning up there too; don’t want to ruin the surprise for myself. So I finish and, heart hammering in my chest, approach the actor’s table (having made sure that he’s not eating so I don’t disturb him that way) and get his attention. Hopper is sporting a salt-and-pepper goatee and is looking quite dapper. I introduce myself, tell him I am going to be reporting on the film for CFQ, and say that I am a big fan of his. I quote him some of his older, more obscure films: “Out of The Blue,” “Tracks” and “The Night Tide” to show that I’m not just some starfucker asskisser fan, but somebody who genuinely knows more about his work than just the usual “I loved you in “Speed”” crap. He seems to appreciate the stuff I mention and asks me if I’m from Ireland. I tell him no, Scotland, and he tells me he just got back from Edinburgh and St Andrew’s, where he was golfing. I tell him Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and he agrees. I also tell him that when I was around 19, 20, I used to write for a Glasgow fanzine about his movies, ‘The Last Movie Zine’, run by a female fan of his called Michelle Carr, and that she would never have forgiven me if I had not spoken to him. I also asked him if it would be possible to get a picture with him. He asks if I had a camera but I tell him I don’t as I had been given strict instructions not to bring a camera to the set. The man sitting with Hopper says it’s okay and they will get a unit publicist to take a photo at the set and I said okay, fair enough. In the end this doesn’t happen, but ultimately it doesn’t matter because I met Hopper anyway and that was enough. As a parting shot the actor tells me all his ancestors were Scottish, Mc this and Mc that, and I said “Yeah – the rogue element” and he chuckles and says ”Yeah.” Elated, I then excuse myself and leave.
|Hopper in some obscure non-mainstream Canadian production|
DAY OF THE DEAD SET VISIT
Leaving the dining room, I mosey along to the front foyer, where around a dozen film journalists from here and there and everywhere are making sporadic conversation. This is the meeting point where we have all agreed to meet Lauren Bantit, our gracious publicist/studio representative on this trip. I introduce myself, she marks off my name, and soon we are headed out the front door and being bundled into a small white van to take us to the day’s shoot. I talk to an amiable Englishman wearing a “Shaun of The Dead” tee-shirt called Ian from an English genre mag. He tells me he’s a massive Romero fan and he hands me his Walkman headphones…to let me hear the mall muzak from “Dawn”. My kind of guy. We drive through Toronto for a few minutes and are soon at a downtown warehouse, where loads of huge crew trucks are parked. Disappointingly, there are no zombies in view, but I’m sure that will (please please please!) come soon enough. We stand about in the car park a hundred yards or so from the warehouse for around 30 minutes making introductions and small talk, me moving into instant wisecrack mode to combat the Canadian cold, and we’re joined by a few more hacks. One punk-looking dyed-red-pigtails woman is wearing a cowboy hat and a cool “Dawn of The Dead” sweatshirt, and I joke to her that she’d better watch it because I’ll steal it off her back when she’s not looking.
Another PR woman, Karen, arrives, and finally (ohmigod can’t believe it we’re gonnae see Romero zombies waited so long for this can’t believe this is really happening can’t believe I’m here we go here we go here we go) we’re moving towards the warehouse and a set just behind it. It’s a faux post-apocalyptic market where a motley crew of survivors is huddled around a whiskey-bottle-clutching Irishman (reminding me of Jarlath Conroy’s character McDermott in “Day” but this new pseudo-Celt has an intermittent accent, it has to be said) standing in front of a big cross with an arrow on it, trying to rouse onlookers into insurrection against Kaufman, Dennis Hopper’s luxury-dwelling character. I wander to different vantage points to get a better view of the action and look around a bit. There are made-up products lying around the place: some trashed-looking electrical goods, a few books (A Stranger Is Watching, Developing Language Skills) and a ripped American flag. The scene shoots and re-shoots a few times and it soon starts to get tedious. It’s all interesting enough, but I wanna see ZOMBIES DAMMIT, ZOMBIES!
I go to write some notes in an A4 pad but my pen runs out and Ian graciously loans me one. I am just wondering where Romero is when I notice him a few yards away under a blue tent watching and filming the scene. I truly feel like I am in a dream, with a teenage hero of mine shooting a film I have waited 20 years to see. As I glance occasionally over at him and then back to the scene being filmed, a thousand quicksilver long-gone-past zombie fan thoughts pass through my reeling brain. The tall, grey-hair-and-beard-and-ponytail director zombie-shuffle-shambles out of the tent to the scene and utters a few directions. I wonder where his trademark tartan scarf is, cos I know he wears it on every shoot as a lucky omen, and I laugh in amazed delight to see it (looking very dirty and worn) hanging from his belt as he goes back to the tent. A massive grin lights up my face and Ian tells me to write the words ‘tartan scarf,’ because he saw me see it and he knows the score.
It starts to get darker and colder and Lauren and Karen usher us into a building where we will be interviewing some of the cast and crew. We are all sat round a table in a small, cramped room filled with body heat and smell and Dictaphones where two Irish setters run in and out, cute and tongue-lolling and skinny as hell and total stars amongst the press corps. I am sat right down the front next to the interviewees and have to help switch the Dictaphones of people at the back of the room on and off between interviews. We talk to (in no particular order here):
Simon Baker, who plays Riley, the anti-hero. He’s evasive as hell and an INCREDIBLY boring interviewee. I get bored with his stilted, stupid, circular, going-nowhere-slow answers and fuck with him a wee bit, asking him if there’s any zombie sex in the film. He looks at me in disgusted bemusement and calls me twisted. Result! (Scottish way of saying I got a reaction). His interview will prove to be horribly long in transcription and I only get one good quote out of it. Baker, bone up on this shit for next time, would you please? Thanks. For nothing.
Asia Argento, who plays the appropriately named hooker Slack. Argento, daughter of the famous misogynist filmmaker Dario (who co-produced the original, real, one-and-only “Dawn of The Dead”), looks frighteningly like her mad dad and exudes sexy sleaziness and manic, intense, operatic Italian lightning-rod electricity. I’m almost scared to sit next to her. However, she’s clearly tired and not too into the interview. She talks about doing kung fu and I ask her if she gets to do it in the movie on zombies. She tells me yes, and I get excited and think it’s great. Kung fu zombies! Ian later jokingly tells me he thinks she was slightly scared of my excitement. Imagine scaring an Argento! What a (dis)honor! Quality mayhem indeed! Beat that one!
|You think that's scary, just wait till you get an eyeful of the incest antics of Dario's remake of Mr. Magorium|
Dennis Hopper, who plays Kaufman, the crazed penthouse-dwelling mogul in the film. Sitting listening to him is interesting, because he comes across as being slightly fried, yet extremely lucid and intelligent mostly, and somewhat cynical. He’s not taking the interview too seriously and basically says he’s doing the film for the money, but he respects Romero as they both started out their directorial careers at around the same time and that Romero has influenced a lot of people. Plus Hopper is a zombie movie fan too. I almost feel like asking him if having been a drug-crazed zombie for years of his life has prepared him for this role, but don’t; he’s too cool a guy, exuding none of the dangerous smoldering intensity you might expect from him in real life. I jokingly ask him if his character is into collecting expensive art, a reference to Hopper’s real-life predilections in that arena; confused, the actor answers dismissively that Kaufman is into ‘conceptual art’. Oh well. At the end of the interview, however, Hopper stand up, looks me in the eye and says to me, smiling, “Give my best to Scotland.” I tell him I will and off he goes.
|Graham and Greg back in the day|
Greg Nicotero, the head KNB EFX honcho. I say hiya to him, saying we haven’t seen each other in God it must be 14 years, and I tell him I can’t believe this film is really, finally, truly getting made. He’s happy about it too, being a massive “Dead” fan himself (his first paid gig was working for Tom Savini on “Day”) and talks excitedly about what gory mayhem they’re pulling off in the film and that they have used 200 gallons of Dick Smith formula stage blood in the production. I tell him that he has obviously lost none of his enthusiasm for his job and what he’s doing. He talks about a Santa Claus zombie in “Land” and I remind him that there’s one in “Dawn” that he can’t remember, but takes my word for it. After the interview I speak briefly to him outside and he says that me talking about how he was still enthusiastic was a nice thing to say. But the man is clearly buzzing with what he’s doing and it’s great to see that level of dedication and commitment in somebody at his level of filmmaking. And long may it continue, Greg.
Robert Joy, who plays the fire-scarred rifleman Charlie, Riley’s henchman. Was also in “Monkeyshines” by Romero in 1988. He’s clearly fond of Romero, and talks about him being an actor’s director who takes on board the ideas of actors. We ask about currency in the film and a spirited debate ensues. Joy is an interesting, lucid, good interview. He mentions a “zombie gladiator arena” in the film, which, along with a few other details leaked here and there by other interviewees, REALLY whets my appetite for the finished film.
Mark Canton, the producer. Canton is a trip. A big fan of the “Dead” movies, he mocks George W Bush and says he can’t believe that Dennis Hopper, a long-term friend of his, is now a Republican after having initially been such a counter-culture figure. It was him who convinced Hopper to do the flick, and told him to play Kaufman like Donald Rumsfeld. I don’t recognize him initially, but he’s the guy who was sitting with Hopper at breakfast when I spoke to the actor earlier that morning. I ask him a question and the following priceless exchange takes place:
Canton: “I love your accent man, I’m gonna put you in the movie.”
Me: “I wish you would put me in the movie.”
Canton: “You wanna be in the movie?”
Me: “Hell yes.”
Canton” “Okay, you’re in, if you wanna freeze your ass off…”
And that’s how a dream gets fulfilled, just like that, because of my impenetrable-to-many-Americans brogue. Canton asks me where I’m from. I tell him Scotland. “I know Scotland,” he says, slightly annoyed that I don’t think he knows what my accent is, “Hopper and I are golfers.” I say yeah, St Andrew’s, and tell him that Americans have asked me if I was Russian, Swedish, Irish, and even if I spoke English. He points to a man behind him (whom I find out is named Alan Newman) and tells me to tell him about Canton saying I could be in the movie and he’ll sort me out. I eye Newman like a hawk after that, cos no way, NO FUCKING WAY am I going to let him get out of my sight and thus miss my chance to be a…ZOMBIE IN A GEORGE A ROMERO “DEAD” FILM! YEEEEHHHHHHHAAAAAARRRRRRR!!!!! Not one other member of the press corps (guess I’m going to be a press corpse) is picked to be in the movie and there are some disgruntled comments from them here and there; even Ian makes a couple of anti-Scottish comments after that, clearly jealous of me. I make a show of saying to the rest of the press corps that I feel somewhat self-conscious that I was the only one picked, but inwardly I’m going fuck you all, I couldnae care less, ah’m getting tae be a zombie n ah cannae believe it!!!!!
After the interviews we are led out into a warehouse to get something to eat, where, starving, I get a smorgasbord of stuff because it all looks good. I see Greg Nicotero and tell him about what Canton had said about me being a zombie. He tells me he might stick contact lenses into my eyes, and tells me to get the PR people to send me to the makeup trailer the next night to get my zombification done. After we eat we go outside to see some explosions being filmed underneath a bridge with a road over it just outside, with the fire brigade watching in case things get out of hand. Romero is filming from a tent again. We are offered earplugs and eyeglasses to protect us, but I decline them, as does many of the press corps. There are six explosions in all, not too scary of huge but they set off a car alarm somewhere as white fireworks go off on both sides of the bridge. Cars continue to drive over the bridge through the choking white smoke. It appears that somebody has messed up and not closed off a road that should have been but, luckily, no cars crash. We joke about reports of terrorist activities as Romero shambles (and he truly does have a distinct way of walking – bear in mind he’s 6’5”) over to take a look at the smoldering blast remains. He walks away from the site as the fire brigade hose down the debris and is briefly backlit by the smoke and set lights. It’s an awesome sight, a dark moody brooding horrormeister silhouette, beautiful deathly symmetry in a gorgeous horrific image, and I think that it would make a great photo. Then it’s over and I fix it in my mind as an iconic moment from this amazing set visit.
Alan Newman comes across to talk to Ian and I and I ask him if they can use an English zombie too; just the kinda guy I am. But it’s not to be, unfortunately. His lovely wife Gail then comes up and I start talking to her as we are walked through a crowd of extras who are running along a street in a scene that reminds me for some reason of the video of ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson. Gail tells me that her ancestors were Scottish, name of Campbell, and that we could be cousins. I tell her it’s entirely possible, who knows, and she calls me her cousin from then on in the conversation. I am told by Alan to be in the lobby of the hotel at 5.15pm the next night to be made up for my turn at zombie stardom; Gail is to be made up too. Then the press corps all jumps back into the wee white van and head off back to the hotel. I am very excited but still sleep the sleep of the dead-to-be, knowing that tomorrow I am going to be immortalized in a Romero “Dead” film.
And I still can’t believe it.
I ALWAYS WANTED TO SEE HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVES
I wake up early on the day of my undead reckoning, the culmination of 23 years of accidental Romero zombie fandom and an idle nightmarish dream somehow coming to life (after death). I go downstairs to eat breakfast and see my co-star Dennis Hopper again, but he’s wearing shades and reading a paper and clearly doesn’t want to be disturbed. Fine. I go out into the streets of Toronto to wander randomly and kill some time, amazed and amused by the amount of sex shops and clubs in the city. I take a photo of a condom shop, idly musing that I hope they don’t get any holes in the roof, and am accosted by some fucking nutter who walks in front of me when trying to go into a shop and rants at me for supposedly being a faggot and follows me for a bit when I nearly bump into him and take offence. Ah, friendly, welcoming Toronto. But it doesn’t faze me in the slightest, because tonight’s events will more than make up for any cracked Canuck fuck and his insane stupidity.
|Welcome to Canada AYE|
The day goes by very quickly and extremely slowly, excitement growing in and clawing at my gut as the hours tick-tock inexorably by. Then it’s the allotted time and I meet Alan in the lobby. We jump into the same white van that took the press corps to the set the day before and head off, with Alan telling me I will meet the rest of the journalists there later and talking about his work on films like “Look Who’s Talking”. I am really getting the star treatment and couldn’t be happier. Gail is in the van too, ready for her corpse role, and she and her husband ask me about contemporary Scotland. I tell them it’s not like the usual picture-postcard-perfect view of it that many American shave, and tell them about stuff like Megalomaniac Unbalanced Dictator Tony Blair disbanding the Scottish army regiments and ending hundreds of years of tradition.
Soon after we arrive at a row of trailers (labeled makeup, director, assistant director, producer, etc) a few blocks from the evening’s set overlooking a river just as it is starting to get dark. I FINALLY see my first Romero zombie close-up in the dark threatening night as we walk along. I’m thrilled, and gawk as he walks by like some kind of weird tourist seeing a rare indigenous animal or something. The whole experience has never seemed less – or more – real. Alan, Gail and I find the makeup trailer and go in. It’s very brightly lit, with mirrors all along the wall facing the door, various glues and powders scattered around, with various seated people being made up as ghouls by the makeup crew. There are pictures of other zombies who have already been done, and one black female zombie looks particularly fucked up and scary, with a weird kinda-cauliflower-looking face. There is a signed “Shaun of The Dead” poster on the wall, and a “Kill Bill” (for which KNB did the FX) poster too. I vaguely recognize one guy getting zombified and ask him where I knew him from. He tells me he was in “Dawn of The Dead” and I draw a bank, before he tells me he dies in the sewer. THEN I get it; he’s Boyd Banks, who played Tucker in the 2004 regurgitation (per)version. The fact he’s getting made up here means that he doesn’t appear to have much more luck in this film than he did in the other one. Nae luck big man. Least he can learn how a REAL zombie film is made here though.
Greg Nicotero asks me to give him a big “FOR FUCKSAKE” and I laughingly oblige him. I hang up my own jacket along with Gail’s and sit in a chair with a cool-looking pile of severed limbs next to it, on a level slightly above rest of the trailer at the far end. Greg goes to work turning me into a Pittsburgh-mythology-born zombie. He tickle-glues four foam latex pieces to my chin and cheeks and nose and painstakingly powders and paints them as we talk about people and places and faces we have known and noted past and present. I feel like I can easily go to sleep as I watch my long-dreamed-of ghoul features take slow sure steady shape in the bright revealing conspiratorial mirror reflection. Alan Newman takes a load of pics of me in various stages of makeup with a digital camera as a record (that I still haven’t seen, and would love too – any chance of that Alan? Please?) 80 minutes later I am ready (“Now I am the living dead and I am gonna have your head tonight!” – Screeching Weasel) and I admire my rudely ripped rotted ravaged features. Is this a prescient flash of my real corpse-to-be years down the line? Nah, I probably won’t look as good dead in real life-death as this, just a soggy sorry slimy sack of adipocere and pus and clinical chemical decomposition. If I don’t get cremated, that is.
Greg then points me over towards another guy who sprays my face and neck with fake blood as Greg starts working on Gail. The fake blood goes all over a new shirt I have been given as a present, and I ask the guy blooding me if it will wash out. He tells me he thought the shirt was from wardrobe (which doesn’t say much for my dress sense, or lack thereof!) and that unfortunately it won’t wash out, and he is sorry. I tell him not to worry and that the shirt is now official souvenir with blood on it from a Romero zombie movie and that I wasn’t bothered in the slightest. After Gail (who gets a mad, cool, bitemark-looking gash taken out of her right cheek) and I are both finished we go to the wardrobe trailer a few trailers away and I am handed a choice of two dirty shirts (eventually going with a pink one and a pink tie cos they look slightly better the worse for wear) and a pair of trousers (‘pants’ to you Yanks) by the wardrobe girls which are black and sort of reflective as they are meant to have just been in water. Given a brown natty ratty beat-up trenchcoat I am told I am to be ‘Undead Journalist’. Typecasting, to be sure, but I think I look cool, even wearing a pink shirt and tie I guess I am to be some sort of gay zombie journo! Gail is given a deep red business suit, making her look like a post-demise office manager. I go and dress in the toilet trailer because the one for dressing is occupied and put my own stuff into a plastic bag, which I take with me. I look shit-hot, having just been afforded the honor of being made up by one of the world’s top FX artists, and for a dead dude I feel great. Walking to the van we come across a young boy of around six or seven and his dad on the way. I jokingly snarl and menace the kid and he snaps and snarls back, holding up his hands in a clawing zombie lurch, fearless and funny as his dad looks on, grinning. The wee laddie tells me he has been playing with motorized half-corpses and having a great time. Lucky him.
SURPRISE ENCOUNTER WITH A DEAD DIRECTOR
We are then driven across to the set in the white van. The evening’s shoot is in BCE Place, which turns out to be a huge, gaudy consumerist cathedral in the city’s financial district. The place really does look like some sort of consumerist temple, the rich, gaudy big brother to Monroeville Mall, with high glass ceilings and gold kinda-chandelier fixtures twinkling uncomprehendingly down on the zombie mayhem being filmed far below. It’s meant to be Kaufman’s lair far from the madding zombie crowd, Fiddler’s Green, The place has never seen anything like this before, that’s for sure, though it could be argued that finance worker automatons are far scarier than anything that the film has to offer. I drop my clothes in a huge clothing pile, going over to the rest of the press corps and a mixture of admiring and jealous comments. I am to by some female crew member to keep my face covered if I need to go to the bathroom downstairs to keep my makeup secret because photos from the shoot have been ending up on the net and the filmmakers don’t want the surprises of the movie being ruined. Fair enough. Wearing the makeup is funny, because I notice that people see you in it…stare for a second or two…then look away, as you would do when looking at a real disfigured person and not want to be caught looking at them. I see Mark Canton and go across to him to thank him once again for getting me into the movie and, of course, he doesn’t recognize me at first, but smiles when he realizes who I am and calls a glasses-wearing Dennis Hopper, who is standing nearby in a black tuxedo, over. “This is our Scottish zombie,” he tells The Hop and the actor grins that wicked Hopper grin and extends a black-leather-glove-clad hand for me to shake. I then walk off and entertain myself by sliding around the highly polished floor in my own shoes, which were obviously trashed-enough-looking for the wardrobe people to let me wear in whatever scene(s) I am in.
I look around a bit. There are fake monochrome plaques aggrandizing Fiddler’s Green members dotted here and there, which detail the achievements of various luminaries of the building. Then, starving, I go and get myself some sandwiches and cheese crisps (potato chips to you Yanks) from a nearby table, which I am allowed to do, as I am a ‘featured zombie’. This means I am basically a step above the regular background zombies, who are wearing masks that won’t stand up to much scrutiny. I snarl at a wee blonde lassie, telling her I won’t eat her before she reaches a height of a couple of feet taller, but she is scared shitless and her dad disapproving so I decide to lay off doing that ever again. As we look on a shot is set up nearby where Big Daddy, the lead big black bald zombie played by Eugene Clark, is on the rampage. Dennis Hopper is shouting “YOU BASTARDS! YOU HAVE NO RIGHT!” and shooting at the zombie. In character and pacing up-and-down behind the camera to psyche himself up, Clark shambles into frame, so excited as he howls that he bangs his hand off the camera and they have to do it again. As they set up again Romero wanders away from the set towards me. Seeing me in full makeup, his face lights up in a big mischievous grin and he walks right up to me. Wearing a light green body warmer with a “Shaun of The Dead” button on it (he being a massive fan of the film, which is a fan love letter to his undead efforts, and the guys from “Shaun,” Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, have already been to the set and filmed cameos), he extends his hand and I shake it and then jokingly says, with reference to my facial wounds:
“Hi, howya doin’, hope that heals up.”
Then he is off on the move again before I can even say anything. I stand absolutely stunned as he walks away. GEORGE A ROMERO has just come up and spoken to ME…FIRST! I truly can’t believe it and it says one helluva lot about the man and how down-to-earth (it might be argued he has to dig a bit when he gets down there to me cos I’m meant to be six feet under) he is. No prima donna startrip nonsense or stand-offishness from him; the man is obviously having fun making the movie and appreciates the fact that people like myself are willing to undergo lengthy makeup processes to help realize his chaotic post-apocalyptic cannibal corpse vision. It’s an honor and a privilege, George, it really is. I walk up to him again a wee bit later on and tell him that I am visiting the set for Cinefantastique, I am freaked to be here and that “Dawn” has been my all-time favorite film for 23 years. “Thanks, appreciate it.” In person the director comes across as being soft-spoken, genuine and easygoing, a 65-year-old grandfather of gore, and I’m very impressed by his no-bullshit demeanor. He then tells me he has gotta go get a cigarette and is off once again out the doors a few yards away to light up. I am grinning like a gory Cheshire Cat by this point, because this experience could hardly get any better.
EAT THE BEATEN RICH
I wander off to watch another scene being filmed nearby. It’s a load of well-dressed rich live people of all ages, clean-cut Fiddler’s Green dwellers, being wrestled to the ground by marauding zombies, who have apparently crossed a moat surrounding the city (which explains my reflective pants) and who are tearing the place apart from top to (severed) toe. Gives a new meaning to the phrase ‘eat the rich’ and no doubt the zombies will find plenty of pickings on the bones of these well-fed fucks. Both living and dead extras are standing stock-still as they wait for the cameras to roll, frozen in the position they last left off in, and it’s an odd, surreal sight to see. All of a sudden some crew guy, along with three other female flesheater extras standing around, recruits me for a scene. He names us the ‘Zombie Pack’ and we are told we are part of a third wave of zombies breaching the opulent glittering city. We are basically asked to stumble and stagger around a corner as Big Daddy is shot at by Hopper. I see a really cool-looking, well-made-up walking corpse wearing a softball uniform and carrying an M-16, with her teeth showing through her cheek from where she has been bitten there. There is also a zombie carrying a meat cleaver, whom I recall from one of the interviews is called The Butcher. I am a wee bit confused, as what we are really meant to be doing isn’t clearly explained to us (or maybe it was just that I am now braindead, what with being a corpse and all) and the atmosfear appears to be one of barely-controlled chaos, with each take somewhat different. I figure it out eventually and ready myself.
My starting point is next to an art shop. There are loads of cool-looking fake props around it – mechanical birds singing in a cage, a sort of wooden cart, various fake ornament props – and I am stood in amongst a load of zombies in varying degrees of decay and coolness of makeup. There is a really weird-looking Oriental female zombie there with her boyf(r)iend, a tall woman with black stockings and red fishnets and red hair, a guy who looks like a member of Slipknot in his mask (and who likes it when I tell him this), a guy whose skull is exposed and who looks cool as fuck, some guy who keeps boasting about seeing his picture on the net as illustrative material for some story on the film; all shapes and sizes and states of decomposition; you get the idea. There is one white guy in a black dreadlocked mask, which looks terrible to me, and I get oddly annoyed as he gets touch-ups done on his makeup where the mask meets his neck, as if any shot I might be in will be ruined by being seen next to this guy; funny how rank asserts itself even among the deceased. And there is also a weird mask-wearing woman (i.e. she and her mask were weird) whose head looks like a potato. She hears me speak to somebody, says she needs her mask to look like a “bonnie lassie” and tells me I am a “bonnie laddie.” I thank her before realizing that we are not under normal flirting conditions and that I look like total shit, and decide that maybe she’s like somebody from “Crash” by JG Ballard and she’s a car injury fetishist or something; bizarre stuff indeed. I mention this odd exchange later on to a female crew member and she tells me that it’s surprising how flirtatious people can apparently get under zombie makeup. Shrug. Beats me what it’s all about.
I try to figure out how I am going to walk into the shot, something I have waited over two decades to do. I start to think about how long I am supposed to have been dead (figure it’s a few years), how fast I am meant to be going, what my rate of decomposition is based on my makeup and how I look, how my motor function would be affected, how I have seen other zombies walk in the films, how I have heard other people talk about zombies…before I realize how ludicrous I am being and that I will just shamble along at a reasonable pace and roll my neck a bit like I have seen done before. Fuck it, it’ll do, I’m not going for the Oscar. ACTION! is called and the zombie crowd shuffles off. I round the corner, doing what I hope is a creditable enough job, dodging round a corpse writhing with a screaming human at my feet. I don’t really know quite what to expect and lope round the corner into shot, fearful of fucking it up so they’d have to shoot it again, rolling and lolling and looping my head and walking with my legs slightly apart and with my lolloping zombie gait propelling me nervously into cinematic history. I could see Big Daddy a few yards up ahead snarling and howling and being shot at (Hopper was nowhere to be seen by this point) with somebody just shouting ”BANG! BANG!” to mark where the gunshots would later be inserted into the film. I actually pause as I round the corner the first time it is shot because I don’t know what to expect and feel stupid and exposed as hell, cos I can see the camera and think I must look stupid to it, or hell, maybe it can’t really see me, who knows. But the scene is shot again and, knowing more what to expect this time, I perform better and don’t freeze up, walking behind Gail (who ends up getting a lovely close-up in the finished film, in front of a mechanical caged bird) and trying to get myself deeper and more noticeably into shot. But I hope I don’t become one of the ‘zombie assholes’ assholes Greg talks about during his interview who zoom way too fast up the decomposing ranks to get their decayed mug on camera.
(As it turns out, when you see the finished film you can just see me in the background of the shot, if you know where to look, so it turns out alright, thankfully)
I go off to the toilets downstairs after the shot is through and it’s funny to see people double-take and star then look away again, because not everybody here knows that a film is being made; apparently the cops were called to the set last night for this very reason by frightened uninformed bystanders. This brings us fill circle back to where we came at the start of this story. As I ascend the escalator I got a weird déjà vu flashback to visiting Monroeville Mall with Justin and I think G, yer on the set of the fourth “Dead” film right now, something you’ve wanted for so many years, you’re in the film right now, part of it, walking the set and going into it, this moment will never come again, once in a lifetime experience, amazing amazing amazing, take in as much as you can, stay absolutely in the moment, absorb and do a good report, you are incredibly lucky, you have somehow managed to end up where you always wanted to be, somehow pointed your life in this direction and ended up in a trance state as a childhood dream zombie, crazy shit. I then go back up to see if I can sneak into another shot. I ask some female crew member if I can be in a shot that is set up and ready to go, and she said she’d find out, then disappears and never comes back. I decide to go into the shot anyway and do so, after asking another crew member if they have shot a take of this shit already (they haven’t) cos I wouldn’t want to mess up continuity if they have.
Then things go crazy. Some guy from the crew (and I’m sorry to be so non-specific, but there were so many people there I didn’t have a chance to get names) comes up to me and asks me if I’m the guy reporting for a paper. I tell him I am, and he tells me to follow him because they have some thing ‘special’ for me. Puzzled, I follow him over to where another shot is set up next to the art shop I was just in front of. Some stunt people are wrestling with zombies, falling about over couches and on the floor, and I am to dodge round them, snarl into the camera, look off-camera as if there is somebody there to attack, and drop out of sight. I AM GETTING A CLOSE-UP! I absolutely cannot believe it and have no clue how this has come about. Two makeup guys come up and start professionally inspecting my makeup and ask me who did it. I tell them and they tell me that it’s the first time they have seen some of Greg’s work on the shoot, because he has only been doing a select few makeups. They discuss it and think his work is very good. Just then Greg comes up to me and asks me what I am doing. I tell him and he asks me how I had managed to wangle it and I tell him I have no idea. It takes a few moments before the penny drops – of course it was him who had set it up for me – and it’s one of the kindest, most awesome things anybody has ever done for me. Thanks a million Greg. He has to pour fake blood in my eyes because they can’t use contact lenses on me (apparently everybody using them has to be checked out by the doctor first in case they can’t wear contacts and the production gets sued if something goes wrong) and my eyes can’t look too alive. He tells me the blood might sting a bit and I tell him I couldn’t give a fuck. He tells me he knows this, and that’s the reason why I am here right now, because he knows I “have a giant boner right now cos you’re in a George Romero zombie movie.” And how right he is. He made me swill my mouth out with some black mouthwash to mask the living flesh of my tongue, then put the blood in my eyes from a dropper, which didn’t hurt too much. Then, heart hammering in my black mouth (shit, if I was nervous before in a crowd scene I’m totally freaked out in a close-up!) I loll-snarl and do the shot when they call ACTION and people grapple and howl and fall all around me. Seconds later it’s over and cut is yelled and I’m dazed and asking if it turned out alright, being told it is. It’s only shot once, thankfully – don’t think my (not-beating) heart could have stood the strain of multiple takes! Alan Newman later tells me Romero had actually asked him if they got me on camera. So one thing is certain: the man really, genuinely cares about his fans, and it says a lot about him, both as a filmmaker and a human being. Cool, cool guy indeed. I hope the close-up will remain in the final print. We’ll see.
(When I get the DVD I see that it actually doesn’t stay in there, though I can be glimpsed for a couple of seconds just after the yuppie looks at the zombies looking at him after the skyrockets fail. That’s good enough for me)
DEAD MEN TELL THEIR TALES
I shoot off downstairs to where the press corps are conducting the rest of the interviews. I have asked to be alerted when they start so that I can get down in time but by the time I get down there the Eugene Clark interview is already started. But it’s okay, I don’t miss much. He talks about his howling and how it’s the same kind of noise people under threat of genocide everywhere produce. Okay, whatever. We then shift location to a different spot and interview producers Peter Grunwald and Bernie Goldmann, who both basically say more-or-less the same things. Goldmann talks about how the movie has underwater zombies, something we will not have seen before. I jokingly correct him by reminding him of the anti-classic “Zombies Lake” by Jean Rollin (shot in a swimming pool where the sides are visible posing as a lake from whence Nazi zombies terrorize a village in one of the worst films ever made), somebody else mentions the shark-versus-zombie scene from “Zombie Flesheaters”…and he grins and concedes defeat. Then we – FINALLY – get to interview Romero himself and I, of course, have to ask him the first question: “George, what took you so long, man?” Meaning of course why has it been two decades since the last “Dead” film. He says that it really hasn’t been so long as the script hadn’t been in existence all that long, and they’d suffered some problems getting financing after 9/11, when studios only wanted to make warm, fuzzy pictures. We sit and interview Romero next to a car that reminds me of the one the protagonists from “Dawn” drive around when locking the mall up. It’s weird sitting in full zombie makeup interviewing the world’s top undead director. As he talks I can’t help but think he comes across as being an amiable old hippie, and that’s not being derogatory, just truthful. He talks about his gratification for getting Hopper and Leguizamo, guys from his ‘wish-list’ in the film…and then he’s gone. We only get 20 minutes to talk to him, unfortunately (getting a lot longer with everybody else) but it’ll have to suffice.
RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD
It’s the early hours of the morning and everybody is tired and getting run down. We get a much-needed feed (and no, they don’t lay on a human flesh and blood feast for me!) and sit making pleasant small talk about the whole experience before it’s time for the rest of the corps to pack up and go. I, of course, am having to be de-decomposed, so I am being driven back across to the trailer whilst they are going straight back to the hotel. I go upstairs and grab my own clothes from the pile and watch filming briefly again before getting my picture taken by the set photographer in full zombie makeup with Romero. I talk briefly to him, telling him I hope there’s going to be an unrated version, and he tells me they have most of it in the can already. I then shake his hand again and am ready to head off into the cold Canadian night. I ask Alan Newman if I can get a crew pass, which depicts zombies in the water and a zombie face, for a souvenir (hanging a few inches from the left of my head as I write this right now), and he gladly obliges me. After a transport minor mix-up that extends my 19-or-so-hour-day by 20 or so minutes, I am driven back the trailers. I change into my own clothes and go into the wardrobe trailer to give my zombie rags back. There are two young wardrobe women in there and I scare the living shit out of them when I enter and they both let out a high-pitched scream. I apologize, chuckling, but am also secretly pleased because it means my makeup is good and scary. I then go and sit in the empty makeup trailer and wait patiently for somebody to come and take my gory face off. I sit looking at myself in the mirror. I am tired and it’s s surreal sight that I make myself memorize as much as I can. The cool PR woman Karen then comes in and starts removing the makeup from my face, which she says she’s done before so she’s qualified to do, as she wants to get home and not mess around. A woman from the makeup crew enters and both women sit pulling my fake face off. It’s an extremely ticklish, relaxing, oddly sensual experience and I can’t help but laugh and squirm in my seat as they make me look vaguely human again. When the foam pieces are off they are given to me in a baggie to keep as a souvenir and Karen drops me off in a taxi at the hotel in the early hours of the grey approaching dawn of the dead tired, i.e. me. I think I am going to have trouble sleeping but am so dog tired I crash instantly. I get the plane home on Saturday 12/4/2004 and I sit in my seat, my brain buzzing with the whole experience. Emotional and still a bit tired the poignancy of what has just happened I start to cry tears of pure sated-and-elated joy and I realize once again just how lucky I have been to have had this whole thing happen to me. Thanks once again to the PR people, cast and crew and everybody who were so kind and accommodating to me. And to George Andrew Romero: thanks for the “Dead” movies. They truly have made the world a more tolerable place to be. All the best, big man, and thanks for the “Land of The Dead” set visit. You gave me a gift with it I will never, ever forget.