Walking Dead executive producer and director Greg Nicotero paid tribute to late filmmaker George Romero Friday night in a Q&A which followed a 3D screening of Romero’s 1978 zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead at Los Angeles’ Aero Theatre. In his capacity as a makeup effects artist and supervisor, Nicotero worked on several Romero movies, including 1988’s Monkey Shines, 2005’s Land of the Dead, and 2009’s Survival of the Dead. Romero passed away in 2017 at the age of 77 after a battle with lung cancer.
“I learned so much from so many people,” Nicotero said. “I feel like my style is really a mix of stuff I learned from Quentin [Tarantino], and Robert Rodriguez, and Frank Darabont. I loved [George’s] frames, the way that he set the camera up. John Carpenter said, ‘If you ever direct, always keep the camera moving.’ I was like, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ And then, George Romero was like, ‘Find your frame.’ So everybody has a very different distinct style…I think with George, he was such an incredible editor and a great writer. His scripts were really powerful to read and he loved editing…I always thought he was really good editor and [Dawn of the Dead] is really well edited.”
Nicotero reminisced about how working as the assistant of another special effects legend, Tom Savini, on Romero’s 1985 zombie film Day of the Dead led him to portray a soldier in the movie — and almost throwing up all over the set.
“In the original script, they find a head and the head is still alive,” he said. “It’s the head that doctor’s working on with the electrodes. When they started cutting the script down, George had said, ‘Well, that guy’s got to stay.’ So, Savini said, ‘Why doesn’t Greg do that? We’ll make a copy of his head, and then that’ll be the mechanical head that the doctor’s working on.’ And then, when the script got pared down, the gag didn’t really work without you seeing who that person was before. So, they said, ‘Oh, we’re going to give you a character.’ I’m not a terrible actor. I’m an okay actor. But — actually, I’m a terrible actor — but…they wrote a part for me.
“And one of the funniest days [was], there’s that one scene in Day of the Dead where they’re all sitting around…it’s a big scene where the whole group is there. And I’m supposed to be smoking weed…and I don’t smoke, so they brought me rolled cigarettes without filters on them. So, for like three hours, I was smoking cigarettes with no filter. I was f—king green. Like, I was going to vomit everywhere. And then they break for lunch…And I couldn’t stand up, I was so dizzy. And George walked over, and looked at me, and said, ‘Are you alright?’ I’m like, ‘I can’t stand up.’ And he laughed for five minutes….And he stuck his arm underneath me and was like, ‘Come on let’s go,’ and he lifted me up and took me to lunch. So that was how I got a part!”
Nicotero also confirmed that he approached Romero about directing on the Walking Dead, which was developed by The Shawshank Redemption director Frank Darabont, and followed the “zombie rules” established by Romero way back in his 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead.
“You know, we loved the idea of George coming onboard,” he said. “Frank Darabont and I talked about it after the end of season 1. And I had a conversation with George and I said, ‘Hey, man, would you ever want to come and direct?’ This was after we’d only aired six episodes. So, the show hadn’t really even caught on. And George said, ‘No, listen, you guys have your world, and I have my world, and it’s cool. I think he really was still intending on developing some other zombie stuff. So, he was like, ‘Yeah, that’s okay.'”
Watch the trailer for Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, above.