George Romero's Land of the Dead:The Horror Channel recently conducted a superb interview with effects guru Greg Nicotero about the production of the film. During the course of the interview he revealed many tidbits on what to expect from Romero's vision for his the next chapter in his heavily culted zombie films which is being revisted almost 20 years after Day of the Dead first graced theater screens. Just as well, Nicotero talks about the whereabouts of Tom Savini in the production, plus much more. here are the highlights...
How did you get involved?
GN: Well, of course, my movie career began twenty years ago in Pittsburgh with George Romero on Day of the Dead. So I’ve always felt . . . not an obligation . . . but I always felt that George and Chris (Romero) and Tom (Savini) opened this tremendous door of opportunity for me, and I’ve always been really respectful and proud of the fact that they gave me that opportunity, and they’re such great people.
I’ve been friends with Tom since then, and I’ve stayed in touch with George and Chris ever since as well. And, you know, there have been a lot of incarnations of Land of the Dead that were floating around for a couple of years. At the same time, I was able to introduce George to people like Frank Darabont and Guillermo Del Toro -- I was trying to put all my friends together. So the idea for Land was around for a while, and no matter what anyone thinks of the Dawn of the Dead remake, the fact that the movie comes out and makes $60 million would show the most stubborn studio head that there’s a place for George’s film. It’s taken a little while, and George and Christine have really fought the good fight to get it made, and I couldn’t be happier to be involved in it. When I did my initial bid for the script, that was almost two years ago, so we’ve been talking about it for quite a long time.
Now, Tom and I have been talking about it for quite a long time as well because the first thing that most of the fans ask George is, is Tom Savini doing the special effects makeup? And the three of us have collectively talked, and I also agree that a George Romero zombie movie is not complete without Tom Savini’s name in there. Tom has become quite a good director, and he’s acting quite a bit, so we both looked at each other and Tom said, “Well, I don’t do effects anymore. I’m a director and actor, and I want to have a part in the movie.” So I said, ‘That’s cool, and meanwhile, you and I can consult on the effects and we can talk about gags.” And I’m sure there’s gonna come a day on the set when, for old time’s sake, we’re gonna hand Tom the blood syringe and say, “All right, Tom, show us where it all came from.”
So, when I told George that, he said, “Look, I want Tom involved in the movie.” And I said, “Tom and I have already talked about that, there’s no hard feelings, there’s none of that. Tom wants a part in the movie.” And George was like, “Done.”
THC: What’s your take on the script?
GN: The script has been probably gone through three or four drafts, and usually what happens is that you have a script, and as they rewrite it, it gets pared down and all the good stuff gets taken out. All of a sudden, it’s a skeleton of what it was originally supposed to be. But in this case, the script has gotten better. Every time George has gone in and done another pass, it’s gotten more of the Romero flavor. I can’t remember a time when that’s ever happened. I’ve read several drafts of this script, and it gets better every time.
It’s basically taking the idea of where we left Bub in Day of the Dead, where there’s a glimmer of intelligence and they’re not just mindless devouring animals. This movie takes that to another level. So a lot of the lead zombies are all gonna be cast and they’re gonna be performers, so we’ll get a lot of that sort of Howard Sherman performance, which really brought the character of Bub to life. I mean, he wasn’t just a guy in a rubber face -- people genuinely love that character.
It’s funny for me to listen to people talk about Bub and know that George’s movie is going to come out, and twenty years from now, there could be another iconic zombie that could be created based on George’s vision, the character, the makeup design, and the actor.
THC: Your job is to build on the first three movies, plus take into consideration everything that’s come after them, and strive for something new. So what’s your mindset and approach going into this project?
GN: We’ve been doing makeup designs and tests for a while. One of the things that we talked about is that even in Day of the Dead, there were different kinds of zombies: There were the character makeups, then the blue background ones, and then the old man masks. It never really felt like there was continuity between the three because there were so many different people doing them. So what we’ve talked about is changing the color palette. Dave Anderson did a great job on the Dawn of the Dead remake with gelatin and latex, making it look like the skin is sloughing off and peeling away, and the guys at Optic Nerve did a great job on Savini’s version of Night of The Living Dead. So our hope is just to make it look different. None of us want to see the same zombies, so we’re gonna try to avoid those looks and focus on character design for each one. We want to keep the real actors’ brows and maybe accentuate the mouth and cheekbones and chin a little bit, and we’re going into a very different color palette. Instead of the traditional blue-gray, we’re gonna maybe go into this sort of putrid yellow look. We’re really putting a lot of thought into it because it’s important to me that people remember these zombies as well in years to come.
We’re doing a lot of puppet heads; we’re doing a lot of mechanical zombies. We’re planning on doing a lot of stuff involving rig removal, where there will be guys puppeteering full body zombies, and we’ll erase the puppeteers out of the shot so that you don’t have to have digital zombies. You’ll have a live zombie there, operated by guys -- similar to the way that it was done in Army of Darkness, except that was prior to the rig removal concept. We want it to be something where you’re seeing every different kind of zombie there is. There’s gonna be Berni Wrightson-inspired, really gaunt, skeletal zombies with bone hanging out, and then there’s gonna be the more traditional types. You have to also remember that these things have been existing outside, in the sun, every day, so there’s gonna be peeling, leathery, black-looking skin.
George has been, as usual, so receptive to every idea. He’s liked everything we’ve shown him, so the project is completely open to whatever we can come up with. George really wants to see things that we’ve never seen before, and he really doesn’t want to have to rely on CGI stuff, so we’re coming up with a lot of concepts that we can do with mechanical makeups and prosthetics as much as possible. Nothing looks better than the real thing. Even if we digitally remove an actor’s nose, you always have to start with the actual physical (zombie) on set.