Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker: George A. Romero

A legend of the horror genre, George A. Romero has been scaring audiences for more than 40 years with his unique brand of socially-conscious fright films.

Here, Romero shares 10 lessons he’s learned during his career.—Andrew Gnerre

1. Show, don’t tell. First drafts of my earliest screenplays always came in at 300-plus pages. I used to think that a thought unwritten was a thought lost. I learned that new and better thoughts come once you’ve had a chance to think about what you’ve written and then—rewrite. My producing partner, a wonderful editor, taught me that thoughts on the page should be precise and well-contemplated, or they wind up wasting time and money.

2. Time is money. So be prepared when you walk on to the set.

3. Know as much as you can about every crew member’s specialty. You will better appreciate a good job, and you won’t be ripped off by a DP who requisitions an outrageously expensive equipment package.

4. Computer graphics should be thought of as tools. Use them to save time and money, rather than just because you can.

5. Don’t forget to make the movie. Epics such as the most recent King Kong and Avatar are feats of magic. But as I watch them I keep asking, ‘When’s the movie going to start?’

6. Don’t point a camera at an angry monkey or a smiling Amish man. Both will bite you… or someone on your crew. Who needs the headache?

7. Always remember that in the old days, moviemakers like John Ford made (in some cases) upwards of 200 films. You will never achieve Ford’s level of experience. If you’re lucky, you might get to make a movie. If you’re very lucky, like me, you might get to make 17 of them. No one today is sent into the badlands to make three movies in three weeks, and that’s too bad. Because the badlands insist that you become a quick study.

8. Shoot, shoot, shoot. Even home movies. Whenever you have the opportunity to look at life through an eyepiece, do it. Connect visually to what you’re shooting, as your audience will. I’ve learned as much about how a viewer’s eye moves from filming my kids on the Dumbo ride at Disneyland as I have on any professional set.

9. Collaborate, don’t dictate. Every department head has something to offer. Listen and gratefully accept their offerings. They’re moviemakers, too.

10. Know when it’s finished. If you’re in the cutting room and an editor who you trust (I trust and love mine) says, “Sorry, we just don’t have that shot you’re looking for,” call it a day. You can greatly reshape a film in the cutting room, but you can’t spin gold out of straw. And sometimes all you have in the can—through nobody’s fault but your own—is straw. So once you’ve made the best straw you can possibly make out of the hayfields that you pointed your camera at, be satisfied and say to yourself, in the words of Sondheim, “Look, I made a hat… where there never was a hat.” MM

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