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Greg Nicotero on "Diary of the Dead"

Greg, what is your role this time around on Diary of the Dead?

    Well, this production came up pretty fast. I got a phone call from Peter Grunwald and John Harrison saying that George wanted to do another zombie film, very different from what George is use to doing. He wanted to get back to his roots where it was a smaller, manageable crew and a smaller production, but gave him a little more freedom to be as creative as he wanted to be. So their plan was a four week prep and a four week shoot. Which is pretty crazy and pretty unheard of, considering the fact that most movies shoot for ten, to twelve, to fourteen weeks, depending on the film.

    We (KNB EFX) were in the middle of about six other projects at the time; we were doing "Grindhouse", "Hills Have Eyes 2", "Transformers", "Masters of Horror", "Prince Caspian"...we were really, really busy. So, there was some question as to whether or not we would be able to be involved or how involved we could be.

    Now, George and Peter both wanted me involved in the project and I wanted to be involved. I've had a loyalty to George for 22 years, so as far as I was concerned I would be willing to contribute in any capacity. So, they came up with a pretty good, mutually beneficial plan, which was we would design the look of the zombies and consult on a lot of the gags. Then I would basically hand pick a crew in Toronto that would execute the effects. A couple of names came up, all of whom I had worked with before. A lot of the guys that were on "Land of the Dead", on my crew, had branched out to start their own effects companies, Francois Dagenais and Kyle Glencross. I knew all of them and I knew that they all had different talents and all were probably up to the challenge. Kyle(Glencross), Chris Bridges, and Neil Morrill started a company called Gas Light Studios in Toronto. They were looking for their first break, their first show that could put them on the map. So I thought they were a perfect choice for the show because they were enthusiastic, talented, and I knew that they would go that extra mile because they were working on a George Romero zombie movie, which is really every effects guy's dream.

    So we(KNB EFX) came up with the basic design of the zombie makeups and I had some ideas that were inspired by some older films and some things that I just wanted to try to make them look different. My standard thing is that I always want stuff to look different. I don't want to ever see a movie and feel like 'Oh, we've seen those zombies before...we've seen those characters before', I always want to change stuff up. We came up with some pretty unique concepts that hadn't been done before. And I'm really proud of them because they are really pretty outlandish when you think about it, but very simple.

    So, we ended up consulting with the guys and they built all the effects. I thought they did a tremendous job. They had no time to do the effects and it was a limited budget. I was really impressed with them and I think they've got great careers ahead of them. So I was kept in the loop in terms of how the gags were changing and they would call me and ask me what I thought about a gag, basically as a consultant. It was the first time that I had ever really done that, usually I'm much more hands on. It was kind of an interesting scenario, something I'd never done before. I was really putting a lot of my confidence and trust in these other guys. If they screwed up I was going to look like an idiot because I recommended them. It was a little scary, but I had 150% confidence in them because I knew they would do a great job. All in all, everybody was happy. George was really, really pleased and I think they did top notch work.

How much has George's style changed since you first worked for him?

    Well, George's style always changes and always matures. The whole concept of this film was developed by John Harrison and George several years ago. I had heard initial talk about this being done as a t.v. series. The idea that you're with this group of people, shooting real time, as they come upon the realization that zombies are real. It's certainly a much different prospect than what George has done before, because you are really playing to today's audience. George has never really played to an audience before. He's made the movies that he's wanted to make. This film relies on people's knowledge of the internet and that kind of stuff. It's much more current and I think that's going to appeal to a lot of people.

Can you talk about John Harrison's involvement on the picture?

    John and George have always been a great team. I met John on "Day of the Dead" and we've had a great relationship. We've(KNB EFX) done a couple of films with John. We worked on his mini series "Dune" for the Sci-Fi channel and subsequently won an Emmy award. He was instrumental in spearheading the idea that we consult on the makeups, because there was a certain comfort level there. John knows my devotion to George and my love of the zombie genre.

Will there be CGI this time around too?

    Listen, there's always a requirement for a mix. I've said for a while that we would be utilizing a mixture of puppets, prosthetics, and CGI. A lot of the CGI effects that were designed in "Land of the Dead" by myself, George, and the guys at Spin(visual efx company) worked really well. They didn't feel digital, they felt seamless. To do a zombie head shot and blow part of his head away or do a blood splatter against a wall, and be able to add that later, instead of shooting that for real...it just makes sense to have the guy react and add the blood spray later. The plan was to always do a lot of that.

    In retrospect, looking back at "Land of the Dead", there were certain people who were not quite clear on that when we went into it. I always knew we would need a mix of that to pull those effects off and ultimately I thought they looked great. I thought "Land of the Dead' had a great feel to it and I thought the effects were great. I was really happy them.

What were your thoughts on how Land of the Dead turned out?

    I think it's a great movie. I remember the first time George showed it to me, I felt like I was watching a 40 million dollar film. It looked like a big budget zombie movie.

    I took Frank Darabont to a screening in Los Angeles and he loved it! The first thing he said to me was 'Let's get George on the phone right now, I want to tell him how much I liked the movie'. He was really satisfied and very entertained. I was really excited by that because it was a labor of love for me, as well as George. It was a hard project. It was challenging, we shot all nights for 3 months and everybody was tired. It was a rough shoot. But, I thought that the movie was great and I was really proud of what George did and I was proud of the makeup designs that we came up with.

    And it was nice to see the reviews and have the reviews talk about what a well crafted film it was and how creepy and effective the zombie makeups were. That was one of the things that was most important to me, was coming up with some original looking zombies that people didn't feel like they had seen before.

And finally, any words for the loyal fans over at Homepage of the Dead?

    I love Homepage of the Dead! I love the fact that they have such a great devotion to George. The majority of them support George 100%, always. And that is what keeps George making movies. He loves making movies for the fans and he really enjoys the fans. It's a great website and I go on it all the time. I'm a zombie fan too!

Interview by Lee Karr.

( Homepage of the Dead, December 2006)

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