One of the highlights of last month's American Zombie: George A. Romero's Film Revolution, the weekend-long event honoring the maverick filmmaker behind Night of the Living Dead, was when Romero himself chose the winning short film in the American Zombie Horror Film Contest co-sponsored by Creative Loafing and The Light Factory. During his opening-night appearance, Romero stated that he was pleasantly surprised at the quality of all five finalists. Yet the movie that earned his top vote was Robert W. Filion's See the Dead, in which a suburban woman discovers that her neighbors have all become zombies.
Taking time out from his busy schedule, Filion answered some questions to allow CL readers further insight into the moviemaker whose talents caught the eye of the zombie master himself.
Creative Loafing: First of all, how cool was it to have your film chosen as the winner by George Romero himself?
Robert W. Filion: The whole event was a surreal experience. I place so much time into everything I do that I see mostly flaws which I couldn't -- or lacked the energy to -- rectify. Of course, audiences differ greatly, and it just so happened that Mr. Romero enjoyed the final product. There were very few words in my head at the time, so I could barely form simple sentences. Being recognized by a great filmmaker is one of the high points of my filmmaking career. I feel so gratified, and it seems I may be heading in the right direction.
When you received your award, you dedicated the movie to both Romero and your mother. How supportive were your family and friends of your filmmaking aspirations?
Everyone has always thought me to be a quality filmmaker, and the support has always been there. Cindy, my wife, allows me to get away with a lot, and she graced me with the ability to use our house for the short. My career choice has never been questioned, and my slow success has not, to my knowledge, allowed anyone's perspective to falter.
Are you originally from the area?
I'm currently living in Rock Hill, and have been so doing since 1988 or so. You could say I am now Southern, though I was born in California, moved here from New York with my family and have no accent. I attended York Technical College, graduating with a degree in General Technology, emphasizing Television Production. The military helped put me through school -- coupled with a full-time job -- so that was a poor-man's solution to the film school dilemma. As it turned out, television and film are completely different career paths, mind-sets and utilize similar albeit different tools; however, I was able to salvage the majority of that education and apply it creatively to filmmaking.
Your movie was filmed in a Rock Hill neighborhood. Did everyone on that street know what was going on, or were some folks baffled by everything taking place?
That was my neighborhood, and some of the zombies were neighbors as well. During pre-production, I went up and down my street knocking on my neighbors' doors, asking permission to place corpses in their yards. Most were cool, some were not, and all were interested during the four shooting days, which included a Saturday and Sunday outside with up to 30 zombies in 100 degree-plus heat. We had to think quickly and creatively to make the most of bystanders during that time. I just didn't feel it was appropriate to ask kids to stop playing or riding bikes in order to vacate my shots -- it's a community, not my sandbox.
What aspect of making a movie do you find the most difficult?
Only ever financing. I have background with production management, photography, visual effects, makeup effects, editing, directing and sound design, so the majority of the obstacles I may encounter have already been thought of, or can be overcome with a few moments' pondering. Financing is the bane of my existence, and typically means I need to cough up a small sum. In the case of See the Dead, an impromptu corporate design project came up. I'd like it to be known that my group is currently avidly seeking financing ... hint, hint.
So what did you use to create the blood in your film?
My normal blood recipe is the classic Karo Syrup, food coloring and baby powder. David Plunkett of Plunkett Effects created the makeup effects for this, however, so his recipe may have varied a bit.
Which movies were responsible for helping you decide that you wanted to make films yourself?
My mom and dad would take us periodically to see big blockbusters mostly. Raiders of the Lost Ark and Clash of the Titans are the two that readily come to mind. The film which made me fall in love with the horror genre and want to make a mark on it was Creepshow. I remember well being disallowed viewing of that film, but sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night only to be frightened for months by "Father's Day" and "The Crate" [two of the stories in that anthology film]. I blame George Romero for permanently damaging my fragile nature and thereby turning me into a filmmaker ... yes, that sounds about right.
Are you presently working on any projects?
I'm finishing up work on a 10-episode viral Web series which will indirectly market a local company's new product. I'm also looking to direct a feature-length motion picture within the next year or so, hopefully to be produced in the Carolinas -- yet another hint, investors. My group is always looking at new endeavors, so other things will happen along the way.
To watch Robert W. Filion's winning short film See the Dead, go to CL-TV.