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The Void Takes an Exclusive Look at The George A. Romero Archival Collection at Pitt

Updated: Nov 24, 2021

**This Black Friday, Cinematic Void, Beyond Fest, and the American Cinematheque are screening DAWN OF THE DEAD at The Aero Theatre with star Ken Foree in person for a Q&A. Join us - tickets are available here. Enjoy the feature below!**

George A. Romero. Is there more of a God-like figure in the history of independent film? We thought that we really knew Romero from his massive body of work that consists of 15+ features. But it turns out there's a whole lot...and we mean, A LOT...more work from our hero that exists and sadly never made it onto the big screen. There's over 100 unproduced screenplays and treatments that Mr. Romero created during his lifetime, and now, thanks to The George A. Romero Foundation, all of these materials have a home at The University of Pittsburgh in The George A. Romero Archival Collection.

Read on to learn about these materials, to find out how you or anyone else can go and see them now, and to get a broader perspective on both Romero's prolific creative output and the dispiriting reality of the film business.

Benjamin T. Rubin, Horror Studies Collection Coordinator at Pitt and the Curator of The George A. Romero Archival Collection, joined us for an exclusive Q&A, which we're excited to share below.

Article by Eddie Gurrola, Cinematic Void Marketing Manager

Photos Courtesy of Benjamin T. Rubin / The George A. Romero Archival Collection at The University of Pittsburgh

Ben unpacking some boxes for the Archive

Cinematic Void: For the unfamiliar, how did this process start, gathering this collection? Can you give us a brief overview of how The George A. Romero Foundation (GARF) came to be, and then explain how The GARF differs from The George A. Romero Archival Collection at Pitt?

Benjamin T. Rubin: The Foundation was established shortly after George’s death. His widow Suzanne founded it as a way to ensure his legacy after he told her he didn’t think anyone would care about his legacy after he died. While his impact speaks for itself, her goal is to actively continue this impact, particularly in supporting not just continued visibility and interest in [Romero's] work, but also to support new independent filmmakers that could be the next Romero.

I am the curator of The George A. Romero Archival Collection, and I can speak more to the archive and the work we are doing at the University of Pittsburgh Library System. While Pitt does have a relationship with The GARF, and I am an advisory board member for The GARF, they are completely separate entities with differing goals.

A display from The George A. Romero Archival Collection, at The University of Pittsburgh

The Archive itself was contributed by three different sources – Suzanne Romero, his widow; Tina Romero, his daughter; and Peter Grunwald, his business partner. Suz was our first contact. She was interested in finding a home for George’s materials, and had a connection to the University through a faculty member. We met with her to discuss some of the details of archives here at Pitt and talk to her about our stewardship, including our efforts to use archives and primary source materials for instruction and teaching.

We apparently made a good impression, which then led to similar discussions with Tina and Peter. They eventually made a collective decision that the University of Pittsburgh Library System would be the right home for the archive. We, of course, were thrilled to have these materials here, particularly since [Romero] had such strong ties to Pittsburgh; and I personally was thrilled as a fan to get the opportunity to steward this collection.

There’s over 100 unproduced stories and screenplays, completed unseen films, props, artwork, and a ton more in this collection. How did you all at the Archive break up the task of sorting through all of this? What was the goal for the project that everyone settled on?

There is indeed a lot of material, and it does cover a range of topics. In the archives world, whenever we get new collections, we embark upon what we call processing. This includes inventorying, sorting, arranging, and describing the contents. And this is exactly what we did for this archive as well. Some of it was a bit difficult, since it did come from three different sources, but eventually categories emerged that made sense for how to sort and arrange the material. It then came down to doing [the] work, then describing the materials as we sorted. Ultimately, our goal is always to have the material arranged in a way that makes intellectual sense and is easy for our researchers to examine and identify materials to consult.

A couple shots of unproduced scripts and treatments

I had the privilege of watching your Zoom presentation of the Archive earlier this year. For our readers that did not get to see it, can you share some details of what’s actually in the Archive? I remember seeing a sneak peek of JACARANDA JOE, an unseen short film from the early 90s, scripts for a sci-fi western TV series, and plenty of other stuff. Can you give us some more details on what the Archive holds?

Glad you got to see the Zoom presentation – that was a lot of fun to put together! The Archive contains just over 100 boxes of paper materials, along with maybe another 20 other containers of oversize and prop type items, as well as about 3500 digital objects, which we are still working through.

The largest category of material is comprised of scripts. Perhaps the most surprising and interesting part of the collection is the sheer amount of unproduced projects – there are 114 and counting. Romero had an immense impact on horror and independent cinema, yet only a small fraction of his ideas ever came to fruition. As a result, the Archive really gives a window into his creative mind and the stories he wanted to tell. There are also some production materials that help inform the movie-making process, promotional materials, press clippings that give a window into the contemporary context of the films, and some props and realia.

There are some highlights for sure. There are early versions of scripts for the classic films. These really help shed new light on these old classics. In some cases, the original script differs vastly from the final film. It is really amazing to be able to trace the creative process and see the development of a film for which we’ve only ever known the final product.

For example, the original idea for MARTIN focused on a middle-aged man and explored the themes of vampirism in a completely different way than the film. The original LAND OF THE DEAD lacked the zombie army led by Big Daddy and ended with the explosion of Fiddler’s Green.

There is also just a wealth within the unproduced. Some of the more interesting finds were for projects that almost made it to production, but something went wrong at the last minute. It is interesting to be able to contrast these with other unproduced projects that might just be a single, short treatment with no other evidence of further work. It again gives this window into what could have been – whether it is just a seed idea, or a film that very well could have been part of the Romero canon, had just a few details gone a different way. Some examples are a haunted house film called BEFORE I WAKE that almost made it to production in the early 2000s versus a treatment called MONSTER MASH that would have been a television series about a M*A*S*H* style field hospital with the Universal classic monsters - which I would have absolutely watched.

We also discovered a lost short film called JACARANDA JOE that was made with a group of students at a community college in Florida. This was quite surprising, as we can’t find any evidence that it was ever shown or promoted, yet it was completed. And there is so much more – I cannot possibly read through every document in the archive, so it will be up to future researchers to continue to uncover discoveries.

A draft of the DAY OF THE DEAD screenplay

Before we continue this feature, we need to share some news. You can browse through a list of every single material that's in the Archive right here on Pitt's Library System site. Yes, we said that right. You can see a list of EVERY original draft, unproduced feature script, and production document that's in the Archive right now on the Internet. Go ahead and check that out for a couple hours. We've got the rest of the interview here for you when you're ready.

More boxes being unpacked...and we continue on...

Was THE AMUSEMENT PARK something initially found in the Archive? Can you tell us about how the movie finally got out there?

THE AMUSEMENT PARK was already known about before the Archive was collected together and deposited at Pitt. Knowing that it was largely an unknown or lost film, Suz wanted to ensure that it got back out to fans after George’s passing. This was the first big project for The GARF – to have the film restored and made public again. They ended up working with an outfit in New York called IndieCollect that does this type of restoration and remastering work. They cleaned up the film and made the 4K print that is now available.

A vintage ad for THE AMUSEMENT PARK

A group of us here in Pittsburgh organized a premiere of the restored film at a small, one-screen theatre in October of 2019. It was the first big screening of the film in almost 30 years and it was really amazing to see it up on the big screen and in a new and restored format. It was then shown at MOMA for an event in January 2020, with hopes to take it on tour to various cinemas across the country, but then the pandemic hit. Efforts were shifted and it is now available on Shudder, although cinema showings are still being organized.

Are there plans for a release of some of the other stuff mentioned above, like JACARANDA JOE?

Another lost project, IRON CITY ASSKICKERS, has recently been restored and released by the distribution company Cryptic Pictures (whose work is also part of the Horror Studies Archives.) It's is a short TV pilot about the underground, independent wrestling circuit. That's already out now for people to see. We’d love to figure out a way to also get JACARANDA JOE out there, but of course there are rights issues and such to work out first.

A promotional booklet cover for KNIGHTRIDERS

If I, some Joe Schmo off the street, came to Pitt and wanted to check out the materials in the Archive personally, could I do it? Or do I need to enroll in the college for that? Maybe I'll take the SAT again and get my act together if that's the case...

You do not need to be a Pitt affiliate to visit the Archive! All of our archival collections are open and available to the public for research. Access at the moment is a bit limited, due to the pandemic, but as restrictions continue to ease, we expect that we will be open as before.

We do ask that people make an appointment before coming though. Archives are kept in secure stacks, so you cannot come browse as you would with regular library shelves. When you visit an archive or rare book depository, you consult materials in a monitored, secure space called a Reading Room. We would also ask that you look through what we call the Finding Aid before visiting (Editor's Note: this is the same link we provided above that has a list of all the materials.) The Romero collection is quite large – trust me, you cannot look through it all in one day – so you would want to identify what materials you wish to see during your visit. You can use the Finding Aid to identify the box(es) you wish to see and we’ll have them ready in our Reading Room for your appointment.

A shooting schedule for THE DARK HALF

What’s next for the GARF and the Archival Collection at Pitt?

[For the Foundation,] I encourage you to check out their site for future plans. They continue to organize events and are working with the Salem Film Fest this year.

For the Archive at Pitt, we are continuing to expand the Horror Studies Collections. We have acquired a number of literary papers in the past year including those of Daniel Kraus, Linda D. Addison, and Kathe Koja, as well as documents for the Horror Writers Association. We have also put together the Horror Studies Webinar series, which we will restart in the fall. It will continue to serve as a forum to engage with authors and delve into topics within the horror genre.

And, of course, we continue to engage with our students and faculty to build horror studies as a discipline here at Pitt. This truly is the ultimate goal – to use the Romero collection as a foundation to build momentum toward establishing horror studies as an academic discipline in recognition of the significant social and cultural value of horror. And to make Pitt THE place to come study horror.

That's a very admirable goal, and we wish you all the best with it.

Here's our final question. As someone who's looked at another person's work in such a detailed and engrossing way, what type of perspective have you developed on Romero? Do you feel like you understand the man on a deep level? What are some of your personal conclusions about who he was and what he was trying to say?

Certainly digging through someone’s archives deepens your perspective. Two big takeaways come to mind for me though. One is the magnitude of his creativity. The man never stopped writing. I never expected to find over 100 unproduced scripts or treatments in this collection. So it's been illuminating to see just how many stories he wanted to tell, but also the breadth of the ideas. The scripts cover a wide range of genres and ideas, and very few include zombies, for which he was so famous. He definitely retains much of the social perspective and commentary in many of them, but you can tell he also just had fun writing. Some of the stories are quite silly, but clearly convey a love of just writing a good story.

The other takeaway is that he clearly was not interested in the business side of things. He was the creative mind and let others handle the business. This is apparent in that we have all of these scripts which cover his entire career, but most all of the production documents come from the material that came from his business partner Peter Grunwald. This might shed some light onto why so many of the films went unproduced – George focused more on creating than getting the projects made. But ultimately, the Archive really demonstrates the true legacy and impact that George had on horror, independent film, American popular culture, and cinema broadly.

Thanks to Ben for taking the time to work with us on this feature!

Want to develop your own perspective? Book a flight out to Pittsburgh and do some digging through the Archive for a couple weeks. We might see you out there!

In the meantime, you can get more details on The George A. Romero Archival Collection at Pitt by clicking here, and follow The GARF on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And again, this is not a drill - you can check out THE ENTIRE LIST of what's in the Archive right now by clicking here.

For those who haven't seen it yet, THE AMUSEMENT PARK is available to stream now on Shudder.

There's still more boxes to be unpacked...
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