How George A. Romero Changed the Course of American Independent Film

George A. Romero is the true father of independent cinema.

Predictably, most of the memorials for the late great horror director George A. Romero focused on his influence on the zombie and wider horror genre.  Yes, he was important and influential in that area. But his legacy is much wider. More than any other filmmaker, Romero changed the course of independent film making in America.

Independent films have been around as long as movies existed. Indeed, in their infancy all early features from around 1912 were basically independent, before the Hollywood studio system rapidly evolved in the late teens.

Though the majors dominated moviemaking and distribution from their hub in Southern California, many independent filmmakers such as Edgar G. Ulmer, the idiosyncratic Edward Wood, African-American pioneer Oscar Micheaux and various ethnic cinemas flourished on the side. In 1955 Robert Altman was making industrial films in Kansas City when he was hired by a local businessman to make his first feature, the low-budget “The Delinquents” (later sold to United Artists, itself an independent company).

Herschel Gordon Lewis and others in the post-“Psycho” era, along with the more traditional Roger Corman, found success in exploitation films in horror and other genres that fed drive-ins and less sophisticated markets to some success.

But with “Night of the Living Dead” in 1968, George Romero accomplished something far beyond any of the indie outsiders had ever done. Most independently-produced films made outside of Hollywood were happy to make a small profit and gain marginal exposure.

Romero shot “Night” in Pittsburgh, where he had some success shooting commercials and segments for the then locally-produced “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.” With the support of a production company he managed to raise $114,000 ($800,000 in 2017 terms), a fairly risky venture with no guarantee of distribution, foreign sales, any…

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