While I was away at college, my summer boss, Michael Spolan, had cut the trailer for George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead. After I graduated and started working for Michael full-time, George hired him back to cut the trailer for his next movie, Knightriders. If you haven’t seen it, it stars Ed Harris and we all loved the hell out of it.
George was visiting New York for meetings with his distributor and needed a place to make changes to his film, so Michael offered up his office and upright Moviola. He also offered his two assistants, me and his first assistant editor, my friend Ron Bochar. If you’re in the biz, you might know Ron’s name. He went on to cofound C-5, of the big sound studios in New York.
Because George was a night owl, Ron and I stayed up all night assisting him. Knightriders was the story of a medieval faire community of jousting bikers, working to do what they love. That’s how it felt for Ron and I to spend the night working for George. Pulling an all-nighter to help edit a movie seemed like the best thing on earth.
By the time George was ready to make Creepshow, Michael had become close friends with George’s producer. Their company, Laurel Entertainment, took office space near the Flatiron Building and Michael moved his offices to their floor. Ron and I got our own edit rooms.
But as soon as the offices were finished, George hired Michael to come to Pittsburg to be one of the editors on Creepshow. It was an anthology film, written by Stephen King. The idea was to have several editors working simultaneously on the different stories. Ron went to Pittsburgh with Michael because he was the first (and far superior) assistant. I held the fort in New York, coming to the office every day and writing a screenplay called The Adventures of Johnny Doo Dah on an editing bench with a view of the Empire State Building out my window.
Eventually it become wasteful for Michael to pay my salary and I was co-opted to work on Creepshow. My first job was on location in Toms River, NJ where I drove the actors, Ted Danson and Gaylen Ross, to and from the set, where they spent the day buried up to their necks in sand.
One morning I was waiting for them in the lobby of their motel, a rustic Jersey Shore dive, empty because of the off-season except for the Creepshow crew. George sat down next to me and we talked for a few minutes. The thing about George that made me (and probably most everyone) love him was that he smiled with his eyes. For a director who made horror flicks, he was the sweetest guy.
After this location was wrapped, Michael decided to bring me to Pittsburg as an assistant editor. The editor I assisted was cutting the sequence that Stephen King starred in. On the day King visited the offices in Pittsburgh, we were preparing tracks for the sound mix. He coopted an office near where I was working, so he could sit quietly and write. I was amazed by his work ethic.
After Creepshow I continued to write spec screenplays, hoping for a break, but not writing anything good enough to create it. At some point I got back in touch with George to let him know what I was up to and sent him one of my scripts. It was based on it that that George hired me to write the screenplay for a story he had the rights for: Apartment Living. It was about an apartment building in Florida, erected over the Fountain of Youth, which comes to life. It was funny and creepy.
Jim Baffico, an actor who played a cop in Dawn Of The Dead, was the producer who found the three million dollars to make the movie. But there was a catch: production had to begin by a certain fixed date. That fixed date was the reason George didn’t write the screenplay himself. He was busy working on Monkey Shines.
I thought Apartment Living would be my ticket out of my tiny New York apartment and my tiny copywriting life. But Monkey Shines had a problem with its titular star. Monkeys don’t really hit their cues and the production went way over schedule, crashing into our start date and making the three million budget go away. Apartment Living never got made.
This is yet another screenplay in which I still hadn’t learned how to spell the word yeah. But it gives me joy to see my name next to George’s on a title page.