October 20, 2010 | By

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2008 marked the 40th anniversary of Night of the Living Dead, George A. Romero’s hugely influential horror film that spawned a new genre – the zombie film – and vivified the independent filmmaking scene by proving one could make a viable commercial film outside of the studio system using the smarts and resources already at hand.

While the media attention – in print, film, and the web – has generally focused on the film’s key players, what’s been ignored is the film’s impact on a local level: the folks that lived in the areas where the film was shot, and how it affected the indie scene.

2009 marked the release of Autopsy of the Dead, a documentary made by two ardent fans whose sense of personal curiosity and film history was strong enough that they too followed the attitude of Romero, and just made their movie.

Although both director Jeff Carney and producer Jim Cirronella were interviewed separately, their comments have been edited into a fluid narrative.



Mark R. Hasan: With so many featurettes and docs produced on Night of the Living Dead[NOTLD], what made you decide there might be stories that had been marginalized by fans and genre historians?

Jim Cirronella: Just before the 40th anniversary of the movie, they were announcing all kinds of events and theatrical screenings… It was pretty much the same people as before, which is great, but we just felt that there were a lot of other people out there, and before they pass away, it would be best to get those stories and preserve history.

That was really the idea behind the documentary. Getting all the stories from people that hadn’t spoken about the film before, because it was made in such a unique way.

Jeff Carney: I started getting interested around the time of the 25th anniversary, when they had the big zombie jamboree in Pennsylvania. When I started meeting some of the people there, cast members and crew members there, that’s really when I thought, ‘Someone should really document them.’ I think at that time only the 25th anniversary documentary had been made, and I thought there were a lot more stories to be told.

Jim Cirronella: If I could have gone to a convention and met 20 people from NOTLD and not the usual half-dozen people, including George Romero, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to track anybody down.

Why bother to track down the other 6 or 7 people that are missing if you could already meet everybody? Why bother to have a documentary with these interviews if it had already been done?

We kind of did like a companion piece to the other documentary; instead of talking to George Romero, who only remembers a certain amount of situations with this film because he’s had a long career, how about talking to the people whose only experience in filmmaking was this one movie?

Now, they tend to remember things a lot clearer and a lot differently, and it’s also more interesting to hear them talk about what George Romero was like at that time, what his strengths were as a filmmaker, and what he actually contributed to that film then to hear it from him.

Without a doubt, everybody always asks him, and he kind of brushes it off because it’s not terribly interesting to him. Who wants to talk about their first work that they’ve ever done? You want to talk about the latest thing that you’ve done. So that gives it a whole new perspective.

Jeff Carney: It was really important for us to go out and save their stories because there was something that we felt that was very important for future generations that wouldn’t get an opportunity to meet these people at conventions, or maybe would never have the opportunity to meet any of them because they would basically stay in the darkness and never come out and never… so we though ‘Now’s the time to do it.’

MRH: Was it hard to track down so many people, or did you find social and community ties helped you along the way?

Jeff Carney: All these people kind of spread out, and most of them really hadn’t kept in contact with each other, so it was very much a detective hunt on trying to find everyone. A lot of them were still in the eastern area, and we really had to hunt for them to find them. Some of them didn’t have listed numbers, and it took quite a while to track everyone down, but we did it.

Jim Cirronella: Because of the budget we had to limit what we could do in the Pittsburg and western Pennsylvania area. We were aware of a few other people that either live on the west coast or were several hundred miles away and we couldn’t include them in this one, but I’d say about 85% of everybody that we looked for, we found.

MRH: Were many of them open to talking about the film?

Jeff Carney: Most of them were really surprised that they were being contacted forty-some years after filming. We did 21 interviews, and the majority of those had never really talked about the film before, so they were astounded that anyone was even contacting them or would even interview them.

When we sat down with them, their initial response was ‘Well, we really don’t have much to say,’ but when you start talking to them, you start getting all these wonderful stories and memories coming out, and that’s what we really enjoyed doing. It was a lot of fun.

MRH: You visited a number of the locations. Was there enough information to track down whereabouts of the farmhouse, the roads, etc.?

Jim Cirronella:  We kind of already knew that. At least I did. Maybe a couple of years before my interest in NOTLD came back, I was travelling through the western Pennsylvania way a lot on my way to Ohio, and I was doing that trip maybe once a month or so, and I just started thinking, ‘Hey, I should visit those areas where NOTLD was filmed… I’m over here… Let me see if I could find where everything is.’

The cemetery is public property and is open to the public, but the other areas are private properties, so I didn’t want to disturb anybody… I started contacting people from the area and asked them ‘Hey, is it okay if I take some photos?’ and that’s how I found some of the people who were in the film.

Without a question, everybody involved with this film was friendly, and they liked talking about it and appreciated the enthusiasm… I don’t think they fully understand that this movie changed a lot of lives… Whenever this documentary is shown somewhere and we have discussions, I would ask ‘Out of everybody here, how many people did NOTLD change your life?’ and almost everybody raises their hand.

MRH: One aspect one gleans from the interviews is how the film affected the local talent pool and community citizens. I wonder if you have any comments on how the film influenced future filmmakers within Pittsburg and the state, and why seemingly everyone associated with the production remains staunchly proud of the film.

Jeff Carney: I think they were proud of the film for the simple reason it was a low budget independent film made out of Pittsburg area. At the time, a lot people in the area probably said ‘Yeah, sure. You’re going off to make a movie.’

I think [it’s] like Gary Streiner says in one of the interviews, ‘Sure, you’re going to go off and make a movie… Good luck!’ And then they went off and they actually did it, and they did it better than anyone had done up to that point, making a horror movie. It’s an extraordinary piece of work, and it inspired generations of people to go into the film business.

I know when I first saw it, I think I was 7 or 8. Bill Cardille had his show Chiller Theater in Pittsburg, showing horror films, and I was from Illinois, so we had Chuck Acri and the Creature Features that showed horror movies, and that’s where I saw NOTLD for the first time.

It scared me to death when I saw it because it convinced me Bill Hinzman was in my local cemetery, waiting for me, so whenever I went there with my parents to visit relatives’ graves, I was always on the lookout for Bill Hinzman.

But it was around the time I was 10 or 11 and started to get into filmmaking, and really was into John Carpenter at the time that I went back and saw NOTLD and realized what an extraordinary thing they did on such a limited budget in Pennsylvania, and how amazing of a film they turned out.

MRH: You mentioned Karl Hardman who, during the course of the documentary becomes a really interesting figure.

He started out wanting to be an actor, he had aspirations to work at RKO, and I guess when that didn’t work out, he decided to take an independent path, which is kind of rare for the time, and set up his own company with his wife (Marilyn Eastman) where they did a lot of commercial work during the fifties and sixties.

Jeff Carney: I think he always had in the back of the mind that he wanted to get into the film industry and wanted to do something, so I think that’s one of the reasons when the idea for NOTLD or “The Flesh Eaters” (which was the original title) came up from Latent Image, I think that’s probably why he jumped at the chance to do it.

He had been doing commercials, he was a very successful radio actor in Pittsburg, and that’s really what he was known for and all the commercial work he was doing. I think it was a chance for him to kind of go after one of his dreams, which was acting in a film.

MRH: Does Hardman Associates still exist, or is it long gone at this point?

Jeff Carney: It’s long gone. Karl sold the business (I think) in the early nineties. [The original studios] have been converted into office space; it’s been completely redesigned from how it looked back in the sixties and seventies. It’s actually a lawyer’s office now.

MRH: The basement that was used is in the Pitt Building?

Jeff Carney: Yeah, that’s right underneath The Latent Image. That’s the actual location. That’s the first time that Kyra had been back to the location since film.

MRH: The other thing I was struck by is the veteran talent pool that was used by the filmmakers.

Romero had a lot of gifted vocal artists, radio artists that went back to the early days of radio and live television, and in a way I think your documentary also presents a snapshot of the kind of media sophistication that developed in a lot of urban centers which helped ensure that television would be at the same technological level all over the place.

You had community news and local original programming, and they illustrate it wasn’t just New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles that had their own strong talent pools.

Jeff Carney: Exactly. It was a time when the news was still being shot on film… Now everything is shot on video, but then you had to do it the old fashioned way, and that was to shoot it on film, process it, and cut it on film. You don’t do that overnight. You have to really work at it to do it right, to do it good.

The people at The Latent Image were great at what they did, the people at Hardman Associates were great at what they did, and when you took all that talent pool and combined it for a low budget film, it’s not surprising to me that they were able to do it

I think the real story about the film – and it’s what any independent filmmaker should look at today – is they all focused on one goal, and that was to make the best film they could at any cost.

They really went out and they really worked together as a team to get that film made. At one point, Vince Survinski was on the verge of mortgaging his house to make sure they had enough money to get the film made right. That was the dedication they had: every person on that set when you talked to them were willing to do anything they had to get the film made, and they were all following the leader, which was George Romero.

MRH: Romero’s often cited in the interviews as the glue that kept the entire production together. There are cases where you have an independent film crew that comes to town, it’s their first feature film, and sometimes things don’t work out very well, and they leave the locals with a sour taste from the filmmaking experience.

With NOTLD, the community regarded the production as a positive experience: local news crews did their reports, and the local folks have souvenir snapshots that expand the archive of material to this iconic film.

Jeff Carney: They got incredible cooperation. If you asked [a news organization today] to bring their helicopter out to the shoot, they would charge you a fortune to do that. They got it for free, and [the news station] was more than happy to do it.

It was really a snapshot of a different time in America. Everyone was just interested in their project; they were willing to help them. They went out and got a lot of the customers that were clients from the commercial industry – Latent Image and Hardman Associates – to help them as zombies even.

When you have that type of support, and you have talent like they had, both in front of and behind the camera, only good things can come out of that.

MRH: I think the funniest commonality among the people you interviewed is that everyone wanted to be a zombie, which still continues today whenever Romero makes another zombie film. It’s funny to see that even in 1968, whether it was the sound recordist, an investor, or a housewife, they kind of wanted to figure out some way in which they could be a zombie.

Jeff Carney: Yeah, it didn’t matter if they were a businessman or owned a business, they just thought it was a great deal of fun to go out there and be a zombie and walk around and go after people looking for their prey.

Jim Cirronella: Some people didn’t really know what a ghoul was. As Bill Hinzman said, ‘The ghoul did whatever George needed the ghoul to do,’ you know?

If you needed to kill somebody, then they had to be killed. They didn’t think ‘We’re setting a precedent, and there’s going to be rules in this film that need to be followed in subsequent films.’ They didn’t care about any of that. I think it’s kind of like a goof, and that’s why I give those people who participated a lot of credit because there was no expectation that ‘I’m going to do this role in a horror movie.’

That’s what everybody wants now. Because of that film and because of the follow-up Dawn of the Dead, it’s like ‘I want to be a zombie in a George Romero movie.’ That didn’t exist then; they just thought this was great. Being in a movie made in Pittsburg.

MRH: Has George Romero seen Autopsy of the Dead?

Jeff Carney: I think he got a copy of it at some point…

MRH: Do you have another project in the works?

Jeff Carney: Yeah. I’m going to be working on a horror film, and I really enjoyed working with Jim on this so I’m sure we’re going to be doing something horror related in the future. I’m not going to pass up an opportunity to work with him again.




In Part 2, Jim Cirronella discusses producing the definitive soundtrack album of stock music used in Night of the Living Dead, and details of the little-known, long forgotten Capitol Hi-Q music library.

. would like to thank Jeff Carney and Jim Cirronella for their generous time in discussing their projects.

For more information on Zero Day Releasing and their catalogue, click HERE.

All images remain the property of their copyright holders.

This interview © 2010 by Mark R. Hasan


Related external links (MAIN SITE):

CD:  Night of the Living Dead (1968)

DVD/Film:  Autopsy of the Dead (2009) —  Night of the Living Dead (1968) — NOTLD: 25th Anniversary Documentary (1983) —


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