My interview with Peter Schöfböck

Reposting this morning’s blog post from Peter Schöfböck featuring an interview I gave him a couple of months ago.

Commemorating the occasion of this group just having reached 200 members, here’s a little “exclusive” I hope you’ll all enjoy. A couple of months ago, I got in touch with Pittsburgh-based photographer Richard Burke who – as I’m sure most of you know – was on the Monroeville Mall set of “Dawn of the Dead” in January 1978 to document the filming for a local monthly lifestyle publication. After re-discovering the original negatives that had been stored away for decades (and partially deteriorated), Mr. Burke first made prints of his photos from that shoot available to the public in 2010 before collecting them into a book titled “Zombie Nights” (the amazing cover artwork for which was done by none other than our own Peter Johnson) earlier this year. Richard was kind enough to answer a few of my nosy fan questions in a little e-mail “interview” conducted this past January, which is published here for the first time (with full permission) in slightly edited/adjusted form.


PS: Can you give me a little background info on how you came to photograph the shoot for “Pittsburgh Magazine” in the first place?

RB: This is explained in some detail in “Zombie Nights”. I did a lot of assignments for “Pittsburgh Magazine”. I photographed District Attorney Richard Thornburgh, political rallies, Board of Education meetings, and architectural house tours. In some ways DOTD was just another underpaid assignment. I would only get paid for each photo that was actually published.

PS: In what issue of “Pittsburgh Magazine” did your photos ultimately appear? Both Pete Johnson and I would be very interested to know, because that would be a vintage DOTD collectible worth tracking down somehow.

RB: I believe it must have been the February 1978 edition but am not sure. I believe that I was on the set sometime in January 1978 right after the holiday shopping season.

PS: I understand that you spent two nights at the mall, is that correct?

RB: Correct. I was there for two nights. The second night I shot mostly colour slides and left early. The first night was mostly the scene at the fountain [involving “sombrero biker” Tony Buba and a store mannequin] that didn’t appear in the movie and action shots on the steps with David [Emge]. The shot with David on the steps was one of the ones used in the magazine.

PS: Apart from not being allowed to use a flash on your shots (which you mentioned in one of the DOTD Facebook groups not too long ago), were there any other restrictions for you?

RB: I was not to engage with the crew or actors. Romero and Gornick made this clear to me during my meeting with them at Laurel. I was not to shoot during a take. I was to stay out of the way of the crew and not to engage with the actors. This was all OK with me. I was the photographer, not the writer.

PS: In spite of those “directions” given to you by Laurel, you apparently still were able to meet some of the crew members and actors. What were they like?

RB: I met all the principal actors and Romero, Gornick, Savini, and Jeanie. Jeanie was bubbly and very friendly. Tom Savini was also friendly and chatty. Romero and Gornick were focused (pardon the pun), and as I said in my book I was told not to engage. I was a fly on the wall. I was able to talk to Tom and Jeanie while they were making up a zombie, and Savini explained his concept of goop and making ligaments.

PS: It has often been said that the general vibe on the film’s set was pretty relaxed overall. Can you confirm that? What were your own impressions of the shoot, in terms of how the crew worked?

RB: It was very loose and relaxed. The majority of the time in making a movie is spent waiting around. The crew is always working, setting up lights, taping down cords, changing film, reviewing the script, discussing the next scene. However, the cast and extras are mostly waiting around for direction. Keep in mind most of the extras did not have lines to memorize, although some required makeup retouching. So between takes they were sitting and waiting. It has to be quiet on a movie set, so there wasn’t a lot of chatting. No cell phones, no iPads; some had cameras, but people were cautious about shooting…film and processing cost money. So mostly they waited. The giddiness and excitement of 9 PM in the make-up area had largely vanished by 1 AM, and the extras began to look more and more like zombies.

PS: What were your own feelings about the film itself while working on the set, and/or in general? Did you go to see it when it first was released in 1979?

RB: It was fun. I met some interesting if not glamorous people. Growing up in Pittsburgh meant you were a fan of Bill Cardille and “Chiller Theatre”, and we all loved “Night of the Living Dead”. Was it as much fun as photographing Jane Fonda at a political rally? At the time no; it was exhausting, she was not. Was it more fun than riding a 100-foot crane in a steel mill taking pictures of blast furnaces? Hell yes! At the time it was just another assignment. Six months later I was no longer a photo journalist. I didn’t see the movie when it was first released. It was all about “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones” for me back then. In retrospect though I feel it was a great experience. I was allowed to be involved in a small way in one of the biggest cult movies of all times. It was “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” of zombie movies. I am grateful I was allowed to be there, and if I knew then what I know now, I would have taken much better care of the negatives.

You can purchase Zombie Nights as a trade paperback or kindle book by clicking here.

You can purchase prints and cards of the images in the book by clicking here.

Zombie Nights

Zombie Nights

Artwork (c) 2015 by Peter Johnson.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s