As a teenager in the Bronx, George Romero was arrested for lighting a dummy on fire and throwing it off of a roof.
It wasn’t an act of vandalism; it was a stunt for “The Man from the Meteor,” his first film. Years before releasing “Night of the Living Dead,” Romero was honing his moviemaking skills at home.
Now, four years after his death, the George A. Romero Foundation wants to help other budding directors (without the police getting involved).
The nonprofit organization recently partnered with Film Camp in a Box, a Canadian company that provides film equipment rental and mentorship to young cinephiles.
To put a scary spin on the program, the foundation launched a contest called Screams in a Box, which is open to local students ages 9 to 16, and running through Oct. 17. Participants are challenged to write, film and edit their own Halloween-themed movie (and give a nod to Romero during it). There’s no maximum length, but films should be at least five minutes long.
Parents can register their kids online and pay a $150 fee to have a box delivered to their door. The package includes a MacBook, HD camera, tripod, boom mic, green screen and a terrifying prop. Participants will also receive up to seven hours of on-demand, live mentoring from a professional filmmaker.
Kids have 60 hours — a whole weekend — to deliver their horror flick.
A panel of judges will review the entries. The top five movies will be shown (and a grand will be champion named) during a virtual celebration on Oct. 30. Additionally, the top three directors will have their films screened at the Salem Horror Fest in May 2022.
The foundation has pledged to fund 15 students or small groups to participate from the Pittsburgh area.
Jeff Whitehead, a North Hills resident and the foundation’s chief operations officer, says the organization plans to make Screams in a Box an annual contest.
Last year, the foundation held the contest in Toronto, where Romero’s widow and foundation President Suzanne Desrocher-Romero lives. The 2020 winner was “Whispers From the Dark” by 13-year-old Cooper Giamov.
No dummies were harmed in the making of Cooper’s film.
Not long after Romero’s run-in with the law, his uncle bought him a Bolex camera, which he used to shoot two movies. One of those films is lost, but the other — “Romero’s Elegy” — will soon be restored and released.
Screams in a Box is a fitting eulogy for the man who told stories through the cinematic lens.
“I think George would’ve loved it,” Desrocher-Romero says of Screams in a Box. “It’s a perfect way to get kids involved in media literacy and get their creative juices flowing.”