June 21, 2019 Interview – Tina Romero
To many, George A. Romero is one of the most influential pioneers of the Horror film genre and the father of the zombie film, but to Tina Romero, he is more, he is dad. The only daughter of the late great filmmaker, Tina grew up in a household where the imagination was nurtured, hence the blossoming of her own creative impulses. Having fond memories of her father and the time they spent together, Tina was featured as an actress in a list of his films, but later on would go on to fulfill her own muse for movies and music.
Becoming a successful DJ, going by the stage name DJ TRx, her work has been well-known in the New York City LGBTQ nightlife community, and now she is eyeing to write/direct her own Living Dead feature! Affectionately titled Queens of the Dead, the idea is wholly Tina’s as she has big ideas in the works for her debut feature film that will not only honor her father’s legacy, but create her own. Excited about everything happening, the busy filmmaker/DJ recently sat down to talk about growing up with George A. Romero as her dad, her love for music, her concept for Queens of the Dead, plus much more.
Cryptic Rock – Choosing a career in the arts, you have worked as a DJ and also a filmmaker. Growing up around film, what inspired you to choose your artistic path?
Tina Romero – My dad was a project guy: when he wasn’t working he liked to unwind with puzzles, crafts, and (lucky me) by indulging his daughter’s creative whims. He taught me how to emboss with rubber stamps, draw 3-D lettering, use a camera. When I was really young, I’d tell a story and he would illustrate it… he helped me make video letters to my friends when we were travelling for a shoot. When I read “The Hobbit” in 4th grade, we made a Fodor’s Guide to Middle Earth. When I wanted to put on a musical review set to the theme songs from the “Disney Afternoon,” he helped me make a “Talespin” airplane costume that hung around my waist with suspenders.
We would get lost together in a creative playground and time would fall away… these were my first experiences of “flow.” Effortless, energized focus toward the end goal of, as Stephen Sondheim so perfectly articulated, “finishing the hat.” “Look I made a hat, where there never was a hat.” I’ve been driven by the desire to do exactly that since I can remember. I’m also so lucky to have parents who never discouraged me from pursuing a creative path.
Cryptic Rock – It seems like you are certainly following the path you should be on, and it also sounds like your mom and dad were huge influences. Tell us about the music: what lead you to start DJing?
Tina Romero – I‘ve always been obsessed with music – shazaming songs in the grocery store, asking bartenders about what they’re playing, attending live shows, making mixes for friends & parties… I had often flirted with the idea of DJing, and one day I just decided to go for it. I taught myself how to use the gear and started spinning house parties for anyone who’d have me. Eventually I landed my first residency – a party called “Confession” at Mission Dolores in Park Slope – where I played every month for three years. That’s where I really honed the chops.
Having a diverse knowledge of what’s out there is key when it comes to keeping crowds on the dance floor, and for me, it doesn’t feel like work to pay attention to what’s happening in the music world. I’m always hungry for new jams. What I didn’t see coming is how DJing would complement and expand my creative process. It means something much deeper to me now.
DJing is connected to film-making in that I’m taking people on a ride. I aim for there to be a “story” in my sets. Not necessarily a narrative, but an intentional unfolding of tempo, genre, key, and overall vibe.
Cryptic Rock – That all makes perfect sense. You can love something, it starts as a hobby, and takes over into something much more.
Tina Romero – Yes, definitely. I have two sides: the shy, prefer-being-behind-the-camera side that tends to dominate my day to day. And the ballerina-excited-about-Nutcracker-season side who loves to perform…and she has found a new outlet in DJing. DJ TRx, pronounced “Trix,” is my alter ego; my Ziggy Stardust, my Sasha FeircE. She helps me unlock new levels of self-expression.
Cryptic Rock – That is great. In film, you have taken on your own projects, but you did have some roles in your dad’s films when you were younger. What was that like?
Tina Romero – I love being on a movie set. It actually feels homey to me… I was so young when I heard my first “rolling bell”… now it’s one of my favorite sounds in the world. The energy on my dad’s sets was always familial and fun, but people were also there to work hard.
I had a small speaking role in the beginning of The Dark Half (1993) – I was eight. In the scene, I’m walking to the school bus with young Thad Beaumont, who doesn’t know yet that he has this unborn evil twin in his brain. He collapses and I run to get help from the bus driver. I was so sick on the day we shot… like vomiting into a ditch on the side of the road sick. My mom took me aside and said, “Tina, there are 20 kids on that school bus who would kill for this role, you have to pull it together and deliver.” (Laughs) Needless to say, I did it… and learned how the show must always go on.
Sure I saw some twisted shit: severed torsos, bloody bullet squibs, a soundstage lined with hundreds of caged sparrows… but I never felt scared by any of it. Probably because I was with my Dad, and he acted so normal about it all. Often even giggled about it.
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) That is a great memory to have, though. Your father made a lot of legendary Horror films including 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, 1978’s Dawn of the Dead, 1985’s Day of the Dead, etc. These films paved the path for Horror films and, in fact, we would not have The Walking Dead without them. Being that this was your dad, do you ever remove yourself and see the impact his work had?
Tina Romero – Yes definitely! To a degree, I’ve always understood the value of my father’s work. Especially as a student of film… let’s just say he’s popped up on a syllabus or two over the years. His impact has become increasingly clear to me since he died.
This past February, BAM Cinema hosted a complete George Romero Retrospective – it was the first time since his passing that I watched his movies on the big screen alongside a public audience… and the screenings were sold out. To a crowd of all ages. In that theater, I emotionally understood that my Dad’s films would outlive him and the conversation he started in 1968 will never stop.
Cryptic Rock – There have been stories coming out that you yourself are working on a feature. What can you tell us about it?
Tina Romero – It’s true – I have a couple features in the works. The project that seems to be generating the most buzz is my first foray into the zombie genre: “Queens of the Dead.” It’s a fusion of my two worlds – zombies and queer nightlife. I can’t say too much yet, but what I can tell you is that this film will have all the Romero hallmarks: farce, politics, heroes, assholes, and most importantly – herds of silly and slow-moving walkers that you can’t help but love. I’m doing it Tina-style, and bringing the glitter, choreography, queers and queens.
Cryptic Rock – Very cool, and Queens of the Dead will be your debut feature. It seems like you have the same self-starter instinct like your dad.
Tina Romero – Yes, I think art is in the doing of it. Getting into a cold swimming pool – now that’s a different story. Could take up to an hour.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. Seeing you have a lot going on with music and film, what are some of your favorite genres of music?
Tina Romero – I shamelessly love the mainstream as much as the underground, and I always have to start this answer with my undying love of the Hanson Brothers. They’ve been doing it for me since MMMBop in ‘99. Their new album, String Theory (2018), is amazing. I’m an open format DJ – my set span genres from DancePop, Tropical House, Disco and Funk, to Afrobeat, Hip-Hop… is Beyoncé a genre yet?
Some other artists I love: Tierra Whack, Jon Bellion, Chance the Rapper, Tove Lo, Sweet Jeeeesus, NEIKED, Kim Petras, Jess Glynne, Mø, Hot Chip, Ingrid Michaelson, Broken Social Scene, Coco Rosie.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like you have a diverse taste in music. Last question for you, what are some of your favorite Horror films?
Tina Romero – I love what Jordan Peele is doing. Get Out (2017) and Us (2019) are both so fresh and yummy. Also, Jaws (1975), The Descent (2005), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), and Touch of Evil (1958).