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AICN Exclusive: Capone chews it with George Romero in first extended interview regarding LAND OF THE DEAD!

Hey folks, Harry here with the latest scoop on AICN... Capone managed to have his guys twist the great Romero to answer his every question. He had Frank and the other Chi-Town Charlies wrestle this great man the second he heard tale of that Variety story, so... without further ado... Here is... Romero... talking about LAND OF THE DEAD, shooting soon!

Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here. As I mentioned here a couple weeks ago. a horror/sci-fi convention Flashback Weekend (www.flashbackweekend.com) will be hitting the Chicago area July 30-August 1 with the guest of honor George Romero joining us for the festivities. I mentioned a few of the film screenings lined up for this year's event in my last write up, but the organizers have just added to the lineup a screening of the remake of THE TOOLBOX MURDERS, directed by Tobe Hooper and starring another one of this year's guests, Austin's own Angela Bettis. Check out the web site for details on guest, screenings, etc. In the meantime, the hardest working man in the movie biz, the maestro George Romero, spent a few minutes to update us on a few of his projects, including a film many of us have been waiting most of our adult lives for.

Capone: George, you might be the most talked about director in the last week who doesn't have a movie coming out this summer.

George Romero: That's weird, ain't it man? Ain't it cool, I guess, right?

Capone: Was the way that the Variety article described the plot of LAND OF THE DEAD more or less accurate? And is it true there were some issues about using the phrase "...of the Dead" in the title?

G.R.: Initially we were negotiating with Fox to do this, and it just went on and on, about a year and a half, literally. One of those typical Hollywood negotiations. They wanted to call the new movie NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Their thought was that they were starting over, this is a new franchise. And I said, "I already made NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. Gimme a break over here!" At the time, my title of DEAD RECKONING, that the title I preferred, but apparently there's an old Bogart movie with the same title. So they said, why don't we call it NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD: DEAD RECKONING? They wanted NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in the title. I said, "Look, you can make reference to "Night of the Living Dead" all over the poster, why does it have to be in the title?" Turned out they wanted to own the franchise.

It turned out that Richard Rubinstein, my ex-partner, had unbeknownst to any of us registered NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD with the MPAA. There was a time when he represented that film, he was trying to get a three-film set with DAWN and DAY, so we had to negotiate with Richard to get it back. But it doesn't matter because of Mark Canton's new company Atmosphere. Mark was, by pure chance, was having lunch with my agent who was complaining about Fox. Mark said, "Let me see the script." He read the script that night, called me the next day with a deal. Not a development deal, but an actual deal. They said, we're shooting this movie. We just jumped on it. They are great guys over there. Mark loves movies. It's a great company to be working with.

Capone: You've been making come adjustments to the script over the last couple weeks, right?

G.R.: With them. They had a few suggestions, many of which were good ones. My partner and I wanted to go through the script again and clean it up, as well as making a couple of the changes that they wanted. In the end, the changes weren't very significant.

Capone: How old was the script your agent gave to Canton?

G.R.: I sent the first version of it to my agent two days before September 11, 2001. So the response we got, naturally, was "We want warm and fuzzy now." So then I took it back and sat on it a while. It wasn't until a year and a half ago, when you could see the aftermath of the post-9/11 mood. I wanted to build a lot of that mood into the film. I had changed it myself to reflect the idea of life after something terrible. The concept for these films has always been people attempting to ignore the problem and going on with life, and it became a little more meaningful in this post-9/11 fear of terrorism and all of that shit. The protagonists in this film are the guys who have to go outside the protective walls out where the zombies are.

Capone: So the Variety version of the story is more or less accurate? That the surviving humans are in a walled in city?

G.R.: Protected city. It's not walled in. I wrote it for Pittsburgh, so it's geographically protected by rivers. Pittsburgh is on a little triangle of land with two sides cut off by rivers and the base of the triangle, if you can imagine that, is very narrow. It's less than a mile across.

Capone: So the plan is to still shoot in Pittsburgh?

G.R.: I'm hoping. It ain't a done deal though. The city and state are trying to come up with some incentives to make it economically competitive with Canada. The producers are looking at Winnipeg and, get this, South Africa. Apparently that's where everybody's going these days.

Capone: I didn't know that South Africa was the Canada for filmmaking.

G.R.: It's one of them. They're off Bulgaria now.

Capone: But clearly shooting in Pittsburgh is your preference.

G.R.: I wrote the film for Pittsburgh. There's kind of a family thing with the other films. I would use Pittsburgh at least in a couple of shots in the film to establish that geography.

Capone: So if the protective means about this city of the living is water, does that mean your zombies won't be able to walk along the bottom of the rivers as we've seen in other films?

G.R.: I'm not sure if I should answer that, but I will say this: I had a certain scene in LAND OF THE DEAD written before PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN came out.

Capone: I wasn't even thinking about PIRATES. I was thinking of Fulci's ZOMBI 2, the one with the zombie versus the shark.

G.R.: I don't know that one. But most of the film's action is outside the city. The humans have this big armored vehicle they go out in loaded with big guns and shit. They go to all these nearby towns and hit the supermarkets and liquor stores for supplies. It's a little different than the previous films where the living would go out scouting for any survivors. They had enough supplies in those films. In this film, this is their way of life. They have these hard-ass guys that are volunteers and willing to take the risks.

Capone: It sounds like even in this small society in the fortified city that there's a hierarchy.

G.R.: Absolutely. The fat cats live in this one building called Fiddler's Green. All the peons live on the streets in squaller.

Capone: In terms of the nuts and bolts of LAND OF THE DEAD, is Tom Savini involved in this film at all?

G.R.: I don't think he's going to be in charge of the effects. Actually, it'll be one of his proteges, Greg Nicotero, who runs KNB that the producers wants. They want that kind of reliability and substance. Greg worked very closely with Tom on DAY OF THE DEAD, so I don't think there will be any animosity. I'd like to give Tom maybe one zombie character or a special appearance. But I'm also plugging for him to do a role. I have a perfect role for him, so I'd love to make that happen, but I don't have control over that this time with the bigger budget.

Capone: Since you brought up casting, has the production progressed that far yet? Is Atmosphere looking to get name actors or got with relative unknowns like you've done before.

G.R.: Of course, I'm plugging for that. I don't think I'm going to get away with it. I think two things are going to happen. I'm going wind up having to cast people that mean something to them. Obviously, we don't have the bucks for big stars, so I'll be saved from having to worry about that. There are a couple of people I'd love to get, Asia Argento being first and foremost. If I could get a couple people like that, I'd be thrilled.

Capone: So you're looking for relatively known people who are still affordable.

G.R.: Yeah, that's basically the idea. Asia is directing now, but she had actually agreed to do what was going to be my next film, DIAMOND DEAD. I just spoke to her a couple weeks ago about that.

Capone: Now that LAND OF THE DEAD is not with Fox, does that free it to be released unrated in theatres?

G.R.: No, that was going to be my second point. Mark Canton used to be the president at Warners, and I think still has some connections there. I think he's hoping that they'll distribute it. Although the film is financed. He has a company called The Wild Bunch in France, and they're co-financing. They're not waiting for distribution; they're just trying to make a good deal. So yes, I'm going to have to release it R-rated, but they want me to shoot it they way I want to. And if there are scenes where I can't cut some of the gore out, I'm going to have to shoot a softer version. But in Japan and later videos and all that shit, they want the hard stuff. I'm satisfied that I'll get the make the movie I want. I'm hoping fans will go see it anyway, and then go check out the DVD.

Capone: Get them at least twice that way, right?

G.R.: Twice? If they keep bringing out these new DVDs of my old movies like DAWN OF THE DEAD, or new material on NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD "With new material!" What? I didn't shoot any new material.

Capone: It seems there's one of your zombie films is reissued every year on DVD, and I keep buying them. When we met a few weeks ago in Chicago at the Movieside Film Festival, the remake of the DAWN OF THE DEAD had just been out and you made it pretty clear what your feeling were about that. Was there anything about that film that you though was a great idea that you wish you'd done?

G.R.: It's still hard for me to get past the idea that the zombie were running around. They are supposed to be dead and all messed up. The thing that I liked the most was the guy across the street in the gun shot, who the people in the mall communicated with with signs. That was a neat idea. We put the gun shop right in the mall, which is very improbable. There are no gun shops in malls. I always felt a little weird about that, that it was a bit of a cheat, but we did it anyway. Fuck it. But really nothing else. I felt it lost it's reason for being. It lost the satire, the whole consumerism thing. It doesn't mean anything anymore. Having said that, it was better than I'd expected it to be. It was a hot action flick, but in my mind that's all it was, an action flick.

Capone: So you didn't have love for the zombie baby?

G.R.: I don't. I kept thinking, How can that be? I didn't get it. I guess if the baby died in the womb, it would be born dead. I may have been prejudiced because Jack Russo, one of my old guys from the original Image 10, made something called CHILDREN OF THE DEAD, which was about all these zombie kids being born. But in the remake, I just didn't like it. For of all, you can see it coming. That wasn't one of the high points for me.

Capone: Does it put you in a strange place to realize that the popularity of films like the DAWN remake or 28 DAYS LATER, which I know isn't a zombie film but it gets lumped in with them, have generated a new interest in these types of movies and given you a chance to direct your long-awaited, long-delayed fourth Living Dead movie?

G.R.: I think that was more true when I was negotiating with Fox, because Fox Searchlight released 28 DAYS LATER. But not Mark Canton's group. The president of Atmosphere is a guy named Bernie Goldberg, who is a Pittsburgher. He's into it as a fan and as a guy from Pittsburgh. In this case, the dig it for what it is. And they're not making me have the zombies run.

Capone: In looking at your films over the years, particularly ones that you've written, you always come back to the theme of individuals who live in their own minds or small groups of people who are forced to live, survive, exist on their own.

G.R.: Well, I've never been able to afford big groups...

Capone: True. But perhaps better than most, you've managed to successfully capture that solitary man or societal microcosm. Where does that come from?

G.R.: I was the spic kid who was getting beat up by the golden guineas in the Bronx, so it probably comes a little bit from that. I felt like that guy. I had to be past the gang on my way home from school. So there's some of that, but isn't that also just the way most people feel? You feel like a faceless member of society. That's really what BRUISER was about, loss of identity, finding a way to be seen. I almost give the guy in BRUISER points finally standing up and striking back. I'm sure that some of that comes from the anger of growing up an outsider. I was very weird for me, because me dad was Cuban and his family was from Spain and they went to Cuba and bought a hotel there. They thought of themselves as Castilians. And my dad probably had more a prejudice against Puerto Ricans than our Irish neighbors. So on the one hand, I saw that shit, which I thought was wrong; on the other hand, I was identified as a Puerto Rican on the outside, so I guess I felt like "Can't we all just get along?" like Rodney King said.

The NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD thing, though, I basically ripped off from Richard Matheson's I AM LEGEND, which is really the "Man Alone." One of the movie versions was THE LAST MAN ON EARTH. I didn't think he dealt with the idea of revolution, it really was the man alone in an unexplained situation. I also have always liked the monster within idea, the Jeckyl and Hyde thing. I like the zombies being us. Zombies are the blue collar monsters.

Capone: Although, according to reports about LAND OF THE DEAD as well as the DVD commentary for DAY OF THE DEAD, it sounds like the zombies get smarter and evolve somewhat.

G.R.: They have been. The last zombie you see in DAWN is holding a gun with some familiarity. And of course, in DAY OF THE DEAD there's Bub. In LAND, I'll have uber-Bub and a couple others that make it clear that the zombies are getting it together a little bit. They're still stumbling around, but they are developing a bit and there's more memory.

Capone: Back to the theme of isolation, the man alone. Do you feel that way in the movie business?

G.R.: In the Biz? There's some of that too. That's what KNIGHT RIDERS is about. That was really my ode to trying to do it right and not being able to get it through people's heads. I don't feel embittered at this point. It's all about telling the tale, trying to get people to understand and stick with it, finding a way to work through the politics and the bullshit. I'm not trying to discourage. I'm trying to show that if you can keep it together, you can find a way. I've had a tremendous amount of luck, despite all the frustration in my "blue period"I've been able to stay at home, raise a family and live fairly comfortably, not wealthy by any means.

Capone: You mentioned when you were in Chicago about scripts you'd written in the 1990s, like the first draft of THE MUMMY...

G.R.: Yeah, also GOOSEBUMPS. We had this other project called BEFORE I WAKE, which went from New Line. We had a deal at New Line, and they just never made a movie with us. We got this property out of there when we left and MGM picked it up, we developed it, rewrote it, all the other bullshit. They didn't do it. We'd gotten the greenlight right at that period to do THE MUMMY, but MGM wouldn't less us out of our deal. It came down to 12 days, they wanted to hang onto us for 12 days, and then they ended up not making BEFORE I WAKE, and we wound up losing them both. They started to piss at each other, the two studios. Then Chris Columbus picked it up, and we wrote more drafts and got it together. But by then, there was so much money against the project, something like $3 million or $4 million spent. It's still one of my favorite scripts. I think it went back to MGM at some point. Maybe someday...

Capone: In the meantime, not counting LAND OF THE DEAD, you've got a couple other projects that are fairly far along in preproduction. Until recently, DIAMOND DEAD looked like it was going to be your next film. And where does THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON [based on the Stephen King novel] stand?

G.R.: That is still very much alive. Both of them are very much alive. In fact with DIAMOND DEAD, they basically have the money to do it. The only question is, can they wait for me? We're going through that right now, or do they need to use somebody else? I think everyone involved would like to have me do it because of the "Dead" issue. As for TOM GORDON, that's an adaptation I did of Steve's novel. Steve loves it, I love it, we really want to do it, but it's not an obvious thing for either one of us. But that looks very good for us too.

Capone: At least critically, it seems to be King's non-horror stories that adapt the best into films: SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, STAND BY ME, GREEN MILE.

G.R.: But not necessarily at the box office.

Capone: True. Have you even gotten as far as considering casting of the little girl in TOM GORDON. Dakota Fanning would seem the obvious choice.

G.R.: We had her lined up, but that blew up after she was in MAN ON FIRE. She signed with a new manager who basically told us bye-bye. They're looking for an Oscar role for her. So that blew up. But there are still some wonderful child actors out there. That younger girl from IN AMERICA would be sensational. Be that as it may, I have real high hopes for both of those projects.

Capone: When is Atmosphere shotting to get LAND OF THE DEAD in theatres?

G.R.: I don't know about release dates. I know they want to start shooting in early October. I hope they don't try to get it out next summer. I'd hate to go against the big blockbusters, but they probably will try it and lose by it, but you never know.

Capone: Are you going to have to dabble in the realm of computer generated effects for this film?

G.R.: Yeah, but we're still going to do all the zombie stuff practical. But I have a big sequence that needs CG, a bridge collapse.

Capone: Is that your first use of CG?

G.R.: I've used it. The birds in DARK HALF. We did some little stuff with it in BRUISER. Just enhancement. But nothing to this scale. I'm going to have to do a little changing of the scenes. With DAY OF THE DEAD, we used matte paintings; now it's all computers. I'm not afraid of it. I certainly don't plan on overusing it. But there's a sequences that's going to need it because we can't collapse a real bridge. They won't let us do that.

Capone: I'm not sure if you were told that when you're in Chicago for Flashback Weekend, there's also going to be a DAY OF THE DEAD cast reunion, including Anthony DiLeo, Gary Klar, Lori Cardille, Joe Pilato. You, Lori and Tom Savini did a great commentary on the DAY OF THE DEAD DVD.

G.R.: That was a lot of fun.

Capone: And you've done a new one for the DAWN OF THE DEAD mega-DVD that Anchor Bay is putting out later this year, correct?

G.R.: Yes, we did sit-down interviews for a new documentary and also a commentary. I'm really looking forward to that documentary because they go everybody to participate. That should be fun.

The other thing I've got going on is that I've got a comic book coming out that I wrote. DC Comics called me up. They are doing a series called Toe Tags, limited-edition, six-issue storylines, eventually put out in bound editions. The illustrations are great, a guy named Tommy Castillo did the artwork. The plot once again revolves around a dead world. I'm not sure how much I can talk about it. I know there's some stuff they want to keep under wraps. I believe they're going to have advance copies out later this month. I think the first issues comes out in October. It was really fun, man. It was really liberating because it's a longer form than a conventional script. You don't have to worry about, shit, how am I going to shoot this? You just have to be able to draw it.

Capone: Well, enjoy your time in Austin, and we'll see you in Chicago.

Capone

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