In the mid-1970s, Richard P. Rubinstein had an assignment to interview director George A. Romero for the journal Filmmakers Newsletter. The two hit it off and decided to form a production company together. In 1977, they worked together on Dawn of the Dead, a zombie movie that would become a classic horror flick.
A new digitally remastered 3-D version of the film, overseen by Rubinstein, opens on Friday at the Capitol Theatre.
"[Romero] was chafing at the bit because he hadn't had the kind of authority or control over the movies that he had been making," says Rubinstein in a phone interview. "I had been introduced to the movie business overseas in Cannes where it was common or de rigueur that you treated a director with a certain kind of respect, and he got to call certain shots. George and I worked out a deal at that point. He would be the creative force and get final say; I would provide a budget. I had no interest in becoming a writer or director. I liked the idea of managing creative people."
Rubinstein says the two had an interest in 3-D films and loved House of Wax, the 1950s horror film that was the first color 3-D feature from a major studio. A few years ago, Rubinstein decided he'd try to retroactively turn Dawn of the Dead into a 3-D movie. He showed a snippet to Romero, who gave him his blessing. Unfortunately, Romero passed away last year and never got to see the final product.
"I tested it and showed it to George," says Rubinstein. "He said, 'Wow, does that look great.' That was enough for me to feel comfortable with going ahead. If he had said, 'That looks like shit,' I wouldn't have done it. I supervised [the 3-D conversion] frame by frame. I sat in New York and every week I got a thumb drive and I would look at it and make recommendations."
As an example, Rubinstein cites one scene in which a person slides down the runway between two escalators. In the original film, the person appears to land on the floor in front of the audience. In the 3-D version of the movie, the person appears to land in the middle of the audience.
"We just added a depth of field," says Rubinstein. "I went through six months of watching. It wasn't editorializing, but me being the audience and putting myself in their shoes. Not everyone will agree with me. If you don't like the 3-D, I'm the guy to come to and not George, posthumously."
Rubinstein says the appeal of the movie, which had a successful theatrical run upon its release and has remained a cult classic, stems from the fact that "George [Romero] has something to say.
"It was much easier to say things that were political in those days if you put them in the context of a horror movie," he says. "George worked it all in a way that was entertaining. You could look at the movie in more than one way. You could lean in and look for the nuances, or you could lean back and let it snowball you. It depended on which rollercoaster you wanted to get on." — Jeff Niesel