Long before director George Romero’s passing, his longtime producer and collaborator Richard Rubenstein started to work on converting their film Dawn of the Dead into 3D. Romero had seen the first seven minutes of the conversion and gave Rubenstein his blessing, nearly a year ahead of his untimely death last year. Now this latest version of the seminal zombie classic is finally ready for audiences this Halloween. I had the distinct pleasure of speaking to Rubenstein about the conversion process and his collaborative process with Romero.
Why return to screening of Dawn of the Dead after so long?
In the past few months, since George’s death, I have been acutely aware of the fact that 75% of the big fans of Dawn of the Dead have not seen it theatrically. They haven’t seen it on a big screen, which is the way I was introduced to it. I mean, I was the producer and I was there through all that, but in terms of being conscious of the big difference of seeing it on the big screen, as it was intended. I want to move further toward another objective which is the release of Dawn of the Dead in 3D.
With George’s passing I’ve been arranging for as many single screenings as I can. I’m not a distributor, but I think we’ve had north of 40 dates in the States and another 20 in the UK. I’m turning people lose to say their own goodbyes. Rather than creating a program, I’m having a one-at-a-time rollout. My ultimate objection is to expose people to the 3D.
George and I were always interested in that. We both loved House of Wax. When I met that director, André De Toth, he had a patch over one eye. Even without any depth perception he was a technician, and he understood what was going on and could see it in his mind’s eye. Through all of the years, we were interested in 3D.
A lot of George’s action is front to back. The characters don’t move side to side. That makes the film very 3D friendly. The natural composition of the shots works here. George was always more interested in shooting in 3D, and I was more interested in the audience perspective. As a producer, I think of the audience’s experience more often than not. George was always hearing over his shoulder, “They are going to love that.”
I went to South Korea and I found a great group of people that were outside Seoul. These people had just done a 3D adaptation of Cameron’s Titanic. They were top of the line, and they have enthusiasm. For six months I got a new delivery every week, put it into my 3D television, and gave them feedback. It was along the lines of, “This doesn’t look quite right. Can you move this further back? Can you separate this?” And then the next week I’d get something else back. I was playing the audience. What would people expect if they saw Dawn of the Dead in 3D? There is not a frame of that film that hasn’t been treated. Even the candlelight dinner scene has been made 3D.
I want to note that the 3D edition is exactly, frame for frame, the 2D edition that George cut and we released in April of 1979. Its running time is exactly to the second. I didn’t touch George’s movie.
The end of that long process was that [two years ago], at Beyond Fest, they gave me the opportunity to screen it. They had just put a new laser 3D projector in the Egyptian Theater. In October of 2016, they screened Dawn of the Dead in 3D.
How did the audience take it?
They were ready to take my head off. I was screwing with George’s movie. Over the years I’ve gotten a reputation for being protective. It took me 25 years to agree to a remake. I treated Zack Snyder like I treated George Romero; I turned him loose. We split up 30 years ago, and we worked together for 12 years. Out of those years came Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow, Martin; a lot of what I consider to be George’s best work. I believe I turned George loose in a way that was very productive, in that I left him alone. He and I had a deal. He took care of making the movie. I took care of the business and the finances. He respected my end of it, and I respected his.
Why are there still so many Dawn of the Dead fans?
It’s generational. There are now three generations of Dawn of the Dead fans. But they haven’t seen the film on the big screen. They all started in the video era. I had someone come up to me and say that he needs to tell his father about the 3D version. His father had taken him to see it in the theater when he was 13, and now he gets to take his father to see the 3D edition.