George Romero talks about Land of the Dead
This appearance has been minimally promoted, the evening is chilly and wet and Romero arrives well ahead of schedule. Thus, fans and autograph seekers are (temporarily) nowhere to be found, providing the opportunity for the director to discuss his upcoming film projects, interrupted only by the screams and shrieks from the nearby haunts. Romero is, as reputed, congenial and forthcoming throughout the dialogue. He is absolutely the embodiment of the “regular guy,” devoid of the pretenses one might expect from someone of his stature.
The first order of business is, of course, the long-mooted fourth in his zombie trilogy. Undead fans have been waiting nearly 20 years for a follow-up to DAY OF THE DEAD, and rumors began circulating back as far as 1998, with the latest buzz that a script has been making the rounds for backing. Romero advises that this film, currently titled LAND OF THE DEAD, is definitely an active project, but it has no set production date and its fate is still uncertain. Among Romero’s three active features, LAND is the furthest from production; he has an agreement with Fox Searchlight (which scored this past summer with the zombie variation 28 DAYS LATER) to write and direct LAND, but this is still tentative. “I have other possibilities if Fox drops it,” he notes. “I have interest from another place.” Romero also reveals that John Carpenter may be involved: “John would like to produce it or do the music.”
Searchlight’s current concern is that the budget may be too steep, and Romero may have to compromise his original script. “Right now it’s pretty expensive, and it might be another situation like DAY OF THE DEAD where I have to drop it way back, scale it way down, in order to get it made. Everyone’s so afraid.”
A rights dispute is also delaying progress on LAND. “I have to do an arbitration with the MPAA over the title, and I don’t know how long that’s going to take.” Romero elaborates that Richard Rubinstein, his former business partner at Laurel Entertainment, has registered the title NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD with the MPAA, despite the fact that Rubinstein did not form his relationship with Romero until long after the original NOTLD. Romero only recently joined the MPAA and is unsure when the arbitration would occur. He confirms that “that’s what’s hanging [LAND] up right now.”
The army of Pittsburgh zombie wannabes counting on appearing in LAND, should it reach production, should pack their bags and perhaps prepare their passport for a trip to Canada, where Romero filmed BRUISER. Regarding the prospect of shooting in Pittsburgh again, the director says, “I don’t know, I’d love to… I wrote the zombie films for this area. You know, all the locations and everything were here,” but now, “It’s just too expensive. The crews aren’t here anymore. So it’s tough.”
Romero adds that while he definitely won’t begin filming any new projects before spring 2004, he believes that the one most likely to go ahead is a horror TV movie he has written and would direct for ABC. The network would want it completed for broadcast around Halloween 2004, though the deal has not been finalized. Romero requests that the particulars of this film not be divulged, saying only that it’s an adaptation of a classic horror tale.
As recently as May 2003, excitement had been building that Romero’s next film was to be THE ILL. The vampire thriller, to be funded by independent unit P-Kino Films, was alleged to begin lensing in Europe in late 2003, and promotional artwork has circulated. Romero says that this is no longer an active project; it is not completely dead, but is currently on the shelf. The director has also been associated with an adaptation of Stephen King’s THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON for several years, but says he does not yet have a final agreement with a studio for his screenplay. Yet he considers it to be his second most likely project after the ABC movie, and is hopeful that something will start up as early as spring 2004, in Canada.
Based on King’s novel about a girl who gets lost in the woods and must confront her fears to get out alive, TOM GORDON “is sort of a non-horror project,” Romero says. “It has a few scary elements, but it’s more like STAND BY ME. It’s not hardcore horror at all.” He goes on to note that he has no other non-genre films under consideration.