ZOMBIES RETURN TO PITTSBURGH: THE “LAND OF THE DEAD” PREMIERE – PART ONE

A few weeks ago, I got a call out of the blue—which is normal for me, but this time it was from Cameron Romero. Now, this isn’t unusual either, as Cam and the guys at his company, CamOp, have been good friends to us since back in the days when “The Diamond Dead” was slated to be George Romero’s next big production. As history has shown, best-laid plans, etc., but “The Diamond Dead” was put on the back-burner by Universal’s renewed interest in producing “Land of the Dead”. So out went “Diamond”, in came “Land”, out went Pittsburgh, in came Toronto and… well, “Land of the Dead” comes out officially in two weeks.

And that’s what Cameron wanted to talk to me about.

“We’re doing a huge premiere for ‘Land of the Dead’ in Pittsburgh and we really want you and Amy involved,” he said.

“Sure! Involved how?”

“Can I get back to you on that?”

As it turns out, CamOp’s involvement in the Pittsburgh premiere of “Land” came about in a very convoluted way. It seems that there’s an organization in Pittsburgh called Steeltown Entertainment, headed up by folks like Carl Kuralander (“St. Elmo’s Fire”, “Saved By the Bell – The College Years”), the co-founder and special advisor, and executive director Ellen Weiss Kander. They submitted a proposal to “Land of the Dead”’s producer Bernie Goldman to make the Pittsburgh premiere an event to benefit “The Steeltown Filmmaking Project”. This project is to find and cultivate the best filmmaker from Pittsburgh (getting all this?). Goldman likes the idea, Steeltown is given the greenlight. Enter CamOp.

“We’re going all-out, dude,” Cameron tells me, outlining the night. “There’s gonna be a pre-party at Café Euro in the Steel Building,” (an enormous black office tower in the center of the city that was allegedly a prime target on 9/11). “My dad’s gonna be there, Greg Nicotero (KNB) is coming, Tom Savini’ll be there, Antone DeLeo, Lori Cardille (“Day of the Dead”), John Russo, Russ Streiner, Kyra Schön (“Night of the Living Dead”), a bunch of other people! Then the premiere, then the after party at Déjà vu!” (A hip, upscale Pittsburgh lounge…it’s hipness speaks for itself by my saying I’ve never been there.)

Cameron pauses—both for effect, and because he’s out of breath. “It’s gonna be the biggest fucking premiere Pittsburgh has ever seen!”

His partner, Chris Lombardo, takes over. I’m suddenly aware that they have me on speaker phone. They sound like they’re in the center of an empty bowling alley, but the enthusiasm is contagious. “All of the wait-staff from Café Euro and volunteers from the Byham? They’re getting made up like zombies.”

“Really? By who?”

“We called Kevin Fear down at the Savini School,” Chris said, referring to the Tom Savini School of Special Effects Make-Up (an arm of the Douglas School of Business in Monessen), headed up by such luminaries as Jerry Gergeley (“Babylon 5”) and Matt Green (“Loaded Dice”). “They’re sending a bunch of their top students over and we’re going to do a ‘Zombie School’ here.”

Okay, seriously, how cool is that?

“And—and,” Cameron says, cutting in. “Nicotero just sent a whole bunch of props to auction off—there’s a full ‘Big Daddy’ zombie head, a pair of background zombie masks, a severed hand—wrist-bone exposed!—a couple of fingers and an eyeball!”

“A couple of fingers and an eye-ball!” Chris echoes, singing, which causes them both to erupt into spasms of giggling.

“I have to pick all that stuff up in a few days,” Cam tells me. “I’m so tempted to get caught speeding with a severed head in a box in my back seat!”

We talk for a little while longer, discussing other events for the evening. Cam takes a serious turn at one point. “Seriously, man, this premiere is really to say even though (“Land of the Dead”) wasn’t shot here, George Romero has done a great thing for Pittsburgh once, and that this is the culmination of what he started. It’s only fitting that a premiere like this is hosted in Pittsburgh.”

A few minutes later, we said our goodbyes and hung up. Since then, I’ve been getting periodic updates, that only continue to whet my appetite for the event. Yeah, it’s pricey, with tickets starting at $50 for just the movie! But the last time we talked, it didn’t sound like they were having any trouble selling the event.

Chris dropped me an email at one point—“We still have a few tickets if you know anyone who’s interested,” it read. “But, dude, they’re going fast!”

And then, all of a sudden, they went into radio silence on me. Which, I know from past experience, means they’re full-steam-ahead on the event. Every time something new was happening on “The Diamond Dead”, my communication with Cam would drop to nothing.

Fortunately, their head of sales, Jason Ralph, is also my new composer, cutting new music for “The Resurrection Game”, so I’m not entirely out of the loop.

“They’re just really swamped. I haven’t even talked to them all morning,” Jason tells me over the phone. “And I sit, literally, five feet from both of them!”

So things are still a go, and I’m getting more and more pumped about the whole thing.

And then things go wonky on me. I start getting email rumors from various unrelated sources on a daily basis: Nicotero is bringing Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg from Shaun of the Dead (who both play zombies in the film). If that weren’t enough, he’s also bringing Quentin Tarantino—not too far-fetched as he and Greg are good friends—who allegedly said “There’s no better place to see ‘Land of the Dead’ than in Pittsburgh.”

Now, as a journalist, I have my sources, of course. Folks who both would and would not send me bullshit propaganda items.

But I know Cameron and I know Chris and I know they’re not the kind to rest easy. They make things difficult for themselves because they’re big fans. Yeah, Cameron is George Romero’s son, but that doesn’t mean he’s blasé towards the old man’s work. They really want to make this premiere a blow-out to end all blow-outs. So I have no trouble believing that Tarantino might be making an appearance.

But I cannot fucking confirm this!!

And it’s driving me nuts.

I can’t reach Greg, I can’t reach Cam or Chris beyond their voice mail. Even Jason seems to be down for the count as far as returning phone calls right now.

So Amy and I are attending the “Land of the Dead” premiere on June 22. We’re hitting the before- and after-parties, covering the entire night for our respective publications. And I know sometime between now and then, I’m gonna get a call from Cameron confirming or denying the above allegations.

But it ain’t happened yet.

But wait, there’s more on the next page of ZOMBIES RETURN TO PITTSBURGH: THE “LAND OF THE DEAD” PREMIERE – PART ONE>>>




Posted on June 15, 2005 in Features by

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