DAWN OF THE DEAD PRE-PRODUCTION
THE ORIGINAL SCRIPT
Most screenplays average out to a minute (on-screen) per page but George’s 253 page script, which would run around two and a half to three hours, is overly detailed with descriptions of everything from the wall to the store displays. A good example is the opening sequence in the T.V. station, which is five minutes on screen, but 19 pages long in script form. Some key differences: At the television station, the copyboy who wakes up Fran is named Tony (his name is not mentioned in the film). Instead of the young girl sitting beside her in the finished film, it’s a young man. The role George and his wife Christine play were simply written in as ‘technicians talking all at once’. George’s character of a technician is written in as "Man" . He tells Fran to get a new list that Charlie, the typist, is receiving, and there is more dialogue: Charlie refers to fellow technicians Skip and Dusty.
An unnecessary scene with Fran realizing she lost her work badge was removed after production. She is stopped by an officer and an unidentified young man with copy gets involved, convincing the officer to let her into a control room. Fran moves through the crowd to reach another emergency radio installation. Skip and Dusty are listening to their receivers and she gives them the rest of her coffee.
After Lucas leaves, the technicians in the console room gone, we hear voices of remaining technicians (mainly the floor director) flicking switches and complaining that they are losing picture.
Romero likens the tenements of Philadelphia to tombstones against the sky, and apparently wanted exterior shots of the buildings at night which didn’t happen. Instead, a scene of the moon in the night sky was shot.
After the struggle with the couch zombie, Roger stands against the open door jamb to catch his breath. There’s a gunshot and when he looks into the apartment he sees that the young trooper has shot himself through the head. Romero chose not to show this but to suggest it with a gun shot sound in the film version.
The way Roger meets Peter is different also. Roger finds shelter in a fire stair where he retches over a railing. There at the top of the stairs is Peter who tells him "you’re not alone brother." Furthermore, instead of the door opening and the priest emerging, Roger and Peter jump at the sound of steps coming up and coughing. Additional dialogue followed as well; the Priest confirms that Martinez is dead.
In the cellar door scene where zombie arms punch through the boards, the shock is intended to be quick not delayed with the S.W.A.T. reactions as in the Argento edits. The zombies are not described in terms of makeup; just ‘wide eyed and terrifying’. Romero mentions that should be of all ages and mainly black or Puerto Rican.
The National Guardsmen that find Roger and Peter in the basement shines a light down. A young child’s corpse is described writhing in a shroud, missing a foot. Peter kills the corpse and there’s additional dialogue about the nature of zombie behavior. Roger observes that they attack each other, Peter pointing out only the fresh ones do, before they revive.
Instead of the shock cut to the helicopter or the murdered police dock dispatcher, a montage of more attacks both by zombies and on zombies by the troopers follows in the halls of the building.
In the police dock scene, Romero wanted to show the city in the moonlight. He writes that only a few buildings have lights on. The chain on the dock used to restrict the area has been broken and is dangling. A sign reads: CITY OF PHILADELPHIA - POLICE - NO ADMITTANCE. Corpses of officers are lying around, obviously murdered by gunshots to the head to prevent re-activation. A bell buoy rings in the distance and then the sound of the helicopter. When the four leave in the helicopter, overhead nighttime shots of Independence Hall, Betsy Ross’ House, waving the original American flag…
Upon landing in the airfield, a newsprint blows against a window in a shed the falls away. The infamous bald airport zombie seen later was to appear at the window. Notes on the charthouse bulletin board are explicitly described such as LUCY - GONE TO JOHNSTOWN. CHARLES - I HAVE THE KIDS. LEFT WITH BEN. COULDN'T WAIT. GONE TO ERIE - JACK FOSTER. A banging on the closet door from inside leads to a skeleton key falling out of the lock and to the floor. Peter notices a caked blood stain where blood recently ran out from under the door.
Fran at one point stares into the staring eyes of the lead zombie. She is described as ‘almost hypnotized’ implying a close-up shot that never was shot. Steve was to retrieve a large sledgehammer out of the hangar, which would have made more of a mess of the zombie’s skull. The children that attack Peter were to be more gruesome than they would eventually become: one has no left arm; the other has been bleeding from a great wound in his side.
A scene is written in where Peter gives Fran some water and the crew get back into the helicopter. The dialogue that takes place at night while in the air, takes place here on the ground even before they leave the airfield. It was to be followed by a wide shot of the airfield with the chopper lifting off and more paper blowing around other corpses.
On the mall roof shortly after their arrival, when Steve remarks about their instinct, he observes some zombies trying to shake the store gates open inside. A female zombie wanders out of an appliance store dragging a toaster behind her, pulling it by its cable.
After handing Fran the gun while they look around in the mall, Peter tells her that if someone other than him or Roger come up the stairs, to take off in the helicopter and that they can try to meet them out in the parking lot.
When the power and Muzak is turned on, on one of the floor exhibits Romero envisioned a rear-projection film about suburban real estate: ‘and for prices which anyone can afford, you can live in these luxurious new homes by Brandon. Fully electric, central air, …‘ Racing to the department store, an armless female zombie walks toward the troopers. Roger fires and kills the ghoul. Roger’s line ‘I need lighter fluid’ was not in this draft.
Instead of going through the front windows of Penney’s as in the film, the two troopers get through rolled up gates and there is no rifle zombie written in. Even when they try to attract the zombies after they’ve stocked up supplies, they are banging through a rolled gate.
Three zombies lurk in the maintenance office with Steve instead of a boiler room encounter. Then when Steve leaves into the corridor, there’s three more! (as in the film).
After moving through the air ducts, the men drop down through a ceiling grid. There’s a corpse of a president in a plush office. He had some days earlier, shot himself in the head.
Peter reminds Steve that the dead have a big advantage of them. "They don’t think…no emotions." He compares the increasing amount of dead people (natural causes, people dying due to violence in the crisis) to the emperor’s reward.
After talking about abortion, Steve walks in and sees Fran smoking (while she’s pregnant!). She asks what happened to growing vegetables and fishing in a wilderness far from anybody, a reference to their plans to move to Canada before this crisis started. She is the first to think that the mall may be a prison in disguise. At one point after this conversation, before cutting to the "zombie montage", there’s a sound on the stairwell of footsteps of a zombie that apparently turned around and went back down the steps. Peter tells Roger that the helicopter may give their existence in the mall away and Roger mentions how in Philly they saw an abandoned boat in the middle of Independence Square, which sat useless for eight days.
* Roger’s dialogue, on the roof with the men peering through binoculars includes a comment about Steve not being on the street at all (making the Argento cut’s scene closer to how Romero envisioned the scene originally).
* Fran screams "Monsters!" watching the men move the trucks, fires her gun to protect Roger from being bitten.
* Peter explains that the vaults usually open at nine automatically "to keep the bankers honest". Once all the zombies are killed inside the mall and the humans have met up on a balcony, Steve ponders what future archaeologists are going to think if they dig the place up. "Maybe they'll figure it's all some kind of offering to the gods...like in the pyramids...a burial chamber." Peter replies that it is now.
The scientist in the TV broadcast, just before Roger’s revival as a zombie, relates some information about not being able to study the creatures’ habits to observe supply and demand ratios: their need vs. the amount of food available by using the 95% of the bodies they leave intact to revive upon to feed them. He also proposes identifying the dead and burying them in consecrated grounds.
Roger is not buried in one of the mall gardens but instead is placed in the bank vault. After the bank scene, Fran’s puppy Adam is introduced, innocently urinating on a table.
Romero included raider descriptions, he wanted them to look like banditos and specifically wanted one to wear a sombrero. The men wear ammunition belts and surplus clothing.
* Fran listens to the noise of the motorcycles and mayhem. She is waiting at the top of the fire stair, with her weapons. On the landing below, the puppy barks. She calls the dog, but it will not run back.
* The raider leader refers to another as Charlie, ordering him to hit the gates to get the ‘sniper’. He also orders his men to hold off them zombies (the first and only instance of the word in Romero’s films).
* After breaking through the offices, a raider comes to the fake wall panel and assumes it goes nowhere when he hears the faint barking. Suddenly his attention focuses on the corridor where three ghouls are coming. He fires and knocks off the ghouls one at a time and runs onto the balcony.
* The cyclist that Peter kills in the filmed version as he rides off out of the entrance is the tommy gun biker in the sidecar. In the script, Peter’s victim is the biker leader, who whoops victorious as he leaves the mall just before his demise.
* The puppy Adam growls as if it is hearing something approaching. He runs down the stairs and we hear the yelping of the puppy as it presumably is preyed on by the mob of dead creatures.
The ending is infamous, more downbeat but less ironic than Night of the Living Dead’s. Fran starts the helicopter engine; Peter kills himself in the storage room. His suicide was not to be witnessed, only a gunshot is heard. The zombies push through the door and move in to consume Peter – which we also were not to see. Fran - staring at the horde of zombies approaching her - stands up straight on the running board. Her head goes right into the spinning blades of the helicopter and we see a headless body fall. In a wide shot that would have depicted the first light of dawn as the dead consumed Fran’s body, the credits crawl up. And after they end, the engine of the helicopter sputters and dies too.
Due to Martin’s poor box office, Laurel was unable to attract investors for Dawn until Irvin Shapiro, the company’s foreign distribution representative sent Romero’s still unfinished script to Alfredo Cuomo, a producer based in Rome, Italy. Cuomo turned it over to producer Claudio Argento who in turn let his director-brother Dario read it. The Argentos were behind Italian horror films The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (70), Cat O’Nine Tails (71), Four Flies on Grey Velvet (72), Deep Red (76) and Suspiria (77).
The Argentos were both big fans of Night of the Living Dead and excited to know a sequel was going to be made; they automatically wanted to be associated with the project. They were eager to see the script finished so Romero flew out to Rome to do so, with Dario Argento acting as ‘script consultant’. Fortunately he wanted very few changes. Claudio Argento and Alfredo Cuomo negotiated with Rubinstein and upon approving and initialling each page of the rewrite, contributed half of the $1.5 million budget. In exchange, all European and Asian licensing would be belong to them. When Romero returned to the States, both he and Rubinstein invested $25,000 each, and found the remaining investments through relatives and friends.