Day of the Dead is a 1985 American horror film written and directed by George A. Romero and the third film in Romero's Dead Series, being preceded by Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978).
Romero describes the film as a "tragedy about how a lack of human communication causes chaos and collapse even in this small little pie slice of society".
Romero originally intended the film to be "the Gone with the Wind of zombie films". Following budget disputes and the artistic need to release the film unrated, the budget of the film was cut in half, dropping from $7 million to a scant $3.5 million. This forced Romero to scale back his story, rewriting the script and adjusting his original vision to fit the smaller budget.
A total of five scripts were written as Romero wrestled with the film's concepts and the budgetary constraints. The first draft was over 200 pages, which he later condensed to 122 pages. This is the true original script, and to date copies of it have not come to light. This version was likely rejected because UFDC felt it was too expensive for them to produce even with an R rating. Romero subsequently scaled down the scope of this script into a 165-page draft (often erroneously referred to as the original version), then condensed it again to a 104-page draft labeled the 'second version, second draft' in an unsuccessful final attempt to get the story within budget parameters. When this failed, he drastically altered the original story concept and ultimately produced a shooting draft that numbered only 88 pages.
Filming took place in the fall of 1984 at locations in Pennsylvania and Florida. All above-ground scenes were filmed at several locations around Florida, where Romero was living at the time. The opening scene was filmed in Fort Myers, Florida. The fenced in compound with the helicopter landing pad was shot at a location called Bowman's Beach Helistop in Sanibel. Underground scenes were filmed in a former mine shaft located near Wampum, Pennsylvania, converted into a long-term storage facility for important documents. Though the mine maintained a constant temperature of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit, its high humidity played havoc with the crew's equipment and props. Mechanical and electrical failures were a constant problem throughout filming, and caused several of special effects leader Tom Savini's props to fail during the filming. Despite these failures, Savini was nominated and won the 1985 Saturn Award for best makeup effects. The remote location also complicated the transportation of crew members and equipment. Cast and crew would often sleep in the mine overnight to avoid the time-consuming travel to and from the shooting location. "Zombie" extras were recruited from among the citizens of Pittsburgh, with preference given to those who had worked on previous Romero films. Extras were paid $1.00 for their services, and given a hat that read "I was a Zombie in Day of the Dead".
The film was given a very limited release. This is chronicled in the documentary "The Many Days of Day of the Dead" on the two-disc Anchor Bay special edition DVD of the film. Some of the original concepts and characters remain, but the film differs greatly from Romero's original script, as stated by actress Lori Cardille:
Joseph Pilato was cast as Rhodes, the film's antagonist. As stated by Pilato "He pretty much just gave it to me. I don't know if he auditioned other people, but it was very quick. I came in and it was like, "You got it!." Pilato had acted in two prior films directed by Romero, the first being Pilato's debut Dawn of the Dead and the second being Knightriders, in between those films he played his first lead role in a film entitled Effects. In an interview Pilato was asked if Romero "had him in mind", Pilato stated that one of the reasons why he got the role was because of the budget being scaled down from 7 to 3.5 million.