Producing The Goods (The Bad and The Gruesome)

an exclusive interview with film & TV producer Richard P. Rubinstein
by Paul Blom

It is no secret that actors (and some directors) are the most recognizable entities attached to a movie.  Unless it's a commercial name like George Lucas, Jerry Bruckheimer or Joel Silver, the less fanatic, pedantic or precise moviegoers don't really take note of the producer's name.  Yet these are the men (and women) who actually bring these projects to life and make it possible for us to be entertained in darkened rooms (in more or less guaranteed safe ways).

Richard P. Rubinstein is one such name that might not immediately ring a bell, but whose Horror related productions have no doubt flashed and glowed across your retina on several occasions.
Based in New York City with New Amsterdam Entertainment, Rubinstein has been in the industry for over three decades as a producer and executive producer, both in TV and cinema. 

The role of a producer is not always a clear one - sitting behind a huge desk in a cavernous office chomping on a fat cigar, counting piles of money? 
"What I do is identify the source material, then go through the process of finding financing to support hiring the 'right' people.  You get them in a room, then lock the door and not disturb them as long as they stay within budget."
And if you thought producers simply fall into their jobs...."I started as a production assistant - a 'gofer', running coffee for a producer of TV commercials."

One of Rubinstein's first production credits came with the TV series The Winners (1973).
This was followed by football player vehicle O.J. Simpson: Juice On The Loose, also for TV (1974).  By this time the fallen Simpson was a long way from the courtroom and a tarnished reputation, but could be seen as a preemptive foray for Rubinstein into the world of Horror (albeit in retrospect).

Rubinstein met up with Pittsburgh based George A. Romero, the man who reinvented the zombie genre with his classic Night Of The Living Dead in the late '60s.  In 1977 they teamed up for Romero's innovative dive into the vampire genre with Martin (1977).  This was followed in 1978 by Romero's second zombie classic, Dawn Of The Dead (both of these screened at the first two South African HORRORFEST Film Festivals over the Halloween period). 
In between Dawn and 1985's splat-tacular Day Of The Dead, they made the oddly placed cross-genre knight-motorcycle-picture Knightriders ('81), and the fun comic book inspired Creepshow ('82) - the latter followed by an unrelated Romero sequel in 1987. 

But alas, great partnerships don't always last forever, "We split up in 1984, however looking back it was one of managed conflict, we seemed to often find agreement for different reasons, generally I stayed out of his creative domain and he stayed out of the business end."

But with one creative collaboration dissolved, another ignited.  When it comes to Horror themes, some of us love the grisly elements, the thrill of being scared, or its dark, forbidden otherworldly attraction.  But in the cauldron of literature and cinema, it all boils down to story telling.  Stephen King is the best known Horror writer of our time, and there are very few of his tales not yet converted to either the small or big screen.
Rubinstein and Stephen King hooked up "at the introduction of Mark Rosenberg, a production exec at Warner Bros. at the time. This intro led to George and I going to Maine to hang out with Steve for a week in 1979 while we kicked each other’s tires so to speak." 
The trio collaborated on Creepshow - King also taking a solo acting role in one of the comic book style episodes.  At the end of that decade Rubinstein brought Pet Sematary to the big screen ('89).  The early '90s saw several King tales adapted for TV, like Golden Years ('91), The Stand ('94), and The Langoliers ('95).  More movie versions followed like Thinner ('96) and The Night Flier ('97). 

What is it about Stephen King that keep audiences (and readers) fascinated, and coming back for more?  "The audience will have the best answer for that question.  I would observe Steve creates characters that readers can relate to even when he puts them in fantasy situations with regard to plot."

Rubinstein has also contributed to Horror / Fantasy / Sci-Fi on the small screen with the series Monsters (1988), and several episodes of Tales From The Dark Side (1985-1988), the latter of which also spawned a movie in 1990.  There's been a documentary on legendary make-up artist Dick Smith, as well as Precious Victims, Kiss And Tell, and Seasons In Purgatory (between '91 and '96). 

Between 2000 and 2003 Rubinstein undertook the huge task of getting Frank Herbert's sci-fi classic Dune translated to the screen (albeit the small one).  David Lynch attempted filming this epic, and while it has many merits, was just too huge to cram into a single movie.  So Rubinstein went the TV mini-series route.  It was also followed by Children Of Dune (featuring Susan Sarandon and South African born Alice Krige).

After spending the first stretch of the 2000s in TV with Dune, Rubinstein returned to the big screen in 2004 with the remake of Romero's classic Dawn Of The Dead (directed by Zack Snyder who went on to make the vivid 300 and Watchmen).  This re-make was met with mixed reactions, as rabid fans of the original didn't want it messed with.  But it impressed a new audience unaware of the legendary Romero version, in addition to many skeptics. 
As with every industry, it's not just all a walk in the park, and not merely blood, sweat & tears, "I love the art that occasionally works its way through the system," Rubinstein remarks, "the business that supports it for me is not fun, it’s work."

But, what scares someone who works with fright elements on a daily basis? "Violence outside of a fantasy movie's format..."
And with the first decade of this millennium almost done with, Rubinstein backed the documentary Giving It Up about ex-gang members turned paparazzi photographers, 2010 is slated for the new film version of Dune, to be helmed by actor-turned director reworking in by Peter Berg (Very Bad Things, Hancock).
Another project has Rubinstein excited. "I am pumped about the potential for an adaptation of Federico Andahazi’s novel The Merciful Women which we are developing with Lucia Puenzo writing the script."

With a pedigree such as his, we're still bound to see more exciting projects from Rubinstein, and meanwhile, if you've missed out on any of the movie's he produced, now is as good a time as any to start delving into his vast catalogue - especially when current trends get long in the tooth.

- Paul Blom

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