They are attached to some of the biggest films and genre favorites of all time. The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist, The Green Mile, and Day of the Dead. Now they sit on the precipice of something not done in the history of American television, a Zombie TV series. Drawing on the incredible source material of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic, director Frank Darabont and makeup effects supervisor Greg Nicotero truly will try and bring the dead back to life. Mania rattled their cage and got at least one spoiler from these two men. More importantly, we learned about the potential for a black and white version of the pilot, the perils of nude zombies, and the advantage of serialized television over a feature film.
Mania: There are only six episodes in this season. Is there an arc to how you want this season to progress?
Frank Darabont: Yes, very much so but fundamentally, I am always going to chase what [Robert] Kirkman’s done. I will be following in his wake. We will stop at detours and stop to smell the roses as it were in turn outs that he didn’t take. But it will always be after what he has done, which is terrific stuff.
Mania: No one has ever done a Zombie TV show before…
Frank Darabont: Not in this country.
Greg Nicotero: Yeah, we were corrected on that.
Frank Darabont: Severely scolded by a young lady from Australia [the show was called Dead Set].
Mania: …what can you do differently on a series than a movie? What have you learned differently as a writer?
Frank Darabont: The pleasure of doing any kind of serialized television is what you can do. What you can’t do in a feature is really spend that incremental time getting to know characters. That is why I love some of the stuff on television today. Television as a medium has never been better than the certain things we have had in the last few years because of all the good writing. It is not welcomed as much in features anymore. The character driven stuff is what works so well on television. I’m not comparing us to anybody, but if you look at The Wire, The Shield, Breaking Bad; which is currently my favorite thing, it is that marvelous thing where you get to know these people over a period of years, versus telling a story in two hours or less. That’s one of the reasons why I am thrilled about trying to tell this story. I love the idea of doing something long term.
Greg Nicotero: Everybody always knows that the more you care about your people then the more horrific it is when something bad happens to them. Robert Shaw getting eaten at the end of Jaws is a character that you are invested in and that you have spent all this time with. On a show like this you get to know them so the horror is even more real because you know them more deeply than if you just met them and it is an hour and a half then they are gone. I think it is really critical the more you learn about Rick in the first episode you are on that first journey with him as he is discovering, we are discovering, right along with him what happened to the world. You’ll then see it through his eyes or you’ll learn about the search for his family and the more horrific it will become. Learning his story you can now better relate to him.
Mania: To flip that around, is there anything that you feel restricted by because you can’t do something on cable TV that you might be able to get away with in a feature? Has that been an issue dealing with Zombies and terrible things happening?
Frank Darabont: It has not really been an issue. There are standards and practices but we really haven’t run up against them (laughs). I can’t say “fuck” and that’s pretty much it.
Greg Nicotero: At one point we did have an idea, we were sitting in the office and talking about Night of the Living Dead and the one nude woman zombie that walks in front of the house. We were joking about a branch that is strategically placed so that you see a shadow across her. Wow, we should do a nude zombie that has been torn apart walking around. Then they are like, “well you can’t… you may not want to…”
Frank Darabont: “As long as you don’t show her butt crack” and I was like, really?
Greg Nicotero: Okay then, well it got chewed off.
Frank Darabont: (laughs) And that is the way to get around it. You can show that if it were gone.
Greg Nicotero: Or you just rip her in half from the waste down, which we did.
Frank Darabont: (shakes his head) No spoilers! The truth is we are making our decisions in terms of how we want to shoot something based upon how it feels best. There are some times the less is more approach. There is the more is more approach, which is a zombie thing you need the more is more sometimes. We are just not running up against those constraints. There isn’t some standards and practices doomsayer going “Oh my god you can’t show blood”. That is not at all what’s going on.
Greg Nicotero: There is one guy at AMC who every time he sees dailies of a gag or something we did he emails me, “Oh my god I just saw this today…”. The people at AMC are excited about it that it makes our lives easier. Even when I did Land of Dead, where George [Romero] was nervous about the ratings he came up with this great idea. Shoot a bunch of zombies in front of green screens walking left and walking right. So that for the theatrical version if there is an objection to the theatrical rating then can add a zombie pass, strategically at a specific point, to distract just a slight bit from the gag so you don’t have to worry so much about it. By the time the DVD came out they were all taken away.
Mania: My favorite version of The Mist is the black and white version. Will we see The Walking Dead in black and white on AMC, the DVD, or the Blu-ray?
Frank Darabont: We have actually asked AMC about trying the black and white thing that I did for The Mist at least for the pilot as an additional supplement. The comic is in black and white and I think they have heard the question so many times from the fans that when I brought it up they said it sounded like a really good idea. I believe, but can’t vow that I am 90% sure that at least the pilot will be that way, as a little extra treat for those that dig the black and white.
Mania: You have mentioned that certain parts of Kirkman’s story will be expanded upon. What parts do you see as places to stop and expand upon?
Frank Darabont: You’ll notice certain things from the comic book that will let you know exactly where you are in Kirkman’s story, getting out of the hospital and seeing the woman in the park, the first zombie he sees. Those kind of iconic Kirkman’s are definitely in there but Morgan (Lennie James) became a much bigger deal in the pilot for example. I brought a whole idea why Morgan hasn’t left and isn’t leaving yet that is rooted it in a more dramatic and emotionally painful thing. It’s that kind of stuff when you see that kind of opportunity to know more about this guy and a story line suggest itself I work it in.
Greg Nicotero: What’s interesting for me is I read Frank’s script and the slight diversions that he took I didn’t remember if it was like that in the graphic novel or not because it was so true to the form. It is such a great landscape that you can go anywhere. If anybody can write it, it’s this guy (Nicotero puts his hand on Darabont’s shoulder).
The Walking Dead premieres on AMC on October 31st, 2010. Check out the official site for more details, video and on set photos.
Robert Trate writes two weekly columns for Mania the DVD Shopping Bag and the Toy Maniac. Recently Robert has interviewed Batman himself Kevin Conroy and discussed Star Wars and Toys with Clone Wars director Dave Filoni.