The Walking Dead Set Visit Part I: Bringing Kirkman’s Walking Dead to Life

In our set visit preview we emphasized the gooey gory goodness of AMC’s forthcoming zombie series “The Walking Dead”. And while there certainly promises to be plenty of red splattering gloriously at the camera lens, don’t forget AMC is all about character. What we mean is there will also be some stories and pretty cool characters to go along with all the bloodshed.

“Dead” is based on the long-running comic series by Robert Kirkman about a cop named Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) who wakes up from a coma in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. He discovers some not-so-friendly undead hospital staff and ultimately makes his way home to find his town and house completely deserted. Grimes hopes his wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), and son, Carl (Chandler Riggs), have made their way to Atlanta. Also joining the cast are Laurie Holden as Andrea, Emma Bell as Amy and Jon Bernthal as Shane.

Behind the camera “The Walking Dead”’s pedigree is extremely impressive. Frank Darabont exec produces. He also wrote the first three episodes and directed the pilot. Gale Anne Hurd produces along with creator Robert Kirkman, who is writing Episode Four. Finally, makeup maestro Greg Nicotero is doing his thing, crafting some of the coolest looking zombies ever seen on the big or small screen. Nicotero is also directing second unit and serving as the resident zombie aficionado when Darabont’s away.

Dread Central spent the day on the boiling hot Atlanta sets in early June observing filming, sweating, viewing gory production photos, sweating and speaking to Darabont, Lincoln, Bernthal, Hurd, Kirkman and Nicotero. We learned about Darabont’s lengthy struggle to bring the series to life, the casting and preparation en route to production in Atlanta and, of course, zombie school.

The Walking Dead Set Visit Part I: Bringing Kirkman's Walking Dead to Life

Part 1: Bringing Kirkman’s The Walking Dead to Life

Like many projects these days, it all started with a trip to the comic shop. “He picked it up in a comic shop because somebody had told him it was a good zombie book and he loves all things zombie,” Kirkman says of Darabont’s initial discovery of The Walking Dead books. “He really enjoyed it and started asking around town and Hollywood to see what was going on with it, and he found his way to my manager. That was a long time ago.

Darabont first struck a deal with NBC, but it wasn’t meant to be. “They were very excited about the idea of doing a zombie show until I handed them a zombie script where zombies were actually doing zombie shit,” laughs Darabont. “So after that I shopped it around and got a lot of doors slammed in my face is the truth of it. It languished for a bit, as things do in Hollywood.

Enter Gale Anne Hurd. “I’d heard about it,” Hurd tells the assembled press. “When I first read the book, I thought, ‘This would be a great film,’ and boy was I wrong. It’s a much better TV series. Fast forward, I knew that Frank had initially developed it for NBC, which to me seemed like an odd pairing for this. Then I heard it wasn’t going forward at NBC so I talked to Frank.”

The Walking Dead Set Visit Part I: Bringing Kirkman's Walking Dead to Life

Gale was tremendously instrumental in jump-starting it at a point where it felt like it was languishing,” says Darabont. “I’d gotten turned down enough times, which is no reflection on the material, but no matter what you’re trying to sell in Hollywood, you’re Willy Loman and it’s Death of a Salesman. You’re out there trying to sell shit that nobody wants. Even if it’s good shit.

Wait, there’s more to this set visit on the NEXT page!

“The Walking Dead” is the first work of Kirkman’s to be adapted, and considering the pedigree attached, he’s pretty pleased with the way things have gone. “I was telling Gale the other day, ‘This is the first thing I’ve had adapted, and I have no sense of what this is actually like because Frank is the director, Gale Anne Hurd is the producer,” says Kirkman. “The stuff that AMC is going to put on air is crazy. They keep showing me things, and I’m like, ‘You’re not doing that!’ They rip a horse open and there’s just spaghetti coming out. They actually have things that you see.

Though the adaptation is by no means a frame-for-frame Watchmen-style translation, Kirkman says “Dead” is very faithful to his original work and, in some cases, might even improve on his ideas. “Reading that pilot was just a revelation,” says Kirkman. “It’s extremely faithful. There are things that are so much like the comic, I can’t really remember the nuance of what’s different and what’s not from the comic. He’s definitely being more faithful than I expected, and everything that he’s changing is brilliant. I couldn’t be happier. I think the fans of the book are going to just love it.

The Walking Dead Set Visit Part I: Bringing Kirkman's Walking Dead to Life

Darabont wrote the pilot episode and will also direct. Five other directors will then take the reins for the initial six-episode run. “We have six different directors,” confirms Hurd. “We haven’t announced who they are yet. Frank can’t direct them all because obviously we have a very tight post-production schedule. But he will be here on set and as executive producer, which is the case with most showrunners, for every episode. The biggest problem was to say, ‘Frank, we cannot clone you, and you can’t wear all these hats.’

I have to put my pilot through the editing and post process,” adds Darabont. “Plus I’ve got to get back to L.A. and kind of ride herd on the writers generating the subsequent episodes. I’ve written the first two. I’ve got four scripts yet to come in, and time is getting short. My intention is not to be an absentee landlord. I love this thing and really want to keep my hand very much in the process. I don’t want to be one of those guys who gets a show set up, directs the pilot and then buggers off and is never heard from again.

Darabont wrote the first two episodes. And Kirkman himself will pen Episode Four. “He’s terrific,” says Hurd of Kirkman’s script work. “For a first-timer, all those years writing comic books was great training. We also have Chic Eglee, who most recently came from ‘Dexter’ and before that ‘The Shield’ and ‘Dark Angel’. And also Jack LoGiudice, who came to us from ‘Sons of Anarchy’, and Adam Fierro, who actually wrote the episode of ‘The Shield’ that Frank directed. And Glen Mazzara, who’s also from ‘The Shield’.

If the series succeeds, Season Two will be AMC’s normal 13-episode order. [Editor’s Note:: The series has been renewed] Darabont says it’s likely he’ll return to write and direct some of those episodes as well. Despite confidence that the series will be well received, Darabont says he’s not getting ahead of himself. The most important thing now is to deliver the best six episodes possible. From what we’ve seen so far, “The Walking Dead” should be a real treat for horror fans.

Look for Part II next Thursday.

Check out our exclusive set visits:
Part 2 = Zombies Invade the ATL
Part 3 = Casting and Prepping Production
Part 4 = Prosthetics and Buckets of Blood

Jeff Otto

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