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San Diego Comic-Con 2011: Frank Darabont and Greg Nicotero Talk The Walking Dead Season 2

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Just three days before the internet was rocked by his untimely departure from “The Walking Dead”, showrunner Frank Darabont sat down with Dread Central and a roundtable of journalists at San Diego Comic-Con and made no indication that anything was amiss. In fact, it all seemed like business as usual as the acclaimed filmmaker excitedly talked up Season 2 and his continued geek love for the genre.

In one of his final official interviews on the subject, Darabont – accompanied by KNB’s Greg Nicotero – dropped a few hints on the upcoming season and the challenges of putting together one of the best shows on TV. Where it all goes from here is anyone’s guess.

Frank Darabont and Greg Nicotero Talk The Walking Dead Season 2
Photo Credit: Justin Cruse

Q: How much involvement did you have in the upcoming Blu-Ray special edition re-release with the black-and-white version of the pilot?

FRANK DARABONT: It was my idea, my suggestion. I approved the re-timing of the thing. I was in the telecine bay with Dan, our color timer. I don’t know if “The Walking Dead” needs that necessarily, but it certainly worked out well on The Mist. I thought, “Why not? Let’s do this little experiment.” It’s certainly a worthy addition on a DVD set and gives it that much more of a Night of the Living Dead feel.

Q: I saw in the trailer the characters were running through a cemetery. Can you talk about that a little?

FD: There was no conscious connection with Night of the Living Dead at all, although it’s a cool parallel now that you mention it. They’re searching for something in Episodes 2 and 3, and they come upon this little rural church which happened to have this fantastic cemetery attached to it. On the location scout we were looking at these little churches and we found this one, and it was like “Oh my God! Look at this little graveyard here! It’s visually fantastic!” That’s really the only reason we picked it.

Q: With the make-up, has there ever been any discussion about something that’s going too far?

FD: No. Never.

GREG NICOTERO: And it’s a tribute to the fact that they pretty much let us do whatever we want. A lot of times Frank’s in L.A. working on scripts and we’re sending pictures back and forth. I always have to work with blood in layers and be careful not to put too much on, and literally Frank will look at something and be like “Aw, man. I was imagining way more blood than that.”

Q: People are always putting Easter Eggs in their work with shout-outs to other movies, comic, etc. What’s a good make-up FX Easter Egg?

GN: We made a bunch of partially devoured body parts and one of them is I recreated Chrissie’s arm from JAWS.

FD: [laughs] That’s my all time favorite movie!

GN: But every once in a while, we’ll look at a zombie and hint back to some other movie. There was one zombie we did for the opening of 2×01 that had this really creepy Evil Dead look to her… Because we’re giant nerds and love the genre, every once in a while we’ll do something like that.

FD: One thing that was really fun in the pilot that I directed was he showed up with a truckload of bodies. He just grabbed every body at KNB and tosses it on the truck, like 80 bodies or something like that. And I’m walking down the row of these bodies when we were prepping just to kind of check them out and there’s Bruce Willis lying there. And there’s Johnny Depp. So they were like celebrity cameos in the thing. Of course, we covered their faces cause we didn’t want to piss anyone off. But it was fun to know that under the sheet was Bruce Willis.

Q: Bruce Campbell mentioned he wants to be zombie on the show. Has anyone else from the industry requested to be made up as zombies?

FD: Jon Hamm has mentioned it. I just keep thinking he’s kidding. There was a wild rumor going around for a while that Charlie Sheen was going to be a zombie… And Lindsay Lohan…

GN: It’s always easy to say “I’d love to be a zombie” and getting down there, and then you go through the make-up and you put the contact lenses in and the dentures and it’s sticky and it’s hot…

FD: And work 16-hour days…

GN: The thing about the zombies is, when we have 60 or 80 of them, the more skin that’s exposed, the longer the make-up takes, so on big days they have layers on. And they’re sweating their asses off cause they’re wearing giant turtlenecks and sport coats. We were at the Golden Globes, and a lot of the women from “Mad Men” came up to me and said “I’d love to be a zombie” and I’m looking at Christina Hendricks going “No.” [laughs] “If we can make you look like a zombie, I will retire.”

Q: Are there any unusual looking zombies that you’ve created so far?

FD: Not really. Where we do draw the line, not necessarily in make-up, is that I don’t want to have the “ballerina zombie” or the “football zombie” or the “ice cream vendor zombie” cause we’re trying to think through logic on everything. It’s just silly. Who’s gonna fucking go to ballerina class or football practice when the world is falling apart? You’re not gonna do that! You’re not gonna go to cheerleader practice when there’s a fucking epidemic sweeping the world and there’s panic in the streets. So I’ve never understood where “the clown zombie” comes from, y’know? And we had a very good conversation early on saying that there’s this big giant global problem so no one is going to cheerleader practice. Everyone is in the mindset of survival and it takes a while for the world to fall apart. So we never wanted those visual jokes because we want to take the backstory seriously. We wanna make it feel real to the audience.

Q: Any thoughts of a “Bub”-like zombie? Would something like that work in your world?

FD: I like Bub. I don’t see why not. If the story required to have a zombie around for a while, I could certainly see that. We don’t have any immediate plans for that.

Q: We did see some flashbacks to the beginning of the outbreak last season. Any more plans for something like that?

FD: Yes, we do actually! I love those little flashbacks. I don’t want to turn it into a flashback show. My sort of unofficial rule is, if it really makes sense and it ties in with the episode we’re telling, doing one in the pre-title teaser is fair. We did that last season a couple of times, but never in the body of the piece because it’s too easy to rely on something like that when you don’t have an idea that day. And I don’t wanna do that, I wanna keep challenging ourselves. And I don’t want to wind up borrowing a page from LOST’s technique because that would be really cheeseball of us. They did it very well.

GN: The one that comes to mind is an actual pre-outbreak flashback so it was the one day on set where the actors weren’t covered in dirt and sweat and actually looked like regular people. And what made it intriguing to me is that it’s a visual reminder of what the world used to be and what their lives used to be. And dealing with a show like this, having that balance, which we saw in 1×06 where we see Shane at the hospital and having that moment where he doesn’t know what to do. I thought that was really powerful because it makes their current predicament even more sad, because it’s like “There’s someone with their cup of Starbucks coffee. Well that doesn’t exist anymore.”

Q: Can you say which character the flashback involves?

FD: Lori and Shane, actually.

Q: Can you comment on how with television you’ve made the zombie genre more highbrow?

FD: We have?

Q: Well, zombie movies tend to be more micro-budget. They don’t tend to get as much credibility. How does this medium affect that?

GN: It’s cause of Frank.

FD: Well, it depends on what zombie movie we’re referencing. But the real answer is that we’re not trying to tell a story in 90 minutes or 2 hours. We have the luxury of keeping it a very character-based piece. And once you have that luxury and you have a cast like we have, you really deliver some great stuff.

Look for the series premiere on October 16th during AMC’s annual Fearfest.

To stay up-to-the-minute on all things walker related, follow @WalkingDead_AMC on Twitter and visit “The Walking Dead” on Facebook. For more be sure to hit up the official “The Walking Dead” page on AMC.com.

San Diego Comic-Con 2011: Frank Darabont and Greg Nicotero Talk The Walking Dead Season 2

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.