The Hollywood Reporter
Sometimes reality can be uglier than anything a filmmaker can conjure up for the big screen, and some new information on Frank Darabont’s departure from the AMC series, “The Walking Dead”, is sounding pretty hideous. Get ready for the most depressing news of the year.
According to The Hollywood Reporter when Frank Darabont appeared on a Comic-Con panel July 22 to promote “The Walking Dead”, he didn’t realize he was a dead man walking. Neither did the cast and crew. Everyone was shocked when news broke three days later that AMC had taken the extraordinary step of firing Darabont from the network’s biggest ratings hit.
In hot, sticky Atlanta, where production on the second season had been under way since June, the cast was summoned to a lunch meeting with AMC vp scripted programming Ben Davis, who confirmed that Darabont was out. The crew was briefed separately. One insider says those gathered were stunned at “the duplicity of AMC” for having used Darabont to promote the show at Comic-Con before firing him. And they were angry about the lack of explanation; they were simply told, cryptically, “This isn’t working.” Above all, they were disheartened. “It’s a crushing blow,” says the insider. “Even when you have a hit, they can still destroy you.”
Darabont — like many showrunners, not known for a small ego or manageable temperament — had been working on an edit in Los Angeles. After he was sent packing, he returned to give some final notes. He sent farewell e-mails to associates on the show. But he has maintained a steady silence in the media as his representatives work out the terms of his departure. Through his lawyer, Darabont said he has no interest in talking to the press.
There also have been no public comments from the cast, and a source with knowledge of the situation says AMC has been “terrorizing” them and their representatives to discourage them from speaking out on Darabont’s behalf. “They’re scared,” confirms another insider. “They’re on a zombie show. They are all really easy to kill off.”
AMC issued a statement after Darabont was dismissed, expressing gratitude for his “innumerable” contributions to the show. Asked to comment on criticism for the handling of his departure, a spokesperson said, “We have nothing further to add.”
What remains a central mystery, even to those closely involved, is what triggered AMC’s move to fire Darabont. As noted, AMC’s decision to cut the budget dated to the previous fall, when the network instructed Darabont to produce 13 episodes for a second season, up from six for the first season, for less money. Not only would the show get a lower budget, but AMC also decided that “Walking Dead” would no longer reap the benefit of a 30 percent tax credit per episode that came with filming in Georgia. Now the network was going to hold on to that money.
At the time, a source says, the show’s producers decided not to get into a confrontation. “To have a fight over a number when they didn’t know what the show was going to do didn’t make sense,” says this source. But when “Walking Dead” began to break AMC records, those involved figured that a negotiation would take place and the cuts might be reduced.
But this source says that AMC had its own ideas about how to make the show more cheaply. The show shoots for eight days per episode, and the network suggested that half should be indoors. “Four days inside and four days out? That’s not Walking Dead,” says this insider. “This is not a show that takes place around the dinner table.” That was just one of what this person describes as “silly notes” from AMC. Couldn’t the audience hear the zombies sometimes and not see them, to save on makeup? The source says Darabont fought “a constant battle to keep the show big in scope and style.”
Despite the show’s success, AMC stuck to its original position on the second-season budget. When those involved with the show protested that the network was taking chances with its biggest hit, AMC’s head of original programming, Joel Stillerman, is said to have declared, “Ratings have no bearing on this conversation.”
The show went into production on its second season in June. Sources say an early episode came in with footage that was not usable. The director had shot a successful first-season episode and was a mutually agreeed-upon choice. Darabont was editing the episode in an effort to fix it but by then, an insider believes, AMC was looking for a pretext. “Joel thinks he is responsible for the success of shows on AMC, and not the creators,” this person says. This person blames Stillerman for the decision to fire Darabont. (Stillerman also has a strained relationship with Mad Men’s Weiner, who declines to speak to him.) Through an AMC rep, Stillerman declined comment.
With “Walking Dead” in the middle of production on its second season, a number of very key and capable players are still involved, including Mazzara, “Walking Dead” comic creator Robert Kirkman and effects master Greg Nicotero. Only time will tell whether the “Dead” will suffer when they return or — who knows? — maybe even rise. If the show stumbles, many of its most passionate fans will blame AMC for firing Darabont, and he will become an even bigger martyr in their eyes than he already is.
Yep, sounds like everyone is pretty much screwed, including us fans who are so passionate about the franchise. All there is to do now is expect the worst and hope for the best. How could everything so good go so very bad? It’s kind of astounding really.
In terms of Joel Stillerman being painted as the problem here, you must remember there are three sides to every story – his, theirs, and the truth. Still though if everyone is calling you an asshole, it may be about time to take a look at yourself and your ego. In a perfect world, right?
More as it comes.
Got news? Click here to submit it!
Shamble on in the comments section below!