Currently gearing up for a highly-anticipated Season Two is Frank Darabont’s The Walking Dead, the wildly popular TV adaptation of the Robert Kirkman comic book series that debuted to stellar ratings on AMC last fall.
At this past Friday’s Saturn Awards I managed to catch up with Darabont and executive producer Gale Ann Hurd (Walking Dead won for Best Television Presentation, with Darabont also taking home the George Pal Memorial Award) to talk about what we might expect in upcoming episodes.
Topics covered include how gory we can expect the second season to get, what popular character from the comics will be showing up in Season Three, and the behind-the-scenes writer’s room controversy that made headlines last November. You can check out the full (very interesting) conversation inside.
Note: As there was a small contingent of reporters participating in this interview, I have noted “BD” before any question asked by me personally.
Q: In Season Two, what’s the ratio of material that’s based on the comic book vs. the ratio of new material, as opposed to what the ratio was in Season One?
Frank Darabont: I think we’re kind of following the same…if there was a ratio, a measurable ratio…
Gale Ann Hurd: By the way, at Robert Kirkman’s behest. It’s not just coming from those of us who didn’t create the material, it’s coming from the originator. And he keeps telling us that he’s gonna be incorporating some storylines and characters from the series in the graphic novels.
Bloody Disgusting: Frank, will you be directing any Season 2 episodes?
FD: Hoping to do the last one. Hoping to do the 13th episode. That remains entirely…[re: Gale] if she lets me!
GAH: It’s more about the exigencies of post-production and the demands…
FD: Yeah, post and getting the scripts done in time, and balancing everything against the post schedule, which is relentless. You know, it’s one of those…I’d hate to not to do it. So I’m gonna try, I’m really gonna try. It would suck not to.
Q: You’re like the anti-Spielberg –
FD: [He and Gale begin to laugh heartily] So if I’m the anti-Spielberg, is that like anti-matter? If we actually meet does the universe explode? What happens?
Q: [Clarifying] His films are about the redemption of the patriarch, and how the father always saves everything. And your films seem to continually end with the father being proven wrong, or in some way being proven invalid. And I’m wondering where that came from.
FD: Oh, this is like a therapist’s couch now! [Laughs] Well, without getting too far into my relationship with my father, I’m sure that there is some complication that went into that, you know? I’m sure it shows up in my work probably. But I think my fathers are kinder, I think their intentions are better. Whether things go right or wrong, at least their hearts are in the right place. More than I can say for my dad! [Laughs]
Q: As a big horror fan yourself and connoisseur, is it tough sometimes to create a new zombie kill? Because you’re aware of what’s come before, you’re aware of how many different classic kills there have been. So in the show, do you feel some pressure in that regard?
FD: Yes, absolutely. But I’m telling you right now, we have in episode 2, we have as unique a scene that’s never been done before – if it has, I’m going to jump off the cliff here – because I’m certain it’s as unique as when they chopped up the zombie in episode 2 of the first season. It’s a very unique little scene.
GAH: And Greg Nicotero and his KNB Effects team are back. In fact, Greg, we left him sweating in Atlanta this morning! [Laughs]
FD: Yeah, he took over second unit from me this morning when I got in the van to come here, to get to the airport and come here.
Q: So overall, is it the same amount of gore this season, would you say? Because audiences have embraced it, are you guys more comfortable with doing more on-screen gore?
GAH: We’re always comfortable! It’s Standards and Practices! [Laughs] [But] they’ve been pretty comfortable.
FD: Yeah, my favorite thing…by the way, in the three-disc set that’s coming out – and I’m not stumping for people to go out and buy it – but Constantine Nasr has done a fantastic documentary, it’s like an hour-long thing, of the entire six episodes. [It’s] a very behind-the-scenes, boots-on-the-ground documentary, it’s really, really good. And my favorite line is when we were discussing the axe. [to GAH] Remember that? [She smiles and nods] That we were gonna chop the zombie up with? And I said, ‘there’s no such thing as too big an axe’. That’s the philosophy of the show I’ve realized! There’s no such thing as too big an axe!
Q: You have a non-traditional writing staff this season, and I wanted to know how that has affected the ability to create a season arc –
GAH: [Bristling] How is that non-traditional? We have a writer’s room.
Q: Oh, cause I had read –
GAH: Well, don’t believe everything you read!
Q: Well, can you explain where that came from then?
FD: Uh, yeah. The big sensational headline last year was ‘Darabont fires entire writing staff!’ [he’s referring to a story that originated on Nikke Finke’s Deadline.com] It sounded like I went in and slaughtered twelve people and threw their bodies in a dumpster! It’s not the case at all. There were two writers that i didn’t invite back from last year, for reasons that I needn’t go into, but no, we put together a really good, solid regular staff this year, and they’re doing inspired work. You know, the only sense that it’s non-traditional is in the sense that I’m encouraging these folks, guys and gal, to really color outside the lines and swing for the fences and not just sort of hit the marks of television writing, but to try and do something really unique and different. And they’re really rising to the challenge.
GAH: And sort of following the British model, which is to turn in – everyone breaks story together, and then go off and write their episodes so that we actually had eight scripts written [for the first eight episodes, each by writers] before we started shooting.
FD: Yeah, before we started filming we had eight scripts in place, which is really nice! Yeah, you can really see the arcs there and see the connective tissue that needs to happen, and make those things happen. You know, when you have eight scripts in front of you it’s fantastic.
GAH: And now [they’re writing] the back five [episodes].
Q: Since you only had six episodes in the first season and now you have thirteen, are there any characters from the first season that you wish you could’ve given more attention to that you think in particular are blossoming this season?
FD: Oh god, I think they’re all blossoming this season. Everybody’s going through some fantastic changes, aren’t they? Everybody’s going to get more time, of course, more weight, more screen time, more emphasis. I’m really…
GAH: And Andy [Lincoln] gets a day off! [Laughs]
FD: And Andy Lincoln gets a day off here and there! Yes, exactly!
BD: How long can you see this going past the second season? Is this a show you can see going for six years, seven years…?
FD: Of course!
GAH: Well, when you consider that Robert Kirkman has over 80 issues of his comic book…and he’s still going strong and won the Eisner Award last summer…
FD: Yeah, I think so…and also given that we’re expanding the material instead of collapsing it as we go, oh yeah!
BD: Do you think this is going to lead to more horror on TV, given how big a hit it is?
FD: It’s so weird to me that on DirectTV when it comes up, you know, they have the description of it on the guide – they still won’t refer to it as horror!
BD: What do they call it?
FD: At first it was science-fiction, and I was going…uh, not by my definition! Then it’s like some kind of thriller definition…they won’t call it horror! It’s a horror show for god’s sake! It’s frustrating…how is that not horror?
Q: How have you been able to consistently do mainstream, glossy Hollywood fare and more grungy horror stuff at the same time? I can’t think of any other director that’s been able to do both. How do you get away with it?
FD: Really? Cause I’m a lucky son of a bitch, I guess. I mean, I love both. I really love both. I love the luxury of the schedule, but in a weird way I kind of love the insanity and the pressure of no schedule. I seem to be doing okay in it. I may unravel and start gibbering like Renfield in Dracula one of these days. But I’m hanging in there so far. [To GAH] How about you?
GAH: As long as we finish the casting tonight. [Laughs]
FD: Gayle, you’ve done the same thing though, I mean you’ve done big budgets, you’ve done small budgets –
GAH: But I’ve mostly stayed in science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Mostly.
Q: The fans have their favorite characters from the comic of course, one of which was Glenn, and he seemed to get applause when he was first shown at Comic Con. Can you talk at all about how we might see his role furthered in this? I mean obviously he gets a girlfriend in the comics –
GAH: [Laughs] Steven Yeun [the actor who plays Glenn] certainly thinks that’s pretty cool!
FD: Yeah, he’s pretty happy about that, yeah. [Laughs]
Q: Will that happen pretty early in the second season?
FD: Oh, along the way. Not ‘early early’, but we’re getting there.
Q: And the other one is Michonne, she’s huge in the comics. Any chance we might see her this season?
FD: I can officially tell you Michonne is coming in third season.
GAH: If we get a third season! [Laughs] So everyone better watch Season Two if they want a Season Three!
Q: Are you casting for that now?
GAH: No, no.
FD: No, that’s later, yeah.
[Note: Some non-horror talk omitted here]
Q: For ‘Walking Dead’, is there a character each of you identify with or relate to the most?
Q: Why is that?
GAH: Well because, you know, people don’t expect that she’s going to become the warrior that she becomes…
FD: Boy, is that a fun arc we’re doing this season! Oh my god! I love them all, I love them all, I really care about them all. And I hate that we’ve killed some of them. I feel dirty when I do it, you know?
GAH: We keep talking about it like it’s a soap opera. Do they have a twin? Can they come back in a dream sequence? [Laughs]
FD: It’s just so sad, you know?
Q: Could we see flashbacks with any of them, like Emma Bell?
FD: She keeps saying she should be an angel or a ghost, right?
GAH: Right, yes.
FD: I keep telling her it’s the wrong show. [Laughs] But we love her!
GAH: ‘Touched By a Zombie Angel’.
FD: She keeps coming by…you know, she lives in Los Feliz, so she keeps coming by the office and having lunch with my staff, and with Jess, and [producer] Denise [M. Huth], it’s really fun. She’s really sweet. She’s a really sweet girl. And we said goodbye to her too soon. I think if we’d had a thirteen episode season, we would’ve been able to stretch that out a bit, but we had to get rid of her. We still miss her.
BD: Yeah, that was a sad death, I have to say.
FD: That sucked! [Laughs] But she’s so good. It was so good though, the two gals.
GAH: They really bonded!
FD: Laurie [Holden] and Emma.
GAH: Didn’t they have birthdays on the same day?
FD: They were born the same day, yeah, as it turns out.
BD: As a fan of ‘The Mist’, are there any future horror features for you?
FD: Oh gosh, yeah, I’d love to! I don’t have anything specific in mind. One spends one’s life looking for good material, hoping for good material, and then you spend the other half of your life hoping somebody will say yes to it when you find it. That’s the obstacle course of our business, isn’t it? It’s frustrating!
Q: You were talking about Standards and Practices. Have there ever been any gory moments – i.e. any ‘axe too big’ – for them?
FD: No, no.
GAH: No. No axe too big!
FD: No, geez, Melissa McBride buries a pickaxe in her dead husband’s head, in wonderful close-up with huge splatters of blood that hits the lens!
GAH: And we kill a zombie girl. A kid.
Q: The very first scene.
GAH: Yes! [Laughs]
FD: The mission statement of the show was like that first scene.
GAH: Right up front!
Q: Was that what it was? Were you guys just trying to define what the show was up front, and say if this isn’t for you, then stop watching now?
FD: Well, you know, when I say ‘mission statement’, it wasn’t really done in a calculated day, it wasn’t purpose-built for that reason. I just thought that it was a really cool scene to pull us into that world in a teaser. But it became that, in a sense. When we were cutting the show together I remember turning to Gale going ‘wow look, we killed a seven-year-old in the first scene. It is kind of our mission statement, isn’t it? It kind of like really sets the tone. It clues the audience in, ‘if you don’t dig this kind of stuff, you really should just tune out now. But if you do think this is intriguing, then stick around’, you know?