TV: ‘Demon Knight’ Director Talks Undead with ‘The Walking Dead’

Things are moving forward without Frank Darabont and AMC has their director for the second and third episodes of The Walking Dead season two, based on the Image comic book series created by Robert Kirkman.

In this latest dispatch from the set, Ernest Dickerson (Demon Knight, “Dexter”, “Treme” – and episode “Wildfire” of season one of “The Walking Dead”), the director for Episodes 2 and 3 of Season 2, shares his secret for surviving the wilds of rural Georgia, explains what “The Walking Dead” has in common with The Wild Bunch and describes trying to outdo Season 1′s guts.

Walking Dead

Q: What was the inspiration to direct two episodes back-to-back for Season 2?

A: It was the set of the highway, which was going to be common to both episodes. So we felt it would be better to shoot all of that for Episodes 2 and 3 at one time because that was going to be the last time that the government was going to let us block off the road. Artistically, it was better to keep it all together. So part of the day I would be shooting Episode 2 and the other part I would be shooting scenes from Episode 3. It got kinda crazy juggling both episodes but it seemed to work. These shows are always fun to do — they’re just difficult. We always had to protect ourselves from ticks and snakes and poison ivy and poison oak and poison sumac along with the weather and uneven ground, all kinds of stuff.

Q: Did any of those afflict you personally?

A: No, I wound up being okay. My fiancée hinted me to the fact that peppermint soap is one of the best things to deter ticks and a lot of other insects, so I was showering with that every night and every morning and shampooing with peppermint shampoo. Usually mosquitoes love me, but I had no problems with the bugs. It turns out everybody that did not use the peppermint soap wound up finding ticks on them whenever they went home.

Q: You cut your teeth working with Spike Lee, and are known for directing urban stories. What was it like to be shooting in rural Georgia?

A: Yeah, I did all those urban films, but I’ve been a student of good horror since I was a kid. It was also good to get back to the woods because I used to go out camping quite a bit when I was younger. It’s interesting shooting in the woods: Like any different environment, you have to go and just adapt. So we just dragged all of our tools and equipment into the woods and tried to make it through the day.

Q: You’ve said one of your greatest influences was Alfred Hitchcock. Is there anything about your work on The Walking Dead that’s reminiscent of him?

A: Well, Hitchcock was a master visual storyteller. He believed in something that he called “pure cinema,” where the dialogue is almost superfluous. And I do try to tell the story as visually as I possibly can. For The Walking Dead, most of my influence comes from Westerns. Everything is there: Our main characters are pioneers trying to survive in a strange new world, the rules of which they’re learning every single day; it’s a hostile environment and they’re trying to hold on to a semblance of civilization. And that’s what westerns are about, especially the films of John Ford and Sam Peckinpah. The Searchers, The Wild Bunch, they influenced me quite a lot.

Q: You directed last season’s Episode 5, where Andrea had to kill the zombified Amy. Did anything compare to that intensity in these episodes?

A: I’m really proud of that scene because it was beautifully written and just working it out with Laurie Holden on how to play it worked out really well. I think we got some pretty good scenes this time also: We have a walker autopsy. When we were shooting it, I kept wondering if it’s gross enough. I can get pretty critical because I know what everything is, and that this is just plastic or rubber, so is it gross enough? I was actually trying to outdo the episode from last year where Rick and Glenn had to smear the zombie guts on themselves. [Laughs]

Q: What was your favorite aspect of being on set?

A: I think one of the reasons I’m a director is I’m 60 years old, but I’m still a big kid. And hopefully everybody else that I’m playing with feels the same way. Honestly, that’s one of the things that I feel is my job as a director, to allow the actors to feel like they can play and try things and bring things to their characters as long as it works with the script. So I think the big kid in me tries to make sure — as tough as it is, because it is tough — that everybody’s having a pretty good time doing it.

Q: What has The Walking Dead taught you about surviving the apocalypse?

A: Have lots of canned food, lots of bottled water, peppermint soap, and watch your back. Usually people that don’t watch their backs, those are the ones that get jumped and eaten by the zombies.