Two weeks ago, fellow Booze Reviews writer Jack Conway let me borrow the first four volumes of Robert Kirman’s THE WALKING DEAD. Before then, I had never read or seen the books. I was quite aware of the new show AMC had announced based on the successful comic book series. The excitement seed had already been planted in my brain from the now old news that Frank Darabont was to helm the project as writer, executive producer, and director of the pilot episode. That excitement seed quickly bloomed into a full blown monster excitement plant in my brain after getting through the first couple pages of the first issue of the graphic novel. So when it was confirmed I would be attending the panel and press event for AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD that would include Executive Producer Gale Anne Hurd, Frank Darabont, zombie makeup genius Greg Nicotero, and the cast…well…my obsession overtook me.
The two weeks moved by slowly but finally it was time for Comic Con and THE WALKING DEAD panel. It was set to start at 11:30 am, so like a guy who likes to plan ahead, I got in line at 10:30 am. To my surprise, the line was already packed and seemed to wind around a number of halls and then outside onto a patio area where the line proceeded to snake back and forth along separation ropes much like lines for rides at an amusement park. There must have been at least one thousand people ahead of me in line. The room the panel was to be held in had a maximum occupancy of two thousand people and I heard word that hundreds of people set up shop in there already for the panel which was currently underway. Here I thought I was smart. Get a good seat, sit through a panel you’re not interested in, and then you’re set with a prime spot for the panel everyone else is standing in line for. Regardless, I did get in. Just barely. Not far behind me, they cut the line off and hundreds of people were turned away.
The panel was already under way and I was sitting close to the back of the room. The moderator was already posing questions to the panelists and the first one that really stood out to me was directed towards Joel Stillerman, AMC’s Senior VP of Programming, Production, and Digital Content.
When asked how he sees THE WALKING DEAD fitting into their original programming, he replied, “Well I think it fits in first and foremost because it is phenomenal storytelling which drew us to the material in the first place.”
He went on to call the subject matter a quintessential AMC show that adds another layer that will mesh well with AMC’s cutting edge original programming. He added, this is the first time AMC is launching an original show to their yearly Frightfest program schedule which takes place in October.
Minutes later, Frank Darabont announced that Bear McCreary, of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA fame, was now attached as the show’s composer. At the mere mention of McCreary’s name, the crowd of fanboys and nergirls errupted in what sounded like a shared orgasm. (note to self: watch BSG)
One shared scream of approval was followed by another as they announced they will show the never before seen trailer for the show. The lights went out and this two and a half minutes of amazing happened:
Since watching it this first time, I have seen it now about 50 times. Yet with each viewing, I still get the chills. When the trailer was done and after the crowd erupted again in approval, the moderator asked FranK Darabont about the casting process. This was one of the questions I had planned on asking. In my mind, I could only imagine it was difficult to match the characters’ appearance on the comic books with the actors to appear on screen. Darabont said he always goes to actors he has worked with before (ie: Jeff Demunn and Laurie Holden), then stated the remainder of the casting process was “quite a journey”.
At this point, members of the cast came out:
Andrew Lincoln plays Deputy Rick Grimes
Sarah Wayne Callies plays Lori Grimes (Rick’s wife)
Jon Bernthal plays Shane Walsh
Laurie Holden plays Andrea
Emma Bell plays Amy
After the cast made their short introductions, Executive Producer Gale Anne Hurd (Producer of Terminator and Aliens) announced Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker as the two newest additions to the cast.
Frank Darabont and Robert Kirkman both touched on the interesting ideas and choices that will make the graphic novels and TV show a separate entity. Mr. Darabont’s unique story choices at some points in the story will surprise even the most hardcore fans and keep the story fresh.
It was around this point of the panel, when random zombies started making their way up and down the aisles. It was only later on at the press conference, that Jon Bernthal confessed his urge to jump over the table and start taking them out with whatever weapon was nearby. He stated that once you are in this zombie apocalypse reality the show throws you into, it almost becomes a second nature instinct to whack any zombie, even a fake one, in the head with an axe. He went on to say, “It’s all fun and games and there’s all these people but I will not hesitate stomp your head in.”
; I’d like to go on record and say if there ever is a zombie apocalypse, I want Jon Bernthal in my group.
Soon the panel ended and I headed over to the press event.
When asked how each of them got involved with the project, Jon Bernthal said after reading the script, he called his agent and said he’d give anything just to be a zombie extra. He went on to discuss the hard process in finding the right Rick Grimes but as soon as Andrew Lincoln walked in to read for the part, they knew. Apparently those auditions were held in Frank Darabont’s garage, true story.
When asked the same question, Sarah Wayne Callies confessed she thought she didn’t get the part but described the script as “ludicrous, exciting, and impossible”. She then continued on about the experience with, “just to charge at a cliff and jump off at full speed and hope you have wings on your back and as an actor it’s exciting to try something that’s such a risk and this show is.“ She went on to say each episode of the show is a surprise where one week’s genre may be action and the next may be drama; one week there may be hundreds of zombies where the next may not have any.
Andrew Lincoln contributed his input stating the show and comic book story alike represent to him a modern twist on a classical fable. He then further compared the compelling human drama in the ongoing story as a play where the genre is a visual embodiment of our society ‘s mortality. He continued further by calling it “A beautiful allegory”, “Messy”, and “Shambolic”. The other two cast mates soon started laughing saying he just made that word up. Bernthal blamed it on Lincoln being British but Mr. Lincoln insisted shambolic is indeed a word. He said it means festival. But before anyone could question how that made any sense, our time was up.
These actors were so cool and down to earth, I was a bit tempted to ask them to get beers with me later.
Next Frank Darabont and Greg Nicotero joined us at our table and I can tell they were very happy to sit down and rest in this cool air conditioned room. Earlier in the panel, they both spoke of the intense heat in Atlanta, Georgia where the production is taking place. Temperature of up to 110 degrees led Nicotero and some friends to run and jump in the San Diego ocean as soon as they arrived in town from wrapping a shoot the same day at 5:30 in the morning. He said it was freezing cold and liberating compared to the heat they were getting used to.
From the first sentence Frank Darabont spoke, I remembered how much of a cool guy he is. He’s a film nerd at heart. He’s not just a director but a fan and you can totally tell. He started reading The Walking Dead books five years ago and has been adamant about getting this show made ever since.
When asked about his reaction to the experience bringing this project to Comic Con, he said, “The excitement seems to be much greater than I had anticipated. A bigger deal than I had thought. There’s sort of a greater cultural buzz forming here which is like, fuck no pressure huh!?” Greg Nicotero then added, “When we all watched the trailer for the first time today it was overwhelming. I got chills and choked up. Everybody had that same reaction. It’s really been fantastic.”
When asked about the zombie work in this project, Frank chimed in, “Great kudos to Greg who is the Zombie King. All his zombie experience has led him to this. This is going to be the jewel in that zombie crown. Greg put his best on the table like whatever he wanted to do with a zombie all these years, we had the opportunity to do something cool with it. He even played a zombie eating a deer. The makeup they crafted for himself is fucking great, it’s my screensaver at home now. It’s so messed up, it’s just great. I think it’s going to be on the cover of Fangoria.”
When the casting of Michael Rooker and Norman Reedus was brought up, Mr Darabont went on to inform us neither of the characters those actors play are in the original comic at all. They are all his invention and Reedus is hanging in there as one of the ensemble cast members. He said he’s added an extra character or two that’s really going to shake the ingredients up a bit more. Nicotero continued, “The explorations were so well integrated in the script I couldnt remember if it happened in the original books or not. It’s really exciting, the fact that Frank is so respectful of the flavor that Kirkman laid out. But its like OK we’ve got a little bit of time so let’s go down this road and check this out for a little while and then we’ll come back over and get back into the key Kirkman moments like the zombie eating the deer which you talked about.”
Finally, the most important question was asked of them:
What would be your weapon of choice in the Zombie Apocalypse?
GN – Weapon of choice in zombie apocalypse? The Atom Bomb.
FD – You can’t use an Atom Bomb cuz you’re not gonna survive using it!
GN – How do you know?
FD – You have to take the question seriously.
GN – It was the first thing that came to my head.
Frank Darabont then smiled and paused.
“I would want the assault rifle that Al Pacino used in HEAT. The one he took out Sizemore with. And a van full of ammunition to go with it.”
At that moment, the interviews came to a close. I walked up to Mr. Darabont and he remembered me from my drunken NOES: DREAM WARRIORS fanboy freakout I had with him at a birthday party some years back. He smiled and hugged me. I thanked him for bringing Robert Kirkman’s genius to the screen. I am now, more than ever, bursting with zombie nerd excitement. October can’t come quick enough, if you ask me.
As he walked out and we packed up, I couldn’t help but add Mr. Darabont to my now growing list of people I’d like to fight off zombies with. I bet he’s real handy with a pump action shotg
AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD Series Premieres in October 2010 As Part of AMC’s Fearfest.