The producer of such genre hits as The Terminator and Aliens describes The Walking Dead‘s blockbuster potential, its commonalities with Piranha, and what makes zombies only the second-most dangerous characters in the series.
Q: What attracted you to The Walking Dead?
A: I have been a longtime fan of the comic. I also love the zombie genre, my zombie fandom going way back to Night of the Living Dead. And The Walking Dead is truly the ultimate representation of that sensibility in the comic book genre.
Q: You began your career working for Roger Corman. Does The Walking Dead remind you of his horror movies in any way?
A: Roger produced classic genre films as well as straightforward exploitation movies. If you go back to his Edgar Allan Poe films, the unpredictability of human nature is at the core of both. From Roger’s New World Pictures films, especially those written by John Sayles, like Piranha, they share the complex character elements of Robert Kirkman’s comic book series as adapted and directed by Frank Darabont.
Q: Frank Darabont directed the pilot, but other directors are helming the following episodes. Have you found it difficult to balance their visions with Frank’s?
A: No it’s actually been ideal since Frank directed the pilot adjacent to the subsequent episodes. Typically a pilot is shot months in advance, and there’s an intervening period during which the cast might lose the cohesiveness they shared while filming the first episode. In out case, the cast worked with Frank for our 14-day pilot shoot and then immediately began work on the next five episodes. In addition, Frank has spent a great deal of time on set, and is always available to us. Frank’s writing is both evocative in setting the tone and feel of each scene and quite specific vis a vis character, so it’s pretty easy for our directors to stay on the same page.
Q: You’re known for producing blockbusters like Terminator and Aliens. How is The Walking Dead similar?
A: I think what our series shares in common with those films in particular is that the best genre films are character driven. And while they have an intriguing premise and terrific special effects, at the end of the day they’re rooted in complex characters and great stories. At the same time, neither compromises on production value: Every eight days we shoot a miniature version of a tentpole movie. What’s so wonderful about The Walking Dead is that we’re able to explore human nature in its most depraved as well as its most humanitarian in each episode. We strip each character down to their most basic survival instincts — or lack thereof. It’s actually the zombies who are the most predictable: You know what zombies are after. What you can’t anticipate is how one surviving human is going to interact with another. And that’s what keeps the series fresh and compelling.
Q: Robert Kirkman has said he hopes the show goes on for 27 seasons. Can you envision that?
A: Oh absolutely! He’s sitting next to me right now, and we’ve talked about how our ensemble cast members either transcend or fall victim to their baser human instincts, so there’s plenty of fodder for at least 27 seasons.
Q: You’re getting ready to head to Comic-Con. As a veteran there, what are you looking forward to?
A: We’re absolutely thrilled that AMC has agreed to let us screen exclusive footage from Frank’s pilot episode for our Comic-Con audience, for the very first time anywhere. Frank and I are fans ourselves, and we want fans of The Walking Dead to see sequences that can really sink their teeth into [Laughs]. I’m hoping there will be a great deal of zombie love.
Q: Now that we’ve gotten a good look at the walkers, tell me honestly: Do they creep you out?
A: I love them, are you kidding?! I’m a genre girl from way back — this is my idea of heaven. Yesterday we were all looking at zombie bite tests Greg [Nicotero] created that almost made the videographer throw up, and all I could do was say, “That’s awesome, I love it!” I think that anyone who’s a fan of the genre or a fan of Robert Kirkman’s work will not be disappointed when they see the series.
Q: Speaking of Greg, he got dressed as a walker for one of the episodes. Do you have any inclination to do the same?
A: Well, you know, [Laughs] maybe Season 2. You don’t want all of your dreams fulfilled in the first season. So I’m very much hoping that we’ll get an order for Season 2, and I’ll be first to send in my application to attend zombie school!