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Dispatches From the Set – Greg Nicotero (Executive Producer and Special FX Makeup Designer)

Greg Nicotero, the Executive Producer and Special FX Makeup Designer for AMC’s The Walking Dead, talks about new zombie tricks for Season 4 and bowling with Norman Reedus during the off-season.

Q: You directed the Season 4 Premiere episode. What is it like to be back?

A: What’s nice about the first episode is that they always supersize it and give you an extra day, because they know that the script is going to be insanely filled with great drama and great action, and we certainly didn’t skimp on anything in this one.

Q: Sounds like there’s a lot going on in Season 4…

A: The story arcs and the script this season are astoundingly detailed, and every single nuance is there for a reason. It’s really fascinating when you step back as a director and you deconstruct a script in your head. When you’re shooting this scene because, for example, Hershel says one word, then the next cut has to feature what he’s saying, that intent follows through.

Q: The weather has been really rainy in the South. How has that affected shooting?

A: As a matter of fact, one of the locations that I picked for the first episode, our first day of shooting, the place was underwater. So we literally had to scramble and pick a new location… They had Porta-Potties and all this stuff set up for where the crew was going to be, and I guess they floated away. [Laughs]

Q: What are the challenges of directing the Premiere?

A: For me, it’s really about putting the ship on the right course in regards to getting all the actors to know where their characters are and giving them insight into what’s coming down the pipe…

Q: What’s been your favorite episode to direct thus far?

A: Each episode I love for a different reason. The first episode I did in Season 2, where Dale gets killed, is the first piece of television I had directed. And I don’t think I told anyone else except Andy Lincoln, but I was scared s—less because I had one walker and this gigantic, huge, emotional episode… And then the second episode I did, 305, was so action-oriented. It was like four episodes in one because we had Rick going insane after Lori dies, then we had Michonne and Andrea’s story, and then we had Merle, and then we had the arena fights, and then we had the walker pits. 305 was really, really exhausting.

Q: Do you still get nervous directing?

A: I thought I was very prepared [this year]. I storyboarded a bunch of sequences, and I had a great prep with my director of photography, and we went over the script over and over again… So I wasn’t nervous until the first morning, and we were all setting up the first scene, and I looked around and thought, “Okay, now I’m nervous.”

Q: When you hang out with the cast off-season, what do you for fun?

A: I went to New York and my family went with me, and we ended up spending half the time with Norman Reedus and going bowling and we went to the Empire State Building. Norman had never been to the Empire State Building, and they took us up to the wee, wee top where there’s like eight feet above you and the rest is just terror.

Q: What new tricks do you have in store for the walkers this year?

A: In the first episode this season, one of the guys in my crew was like, “You did every gag that you ever did in three years of The Walking Dead in one episode.” We had walkers. We had mummified corpses. We had puppets. We had zombie bites… There were even a couple of gags that we came up with on the fly — there was a couple of sculptures that my guys in Los Angeles had done and I said, “Oh yeah, that’s a great walker.” Where people are like, “What are the iconic walkers for season four going to be?” I’m like, “Well, you’ll just have to see!”

Q: Did you have a favorite zombie gag from Season 3?

A: I’ve got to say the burned walkers in Episode 14… where Bowman comes back after Milton burns the pit. What I really wanted when we shot that sequence was to make it look like there were 15 walkers that had just melted together into one writhing mass of burnt flesh… It really made me proud.

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