There seemed to be complaints among fans that the first season moved too slowly. In season two, are there more “event” episodes?
Robert Kirkman: It wasn’t a conscious thing. I think season two is jam-packed - it’s a bigger season. There is a lot going on. I don’t know if I would necessarily agree with the season one criticism. We shoot a child at the start of every season.
What impressions have you gotten from social media? What do audiences want more of? What do they want less of?
RK: I think in general, people were very happy with the fact that we really focused on character.
Is it interesting to do your own “alternate reality” of your own comic?
RK: I think if we were to follow the comic exactly - and I think the comic is very good - it would bore me to watch the show as a fan, and know exactly what was going to happen. [I am paraphrasing so as not to give away any spoilers] Even if something happens in the comic book and the series, it might not happen in the same way. Even if you are a die-hard fan of the comic book, you aren’t expecting it. That is, I think, the best of both worlds. It has the same flavor and tone of the comic book series, so fans definitely respond to the television series, but we’re still able to pull the rug out from under them. I think one of the most appealing factors of the comic book series is that it is completely shocking, and you never know what is going to happen next.
The gore this season seems to be bigger and badder. Was it ever a fight with the network? Have they asked you to tone it down?
RK: No. I think the fight for me is always to find something they won’t let us do. We haven’t found that yet.
Glen Mazzara: With a show like this, it’s a balance. It’s a horror show, so there is a particular element that is fun to write, fun to film. But there is also a point where it becomes gratuitous. So you have to be careful. The audience does have a line. I don’t think we are pulling back; I think the gore makes sense here. We want to keep the show grounded. I don’t think it will ever become a splatterfest. That’s not what we are about.
It seems that this season, the zombies had a little more personality. Is that true? Am I just projecting?
GM: It depends on who plays the zombie that week. That has actually led to a lot of conversations. Zombies should not have personalities.
RK: We do like to play around with the idea of what zombies do when people aren’t around. I’ve always liked to think that they either just sit around, or they wander somewhere, not knowing where they are going.
Gale Anne Hurd: If there is no reason to move around, then generally, they won’t.
RK: I based the zombies on myself to a large extent. If I don’t need to get up, I won’t.
Darryl has become a fan-favorite and he wasn’t ever in the books. Was it planned out that he would be around this long?
RK: He’s a great character, and there is a wealth of story potential in him. We are really just having fun with him.
When you are casting actors to play characters that have appeared in the comic, how much are you looking for actors who look like those characters?
RK: It’s really just the best actor for the job. The fact that a lot of the actors look like the comic book characters they play is largely coincidence. A very strange coincidence that we are constantly talking about.
Can you talk about the different energy that Glen brings to the show?
GAH: He’s very open. He has a great grounding in television. He’s very funny. Glen keeps us all calm. Filming a show like this, there is always a crisis. Whether it is weather or ticks or whatever, he has the ability to keep everyone calm and things running well. He’s a great storyteller, and he is very character-oriented. This season, with 13 episodes, we really have the opportunity to delve into character
Is it true you haven’t read the comic books?
GM: I did not read the comics until this year, so when I wrote episode five last year, I was winging it - which offended [Robert]. When we were coming up with ideas for season two, he turned to me and said, “You haven’t read this comic, have you?” It was then that I realized I had better read the comic. I love comics, but I sort of wanted to get my own handle on the material. I was worried that reading the comics would give me something to shoot for, rather than listening to the show.
Will we find out what happened to Merle?
RK: We are very mindful of the various cliffhangers that we have put out there. It’s not something we are going to be ignoring.
Will the new Walking Dead novel inform the show in any way?
RK: No, that is based in the comic book continuity. The novel is basically a precursor to what happens in the comics.
Is there anything you would like to address regarding the change in command?
GM: I came over to the show to be Frank’s #2. I think Frank is a talented individual, a great guy, and I love working with him. We all did a lot of work plotting this season under Frank. I think a lot of the reason we have had such a smooth transition is that it is a fully articulated world. I think there has been a lot of concern that I’m going to fuck up the show, but really, we’re just trying to get it done. I think this is consistent to the material we did last year. Like any second season, you work out the bugs, you try to improve, and what you are seeing is the usual growth of any TV show. There is no plan to deviate from what we worked out; there is no different vision of the show. It’s just, “Let’s make the greatest show we can.”
Can you talk a little bit about the “why” of Frank’s departure? From a fan’s perspective, it seemed very sudden.
GM: I don’t want to talk about Frank’s situation. Frank is still an executive producer on the show, but it would be inappropriate of me to comment. I can talk about my experience, how much I care about the show.
A lot of the actors have talked about how influential Frank is to them, and how important he is to them. How is his departure affecting them?
GM: Frank is the big daddy figure. They care about him. They are just going on auditions, then suddenly the great Frank Darabont picks them to be on this great show. There is an emotional connection that they have with Frank that they will never have to another producer. I’m in the situation where I have to fill Frank’s shoes, and that’s a dangerous situation. I spoke to them honestly. Everything has been conceived under Frank’s direction, but not everything has been written. There are going to be scripts that are going to feel different. I went in asking for their support. Then I had to go talk to the crew. The cast asked that I not do that until they can be there, and stand behind me. That was really a win. They are such professionals, care so much about the work, so dedicated to making sure that the show does well. Honestly, the show could collapse. I don’t think it will. But when they stood behind me, I really felt like they were invested. They were saying, “Okay, this is confusing, but we’re going to try to make this work. We’re all in this together.” That has been the case. I speak to them all the time. They have questions, and we are working through it. The material continues to be good. It may not have the Frank Darabont feel, but I believe in it, and I believe that we will execute it the best we can. I think they have really risen to the challenge. It was a hard punch to take, and I think we are moving on.
GAH: It wasn’t like a palace revolt. It wasn’t like someone was brought in from the outside who wasn’t invested in the show. The other thing that was incredibly helpful was that Frank blessed Glen as show runner. He made that clear to the cast and crew. So I think that assuaged everyone’s concerns about whether or not this was something to be okay with. “Am I being disloyal?” is a very human response. But Frank was very clear that Glen had his blessing.
GM: I have a great relationship with Frank. He really responded to the script I wrote in season one. We worked one-on-one on it. We talked about what it takes to get a show up and running, so when he asked if I would want to come over and be the #2, I jumped at the chance. The cast knew that, so it wasn’t like I was an outsider who didn’t understand the show, who came in saying, “There’s a new sheriff in town.” That is not the case.
Have there been changes in the week-to-budget that fans will notice?
Any updates on the video game?
RK: It is definitely underway. The video game is based off the comic book series, and is not related to the television series at all. It should be debuting in early 2012. I think it is going to be on PC, XBox Live, and PlayStation Network.
There is a lot of talk about taking stuff from the comic and putting it into the show. Is there anything you would like to take from the show and put in the comic?
RK: That’s a very strange thing for me. I’d certainly like to - I think there are things from the show that would work well in the comic. But I have things planned so far in advance in the comic series, and I am years ahead of where the show is chronologically. Like most of the characters are dead, it’s almost an entirely new cast [in the comic]… it’s just hard to do any type of translation. It’s great for me because I am writing the comic and television show concurrently, so there is never any risk of me wanting to save something for the comic.
Has there been talk about taking the TV storyline and turning that into a comic?
RK: Not until now! I like to sell things so… if anyone else has any ideas or suggestions….
It seems like the zombies this season are moving faster than last season.
GAH: Our biggest concern [last season] was that they were moving too slowly. We had some scenes where it was like they were on Thorazine. The litmus is always that zombie in the cemetery in Night of the Living Dead - who ambles pretty fast.
RK: It’s also a sliding scale. We try to pay attention to how decomposed they are, how riled up they are, so it kind of fluctuates how fast they can go. They’re never going to be Olympic sprinters, but they can hobble along pretty quickly. We have a list of “zombie rules” I will look at every now and again.
The Walking Dead season 2 premieres on FX this October!
With the launch of season 2 on FX fast approaching, SFX chatted to new showrunner Glen Mazzara about the direction the show is taking.
How are you feeling about season two?
“I’m incredibly excited, we’ve just screened the 90 minute premiere episode for some critics in LA and New York, and there’s been an incredibly strong response, so today’s a very good day. I’m very happy with the reaction. That’s exactly what we wanted, and I think people realise that there’s a lot of great character development, more thrills, scares, a lot of drama. So I think it’s coming together quite nicely.”
Where does this season pick up? Does it follow on directly from the end of last season?
“It does. When we meet the group they’re in Atlanta preparing to leave the city, so I would say it’s perhaps a day or two after the ending of the previous season. What’s been interesting is that the Hershal Farm segment of the comic book I believe was only a few issues, and we’ve been able to mine it for many episodes. We’ve been able to discover new character dynamics and stories that can play out on that farm, so the way we’ve been approaching it is that Rick and his band are like a plague of locusts descending on poor Hershal’s farm. Hershal would be much better if they had never landed there. Scott Wilson is playing Hershal, Lauren Cohan is playing Maggie and they’ve done a terrific job of integrating into the cast.”
Will we see any more new characters that weren’t in the comic books this season?
“In the later part of the season we do introduce some new characters, who we’re just working on and developing now, so there will be. The only new characters we’re introducing right now are Hershal, Maggie and the people living on the farm, and so we didn’t want to bring on too many new characters because I believe our characters are so well defined, and it being an ensemble show, I didn’t want anyone getting lost in the shuffle.”
Were you a fan of the comics before you got involved in the show?
“Not at all. I had seen them, my friend was a fan, but when I wrote episode five of the first season I had not read the comics. I was hired as Frank Darabont’s number two for this season and started working on the show and still had not read any of the comics. So one day I was sitting with Robert Kirkman in the writers room – we were putting together pitches for the second season – and he said: ‘You haven’t read the comic book have you?’ I had to admit that I hadn’t, I was planning to but I hadn’t yet, because I was afraid it was infect my creative process. I was worried that I would then lean too heavily on the comic itself and not be able to step inside the world of the TV show and follow those characters and generate stories from within. So sometimes when I’m working on a project, I’ll sort of sit down taking in input from other creative sources so that I can just focus on my material at hand. So I had not read the comic book until season two when I was already working on the show for maybe a month or two.”
You mention working as Frank Darabont’s number two – are you feeling the pressure, stepping up into the showrunner role?
“Of course. Frank is a huge talent, he treated me extremely well and was really a mensch to me. And, you know, I turned down other showrunning opportunities to be Frank’s number two, because I wanted to work with him and believed in the show that he was creating. So when I wrote my first episode last year, when I wrote episode five, that was great experience and I enjoyed working with Frank. We had met when I was on The Shield, and obviously I was a fan of his work, so now to be elevated to show runner after Frank Darabont – I’m certainly faced with the challenge of filling very, very large shoes. The way that I’ve approached that is to not try to do so. I feel it’s important for me to find my own voice on the show and to try and use the road map that Frank developed for the show, to stay true to his vision of the show. But as a writer I think the show would suffer and feel inauthentic if I was just trying to mimic Frank’s voice. So I used his intention as a guidepost for the material we’re developing, but I certainly intend to do the best I can and trust myself as a writer”
How far into the production process were you when you had to step up to the show runner role?
“That’s a great question. We were shooting the fourth episode, and prepping the fifth episode, and we had scripts through to the seventh episode. We had delivered seven scripts before we started shooting, which was unprecedented in my experience. Frank had all of the writers write their drafts simultaneously, and then we tabled them and went through them together. This was after about a six week process of breaking the first part of the season. So we had a lot there, and I was very lucky that material was already there. We had talked about the arcs of the back part of the season, and some of that stuff was more developed than other material, but really I’ve had to work with the writers and start filling in all of the holes for the back part of the season.
“It’s been a very, very interesting process; there have been times when I’ve wanted to deviate from Frank’s material, but I didn’t necessarily think that deviation would be better, so I deferred to Frank’s vision and kept what was there. In a few instances I did deviate from when material was already written, but I only deviated if I felt very, very strongly about it and thought that it would generate more story, thought that it was good for the show. I never change things just for the sake of changing things just to put my stamp on the show. I tried to be very respectful of the work that Frank had done.”
Did you have any indication before Frank went that you were going to have to step up into that role, or did it come as a surprise?
“It was a surprise to all of us. Frank is a large personality, and a celebrity writer/director, and I just never thought that someone of that stature could be replaced. The cast and crew has been incredibly supportive; I find the writing staff to be absolutely terrific; we have fantastic directors and a wonderful set of producers. You know, there was no sea change necessary. There was an infrastructure in place trying to execute Frank’s fully articulated vision of the show, so I would have had to work against a lot of people to screw up the show! I was very lucky on that front.”
Did you have any indication as to why he left?
“Well, I’ll say this: I’m happy to say that Frank was very good to me and I enjoyed working with Frank, and I’m happy to say AMC has been good to me and I enjoy working with AMC. I don’t want to speculate about people’s personal business, I’m afraid that would be inappropriate.”
Walking Dead fans! New showrunner Glen Mazzara wants to calm your fears.
In an interview with TV Guide Mazzara set the record straight about replacing Frank Darabont as The Walking Dead boss. “There’s been all this concern that I’m going to f—- up this show, and really, we’re just trying to get it done,” said Mazzara.
“We all did a lot of work on plotting this season under Frank, and part of the reason we’ve had such a smooth transition is that it’s a fully articulated world,” said Mazzara, who had never read the comic books before starting Season 2. Previously, he wrote an episode in Season 1 as a freelancer. “This [season] is consistent with the material that we did last year. I think, like any second season, you work out the bugs. You try to improve. What you’re seeing is the usual growth of any TV show, creatively. There’s no plan to deviate from what we worked out, there’s no different vision of the show.”
“Let me be honest, it was rough,” Mazzara said of breaking the news to the cast. “There’s an emotional connection to Frank that they’re never going to have to another writer/producer.”
“So, now I’m in this situation where I have to take over and try to fill Frank’s shoes. Well, that’s a dangerous situation,” he continued, explaining to the cast that at some point, there’s going to be scripts that differ from Darabont’s voice. “I think the show would be inauthentic if I tried to mimic’s Frank’s voice. I’m not Frank Darabont and I shouldn’t try to be. I think that would hurt the show. I asked them, please help keep me honest, keep the writers honest and be collaborative.”
Check out this interview with The Walking Dead’s executive producer and show-runner Glen Mazzara. He discusses Rick turning into a bad guy and shares the Number 1 rule for writing horror.
How did your family react to the news you’d been named The Walking Dead’s show-runner?
A lot of people are lining up to be zombies. I actually brought my sons over to Greg Nicotero’s workshop, and part of me is I want to be made a zombie too. So maybe that will be a cameo some day, I don’t know. My son seemed to have a lot of unique ways to kill zombies. None that I really am interested in putting on TV, but that’s a big topic of conversation at the dinner table.
You wrote Season 1 Episode 5, “Wildfire.” How did that experience compare to helping craft a whole season’s narrative arc?
Well, last year I wasn’t available to staff Season 1. So I was offered a freelance, and really just enjoyed it. I saw what Frank’s intention was with the show and sort of broke the story and wrote to fulfill that. So then this year he brought me on to staff and we hired a great writing staff and we really worked out the season arc. So a lot of it is just following that road map. There will certainly be surprises and deviations from that, but I think for the most part, the characters’ journeys were discussed in depth at the beginning of the season. What’s been surprising is that in the graphic novel the story that takes place on Hershel’s farm is really only a few issues. We’ve been able to mine that for many episodes, and we’re very excited about the depth to which we’re able to push the characters, the different dynamics that we’re able to explore.
What particularly surprised you about this material?
Our approach to our group of survivors when they reach Hershel’s farm is that they are a plague unto themselves. Nothing goes right for Hershel once Rick and his band show up. They make the zombie apocalypse look like kids in a candy story. What’s interesting is that if this was a show solely about Hershel, Rick and his band would really be the antagonists. And that’s been really surprising because every action that Rick and his band take is completely logical, but you’ll certainly sympathize with Hershel.
You’ve worked on several police dramas like The Shield. Is it strange to now be writing about a cop who is so far out of his element?
Not really. The Shield was a very character-driven, yet action-packed visceral show. So I find writing The Walking Dead to be very similar. It’s about character moments and yet you have — just like in an urban police drama — anything could go wrong at any minute. One of the things that is different than the shows I’ve written in the past is that this is a horror show. And I am always cognizant of the fact that people are fighting for their lives and that you have those traditional scares from horror movies that you want to play in a fun, surprising way.
What’s the Number 1 rule of writing horror?
Keep the zombies scary. Zombies move slow and our guys have guns. So I have to make sure that our band is always threatened, that they’re panicked. For this show to be scary, we need to be convinced that the zombies are winning. So we really push ourselves as writers to make sure that we are not playing the same gags over and over. That every zombie feels unique, they feel different, that we want each encounter with a zombie to be memorable and not just throwing in a zombie for the sake of throwing in a cheap thrill. I feel that we have to make sure our characters are always in jeopardy. There is an issue with writing a TV show where you can’t kill off a main character every week—
As much as Robert Kirkman would want to…
Yes exactly. And you can say that: “As much as Robert Kirkman would want to…” Quote yourself. So you have a lot of close calls and you need to make sure that those are scary and that they lead to character moments coming out of them.
This is the second time you’ve run a show that’s an adaptation of an existing property — the first being Crash. What’s the secret to an adaptation’s success?
What’s great about this adaptation is that Robert Kirkman is such a huge part of it. In Crash, the writers and director of the film were involved at certain points, not involved at others, and then when the show deviated from what they believed Crash meant, I had a problem as a show-runner. On this show Robert has been very open to letting us tell our own story. Robert sees them as two different works of art — and they’re not in conflict with each other. As long as it’s good and as long as it’s scary, he’s happy.
That said, what element from the comic are you most looking forward to adapting?
I am dying to meet the Governor.
You just made every fanboy’s day.
There you go. And can I say something about our fanboys? We have a fantastic scene in our fourth episode this season that I believe will make every fanboy happy. It’ll give them hope that if they can make it through the zombie apocalypse, they can get laid off a hot chick too.
The Walking Dead season 2 will premiere on FX this October.