First to take the stage at the panel are AMC TV Sr. Vice President of Creative programming Joel Stillerman, makeup specialist Greg Nicotero, co-producer Gale Anne Hurdeshow, show creator Frank Darabont, and Walking Dead comic book creator Robert Kirkman.
- Gale Anne Hurd Kicked things off by talking about the Eisner-nominated comic series, The Walking Dead, and how the quality of that comic attracted AMC to the show.
- Frank Darabont talks about his interest in the show being a combination of George Romero nostalgia and the love of Kirkman’s approach, which keeps the zombie madness grounded in a very human story.
- Stillerman talks about the worldwide launch of The Walking Dead TV series in October: the show will launch simultaneously all over the globe in one of the biggest TV launches in recent memory.
- Kirkman talks about how proud he is that he found the perfect live-action format for “The Zombie story that never ends,” and how he always knew a film was impossible – but “Zombie TV“? Very possible. He’s not worried about the showrunners adapting his work.
- Nicotoro describes the “Zombie school” that took place in Atlanta, GA, in order to cast zombies who both “looked” the part to begin with, and actors who would give each zombie character, instead of having a mob of zombies all doing the same thing.
- Kirkman passed on the chance to play a zombie in the show; Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard totally went for it.
- Gale Anne Hurd describes each of Walking Dead‘s six initial episodes as “a one-hour movie.” The goal was to tell a complete tale in each episode of the show. Frank Darabont adds that while they are honoring the source material, “detours” will be taken that will keep the show unexpected and interesting for both fans and non-fans of the comic.
- Kirkman adds that he wants the comic and show to exist separately, and that new stories that the show spawns will be interesting and will “blow you away.”
- Stillerman is talking about the process of fleshing out AMC’s already impressive lineup (Mad Men, Breaking Bad) with a show like Walking Dead – about zombies. It’s an unexpected way to go, but one that promises to be exciting.
- Darabont announces that Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica) will be composing the show. The crowd goes NUTS.
- Darabont adds that the heat where the film in Georgia is so intense he lost about 15 pounds. The quoted temperature on a sun-baked rooftop of their set is 150° – I’m sure it’s not that hot, but still, you get the idea…
- Nicotero describes trying to keep the makeup right in the heat. Don’t want your zombies melting – he says nobody wants to eat with them at the lunch table as it is.
And here comes the first footage screened from The Walking Dead:
- The first scene is of a sheriff’s dept on a high speed chase after some crooks. A gunfight ensues and Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is shot. He slips into a coma and wakes up 28 Days Later style in a new world – that’s being overrun by zombies. His wife and son are gone, and the dead are everywhere. Grimes gets himself armed and rides out on horseback toward Atlanta to search for his wife and son. At one stop, he is forced to draw his gun on a young girl zombie. Cut to black.
- Next is a montage of different scenes from the series, including Grimes on the hunt for his family, tragic scenes of characters facing zombie versions of their friends and family, and lots and lots (and I do mean lots) of zombie-killing moments.
- The footage ends with Grimes waking up in a tank, only to find a horde of zombies waiting outside the hatch.
- By the way: these zombies move like your average human being – but they look nothing like one. Fantastic makeup work.
- The series looks dark, gritty, emotionally gripping and just…great. Another AMC winner.
In attendance were stars Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies (Prison Break), Laurie Holden, Jon Bernthal and Emma Bell.
- Callies plays Grimes’ wife, who goes missing.
- Bernthal plays Grimes’ best friend, Shane. There’s a MILD SPOILER that something scandalous develops between Shane and Grimes’ wife.
- Holden plays Andrea – a lawyer from Florida who’s on a road trip with her young sister Amy (Bell). Bell describes Amy as a normal college girl who happens to get caught up in a zombie apocalypse.
- Hurd announces that Michael Rooker will be joining the cast (Rooker is in the audience and was also seen in the footage screened.
- Lincoln didn’t read the comic before getting the lead role of Grimes. When he did, a friend dragged him to the comic store in his England neighborhood and made him read it. Lincoln loved it. He jokes that the recent birth of his son had him looking like a real-life zombie, and that’s why he got the part.
- Callies confesses that she’s never read a comic book nor seen a horror movie – “I’m a card-carrying chicken.” She says Greg Nicotero’s makeup work has “Ruined my life,” by giving her zombie nightmares.
- Lincoln and Bernthal describe the unique relationship between their two characters. Bernthal praises Lincoln as being “an amazing actor,” and says his ability and performance will carry the sow along. Lincoln responds by saying he only got the job because of the chemistry he shared with Bernthal (and Bernthal’s dog) – especially during their audition, which was held in Frank Darabont’s garage.
[MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW!!!]
- While fans dressed as zombies prowl the audience, a makeup artist complains that The Walking Dead was filmed in GA, and not LA. Darabont responds by saying that if Cali can ever “Get its @#$% together we would,” the tax breaks in GA are much better.
- The next fan question comes from an angry self-confessed “Zombie fan and mommy.” She was upset at Kirkman over a young boy named Carl in the comic – she wants to know how Darabont will handle that story using real young children as actors. Darabont jokes that Carl will be animatronic in the show – Nicotero adds that AMC is letting them seriously push the envelope. The gore will be there in the show.
- Hurd goes so far as to add that the preview footage shown was “For a family convention,” – the actual show will be much more violent and gory than what we saw (and that’s saying something).
- Characters we didn’t see – Glenn, Dale, Michelle(sp?), and Tyrese – will definitely be introduced to the show at different points down the line. Bell calls actor Jeff DeMunn (who plays Dale) “Gandalf of ‘The Walking Dead.’“
- Hurd says they realized that grainy, analog, Super 16 film was best for the show. She says they’re floating the idea of doing a recut of the pilot in the black and white coloring of the graphic novels…for the DVD release, of course (we’ll keep you posted on that front).
- Bear McCreary talks about composing for the show and trying to avoid classic horror cliches with jump-scare music and sound effects – he’s read your Internet ideas and he’s not going that way. He says we’ll dig the ideas he’s come up with.
- The last question was a SPOILER about Rick and Shane’s eventual confrontation – way to spoil it for us all, lady…
- Callies praises Chandler Rigs – the kid who plays her and Rick’s son Cole in the show.
The panel ended with a second look at the montage of the previewed footage. Good Stuff.
The Walking Dead premieres this October, worldwide, on AMC.