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Part Two! Quint visits the set of The Walking Dead! Darabont chat! Fast vs slow zombies? Plus much more!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. With part two of my Walking Dead set visit report. Read Part One here! Now where did we leave off again? Oh, yeah…:

Lunch was called and I found myself sitting across from Mr. Darabont as we chowed down.

Talk wandered a bit, but I did ask some series questions… For instance, at what point will the series reach the prison? I expected maybe end of the first 6-episode season, but Darabont said the current plan is to reach the prison somewhere at the end of the second season. He really wants the first two seasons to be an on-the-road story. He went on to say that he will be heavily involved in the series, but that right now the pilot is the only episode of Season One he’s directing. He did call overseeing the post on the show “a full time job” in and of itself. Don’t know who else is coming in to direct, but I know the person directing the second episode hails from Canada. He also mentioned there will be a huge Walking Dead presence at Comic-Con this year. I suggested they do a zombie flash mob and I only got a sly smile in return, so we’ll see. Then the age old (maybe more like decade old) zombie question. Fast or slow? I was first asked my opinion. I said that I’ve always been a slow zombie guy, but I like those that have attacked this question scientifically. Meaning a fresh corpse would be faster before rigor set in, before the muscles atrophy and grow slower as they rot. Frank compared his zombies to lions. After they eat they’re a little dopey, you can walk by them… but if they’re hungry you’re prey and they’re very dangerous. Darabont said he’s put a lot of thought into it and decided to fall back to George A. Romero’s original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. He called it the “Book of Genesis” of his zombies here. People forget the first zombie we see in NOTLD is moving fairly quickly. He’s not running, but he shuffles after Barbara at a decent speed. That, Darabont feels, gives him a little liberty at having his zombies do a little more than a mummy-walk. That said, you’re not going to see 28 Days Later stuff here. Look at the cemetery zombie from NOTLD, that’s the top speed.

Back on set the clouds had parted and the sun shone bright. Unfortunately that meant silks had to be erected to filter out the light so the new footage would match the rainy/cloudy previous footage. Darabont volunteered that things like matching were a big test for directors. The instinct is to just move on. It’s frustrating to sit and wait when he has to make his day. On top of that, you can cite some of the best movies of all time as having horrible matching. Darabont mentioned both Jaws and Saving Private Ryan. In Jaws they were shooting on the ocean and didn’t have the luxury of waiting to match the sky… their production was much more dictated by when the shark was working. So if you watch that movie, you’ll see the skies go cloudy to bright and back again in one scene. With Saving Private Ryan, Darabont pointed to the rescue coming in at the end after Hanks shoots the tank… how they are coming in during a pouring rain and arrived completely dry in the sunshine. As the silks were being raised I noticed a new zombie: a woman whose left arm was missing below the elbow. They were able to hire an amputee to play one of the undead. Nicotero and his team had dangled tendons and gore down her arm so she looked the spitting image of one of Charlie Adlard’s zombies. Sarah Wayne Callies, who is playing Rick’s wife Lori, came to set with her very cute and very large dog to watch the first zombie day. She hadn’t shot yet and seemed very squeamish about the zombies, a problem she admitted she needed to get over. Although she did get a very cool picture, courtesy of Nicotero’s camera-work, of all the hero zombie extras petting her dog. We chatted a bit about the character of Lori, a character I view as the most challenging in the ensemble. Lori’s constantly reacting in the books and could be seen as… well, a bit of a nag. She’s always telling Rick not to do something… and there are revelations that paint her in a fairly unflattering light. Yet, she’s gotta be able to anchor Rick. Callies agreed and mentioned her and Darabont having long talks about Lori and her concerns of giving Lori enough real and caring moments so we can buy her and Rick as a genuine couple. She also showed me a heart-shaped locket she has been wearing since getting the part. In it is a picture of young Chandler Riggs (GET LOW) who will be playing Carl, Rick and Lori’s child. I then brought up my theory that Carl is going to play a HUGE part of the book as it goes on. He’s already playing a larger role as he comes of age in the zombie apocalypse, but I think it’s going to go one step further in the near future. She didn’t comment on that, but said Riggs is going to be great in the role. The next shot up was a low angle behind Rick as he walks up to the station and sees the No Gas sign banging in the wind. The low angle turns into a close up as Rick walks in and turns towards camera. After the first take Frank called out perfect and he wanted to check the gate (meaning the camera crew checks the film gate to make sure it is clear of debris… you know when you see little hairs wavering at the edge of the frame when watching a movie? That means there was a dirty gate when shooting. Checking the gate is a last step before moving on to the next shot). Cinematographer David Tattersall broke from the set and started making his way to the video village tent. Darabont noticed and called out “Oh, no! It’s Tattersall! He’s coming! Hide me!” Smiling, Tattersall approached and conferred with Darabont. Apparently he wanted to make sure the sign flapping in the wind was dramatic enough. The idea is that the banging of the sign is going to drive the scene, giving it a very creepy vibe. Darabont agreed and they got a couple more takes as crew members aimed a fan at the sign so it swung and flapped dramatically enough. On the last take Darabont called out “It’s just like the inside of my head!” and they moved on. Now enter the little girl, fully zombied out. Outside of seeing her legs shuffle past the camera this was her first real shot. They waited until after lunch to get all of her fully dressed shots because the contacts were full-eye and difficult for a little girl to put up with. Nicotero and his team needed about 40 minutes to prep her. I’m not exactly sure how Darabont is going to present this scene. I saw him get enough coverage to play it in a few different ways. Either he can clue the audience in before Rick (that’s the way I vote) or he can keep her face hidden until she turns around and faces him. This first shot was on little Addy with Rick rounding the car behind her, out of focus. She stops and does a dead-eyed stare right at camera as Rick cautiously approaches behind her. It’s a very close shot, so you see a lot of the detail of KNB’s work with the cheek rip and the contacts. Her eyes rotate to the right, her head following them as she slowly… oh, so slowly… turns to face Rick. She takes her first step and Rick doesn’t move. When she gets close enough Rick pulls his revolver and aims at her head. CUT! Denise Huth turns around at video village and announces to those in her immediate surroundings that “We’re all going to burn in hell.” There was something electric about this shot. Sarah Wayne Callies had her hand over her mouth, eyes wide. She said this is almost too much for her and I thought “Oh boy, are you in for it! This is just the start.”

Frank tweaked it a little bit on the second take. This time instead of doing a simple zombie shuffle towards Rick Addy started slow, then sped up as she got closer. In Part One of this set piece I mentioned this reminded me of a thirsty man in the desert seeing water for the first time in a week and that’s pretty much spot on. She was too fucked up to be hauling ass, but there was an immediacy to her walking-jog that was missing the first time. Also, on the second take Rick backed up and the decision to pull the gun felt more like instinct. He still pauses, the gravity of what he’s about to do weighing on him, but then mimed pulling the trigger and the kick of the shot. When Lincoln came to the monitors to see how the shot looked Addy’s mom exclaimed “You just shot my little girl!” with a smile. Lincoln responded with a sincere “I’m so sorry” which got a laugh out of video village. The next set-up was closer to a Rick POV. The shot started looking down on Addy’s bunny slippers as she passes and we see her back walking away from us. It’s the same action… she stops, she slowly turns and then takes a slow step that turns into a faster shuffle. To be frank, this looked fucking terrifying. There was an issue with Addy blinking that diminished the effect a bit, but was hard to help. She had really uncomfortable contacts in and just couldn’t really hold that open-eyed stare while running. Callies suggested a trick she learned at some point, which was to do a long blink right before the camera sees the eyes. Frank asked Addy if she could blink right before she turns toward camera and on the very next take no blinking. And it was even more horrifying than before. When Addy sped up this time Frank loudly giggled from behind the monitor leaving no doubt the deepness of his inner-geek. One more shot before moving on to the first zombie kill of the show. This shot was a “gunslinger” shot, at Rick’s hip seeing his holstered revolver and also the approaching child zombie. It wasn’t long until they were on to the kill. Due to the young age of this little zombie they decided against putting a squib on the back of her head. A squib is a small explosive after all. So, this will be a digitally enhanced kill. To prepare, the stunt guys laid a mat down behind Addy and did a few half-speed falls so Addy developed enough trust not to clench up when she fell backwards. The action of the shot had Addy taking a few steps toward camera, then Frank yelled out “BANG!” and Addy would whip her head back and fall out of frame. The VFX guy came up to Frank after the first take, which went well, but apparently VFX needed the camera to be locked down in order to give them more freedom to remove frames for the head snapping back. Addy didn’t give herself whiplash, so the snap back done on the day was a bit slower than it needs to be in the final version. So they locked the camera down and did another take. When Frank called out “BANG!” Addy fell sharply backwards, her arms flailing out and the creepy burnt and bloody teddy bear flew out of her hands. They wanted to get her fall backwards, not just have her fall out of frame, so the next set-up had two cameras… one pointed directly down from above and another a profile angle. Addy took a step up on a ladder at the foot of the safety mat and when action was called she pushed off the ladder and fall on her back. Logistically this was a little more complicated. She had to hit a specific mark where she was in frame on both the profile and the overhead shot. The VFX guys insisted the black mat was just as good as a green mat, but they needed to fly in greenscreen for background in the profile shot. In order to layer it so it’s not a primarily greenscreen shot the bumper of one of the abandoned cars is in the foreground. It took 6 good takes for them to get this shot right. Sometimes Addy would land out of frame or wouldn’t land right. For instance in the first couple of takes she would fall back, hit and let the momentum of the hit bring her legs up. It’s a very childlike, but Frank thought it looked too comical. Six takes later and all the right marks were hit and everybody was happy. Although she had been killed, that wasn’t the end for Addy. They wanted to get one more shot of her from earlier in the scene. This was Rick’s Point of View as he looked under the car and saw her bunny slippers. Perfect creepy set-up, in my opinion. It just took a few takes to get the timing right as these disgusting, dirty pink bunny slippers scuttle into frame and stop just shy of the burnt and bloody teddy bear. There’s a moment of stillness before a small, delicate little girl’s hand reaches down and gently picks it up. With that Addy was wrapped and got a round of applause from the crew before being carted off to be de-zombied and turned back into a little girl. They still needed to get an angle of Rick actually firing the gun, though. Up to this point he had only ever mimed it and they needed the muzzle flash and the real kick. Due to the distance between the blank firing and the camera, the safety coordinator decided on a half-load blank instead of a full load. They might not shoot projectiles, but blanks are still incredibly dangerous. Darabont was readying the shot and heard them talk about the half-load. “What is this half-load bullshit?!? Full load!” The safety guy approached Darabont to say he’s not comfortable doing that with the camera so close. Frank relented with a “Pussy. Peckinpah fired real rounds in The Wild Bunch!” Of course that was all said with a laugh and the half-load was used. The shot was a cool one, not just a quick insert of the gun firing. It was a nice, close rack focus from Rick’s tortured face as he prepares himself to shoot a little girl to the revolver as he fires, then back again to his face. His eyes lower and after a beat he whips his head around. Obviously this is the point where he hears the other zombies getting out of their cars, coming for him. As the light was fading, the day almost done, the first big move had us relocating from the side of the gas station to the shoulder of one of the rural highways. I’m assuming they grabbed an insert of Rick picking up his hat and gas can because this shot was the Indiana Jones running from the Hovitos shot of Rick hauling ass away from the gas station, holding his hat on his head with one hand as he ran. Behind him was a gaggle (herd? Group? Gang?) of zombies, a few hero zombies and a couple masked ones. The difference is that the hero zombies had contacts, fresh prosthetic make-up wounds whereas the masks are essentially a super high end and detailed Halloween masks. Peter Jackson did the same thing for group Orc shots in the Lord of the Rings movies. The masks looked really sweet, though, so don’t worry. It wasn’t Uwe Boll shit, trust me. So, Rick runs from these zombies to his police cruiser. He throws the gas can into the open door, dives in after it and immediately throws it into drive, peeling away from the zombies and around the wrecked cars on the highway, the trunk still open and slamming up and down as his car accelerates. The thing that grabbed my attention in this shot was the personality of the walkers. These zombies were old school, one in particular limping along like a classic Romero zombie. Not quite Fly Boy Zombie great, but with very much the same kind of personality to his zombie walk. None of them were moving fast, moving slowly in a group just like zombies are supposed to. That was the last shot I saw and one of the last shots of the day. After a short walk back to the church parking lot I was in a car on my way back to Atlanta. Hope you guys dug these two reports. I had a blast on the set… From the randomness of meeting Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson to getting to bullshit a bit with one of my favorite working comic writers, Robert Kirkman, and watching KNB play with some awesome zombies… well, what more could a horror geek ask for? I had full confidence in Frank Darabont adapting the comic before I visited the set, but there’s always that odd chance that something’s not going to click and a sure thing becomes a missed opportunity. I saw no sign of this being a missed opportunity. Granted, I saw one day of filming on the pilot, but if Frank is setting the standard for the show then I think we’re in for some history-making television. Before you go, I’d like to hand over one final image. Here’s a new, exclusive zombie shot just for you guys, the loyal AICN readers. Click on the below image (Scott Garfield © TWD productions LLC) for the big version:

Don't know about you guys, but I love the tortured look to these zombies. There's something incredibly moving and terrifying about them appearing as tortured souls. Thanks to AMC for the trip and the access, thanks to Darabont for putting up with bugging him on yet another set and thanks to you guys for following along. -Quint Follow Me On Twitter

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