'The Walking Dead' Producer Gale Ann Hurd Talks about the Rise of the Zombies
But Gale Ann Hurd and Frank Darabont, the executive producers of 'The Walking Dead,' a zombie drama that debuts Sunday on AMC, faced in interesting intellectual challenge when it came to adapting Robert Kirkman's acclaimed graphic novels for television.
The goal was to stay faithful to Kirkman's story and to the gory undead genre, yet still attract viewers who may not be hardcore horror fans.
To make sure they channeled Kirkman's graphic novels, which tell the story of a sheriff and a few other people trying to survive in a zombified Atlanta, Darabont and Hurd consulted the author every step of the way. And though Sunday's pilot is ultra-tense, in subsequent episodes, 'The Walking Dead' evolves into a quest saga that won't be unfamiliar to viewers of 'Lost.'
"It doesn't hold back on the violence and gore, but what I think we're most proud of is that we were going for the emotional resonance as well with the characters," Hurd said in a recent interview.
But making sure the TV show was "properly referential" to the comic books was the first priority, Hurd said.
"Frank Darabont is known for his adaptations in the past, certainly of Stephen King's work," noted Hurd, who produced 'The Terminator' and 'Aliens,' among many other film and TV projects. Darabont, who directed the 90-minute 'Walking Dead' pilot, has helmed three films based on King's work: 'The Green Mile,' 'The Shawshank Redemption' and 'Stephen King's The Mist.'
"First and foremost, he'll tell you that he wants Stephen King to be pleased with what he's done," Hurd noted. "And that was something that was very important to us, with respect to Robert Kirkman. It's why we very much wanted him involved from the very beginning... Any time we stray off the path that he has trailblazed with the comic book, we want to make sure that we have Robert's blessing. He was also intimately involved in the casting of the series and he wrote our fourth episode."
Fans of the graphic novel will notice some differences, however. Not all the characters from the earliest volumes of Kirkman's comic book, which debuted in 2003, made it into the show's first season; Hurd said some familiar faces might appear if AMC gives 'The Walking Dead' a second season. Darabont and his writers also fleshed out some characters, if you'll pardon the choice of verbs, and came up with new characters who are not in the books.
"We really wanted a cross-section of characters so that each one would stand out and give some insight into how humans will deal with this kind of post-apocalyptic world," Hurd said.
And though the undead and their relentless focus on human flesh are scary, one of the most chilling things about 'The Walking Dead' is how empty the world is. Given the tense atmosphere and occasional bursts of bloody violence, it's to the show's credit that its overall aesthetic is restrained and even eerily quiet. Yet that sense of isolation only enhances the idea that there are very few people left in this world, and that the shuffling malevolence of the zombies is inescapable.
The survivors are very scared, and they don't always agree on the best strategies for staying alive. It's certainly an efficient recipe for dramatic conflict.
"It's really examining how human society reforms after any kind of devastating event, whether it's a natural disaster or a zombie apocalypse. How do people cope? How do they not cope?" Hurd said.
"I've wanted to do my take on the zombie mythos since I was a kid and saw George Romero's original 'Night of the Living Dead' – the 1968 black-and-white version," Darabont states in 'The Walking Dead's' press kit. "There was always that pressure-cooker at the core, that ensemble of characters that were trying very hard to do the right thing or get away with doing the wrong thing with impunity...that's great storytelling."
Are Darabont and Hurd true undead fans? Well, the second episode is titled "Guts." That ought to tell you something.
The filmmakers were "not trying to water it down and have it be this sanitized version where you never see a human killed by a zombie or a zombie getting an ax to the head from a human," Hurd said.
For more interviews with 'Walking Dead' actors and producers, check out Chris Harnick's piece here. My review of 'The Walking Dead,' which debuts 10PM ET Sunday on AMC, will be posted Friday.
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