When The Walking Dead was put into production in 2010, fans of the extremely graphic novels couldn’t have been more excited. Frank Darabont, writer and director of The Shawshank Redemption, and overall brilliant filmmaker, would be handling the TV adaptation of one of the most interesting and gut-wrenching tales ever put to page. It didn’t hurt that he had Greg Nicotero, who cut his teeth under Tom Savini and George Romero on the legendary set of Day of the Dead, by his side as producer and special effects overlord. Fans of zombie lore knew that this was going to be fantastic. But somehow, everything fell apart.
In an unsealed deposition brought to light by The Hollywood Reporter, Darabont testified that AMC executives not only massively reduced the show’s budget on little notice, but removed Darabont from their biggest hit ever in a manner that reduced his profit share from 10% to 7.5%:
Darabont says, “I remember Joel Stillerman [president of original programming and development for AMC], in a meeting in my office, when we were all discussing the issues of the upcoming season, we said to him, ‘Surely that the success of the show, which, by the way, you guys are bragging about because we keep getting e-mails saying, ‘Hey, we’re breaking viewership records in 120 countries around the world by hundreds of percent, in some countries by over 1,000%,’ at the same time we’re hearing how successful the show is for you, you’re telling us that this, this budget issue is not going to budge at all. And he said, ‘The success of the show has no bearing on this discussion,’ in a rather icy manner.”
According to Darabont, AMC cut the budget “from 3.4 to 3,” referring to the millions it takes to produce episodes of Walking Dead.
“That was bad enough, but then they dropped the bomb on us that, oh by the way, they’re keeping the tax credit,” he testified. “They’re going to pocket the tax credit. So, between the two you’ve got a full 25% cut across the board.”