This past weekend, AMC released the first full length trailer for Fear the Walking Dead, and the look and feel of the new spin-off series seems to be a stark contrast of what we know and love with The Walking Dead. The differences in both aesthetics and story may leave Robert Kirkman fans scratching their heads, as this is a show that feeds more on paranoia and suspense and less on outright bloody violence.
After the cast and crew took part in their panel at San Diego Comic-Con, we had a chance to sit down and pick their brains (pun intended) a bit more about the new series, and one thing that stood out was an overall excitement that the producers are exploring new ground in the overall story canon.
Gale Anne Hurd, Executive Producer: It’s wonderful to be able to not have expectations from the fans. For people who want to know deeper, there is a subtle commentary about things that are going on in the world today about authority, about right and wrong, and then other people can just enjoy the ride.
The word zombie does not exist in Robert Kirkman’s world, which means the concept of the undead in movies and TV is as foreign as it gets. Therefore, exploring the origins of such an outbreak means the series is tackling issues of media and how everyday people consume information from the 24-hour news cycle. Much like in everyday society, the characters in “Fear the Walking Dead” end up being unsure which information to take seriously and which is downright fodder for the masses.
David Alpert, Executive Producer: If someone came out on television and said there’s an outbreak of zombies, people wouldn’t believe it. We’re playing on the ways on how society would break down.
Greg Nicotero, Executive Producer/Director: It’s at the forefront on the news for like a week, and then Kim Kardashian does something and no one cares about Ebola anymore. It’s still there! Imagine what would happen if — like in Fear the Walking Dead — they see this person being shot on their iPad, and then, a minute later, they are like, “Oh, look at this other thing!” It goes away for a minute, but it’s still happening. It’s still actually churning underneath all of that.
Given the fact that the series is an origin story in a way, the people most informed throughout are the audience. We know the cause of the outbreak, and we know what’s coming. This gives the cast and crew the incentive to explore issues of survival, humanity, and family as society breaks down around them.
Cliff Curtis, “Travis”: We don’t know anything about zombies in this universe. We don’t know anything about walkers or what’s happening in Atlanta. We’re just a family in L.A. going about our lives. We’re more concerned about our jobs and wrangling our teenagers and having a relationship. That’s where the show starts.
Nicotero: I love the Hitchcock analogy of two characters sitting at the table and there’s a bomb underneath. They don’t know that there’s a bomb there, but the audience does. That’s what this whole show is about. This whole show is about the fact that the audience is watching, and the audience knows more than the characters do.
Hurd: The audience knows there’s the ticking bomb under the table and what’s behind the door and not to open the door. They know the rules, but the characters in this world do not. There is no comic book road map for this show, so everyone is experiencing this new as they get the scripts.
Curtis: Everything is filtered through our familial situation, and the tensions on our relationship. We’re not concerned with an apocalypse. I’m more concerned with whether or not she loves me, or what I can do to love her, and how to love. Not on who is infected… until it gets here.
Kim Dickens, “Madison”: And there’s sort of a chaotic, unnatural epidemic that starts to happen, and our characters would never know what an apocalypse looks like or anything.
Another difference here is environmental, as the show takes place in Los Angeles. The city’s urban sprawl is an interesting backdrop for the story to unfold. This sun-bleached melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities opens up intriguing possibilities with societal issues that were unexplored on “The Walking Dead.”
Alpert: It’s very interesting. When things break down, it adds to the isolation, and you ask yourself how well do you really know your neighbors.
Hurd: Also, there is no Rick Grimes or Shane Walsh. We have no alpha males here. These are people in the service industry who are there to help people. Also, a totally new strata that we never had in The Walking Dead are older teenagers and young adults. They are on the verge of getting their wings and flying, and they are faced with this changing world.
Being that “Fear the Walking Dead” explores the calm before the undead storm, one sizable challenge for the team was to create a completely new look for those about to turn. A look which relies more on performance and visual cues than an outright look of decay. While the word “zombie” does not exist in this world, calling them “walkers” is also foreign to the survivors in Los Angeles.
Nicotero: We did a lot of makeup tests for the first girl, Gloria, and I was going a lot more extreme, and Robert and Dave said, “No, man. You gotta listen. This is a different facet of the world where you’re sitting in a room, and somebody across the room could be infected, and you can’t make them look too dead because then people would go, ‘That’s not right!'”
I think we did it really successfully in the first season of The Walking Dead when Amy dies in Andrea’s arms and resurrects. There was something beautiful about her with that lifelessness in the eyes. So, we kind of use that as our base for walkers. They’re not even called walkers in the show. We call them “infected.”
Nicotero expressed some geeky jubilance regarding the differences in both shows. With the multiple nods to the works of George Romero that can be found throughout “The Walking Dead,” Nicotero has a different classic horror film he’s drawing inspiration from this time around, and the main theme here is societal paranoia.
Nicotero: The movie that Adam and I talked about a lot when prepping was Phil Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The paranoia starts to build, and even the camera angles change. The beginning is shot one way, and then the angles start becoming a little more extreme and unsettling. We talked about that, and I thought, “Man, if we could make FTWD have the same feeling that Body Snatchers did, then we’re golden.”
Pulling inspiration from 1978’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” will definitely tie the show together in a unique way. By the looks of things, L.A.’s melting pot is on the verge of boiling over. With all the differences explored, Nicotero admits there’s still a bit of the DNA from “The Walking Dead” throughout, and, to back up that statement, Hurd made it very clear that “Fear the Walking Dead” won’t be a walk in the park. “This isn’t a sanitary world,” she said. “There will be gore.”
Well, I’m sold! Fear the Walking Dead will kick off its six-episode season with the 90-minute pilot on August 23.