EMMYS: 'Walking Dead's Frank Darabont

Frank Darabont spent five fruitless years of pitching an idea for a zombie television series. But he’s back on Hollywood’s A-list after The Walking Dead, which he created from Robert Kirkman’s original comic book, generated higher ratings in its first season than any of AMC’s previous original shows. Now Darabont has two Hollywood Guild award nominations to go with his three Oscar nods for writing and directing The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile. He talks about his longtime love affair with the undead with Deadline TV Contributor Ray Richmond:

DEADLINE: Are you such a fan of zombies because you work in Hollywood?
FRANK DARABONT: Yes, there are plenty of zombies working in the industry. But I’ve always wanted to tackle the zombie mythos since I was a kid and saw Night of the Living Dead — the original black-and-white version — at a midnight screening. It was just a niche thing then. But I think in the past five years it’s become far more widely embraced. Now it’s like we’re riding the crest of a wave.

DEADLINE: But Walking Dead wasn’t an easy sell.
DARABONT: Oh god no. I’d been trying to set this thing up for five years before AMC took it. It was the first time I’d tried to set up a television series, and it sure seemed like a long time to be out there without a deal. It was considered pretty different and cutting-edge through most of that pitching process. My mantra had been that people were waiting for a really good zombie show. It takes a rare bit of courage to take a chance on something that hasn’t been proven elsewhere. I’ve got to hand it to AMC for that.

DEADLINE: Have you given much thought to the Emmys?
DARABONT: You know, a little bit. And it’s awesome to be a part of that chatter. We were just blown away to get nominated for a Golden Globe, a DGA award, and a WGA award in our first year. But that stuff is out of our control.

DEADLINE: There’s a lot of hostility directed toward you on the Internet: how you’re impossible to work with and off-the-scale with attitude. What do you think that’s about?
DARABONT: I honestly haven’t a clue, because I’m a pussycat. I’m honestly the easiest guy to work with unless there’s something wrong. I do fi ght for what I believe in. A lot of it, honestly, I ascribe to simple Internet chatter.

DEADLINE: But it made headlines last November when you dumped your entire writing staff after finishing up Season One.
DARABONT: Let me just begin by stating the obvious: that it was all pretty overblown. It left the impression that I walked in one day and murdered 12 people. Would you like to know how many writers we were talking about? Two. My thought had been that they’d under-delivered, and a change was necessary. I had to do too much of it by myself last year, and that was only six episodes. This season, it’s 13 and we’ve hired a fantastic writing staff. We hired Glen Mazzara as our Number Two in the room. We consider him our head writer and he’s just a fantastic asset. We’ve also got three other staff writers in Scott Gimple, Evan Reilly from Rescue Me, and Angela Kang. Plus Executive Producer Robert Kirkman, who wrote the original comic book, is also writing for us.

DEADLINE: How proprietary is Kirkman with this world he created?
DARABONT: We’re really grateful to him. He realizes how different the mediums of comics and television are from one another. One of the things that really attracted me to this material in the first place was how smartly Kirkman incorporated the characters and their journey in trying to survive and better themselves in this world. It was a really adult approach. And because we’re a TV series, we’ve hopefully got years to flesh out that story and all of the aspects of who they are.

DEADLINE: How are things going to evolve on Walking Dead in your second season?
DARABONT: It’s fair to say that the fi rst six episodes were teeing up a lot of conflicts that will be more fully explored in our second season. We find a growing conflict with our two main guys, Rick [Andrew Lincoln] and Shane [Jon Bernthal]. We’re really excited about putting all of the characters on a chessboard and seeing how wonderfully and effectively we can toss conflict into the game.

DEADLINE: What has been AMC’s input in the process?
DARABONT: We certainly get notes, but nothing that we believe doesn’t make sense. We feel very much in partnership with AMC. Sometimes we have to compromise, sometimes they do. But we have to admit that a lot of the stuff they’re telling us is sensible, and none of it’s dumb. Believe me, I’ve gotten a lot of dumb notes in my time, and after 25 years in the business I can tell the difference.

DEADLINE: How does working in TV compare to film?
DARABONT: You know, at the end of the day, your actors are still acting the same way. Your crew is still dedicated to the goal in the same fashion. The major difference is that you’re writing short stories rather than novels, as it were. In TV, you have to get ideas across in a more economical way. But the process is fundamentally the same, just accelerated. And it’s exciting to tell stories at this kind of pace. There’s no time for second guessing. The wheels are in constant motion. I love that about television. If I’d known how much fun it was, I’d have done it years ago.

  1. Love Darabont. I think he’s one of the most under-appreciated directors in recent years. Even though Walking Dead kind of fell apart in the season finale, the first five episodes were excellent, especially the series premiere which felt like a movie more than a show. I hope they get a few nominations. Too crowded to win this year but I have high hopes for season 2.

  2. Yawn. Let’s make corrections
    1- He stole the show from Guillermo del Toro who had already closed a deal for it at HBO
    2- He is not on any Hollywood A List- no studio is making movies with him at the moment
    3- The show started to circle in on itself and will not sustain another season
    4- Can you say “over”?

    1. Yawn. Let’s make corrections
      1-You’re a moron
      2-You’re a moron
      3-You’re a moron
      4-Can you say ”moron”?

    2. Ha! Where did you get all those sour grapes? Show me an article that states Del Toro had this show set up at HBO.

      Darabont has been working on this for 5 years. The show is awesome. Darabont is awesome. So excited for season 2.

  3. Talk to the first staff of Walking Dead and you’ll get the real story here…

    Kazoo ain’t lying.

  4. Let’s correct one of the supposed “corrections.”

    Darabont did not steal Walking Dead from Del Toro. Darabont has owned the TV rights to the comic since the first trade paperback came out over 80 issues ago. Darabont tried to set it up at HBO with Tom Jane in the lead and Del Toro directing an episode. It fell apart at HBO, Jane stayed and did Hung since he was already under contract with HBO to do a show, Del Toro was busy not doing the Hobbit when they did the first season so he didn’t get to direct, but Darabont named the the character Guillermo in the “Vatos” episode after him.

    While I don’t think the show knocked the last three episodes out of the park by any means, anyone who has read the comic knows that there’s enough great material to sustain the show easily through five seasons if not more. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for season two in October. And cast William Sadler as Herschel already!

    1. Actually, just to set the record a bit straighter, I went out with the comic book as a writer/creator with Kirkman before Darabont. Stephen Sommers was attached to direct. Circle of Confusion was producing.

      I felt the same way about the comic and the idea of doing the first zombie TV series as Darabont but was met with bemused reactions or blank stares everywhere. This was about six years ago or so. I think there was about 20 issues at that point.

      I have to say that Kirkman’s vision and the comic was already almost perfect for a TV series. Not surprisingly, they’ve stuck close to the source material but Darabont still blew me away with what he did. The opening of the pilot was new material and made such a bold and pure statement that I was truly astonished. A cable TV watershed moment. And he’s been nailing it ever since.

      I always knew it would be a huge show if you could just get it through. Obviously, I wish I could have done that. But I am truly thrilled for Robert, Frank, Gale and everyone that it’s turned out even bigger and better than I ever imagined. Looking forward to more…

      Michael Steinberg

      1. More clarity…Guillermo del Toro had a closed deal at HBO as of August 6, 2009. There was one open point which had to do with reversion. This was GUILLERMO’S show. He wasn’t just directing that’s a pure lie. Darabont had lost the rights after turning in a steaming pile of script to NBC. Then, trusting Kirkman and Circle of Idiots, Del Toro watched as Darabont came in behind his back and conspired to let Circle produce the show under Frank. Because of this HBO has refused ever since to hire a Circle client and WME on behalf of Del Toro has refused to assist Circle in their evil.

        Anyone writing anything else about this does NOT have any idea what they are talking about.

  5. Sorry, Great Kazoo, but you are completely wrong about Guillermo del Toro. He was never involved with Walking Dead. And the show has about 8 years of comics to pull from. Some really amazing arcs.

  6. Darabont is a wild tyrant with zero talent to create original material. He is mean and wears many flowered shirts. He puts a scene with men lathering up in the shower in every thing he shoots. However, one of every 5 things he does is awesome.

    1. “Nothing is original. There are only a limited number of stories to tell, but there’s an unlimited number of ways to tell the same story.” — Jim Jarmusch

      I’ve never heard any stories of Frank Darabont being a wild tyrant or mean. I’ve heard stories of James Cameron being a wild tyrant and mean, but never Frank Darabont.

  7. Guillermo del Toro had a closed deal at HBO as of August 6, 2009. There was one open point which had to do with reversion. This was GUILLERMO’S show. He wasn’t just directing that’s a pure lie. Darabont had lost the rights after turning in a steaming turd script to NBC. Then, trusting Kirkman and Circle of Idiots, Del Toro watched as Darabont came in behind his back and conspired to let Circle produce the show under Frank. Because of this HBO has refused ever since to hire a Circle client and WME on behalf of Del Toro has refused to assist Circle in their evil.

    Anyone writing anything else about this does NOT have any idea what they are talking about.

  8. I wouldn’t hold my breath believing the writing staff is actually treating the comics as source material.

  9. You gotta be kiding me? The Walking Dead is awful adaptation of comic book. Vatos guys? CDC? Who came up with this stuff? I expected more from AMC and they could reinvent horror genre in telewvision with this comic, didn’t happen.

    It would be perfect on HBO, with huge budget where they could go very dark way and really show how the world in the comic I envisioned.

  10. Walking Dead is one of the most overrated, boring, underwritten shows on television right now. Darabont showed immense skill with Shawshank and Green Mile but quality has continued to evade him on nearly every other project he’s touched recently.

    Whoever Great Kazoo is, I can testify for a fact that he is the only one speaking the truth here…

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