Co-EP/Director Adam Davidson Talks AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead [Exclusive]
Since The Walking Dead started five years ago, I think we’ve all been curious about how the world got that way. How did the zombie apocalypse start and how are other people in other parts of the US dealing with it? We’ve never really gotten that story, we’ve only been experiencing the aftermath with our favorite band of survivors. Well, with Fear the Walking Dead, we’re gettingÂ that origin story told through the lens of a family drama.
Set in the same universe as The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking DeadÂ is a gritty drama that explores the onset of the undead apocalypse through the lens of a fractured family in Los Angeles. In a city where people come to escape, shield secrets and bury their pasts, a mysterious outbreak threatens to disrupt what little stability high school guidance counselor Madison Clark and English teacher Travis ManawaÂ have managed to assemble. A forced evolution, a necessary survival of the fittest takes hold, and our dysfunctional family must either reinvent themselves or embrace their darker histories.
Last month at Comic-Con, I had the pleasure of talking to Co-EP/Director Adam Davidson. We talked about his work on Deadwood, Kingdom, Hell on Wheels, Low Winter Sun and, of course, Fear the Walking Dead. My first question for him was about how he used his brand of visual storytelling on this show.
Adam Davidson: “It translated into getting this job because Dave Erickson, who worked on Low Winter Sun, we worked really hard on [the pilot]. We constantly go back. What are we shooting? What is this scene? Are we telling it the best way? Do we need to re-examine it again? Heâ€™s willing to do that and he likes doing that.
Itâ€™s so important to me that when youâ€™re starting off a story those first few scenes, that first image, that first few seconds the audience is being led into this world, theyâ€™re immediately getting hooked and they get it and they feel something and the whole story is coming. I didnâ€™t really know that much about The Walking Dead. I knew about the show. Iâ€™d caught a little of it, but Iâ€™ve been working. A few times the opportunity came up to direct an episode, but I didnâ€™t have the time and, ironically, that lead to me being a candidate for the show because AMC, to their credit, decided if [they] weâ€™re gonna do a spinoff, it needs to exist on its own merits. They purposely hired a writer and a director who had never done the original.”
TV GOODNESS: Let’s take a step back. When did you first hear about this project and what made you want to do it?
Adam: “Fear came about because Dave Erickson and Robert Kirkman had been talking about doing a spinoff for a while. And it came and it went and it came and it went. Finally, they wrote it. Dave has been [unsure] at first about doing the show, told Robert that if he was gonna do it heâ€™d want to explore some of the things that are going on in his life and Kirkman said fine.
The way that translated to me was when AMC approached about finding a director, KingdomÂ hadnâ€™t been released, but there had been buzz. They put me on a list. Dave was excited because weâ€™d worked on Low Winter Sun. They gave me the script and I read it without knowing anything, I was like, â€˜This is Daveâ€™s real life in here. This is Dave.â€™ He put his situation of trying to create a blended family into the story. It was beautiful and added to that was this other element of experiencing the apocalypse, the worldâ€™s end, which everyone thinks about all the time. It personalized it. It made it emotional. It felt honest. It felt real. And it felt like the genre was open to not being just horror, but something where we could tell a family drama.
I hesitate a little bit, because I feel like when you say family drama the connotations that come up instantly are, â€˜What? That sounds boring,â€™ but actually it makes it â€” Friday Night Lights wasnâ€™t about football. Thereâ€™s so much that’s gonna be in there and thereâ€™s still everything that makes The Walking Dead the entertaining show that it is, thereâ€™s also this element of because we get to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of this family, thereâ€™s an emotional competent, a human component.
When I talk to Dave about the show, for me this has to be a show about the humans, the humans, the humans, the humans, the humans, the humans, the humans and the zombies. Having grown up in Los Angeles, I never felt like the LA I know was portrayed readily on screen. It was always the more glamorized version of Los Angeles with Beverly Hills and the sunny days and the glimmer and the glitz and the beautiful people and the makeup and the bodies.
The LA I know, itâ€™s like you see every crack in the concrete, the dirt and trash everywhere, you see brown hills, you see smog. To me what was interesting was telling a story of itâ€™s flawed world to begin with. Itâ€™s a world where people are just trying to get by. Theyâ€™re trying to pay the bills, keep their kids in school, hold their jobs, deal with whatever needs fixing in the house or car and just survive. And now youâ€™re gonna throw zombies into this? Thank you very much.”
TV GOODNESS: I donâ€™t need the hassle!
Adam: “No, you donâ€™t but thatâ€™s when itâ€™s gonna come. And the idea that maybe thereâ€™s something broken to begin with interested me.”
TV GOODNESS: Why did you decide to come on board as a Co-Executive Producer as well?
Adam: “Dave asked me when they got picked up for series and I really felt like what he had in mind for this first season was one movie. Yes, there were different episodes, but there was still more I wanted to explore in telling that story with him and to try to keep a continuity to that. Thereâ€™s no way to direct every episode, I directed the first 2 after the pilot and then I have other directors on.
But to keep it in the same world, in the same feel interested me. What I wasnâ€™t prepared for was that the show was gonna get moved to Vancouver. We had put a lot of effort into making it about LA and making LA a character, but it was the only way that the show could get made. Then it became something interesting, too, because I use to teach film for a couple years. I feel like I never learn more than when I teach something, because you have to explain why something is. In going to Vancouver, I had to articulate what Los Angeles is, particularly this Los Angeles that weâ€™re shooting and some of it is all in the nuance. So every episode shot a few days in Vancouver and weâ€™re finish[ed] shooting up this week [in] LA.”
TV GOODNESS: Do you decide which directors shoot the episodes you didnâ€™t direct and how do you weigh in to make sure everything is visually cohesive?
Adam: “Itâ€™s tricky. Because they ordered it so late and because of our needs between shooting in Vancouver and LA, we knew there was only a certain pool of directors we could get and it had to be the right fit. By the time I came on, Dave had already had a few in mind. We had them watch the pilot, we interviewed them and we talked about the things that were important to us in the pilot and hear what they responded to.
But every show is different in a way. The things that happen in the pilot only happen in the pilot and then other things evolve. Itâ€™s not fair to replicate the pilot because every story demands something else. It was very important that the director have an overall sense of the feeling, the mood, the tone we were going for, but yet bring to their story what they needed. Then we constantly have communication.
Our most important meeting is whatâ€™s called a tone meeting, where you go through the script with the director. You basically talk about the things that arenâ€™t on the page. Some of that is subtle nuance, this moment here where the character doesnâ€™t answer is the most important moment in the scene. Or itâ€™s important that we see or notice this because itâ€™s going to be important two episodes from now.”
Edited for space and content.
Fear the Walking Dead premieres Sunday, August 23rd at 9/8c on AMC.
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