Dave Alpert (left) executive produces Fear the Walking Dead which stars Frank Dillane (right).
Fear the Walking Dead, the spinoff of the wildly successful The Walking Dead is in the middle of its second season. AMC has already picked up a third season of the series to air in 2017. Better Call Saul is another recent spinoff that has seen success as well. At the Season Two press junket, Executive Producer, Dave Alpert, shared his thoughts on why spinoffs are generally successful.
“If you look in film, the biggest movies are all sequels of one form or another, everything from, the Avengers movies, the Harry Potter movies, the Transformers movies – all the big movies have a built-in, exciting world that somebody wants to go visit. You want to go back there time and time again. And I think that one of the great things about The Walking Dead is it’s not just a story of Rick and Carl, right? It’s the story of what happens to people when this horrible situation unfolds. I think the great characters that were created in Fear the Walking Dead by Dave [Erickson] and Robert [Kirkman] are interesting to watch even if there was no zombie apocalypse that happened. And once the apocalypse happened, watching these people deal with that scenario is fascinating. I feel like people want to see characters that they love and care about put in situations that they couldn’t imagine actually happening in real life.”
We’ve all heard horror stories from film sets about schedule delays and budget overruns caused by filming on the water. Knowing this, the producers decided to accept the challenge of filming a large chunk of the show on the water.
“There is a reason everyone tells you that shooting in the water is really difficult and I think we prove that to be true. I also think the reason why movies like Titanic and Jaws are so huge and successful is because being on the water provides you with such a huge emotional impact and it’s such a primal thing. You’ll see some of these amazing shots that take you underneath the water and, once you go there, it’s an entirely different feeling or sensation than anything we’ve seen on the show previously. The question is always, is the difficulty of pulling this thing off worth the emotional impact? I think in our case in this season, 100% yes.”
Anyone involved with a spinoff or sequel knows that in order to be successful, you have to stay true to the spirit of the original while giving fans something new. Though the west coast setting and the scenes on the ocean are different than The Walking Dead, the creators think they’ve differentiated the two shows in other ways as well.
“One of the things that is true to the comic, and to the original show is, it is very much a family drama, first and foremost. I think the benefit we had over the slow burn in Season One is that we got to know everybody and their dysfunctions and the conflicts that were inherent in this blended family. We’re still playing out those story lines and I think a lot of the problems that Nick [Frank Dillane] will have with Madison and vice versa or Travis [Cliff Curtis] with Madison [Kim Dickens] -, they’re all seeds that we’ve planted last season so we get to continue to tell that story. I do think the interesting thing is if you counted the days, we’re actually still not at the point when Rick [Andrew Lincoln] woke up in Georgia [in The Walking Dead].
There’s still a world of discovery for our characters. There are still things that they don’t know about the apocalypse. I think they’ve mastered zombies at this point, so no one is going to be talking and trying to rationalize and reason with the dead. But there’s an opportunity for our people as they scramble on the water trying to find safe harbor to start to piece together how bad and the true scope and size of what’s befallen them. This is interesting to me because I do think there are still a lot of discoveries for them to make.”
Another issue anyone involved in a spinoff or sequel faces is the balance of keeping the original fans happy while attracting new fans at the same time.
“The adaptation of the comic to The Walking Dead TV series was actually pretty faithful to the comic. There are some bobs and weaves, but it’s pretty faithful to comic. When we did The Walking Dead video game with Telltale, we introduced an entirely new character set and that was hugely popular. Robert [Kirkman] also created series of novels following Woodbury and the rise of the Governor and all of that, that sort of invented a whole new round of characters that were really interesting and perpendicular to sort of the world we’re creating. What we’ve seen is that there’s been success prior to Fear [the Walking Dead].
We’ve seen that people are interested in accessing The Walking Dead, not just from the perspective of Rick and the fall of Atlanta, that people really want to put themselves in that situation. When we talk to fans, a lot of them come up and they’ll usually say, ‘I would have done it like this.’ Or when they were in the situation, here’s how I would have reacted. Right? I feel like that’s ultimately the core of what makes the show successful. What makes Fear the Walking Dead successful is what would you do if you were a teacher and your principal was coming at you? Do you hit him? Do you try to reason with him? Those types of scenarios are sort of ultimately the things that make any of The Walking Dead properties so unique and successful.”
He’s also had some other interesting encounters with fans who enjoy the shows in different ways.
“One of the interesting things was my sister can only watch the show in the daytime when the windows are open and she has to watch an animated movie after that will sort of like cleanse her palate. She loves to watch it but it has to be sort of under the right circumstances. Yesterday, I had the honor of meeting a Navy SEAL. He said that he was in Iraq and, after running these missions, he’d go back to his hooch and he’d watch a couple of episodes to unwind. I thought it was interesting that people can watch the show and they like getting wound up and some people apparently can watch the show to wind down. I thought that was sort of unique opportunity for a show like this.”
All of us would love to go back in time and change this or that. Executive producers, like everyone, look back at things they might have done differently. Alpert reflected on his thoughts about Season One.
“For me, I think the biggest challenge was the [small] number of episodes really because, I would have loved to have spent more time with Elizabeth Rodriguez before she had to go. You need an emotional punch at the end of the season and it was important. I think that part of my regret of Season One was that I just wish we got to spend more time there. I wanted to see more of what was going on before they had to get to Strand’s house. I loved the dynamic of Strand [Colman Domingo] and Nick in the cage and talking. What was [Strand’s] plan. What was he thinking? And all those questions and all that desire to me is sort of the hallmark of the storytelling that these guys did, which is I want to know more. I want to see more.”
There has been a lot of talk in this election year about borders and immigration and refugees. The characters in Fear the Walking Dead now find themselves seeking refuge in Mexico. The parallels between real life and the situation the characters face aren’t lost on Alpert.
“Refugees are trying to move from a dangerous, unsafe place to a place that’s safe, right? I think the difference for us in our show – and that will always be the difference – is that there’s not a safe place. They’re going from one unsafe place trying to find another safe place but there’s not a safe place out there. It’s not like, ‘oh, if we just get to Canada, everything is going to be hunky-dory.’ There might be little pockets of safety and isolation that you can hopefully get to. They’re trying to get to the Navy. They’re trying to get to San Diego. They’re trying to find these little pockets, but the idea of there being a country or a place you can go that’s good just doesn’t exist in our world.”
If your work life is going to revolve around zombies, you must have favorite zombie films of your own. Alpert is no exception.
“There’s a little movie called Zombie Honeymoon that I love where a new couple goes on a honeymoon in Atlantic City. A zombie washes up on shore and her new husband turns into zombie. She doesn’t want to let the other people in the beach house that they rent know that he’s a zombie but she’s still in love with him. She still wants to – so she is trying to have a relationship with him. It’s kind of – it’s a great little movie.”
Though he deals with a fictitious zombie apocalypse on a daily basis, he’s well prepared for a potential zombie apocalypse, or any disaster for that matter.
“Everybody here should have a go bag in their car, right? In society, seriously, or any major city, food supplies will run out in 72 hours, right? So that’s a bad thing. And that’s not just from zombies. That’s from earthquakes – any sort of major disruption to the supply lines. 72 hours, we’re all screwed, okay? So everybody should have a go bag and then an escape route in their car. You should have plans with your loved ones and your family members as to sort of have rendezvous points, and you should have an A and a B and a C point, so you can go and meet up because if there’s a blockage or if there’s obstacle between you and your rendezvous point, you need to have another plan and that’s to be pre-negotiated because the cellphones are going to go down. You’re not going to be able to talk to them, so you have to have a plan in place, in motion, about how you get there. This is all [Robert Kirkman’s] fault, just so you know this [laughs]. Anyway, and you should also have supplies of fresh water in your car and should have at least 500 gallons of fresh water in your house. So, yes, I’ve thought about this a lot. I have my rendezvous points. I’ve got my satellite phones and I’m ready to go. I’m ready. I am prepared.”
Fear the Walking Dead is now airing on Sunday nights on AMC.
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