“The Writers’ Room” Interview: Greg Nicotero, The Man Behind “The Walking Dead” Webisodes
For the last few years, Greg Nicotero — The Walking Dead Executive Producer and Special Effects Make-up Designer — has extended AMC’s hit series online with The Walking Dead webisodes. For this digital spin-off, he’s contributed not only his sizable talents as a director and zombifier but also as a story maker. The latest web series, “The Oath,” was recently named a Webby honoree for Drama: Individual Short or Episode and Best Writing. Since THE WRITERS’ ROOM spoke with Robert Kirkman on-air Fri., Aug. 27, we thought we’d follow up online with Nicotero today.
Q: What was the inspiration behind this year’s webisodes? Do you intentionally go darker every year?
A: I had wanted to go back and tie the web series a bit closer to the actual show. I had always wanted to use actors from the show but that proved to be a bit challenging from the outset so I worked to find moments/events that people could relate to….”Oh yeah, I remember that.” Season 1 was the back story of the bicycle girl…..and I loved tying it in closely with Season 1 of the show. Season 2 was more of an homage to Dawn of the Dead and the shopping mall/public storage of it all. I love the scope and scale of that series that I developed with John Esposito and think the performances are fantastic…..a different glimpse into The Walking Dead universe. The last set was inspired by the hospital location in Season 1 and of course those same moments from the graphic novel. We see more of the hospital in the comic so I wanted to explore that.
Q: You had three great actors in the cast this round: Ashley Bell, Wyatt Russell and Ellen Greene. Did they influence the script once you were in production?
A: Ashley and I had worked together before and she was perfect to play the part. I have to say my producers on the series did a great job of getting me access to these fantastic performers. I worked with Wyatt’s dad [Kurt Russell] as well so I knew of his work…again a perfect match…rugged, strong, charismatic. Ellen was someone I had watched as far back as Little Shop of Horrors…a very smart and talented actress. Her role was challenging because she really had to believe that what she was doing was right…providing a service…a way out. That idea of the “assisted suicide” aspect of this world hit me like a ton of brings during a call with Luke Passmore my writer. I did think going darker would serve the web series since the show also seemed to be getting more and more into the dark side of the human condition. Ellen was very passionate about the character and we spent quite a bit of time with her making sure the doctor resonated.
Q: Do you feel the webisodes are a chance to tell stories that simply don’t fit into the TV series?
A: Without a doubt. And I have explored that over the last three years. I still have a few scenarios I’ve written and pitched based on locations we don’t have in Georgia that appear in the comic and also continue to dig into the show and look for story lines we could then explore that the show didn’t. I played around with an alternate version of the Season 2 Shane-Rick showdown where Carl is the one that shoots Shane (like he did in the comic) but then that infringes on the show. There are a lot of moments we still haven’t explored…Dale, Andrea, even Shane stuff…I think it’s interesting to maybe check in with characters that aren’t on the show anymore to give the viewers something they won’t get on the show. My producing partners at Generate have been quite collaborative and helped me do more on the smaller budget than I would have ever imagined.
Q: Do you get feedback on the scripts from Robert Kirkman?
A: I do. But he is also delighted that I have creatively taken the lead on this from story to producing and directing them. Scott Gimple and I have collaborated on the recent web series that we are currently developing because 1) any chance to get to work with Scott I’ll take, 2) he loves the show as much as I do, and 3) he knows the show and comic inside and out.
Q: All of the webisode series for The Walking Dead have won awards. Do you have a favorite?
A: I like each for different reasons. They all feel like our world but just different enough to keep them fresh. I love the talent we’ve been able to attract and would probably say The Oath was the most ambitious in story and scope. I am very proud of all of them and am very excited to continue in the tradition.