Interview & article by Allie, The Dead Connection LLC
The Dead Connection had the privilege of speaking with Greg Nicotero, Executive Producer and Special Effects Makeup Supervisor of The Walking Dead at Walker Stalker Atlanta 2016.
Walker Stalker Atlanta was the October 28-30th, just a week after The Walking Dead Season 7 premiere. That episode was full of shock, terror and heartbreak. We asked Mr. Nicotero about filming THAT scene, as well as the technical side of filming The Walking Dead, the introduction of Ezekiel and more in this two-part interview.
TDC: Thank you for talking with us today. Let’s jump right in to our questions: What was it like shooting episode one of Season 7? It had to be extremely sad for the cast and crew alike.
Greg: “It was. We all came in that morning, early. Steven and Michael spent a good amount of time in makeup- we adjusted how Steven’s eye was supposed to look and how the the scalp prosthetics on them both. Once we got in to that part, it was ok- they [Steven and Michael] were having a fun! Steven was looking in the mirror and having a great time! Of course the other actors were all outside and weren’t a part of this. The way that I shoot and direct, I like to keep stuff from the other actors, I don’t like for them to see anything before we’re ready. The trick about this episode was we didn’t shoot in sequence- the stuff we began filming was the scene with Rick fighting the walkers in the fog and the smoke. I took a picture of Steven in the test make-up with all the blood on his face and printed it, folded it and put it in Andy’s jacket pocket. Right before we started shooting I said ‘I want you to look at that picture right before I say action’. We started rolling cameras and he reached in his pocket, looked at that picture of Steven and I said ‘action’. For me, I am creating this fantasy, not just for the episode but for the actors as well.“
TDC: Tell us about Lucille! How did you get the hits and the blood splatter to look so real?
Greg: “I spent a lot of time designing the way the bats were so every time there was a bat hit, there was blood spray. That was one of the things I was really proud of. If you put a tube in the bat, you would get just a squirt of blood but the blood needed to be explosive, needed to seem like the impact was showering off in different directions. I drew up a design for a bat that had a eggshell scallop and we put blood bags, which are like water balloons, in the scallop. Jeffrey would do his scene and would hit with a rubber bat, then we would switch to the other bat with the blood bag and it would burst in all directions. You would have this scene with absolutely explosive blood spray and everybody on the set and the actors are covered in blood and didn’t know what to do, they were like ‘oh sh*t!’ There’s so many little technical things on set that we spent so much time thinking about.”
TDC: You guys did such a great job portraying the scenes from the comic; it was beautiful and terrifying all at the same time. Were you concerned about the violence in ‘Lucille scene’?
Greg: “When we shot it and there was a lot discussion as to how far we would go. As far as I was concerned, we would shoot it all and then once we had the footage, it’s really up to us to figure out how many frames is too much and how much of this & that could be shown so we could dial it in. But as brutal and horrific as it was, it was so important to just show how much Negan was capable of doing because he is, without a doubt, the most vibrant villain we have ever had on the show. To do what he did and knowing that those two deaths catapult our characters in to their storylines through the existence of the show. . .”
TDC: And Jeffrey Dean Morgan nailed it!
Greg: “Oh yeah! I was delighted, we really fought for him to be Negan. He showed up at the end of last season and had two nights of filming and a few pages of dialogue, but this season I feel like what we were able to get out of him- the sarcasm, the swagger, the charisma and that coiled menace! You know, when he turns and looks at Maggie and says ‘I really am sorry’ he’s sorry! He’s not just screwing around, he really does feel bad BUT it’s Negan’s world and his rules so he had to do what he did.”
Greg: “I give credit to every single technician and cast member on the show because it’s really extraordinary television that we’re all a part of creating. We agonize over everything and it’s blood, sweat and tears making sure that the show still delivers. This is the hardest season I have ever done.”
TDC: It all pays off, the show keeps getting better and better! What can we look forward to next?
Greg: “The next episode [episode two], I am really excited to see what the reaction is. It’s so dramatically different from episode one, it’s literally on the opposite spectrum.”
TDC: But we need something different after the heaviness of episode one.
Greg: “We do! That was the intention of the writers, when Scott [Gimple] talked with me, he said ‘episode two will be like shooting a pilot for a totally different show’. It’s going to feel strange, awkward and weird because you’re going to be looking a guy sitting on a throne with tiger next to him! It’s so oddly outrageous! Then you have two of the finest actors I have ever had the pleasure of working with, Melissa [McBride] and Lennie [James]. It’s a fascinating exercise in the world of The Walking Dead that we’ve never done before. I’m excited!”