The cast of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD on AMC | © 2015 Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

The cast of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD on AMC | © 2015 Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC

Created by THE WALKING DEAD comics originator Robert Kirkman and Dave Erickson, AMC’s FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, which premieres Sunday, August 23, is set in the same universe but a little earlier. We’re in urban/suburban Los Angeles, where a large blended family of a high-school English teacher (Cliff Curtis), his high-school guidance counselor girlfriend (Kim Dickens), her two teenaged children (Alycia Debnam-Carey, Frank Dillane) and the teacher’s ex-wife (Elizabeth Rodriguez) and adolescent son (Lorenzo James Henrie), are all caught up in the early stages of a mysterious epidemic.

Adam Davidson, who directed the FEAR THE WALKING DEAD pilot and then became a co-executive producer on the series, is a native of Los Angeles, so he knows the story’s terrain. His directing career encompasses everything from COMMUNITY to BIG LOVE to TRUE BLOOD, along with, as he explains, plenty of gigs at AMC.

AX: Had you worked with any of the FEAR THE WALKING DEAD people before?

ADAM DAVIDSON: I’d worked with Kim Dickens on DEADWOOD and TREME, and I’d been doing work for AMC on HELL ON WHEELS, LOW WINTER SUN and now TURN. And during my experience on LOW WINTER SUN, I worked with Dre – Dave Erickson, I just keep referring to him as Dre – we had been paired up to do an episode together, and the show was shot in Detroit. What happens a lot of times is, the writers’ office and post-production office remains in L.A. on these shows and the filming happens somewhere else. I really find it’s important to have some face time with the writer before I go off to wherever I’m being sent to to do the show. So before going off to Detroit, I came by the writers’ office and met Dre, and we spent almost the whole day talking about the episode and what the show was and its themes. I’m saying that the polite way of saying it, because basically, I went through page by page, line by line with him, and really put him through the wringer, not in a challenging sort of way, but just so I could understand better. And in hindsight, and to Dave’s credit, he really responded to that kind of thorough approach.

My background is theatre and I grew up in a theatre family, and in theatre, the playwright is king or queen. So it’s very important to me – I feel my job is to bring to life what’s on the page and to understand it on all its levels. So I really care about the script and everything that’s in the script and the potential of the material and all the ways that it can come to life. And so a year later, I’m in Calgary, and I was filming HELL ON WHEELS and I got a call about WALKING DEAD, and to be quite honest, I hadn’t watched the show. Not out of disinterest, but because –

AX: It’s hard to watch television while you’re making television?

DAVIDSON: Exactly. The only television that’s on these days in my house is DORA THE EXPLORER and DOC McSTUFFINS [laughs]. I have little ones. But I’d always heard great things about it and I was intrigued by it, and a few times it had come up as a potential work situation, but my schedule never allowed for it. In hindsight, the irony [is that not doing WALKING DEAD] actually made me a better candidate for the new show, because AMC and the executive producers came out of the gates with the idea that, if we were going to do a companion series, it needed to stand on its own two feet, it needed to exist on its own merits. And they wanted a writer and a director who had never done the original series.

So they had Dave write the script and of course I was a fan of his and a fan of his writing, and I get the script and I started reading it, and I’m turning the page, and it was so well-written and so good, but what really spoke to me was, I was like, “This is Dave. This is Dave’s life. He’s putting his life into this script. This is fantastic.” His family has an educational background, he has a blended family and I could just hear his voice and the grounded truth of what it’s like to be a parent to a blended family. And then to tell it in the story of this apocalypse, I just felt like, “This is a really human drama.” And that’s what I responded to.

And I went and watched every episode of WALKING DEAD, the first season, and really loved it. And of course, once you start watching it, you can’t stop. So when I finally got to speak to Dre about it, I felt like, to me, this was a story about what makes us human and above all, it’s about the humans, the humans, the humans. And in the face of the apocalypse, do we rise to the best of ourselves as human beings or do we sink to the lowest? Who do you really need to be afraid of, the zombies or other humans?

AX: Usually in television series, the director who does the pilot sort of sticks around to supervise and advise other directors who come in afterward. Is that the case here?

DAVIDSON: That’s the case. I directed the pilot and soon after turning it in, AMC picked it up for two seasons and they made me a co-executive producer and I directed two more episodes, so three for the first season of six.

AX: What’s the biggest piece of tonal information you need impart to the directors who aren’t you?

DAVIDSON: I would say that it’s very important to keep it real, to have grounded performances, to trust the storytelling, and at the same time, bring your individual artistry to telling this story. We can all get the same scene, but we’re all going to see it in a slightly different way, so I think that was one of the things that was important. It was really important to make sure that we’re, as much as possible, telling the story of Los Angeles, and for me, the way to do that was not focusing on the city as a whole. Because it’s impossible to tell that story. But by telling the story of a family and their experience, because we went to the hills of El Sereno, I think the kind of perception of L.A. is that it’s this flat place. L.A. is not this flat city; it actually has lots of hills to it. And so the idea that we can tell this intimate family story and always feel in the background the sense of there are many lives in this city. There are other buildings, and those buildings are full of people, and all over the place, people are experiencing the apocalypse.

AX: How much of a shooting break do you have between the end of Season 1 and the start of production on Season 2?

DAVIDSON: Right now, it looks like we’re hoping to start in November. We finished [shooting Season 1] on July 10.

AX: And are you also serving as the directing producer on KINGDOM?

DAVIDSON: No, I’m not.

AX: So did the pilot for that and came over to FEAR THE WALKING DEAD.Is this giving you the opportunity to do anything new, that is, new to you?

DAVIDSON: I hope so. I mean, it’s certainly given me a new opportunity doing the show, doing a pilot for AMC, which has been incredibly supportive, and working with this subject matter. That was new. What I loved is that I could still explore the things that always interest me as a director, which are universal stories that we share as human beings, but in this context of a genre that is really captivating the world’s fascination now, and is very ripe for telling all sorts of compelling stories. KINGDOM helped me get this, because [when] Dave Erickson saw KINGDOM, not only had we been working together, but he was like, “That’s the world of L.A. that I’m interested in telling.” So we’ll see what happens.

AX: You shot FEAR THE WALKING DEAD in both Los Angeles and Vancouver. Why Vancouver?

DAVIDSON: It’s an expensive show and it was a way we could get the show done. There were advantages – the tax break and the dollar exchange rate.

AX: But a lot of it is still recognizably shot in Los Angeles. In LOW WINTER SUN, you shot on location in Detroit, which added a great deal to that show. Are you finding that shooting Los Angeles gives you a similar sense of the city with FEAR THE WALKING DEAD?

DAVIDSON: Yeah. We shot the pilot in L.A. The series was shot in a combination of Vancouver and L.A.  But I was always hopeful that we could tell a story about the L.A. that I knew. Because while I was growing up here, I always felt that the Los Angeles I saw on screen wasn’t the Los Angeles I knew. Everything was always glitzy and glamorous and blue skies and sunny days, and I always saw the smog, and you walk out the door and you see the cracks in the asphalt, the buildings that look like they should be blown away in a windstorm and the thick air and the façade of it all. And so I was very interested in telling a story about the backstage of L.A., the other side of the river, so to speak. And having grown up here, I went to school in Palisades High School, and I played football and we were in the Crosstown League, and that meant we played everywhere imaginable [laughs], and one of the places they sent us to for a game was Woodrow Wilson High School. And I remember, when I came onto this show, that there was this school that had a football field that overlooked downtown L.A. And we went to go look at it, and we just fell in love with the school, because it’s in this historic neighborhood, El Sereno, which is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, it’s a very mixed neighborhood ethnicity-wise, and it’s working-class people, and that’s what interested me in telling this story. These are just everyday people who are just trying to make it through life. It’s hard enough to keep your kids in school, keep your job. The car is broken, the sink is broken – life is hard. And what interested me was this idea that it’s a flawed world to begin with, and then the apocalypse happens.

AX: You have a lot of scenes of people – that is, living humans – getting agitated in the streets. Did you ever have problems with LAPD in helicopters thinking that what you were staging in the street was real civil unrest?

DAVIDSON: [laughs] We actually did shoot those scenes in Canada, but it had nothing to do with protecting ourselves from any kind of police backlash. It just was a matter of what made sense production-wise. But I think Dave and the writers were smart – we’re living in unrestful times and society is not fair and there isn’t equality and a lot of police are good people and they’re trying to do the best job that they can, but there’s a flaw and we’re seeing too many times innocent people getting hurt or murdered. And when they were writing this was when Ferguson was happening.

AX: To ask a question about what the characters do and don’t know, in the world of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD, George Romero movies don’t exist, nobody’s seen NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD?

DAVIDSON: That’s correct. I asked that same question – “What is the awareness of zombies?” – and the answer from Kirkman is that nobody has any previous knowledge about zombies or Walkers.

AX: Do they have any media/pop culture awareness at all?

DAVIDSON: Sure. Yeah. We just took out “zombie.” But I assume people could start talking about vampires in our world. They just would never talk about zombies.

This interview was conducted during AMC’s portion of the Television Critics Association press tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

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ArticleFEAR THE WALKING DEAD: The Scoop on Season 1 – Part 1 – exclusive interview

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