Picture this: you’re navigating the dark, dank hallways of an abandoned Georgia prison. If you’re quiet, you can feel and hear the tortured souls of prisoners. And, maybe, the hustle and bustle of a production team. This is what Greg Nicotero experienced when he was permitted to tour the Cell Block C of West Georgia’s Correction Facility. And while some may be frightened or apprehensive about visiting such a location, Nicotero is ecstatic, in his element.
Why? Because the aforementioned prison is the current setting for AMC’s The Walking Dead.
But, true to Hollywood fashion, Nicotero isn’t really in Georgia. He’s in California. On a set that is an identical replica of the original Cell Block. And Nicotero isn’t a fanboy geeking out over his favorite show, he is the creepy thriller’s executive producer, and he’s thinking outside to box to try and get people even more excited for Sunday’s upcoming Season 4 premier.
Nicotero and other showrunners have partnered with Universal’s theme parks to try and scare people into watching the zombie-filled program
. The parks already feature “Horror Night” events, when the parks basically turn into one big, pulsating haunted house.
Last year, The Walking Dead
marked the first show to be the feature two nights in a row, in what AMC’s Executive VP of Marketing; Linda Schupack calls “a fantastic cross-promotional opportunity and a great way to capture the spirit of the series.”
This year, AMC will be an even greater presence as they have to commandeered the park’s tram tour, implemented two zombie-filled mazes (which have already seen guests waiting for as long as ninety minutes), as well as “scare zones” that will run until November 2. Obviously, all of these features will be action packed and filled with walkers. The show also premiered the fourth season at the park.
Halloween themed activities have been extremely popular at amusement parks in recent years. Parks that would have normally closed their doors for the season at this point are seeing a resurgence of visitors begging to be scared.
In an attempt to allure people into buying the $120 “front-of-the-line-tickets,” Universal has eschewed typical haunted houses and have integrate popular movies and shows into their themes, such as The Walking Dead
(obviously), The Purge, Cabin in the Woods,
and The Evil Dead
, among others.
The park works directly with producers to try and recreate bona fide scenes that will have an air of legitimacy to them. Creative Director for “Halloween Horror Nights,” John Murdy, stated, “That’s the creative ideal for us. It’s our job to get the details right.” People would surely notice if they didn’t.
The prison is a key part of what is called the “No Safe Haven” maze, which fans will know is appropriately named. In fact, the maze has infiltrated the studio’s New York City set, a portion of the park that had been off-limits for past “Horror Nights.” Guests will have to navigate past tanks, shouting and panicked battalions, and, of course, what’s a zombie tour without walkers? Guests will have the opportunity to test their running prowess by trying to escape hungry, undead mobs. Eventually, swat zombies will guide the groups into the prison.
“You pretty much get attacked from the minute you get here to the minute you leave,” Murdy stated excitedly. “In a million years, I never thought ‘Horror Nights’ would be here. To be able to take the public into that environment is huge. We take it for granted because we work here every day. But it’s so awesome for them to be able to get off the tram.”
Photo courtesy of ocregister.com
Murdy knew immediately upon finding out about this opportunity that the prison would be a part of the thrill. “We’re all rabid fans of The Walking Dead
so we’d seen every episode of season three. We’re constantly watching it as designers, taking notes, pausing it and going frame by frame, driving the people we’re watching it with crazy. Every season there are new environments and new characters and as soon as we saw the prison we said we have to build that.”
As the show’s Executive Producer, Nicotero appreciated that voracious attention to detail. He knew without doubt what a phenomenal maze the prison would be.
“When we designed the prison for the show, we wanted it to be like a haunted house,” Nicotero explained. “Every time they get deeper into the prison it gets creepier and weirder. The actual set (only a 10-minute van ride away from Hershel’s farm in season two and built from scratch by the show) was designed and constructed to have layers of terror.”
Universal has made its best effort to stay true to the beloved show, and part of that is ensuring that things we see in the series are present in the maze. One may see a gaggle of walkers bursting expectedly from an over-crowded cell; or the blood-stained floors of the laundry and boiler rooms. Perhaps the location where Lori met her demise after giving birth to Ass Kicker. You may also stumble upon a little slice of Woodbury, complete with tanks of floating heads and zombie daughters.
“Because John and his people are fans of the show, they always pick on the iconic parts that I would have chosen,” Nicotero stated. What a relief that must be.
This is the most ambitious set Murdy and his crew have constructed, as the structure has to be built much like that of a house. And in order to give it even more of a realistic feel, Murdy borrowed props from the show, like Hershel’s crutches, and signs proclaiming “No Cellphones,” that be seen on the show. It’s that attention to detail that will give visitors the impression that they’re trolling the prison alongside Rick and Daryl, diligently trying to keep their people safe.
“I spend so much time on those sets that I wanted to add that extra level of authenticity,” Nicotero explained. “To walk out of the original set, the real set, and walk into this and see what they’ve done is as close as you can get” to “The Walking Dead.”
But the props aren’t the only things bringing an element of “real” to the experience. We will also see some of the walkers that stood out the most. Like Michonne’s armless, jawless companions.
Universal actually boasts more resources for getting people “zombiefied” than the actual does. While AMC employs nine makeup artists, Universal has 25 on staff for “Horror Nights” alone; not to mention, 3,000 seasonal employees ready to scare the pants off of visitors.
Nicotero has been inspired by this venture, in fact, stating that, “Seeing the way John and his people do things has given me some ideas. This season we’ve done more walker makeup than in season one, two and three combined. We’ve hit our stride, but I can always learn. I wish we had the resources these guys have sometimes. I love the ingenuity.”
Nicotero admitted that approximately 25% of the background walkers don’t don makeup for the show, while Murdy stated that “For us, every shot is a closeup. We’re incredibly close to our guests.”
Nicotero also touched on the upcoming fourth season, and what we can expect: “We’re trying to keep it fresh, interesting and exciting” calling the new season “a greatest hits of what we’ve done. We’re going back to the great character beats we established in season one and upping the ante in terms of walkers. That’s what keeps people coming back to our show.”
Nicotero has also cultivated a bit of a reputation among the show’s actors: murderer. The shows that Nicotero directs typically result in the death of a major character. which main characters get killed.
“Every time I direct an episode, the actors get nervous. They always say, how many are directing this year? I get a lot of, ‘Don’t kill me. Please, I’ll do anything.’”
“Something that’s really exciting is walking through the maze and seeing sequences that I shot,” Nicotero says, like where Lori’s remains are discovered, for example. “The fact that those moments that I shot are now becoming iconic parts of the flavor of the show is the ultimate compliment.”
Once again, PopWrappers; The Walking Dead
Season 4 premier is THIS SUNDAY!!! The excitement just keeps growing!