Killer Instinct

Seattle Production Company Shoots International Promos for The Walking Dead

“As we walked through the lot, there were dead bodies everywhere. The wind was blowing, sheets of metal were banging. It was really creepy.”

That’s Bobby Hougham, co-creative director of Seattle-based production company thenewBlank, discussing his time on the set of The Walking Dead, the zombie-centric AMC series that is now in its third season. Earlier this fall, thenewBlank traveled to Atlanta to shoot international promo spots for the series, and Hougham and his team were able to see firsthand what it’s like to live during a zombie apocalypse.

Bobby Hougham gives direction to The Walking Dead star Norman Reedus.

This series of promos is part of a package for Fox International. thenewBlank has also recently shot promos for Glee, New Girl, Ben and Kate, and American Horror Story, among others.

“Fox had just rebranded but didn’t know how to develop it for promotions and social media, etc.,” explained Hougham. “We were contacted and we did a full blown pitch—we developed a bunch of different ideas on how the rebrand could be used in multiple circumstances.”

Since this was an international project, a big challenge was the communication barrier.

“The Fox U.S. tagline is ‘So Fox.’ which doesn’t translate well into many other languages,” said Hougham. “We worked on developing different tags and different promos that would work on a wider scale.”

thenewBlank won the bid and got to work.

The team traveled to Hollywood Center Studios in L.A. to shoot promos for Fox comedies like Glee and New Girl.

“We shot on the stage—the actual stage—that Lucille Ball’s show was shot on,” said Hougham. “Right next door to that stage was the George Burns stage, where he did his show. From that Hollywood history point of view, it was a very cool experience.”

But it was nothing compared to what the team would encounter in the woods outside Atlanta.

“We were on The Walking Dead’s set, sharing their studio space,” said Hougham. “All of their stages were jam-packed full of stuff, so we were tucked into interior sets for our shoot.”

As enormous fans of the show and the comic book on which it’s based, the team at thenewBlank was enthused to not only be on set, but to walk around in between shoots and explore the Walking Dead world, from the prison yard to the various interiors. Working closely with the cast of a production is a part of regular life for thenewBlank, however this production was a particularly unique experience. It wasn’t merely that the production offices were set up in The Governor’s office or that you would find dead bodies lying around just outside their set, it was more about how the close-knit cast and crew accepted them as part of their team.

“During the shoot we were welcomed in,” said Hougham. “We definitely got an amazing sense of camaraderie. They’ve been working together for nine months in the middle of nowhere and we had the distinct feeling we were a part of that family.

“For the Hollywood shoot, all of these actors are hustled in on their off days, and they’re told, basically, ‘you gotta stand up and act pretty for these random people.’ But on Walking Dead, they were coming from rehearsal. They came in between takes. It wasn’t so much of an inconvenience or a hassle for them, but more of a ‘welcome to our home.’”

That’s not to say Hougham and crew were always completely at ease. He described working with the zombies—referred to as “walkers” in the show—as “remarkably creepy.”

“The walkers don’t see, but they hear and smell really well,” said Hougham. “So you have these people milling about, and then you cue them that they hear or smell something. Looking right into the lens, it looked and felt as though they were looking at and hunting me.

“After that, I needed to go ‘shake it off.’ It was really creepy; really cool.”

And the creepiness factor didn’t wane in between takes.

“I came out of lunch, and down the hall I see three walkers having a smoke and BS-ing. Saying to myself, ‘Oh sure, I’ll bite,’ I headed over and started talking with them,” recalled Hougham. “They were in full makeup—I mean, full on dead and rotting—but they’re talking and behaving like normal, living human beings, of course, and I still caught myself getting the chills. Even in real life they are just bizarre, just creepy. And when they’d snap back into their ‘zombie’ mode, you just wanted to run.”

Hougham co-wrote and directed the spots, which were shot over five days in September at an undisclosed studio in Atlanta.

“Kammie Mcarthur wrote initial drafts of the scripts, and I worked with her and finessed the final scripts,” he said. “My partner Sevrin Daniels has been handling the creative direction and post-production side of things.”

The final promos are delivered as After Effects templates that can be easily altered to fit the needs of the various countries it will be shown in. Said Hougham, “We’re creating these promos that are pretty boiled down but certain things like iconography and text can be altered without headache.”

Upon completion of the Walking Dead promos, thenewBlank team was back at it, traveling to Wales for Da Vinci’s Demons, a Starz and BBC production that Fox is distributing nationwide. The team will also soon be shooting another promo for a different show, but Hougham wasn’t at liberty to say which one.

“The Fox promos are an ongoing project,” he said. “It’s a big project and we are thrilled to be a part of it.”

No rest for the weary, apparently. Especially during a zombie apocalypse.

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