Like the flesh-hungry antagonists that they portray onscreen, zombie films seem to have an everlasting presence in Hollywood. Case in point: AMC’s recent television series The Walking Dead (based on the popular comic book series by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard) has been met with both nearly universal critical acclaim and commercial success, its pilot drawing the highest amount of viewers of any AMC television series.
“I’ve never worked on a project that’s received such immediate praise and success in such a short amount of time,” says Full Sail Film grad/Walking Dead editor Hunter M. Via. “I’ve had people that I’ve met from all throughout my life contact me about it. It’s really phenomenal.”
Oscar-nominated director/writer Frank Darabont first approached Hunter with the idea for the zombie series years ago, when the two were working together on horror film The Mist. “It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up,” Hunter recalls. “Frank is such a wonderful writer, and his words really just come to life on the screen. It’s all been very fun.”
Beyond his admiration for Darabont’s work, there were other forces that drew Hunter to the project. “I’m a huge fan of the zombie subgenre, whether it’s comedic films like Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, or movies like 28 Days Later, where it’s extremely visceral and terrifying,” Hunter says. “What’s special about The Walking Dead is how it draws upon different influences outside the horror genre. The pilot is a zombie show that also has a visual style that pays respects to old Westerns, as well as some of the original Twilight Zone episodes, and even some Stanley Kubrick-styled shooting.
“Frank also steered away from what a lot of horror films have done lately, which is typically too much sound and too much music,” he continues. “Our direction here was to be quiet and pull things back. That was something that I really worked on in my editor’s cut; peeling back all of the layers and allowing the scenes to be desolate and focus on what’s going on in the story.”
While Hunter has worked on a variety of film and television projects in the past, the hands-on approach that he’s been able to give to The Walking Dead has made it a particularly rewarding experience. “Typically, when it comes to television, the schedule moves so fast that editors don’t really get to be involved with much of the process,” he says. “But on Walking Dead I’ve been involved every step of the way. When Frank goes to the dub stage to mix, I was right there giving notes. When we were doing visual effects, I was there. I’ve been creatively involved right until the bitter end. We really made time to make sure we did everything right and had the time to do it.
“I knew when I started getting dailies from the pilot that this was going to be something pretty amazing,” Hunter says. “I’m really proud of the work we’ve done.”
And of course, spending hours working on zombie footage has taught him a thing about way of survival tactics.
“I’m not a total freak, but I do occasionally think about a zombie apocalypse and what I would do,” he laughs. “You gotta take the head off, man. It’s all in the brain.”