5 Reasons You Can Study 'The Walking Dead' and Learn About Good Filmmaking.
Both as a student, and teacher of this ever evolving exercise of word structure and "filmmatic" leaps and bounds called filmmaking, I study the resources around me, one of which is the series: The Walking Dead. Now whether you like the idea of zombies or not, doesn't really matter. If you want to learn how to write a one-hour drama, then you want to sit down and study this show.
I want to break down five key points, that support this idea. Though I am a fan of the show, I decided not to go super in-depth (breaking down episodes to support my points) you can actually, just pick any episode and see how these points apply. While going to Screenwriting and Filmmaking classes helps tremendously - some things you can learn by studying what's right in front of you. Think about what makes your favorite show your favorite. Think about how long your show has been on the air and how popular it might be. Combine that with your love of writing/filmmaking and you've got study materials!
"The Walking Dead" provides more than a few reasons why it is such a success. One, is it's original adaptation of the concept (Comic adaptation). No, not the zombie concept; the concept of life afterwards. The comic introduced the idea of living in a new, zombie infested world, and the show's adaptation carried it through. The look into this new 'what if' world, is what latched audiences to it. We all were curious, what living in that type of world looked like, or could look like? How would we survive, what would happen? How are we adapting and keeping up in new times? I sometimes wonder if the show will ever end? When will people stop caring what happens in this new world? ... An original concept holds a great deal of importance. Don't get me wrong, so do adaptations. But just take the example of the film Get Out - people flock to something new - we are curious creatures and like to see with new eyes sometimes.
The second element that makes TWD a great example is what they do with their characterization. The Walking Dead's characters each hold completely different past lives that are built into the show. They are, for the most part, strangers that came together. Eight seasons in, they are now much more than that, but that's also what we love about the show. We were able to grow to love these people just as they grew to love each other. We witnessed their journey from the beginning of this new world, to the new individuals they are now. And we know them. We grieve and love with them. Each character, those who have died along the way and those that are still alive, have all been dynamic people to watch, whether good or bad. Yup, those who you're supposed to hate, you still might sympathize for, in different ways, for different reasons. This is a strong element to keeping an audience interested: Giving them people to relate to, cling to and feel emotion for.
Third, we have plain ol' great action, graphics and adventure. Let's not forget that TWD is a Drama/Action series - they fight, there's gore, and thrills and suspense. People fucking love that shit!! We love action! We love to be scared - stuff pops out of nowhere! We get to see, up close, all the nasty shit that we might normally turn away from. They hold nothing back. And you can tell they have a lot of fun doing it. The zombies get better and more disgusting every season and it's kind of awesome. I'm not even a sucker for blood and gore, but it's weaved so amazingly into the show that you can't help but be sick and twisted with them. The slower episodes are good, but the ones with a shootout or huge zombie ambush, where the group has to slice-ass and take names, is what the fans really love. Even if you aren't writing an action, or something that involves action, maybe figure out what is just as climatic in your series that can drive an audience to tune in every week. Mystery? Scandal? Missions of love?...
Four would be the shows overall look. When watching an episode, mute it and watch a scene. Pause it and study the mise en scene, the color palette, and the composition. What you are seeing is a lot of cinematic choices. For years, television has started to incorporate the 'film' look into its shows. Since film and television continue to grow and evolve, more and more, there has become a bridge of the two worlds. A combination. We used to see it more on Premium channels, then Cable, now across the board - it's become the standard of an elevated TV watching experience. And as technology gets sharper, the way we take it in will have to get better. The demand and expectation begins to shift and people want to have that ultimate experience right in their home-theaters. TWD can and will continue to set a new standard, as it retains this platform for what defines a successful television series. Being inventive and stepping just left outside of the box, can definitely work in your filmmaking favor.
Lastly, (and I have to say, what's most important) is the writing. As a writer, I always look at a shows writing with the hardest criticism. And not negatively, but absorbing the scene for what works in it. Do they follow the rules or do they break them? I look for the beats. I look for the hints and the foretelling of future story elements that I can then, trace back, once they are revealed. I look for the relationship ties between characters. The minimal dialogue. The action without words, that the writer decides to give us. What communication are we receiving from each scene - both what we hear and what we don't? Is it working? Do we get it? How long is each scene and what does it accomplish? TWD knows how to carry their audience with its compelling storytelling. The actors know how to relay this information to the audience. If I was doing six points, they'd be the sixth, because without good acting, the writing doesn't work and vise versa. Each of TWD's scenes, where characters deliver important information, has a way in doing so, fitting for the character and the circumstance. Try closing your eyes during a scene - a full scene and see if you can still imagine what the scene might look like without actually watching it. Let your imagination create the scene based off what you hear- then watch the scene again. How close was what you pictured in your mind to what actually took place in the scene?... If the scene can be delivered and understood, without being watched, that's a way to measure good writing. And good writing will take you far, even if your project doesn't take you past the end of the block.
With all the elements combine, you should have no problem with a successful show. But remember, the curating process for getting a show right, takes time. Even if your initial idea starts off as one thing (Walking Dead's was, Rick wakes up and the Apocalypse has happened - Now what?...) - it will evolve, the longer it's on air (Walking Dead, presently in it's 8th season, is now about the survival of Rick's group, living among a different form of humanity, with the Dead no longer the being the main or even worst issue).
Don't worry, by your eighth season, you'll have a whole group of new brains and fresh ideas to keep the show going strong. All you have to do is package up a great idea, with amazing writing, a new concept, kick-ass visual elements and some good action and characters to add to the mix - you have at least a winning head start.