For the past several years, the FoF has been on the Syfy Press Tour. These tours have normally taken place on set in Canada. This year the tour brought us back to Universal Studios in Florida. The best part was that Syfy brought the stars and creators to us. Over the next week, we will share with you the panels and pictures we have from the 2014 tour.
We were extremely lucky to not only see old friends but make new ones as well. To kick this off we will focus on Z Nation that airs on Syfy every Friday night.
P A N E L I S T S
Karl Schaefer (Executive Producer)
CHRIS REGINA: Baby zombies, the Liberty Bell tumbling down the streets of Philadelphia, crushing the undead, and a zombinado are three of the signature elements in Syfy’s action-packed series, Z Nation. This fun and zombie drama follows a team of unlikely heros as they attempt to bring a lone carrier of a potential cure for the zombie virus across the country to a lab in California. The show is off to a strong start, so much so that I am proud to announce that we have picked up season two. (Applause.)
CHRIS REGINA: We are very excited to have this panel here today, so please give a warm welcome for Michael Welch, who plays charming all-American Matt Thompson.
CHRIS REGINA: Executive producer and show writer, Karl Schaefer.
CHRIS REGINA: And the only man to suffer eight zombie bites and live to talk about it, Keith Allan, who plays Murphy.
CHRIS REGINA: Episode 7 airs this coming Friday. Karl, in case any of us are not caught up on the season, do you want to give a little recap of where we are in the story right now?
KARL SCHAEFER: Well, we’ve killed a lot of zombies, and a lot of humans, too. Our team has made it as far — so far, we’re in Nebraska, I believe, and we’ve lost two key members of the team, Harold Perrineau, who played Hammond in the pilot, and just in Friday’s episode, we lost Tom Everett Scott, playing Garnett. And so the team finds itself in Episode 7 at a crossroads where they’re not really sure if they’re going to make it any farther and who is going to, you know, rise to the top as the new team leader.
Murphy is hoping Warren, Kellita Smith, will step up and become the leader that he knows he can’t be at this point in the journey, but it’s really looking bad for our guys. We’re kind of at a low point dramatically for them.
And Michael’s character, Mack, and Addy, are going to go their separate ways and be separated from the group going forward, and we’ll see if they can make it to California.
KEITH ALLAN: Yeah. Don’t ask for a bigger trailer.
MICHAEL WELCH: Now that we’ve been picked up for a second season.
KARL SCHAEFER: I hope you guys make it.
KEITH ALLAN: I hope we make it, too.
CHRIS REGINA: Michael, Keith, have you worked in the genre before and what is the fan reaction like for you guys?
KEITH ALLAN: I’m sorry?
CHRIS REGINA: Have you worked in this genre before? And talk about the fan reaction of the show for you.
KEITH ALLAN: Well, the fan reaction has been amazing. We just did the zombie conference in Atlanta yesterday, and they were digging the show. They loved what we’re doing, as far as like the genre mix, bringing back some of the humor into, you know, death and destruction and killing and brains and guts. So they’re having a great time with it. And what’s surprising me is some of the like really young people, like eight-year-old girls, little kid fans.
KARL SCHAEFER: Yeah, a lot of little kid fans.
KEITH ALLEN: And they came up and they’re like, “So, does Murphy have a crush on anyone?” They were adorable. But really enthusiastic, just loving the show, and having a good time. And you can’t ask for more than that.
KARL SCHAEFER: We were a little worried. It was Walker Stalker, The Walking Dead, 30,000 Walking Dead fans, and we didn’t know how they would treat us when we got there, but they were very kind to us and seemed to be — believe that there was room for two zombie shows in the universe.
MICHAEL WELCH: I think people who are true fans of the genre really understand what this genre is and what it’s been all about, over the years, you know, know that of course there’s room for both. I mean, zombies have been around for a long time. A long time, there have been zombies, you know. Yeah, listen, I’ve been working in sci-fi programs for years. It’s just how my career has worked out. I was in a Star Trek movie as a kid, and then of course, you know, the Twilight movies over the past several years, and then in what ended up being a pretty popular, Stargate: SG-1. So I am somewhat familiar with this fan base, and I was in, you know, Day of the Dead, a Romero remake.
KEITH ALLAN: Really?
MICHAEL WELCH: Yeah.
KARL SCHAEFER: You’ve been eaten before?
MICHAEL WELCH: No, I don’t think I have, and I’m always just like a dude in these things, too.
KEITH ALLAN: You do a dude well, you know.
QUESTION: What has been your absolute favorite scene from the series so far?
KARL SCHAEFER: Me?
KARL SCHAEFER: Well, there’s — of course, there’s the zombie baby, which I think everybody likes a lot, because that was sort of a bet between me and the crew, because one aspect of the baby — we had the puppet baby, we had the real baby, and we also had a midget in a mask, and the whole crew –
KEITH ALLAN: Which is a little creepy, by the way, to have that little midget guy running around with that baby head on him.
KARL SCHAEFER: “That’s not going to work.” And I go, it’s just eight frames, he just jumps at the camera. But it really makes that scene, so that’s a big favorite, but you know, almost every episode — we have the Liberty Bell wiping people out, and you know, some of the emotional scenes, like the death of Garnett and things like that. So, it’s hard to pick a favorite.
KEITH ALLAN: I think my favorite was from last week’s episode. You know, I’m your messiah. I don’t know if you guys got to see the episode, but it’s where Murphy really gets to sort of bust out of who we think he is, and he gets to sort of take control of what’s happening to him, to a degree, and also, you know, it was a great scene for me to stretch my acting legs, you know. I really got to be, you know, power Murphy in that scene, and that was a blast for me.
MICHAEL WELCH: Yeah. I mean, first of all, my favorite stuff for Mack is coming up, so we’ll see about that. But, you know, my favorite thing to watch so far is probably the scene with Doc in the –
KEITH ALLAN: Oh, in the elevator shaft.
KARL SCHAEFER: In the air shaft? That’s a great sequence.
MICHAEL WELCH: One of the things that I think Karl is trying to do here is just show you a little — a little bit of a different side to zombies, week in, week out. Show you something that you’ve never quite seen before. And I just thought that was very interesting for Doc to be face-to-face with a zombie and sort of have this intimate moment, trying to find the humanity in this creature.
KEITH ALLAN: And when have you ever seen a zombie get stoned before? I think that was
KARL SCHAEFER: Our zombies do something a little different every day. It’s our mission statement.
KEITH ALLAN: Our zombies know how to party.
QUESTION: After Friday’s episode, outside of Murphy, are any of the other cast members going to be safe or is it anybody could go at any point?
KARL SCHAEFER: Nobody is safe, not even these guys.
KEITH ALLAN: Wait a minute.
KARL SCHAEFER: No, I don’t think any of them are actually safe, you know. Certainly, we want to keep the audience on their toes, and it’s kind of like life. It’s never what you’re worried about that gets you.
So, no, nobody is safe, certainly not in the long run. You know, they might make it to the end of the season, but even that’s in question, so. Keep them on their toes.
KEITH ALLAN: Don’t ask for a bigger trailer yet.
MICHAEL WELCH: And I do feel like we’ve been very smart so far in terms of picking those deaths and deciding where they were going to come. Like each death that’s happened, has happened for a very specific reason, and it propels the show and the characters into new and interesting directions. We don’t just kill people off willy-nilly just because we can on the show. I don’t feel we do that. It’s very interest strategic, and I think we’ve been smart about that, as far as that goes, frankly.
KARL SCHAEFER: Yes. We want people to be really invested in the characters so that they feel the impact of those deaths. And to do something like — you know, we had Garnett and Warren’s romance just start in the same episode where we, you know, kill Garnett off. So we made people feel like, well, they’re going to be safe, because that story line always takes a half a dozen episodes or so. And I think that’s a big other part of our mission statement is just to keep people on their toes and to do the unexpected.
KEITH ALLAN: The fans were really — they were pretty upset that Garnett, like, bit it. Some of them were — I saw some of the Tweets. They were crying. And everyone — they were invested and just as soon as they’re on board with him –
QUESTION: You were talking about scenes that you take serious and then like stoned zombies, things that make you laugh so badly, but as actors, is it hard to do the serious stuff along with the comedic stuff that happens kind of in every episode?
KEITH ALLAN: For me, not at all. I love that. I can’t wait for that stuff. I mean, Murphy’s got some great one-liners. He’s got such a snarky attitude, so I get to have fun. But you know, to me, the meat of the show is those dramatic scenes when we get to really, kind of get down to the poignancy of the relationships and the survival and what’s really happening on a whole different level, on a deeper level. I love that stuff. I think it’s the most powerful stuff in the show.
MICHAEL WELCH: Yeah. And for me, I mean, Mack — Mack doesn’t exactly bring the comedy to the show. I mean, he’s very much like — he’s kind of a rock in the show in the sense that you know who he is. You sort of know what you’re going to get from Mack, week in and week out. And really, you know, it’s my job to just react as realistically as possible to whatever’s happening.
So for instance, in the zombie tornado episode when the zombie flies through the window, it’s all about, all right, what’s the mission? What’s the next task? Murphy, take care of that. I’m going to board up the windows here. Mack is — Mack has survived the apocalypse with his strength and his pragmatism. So he’s just going to — and really, his moments of real humanity kind of come with Addy in those small, intimate moments.
I mean, actually, one of my other favorite scenes, if I may, is the scene when Mack and Addy go out and then they kill the cop zombie, if you remember that. They’re sort of looking for a satellite dish or something. And because to me, that very much felt like that’s Mack’s version of having a nice picnic with his — you know what I mean? Like that’s sort of like, hey, this is — but that’s the reality of the world, man.
KEITH ALLAN: You’re such a romantic.
MICHAEL WELCH: I know. So yeah, it’s my job to just react realistically to whatever is happening.
QUESTION: To feed off that question a little bit, obviously, the zombie apocalypse is a little bit tense. How important is it to keep that comedy to break up the tension?
KARL SCHAEFER: Well, I mean, my experience is life is sometimes the most dangerous, saddest things are right up against some of the funniest things, and you know, that that’s sort of the way life is. And I mean, another kind of operating theory that we came up with in the writer’s room is we are three years into the apocalypse. Anybody that’s survived now is genetically predisposed as a survivor. It’s more than luck if you’re still alive at this point. And having a sense of humor in such dark circumstances is part of the ingredients of being a survivor; that if you took the apocalypse totally seriously and didn’t have some sort of relief, you’d just curl up in a ball and die. So all of our characters have a sense of the absurd and a sense of the situation they’re in, and have learned to find humor where they can in what’s going on.
KEITH ALLAN: I think for my money, also, it’s that nice balance of the horror, the drama, and the humor that I think makes the show a success for what it is. I mean, to me, that’s old drive-in movie stuff. We used to go to the drive-in movies to go to the horror movie, to get scared and laugh at the same time. I think that’s golden stuff.
MICHAEL WELCH: Yeah, I mean, tonally, I think that’s the kicker to the show is the humor. I can’t remember the last time fun was an element in zombie shows.
KARL SCHAEFER: Yeah, we’re trying to put the fun back in zombies.
MICHAEL WELCH: I think that’s what makes it work.
QUESTION: Speaking to the comedy, you’ve already seen the zombies in the tornado, the baby, and the Amish. Can we expect to see anything more like that throughout the season?
KARL SCHAEFER: Yeah. I mean, we try to have some big set piece, like wow moment, in every episode, and we come up with some absurd way to kill a zombie or threaten our characters or something they see. And yeah, we’ll be keeping that up, definitely.
QUESTION: Various aspects of the show seem to point to a very much anti-Walking Dead aspect. Do you –
KARL SCHAEFER: What?
QUESTION: Do you consciously look at like episodes of Walking Dead and say, well, this is what they did, and we’re going to do the exact opposite or does it — is it just kind of a natural reaction?
KARL SCHAEFER: It was pretty much a natural reaction. I think when I was first approached by Syfy to do this, and the Asylum guys, you know, my first thing was like, well, there’s already a great zombie show on, you know. And it was like, well, we want to do — we want to go where they don’t.
And I think, you know, The Walking Dead is an excellent, very serious drama that takes itself very seriously and has a super narrow definition of what a zombie is and how they behave, that I think it’s sort of making it tougher and tougher for them to keep the tension up with the zombies. You know, if you’re getting killed in The Walking Dead at this point by a zombie, you’re kind of a foolish person. They’re not hard to get away from.
So, without looking at their episodes, we did want to go where they didn’t. We wanted to have humor. We wanted to have — our zombies are evolving. Every week you’re going to see zombies do something different that you didn’t expect them to be able to do. We wanted to — some of the important things were, you know, as the season goes on and you’re watching Murphy’s transformation, and our characters get more involved with zombies, that you’re seeing that they have a level of consciousness and that there is still some sort of soul there. And the whole idea, giving Murphy to a zombie, because there is somebody still in there, you know, to a certain extent, that they aren’t just like wild animals or bad weather that you’re facing against, but there’s a being there of some sort, I think separates us from The Walking Dead.
And the fact that just our whole thing about zombie rules and stuff is, is it cool? Is it funny? Is it exciting? Yeah, we do that. We’re the show that says, yeah, we’ll tornado the zombies, sure. Fire zombies? Sure. Zombie bears? Zombie gophers? Whatever. If it works in the story, we’ll go there.
KEITH ALLAN: So you’re kind of saying that our zombie could kick their zombies’ asses.
KARL SCHAEFER: I think that’s probably true. And you know, if you think about like who would you want to go through the apocalypse with, I think our guys are way more fun, you know, and they have a sense of mission.
KEITH ALLAN: Who do you want to party with?
KARL SCHAEFER: That’s another big difference in our show is we have a sense of mission. We have a sense of hope. Our guys aren’t just waiting to die or just struggling to survive. They’ve got something to get up and do that’s driving them forward.
QUESTION: What has been your favorite zombie kill so far?
KARL SCHAEFER: Wow, favorite zombie kill . MICHAEL WELCH: Well, to me, in the Doc air shaft episode, once again, there was a linebacker. This guy was a professional linebacker. He was kind of the big monster boss zombie that even the .22 pistol didn’t quite penetrate his skull. And then he lifted me up by the throat and sort of spun me around.
That was a lot of fun, and that was my idea, by the way. Yeah, I didn’t really get to kill that guy, but I like that one because we had to kind of work as a team to figure out how to kill that guy. He was just — that was just a bad dude, you know?
KEITH ALLAN: I think for me the one we just saw, the wheel-well zombie, even though we didn’t get to see them die, we got to see the aftermath, and that’s disgusting. And that was a real girl in that. They shoved that girl in the wheel well of that truck. She was in there for like a good 45 minutes, yeah. But she was great. What a trooper.
I tell you, man, you cannot spell Z Nation without the Zs. Our zombies are awesome. These people are so committed to having a great time, we put them through the wringer. They’re laying in mud and water and cow shit. You know, they’re having the time of their lives.
KARL SCHAEFER: Yeah. They don’t want to be zombies. They need to be zombies.
KEITH ALLAN: Tell the story about the guy that was going home in his makeup.
KARL SCHAEFER: Oh yeah. A couple things. Our zombie extras in Spokane are fantastic. We had an open call for the zombies, and we thought like 50, 60 people would show up. We had 800 people show up to be zombies. And they get paid nothing and they’re in this uncomfortable makeup. And like the one scene we did where the water zombies, where they all jump up out of the water all together, those guys were laying face down in this horrific water for hours and hours, and I kept going, are you guys all right? Can we get you anything? No, man, this is on my bucket list. I’m having the best time. And literally, about a quarter of our zombie extras will go home in their makeup. They won’t take it off. They want to go home and show their families.
And one night, we were shooting out in a far, distant location, and I’m like the last guy leaving, and I’m driving down this dark country road, and there’s one of our zombies, hitchhiking, in full costume. So I pull over and I go, “You want a ride?” He goes, “No, man. I’m waiting for somebody to come pick me up.”
KEITH ALLAN: Someone other than you.
KARL SCHAEFER: You know me. So, it’s part of the whole phenomenon of zombies, and it really does tap into something that’s going on in our collective unconscious right now. I mean, you know, the Walking Dead is a great show, but 18 million people? Really? It’s the zombies that do it. They just — there is something about that that means something to people, and our zombie extras are so — they don’t care if we set them on fire, if we throw them off a building, if they have to lay face down in hard chemicals, they just don’t care. They want to be there.
And I even had someone tell us, like after some of the big fight scenes that we do, I’ve had like three of them come up to me and go, yeah, I went totally blank at a certain point and didn’t know what I was doing for like two minutes there, you know.
KEITH ALLAN: Oh, yeah. My sister came up and she’s a lawyer and she wanted to be a zombie on the show for a day. And I got cut early, but she was there until late. So she had to like chase someone down. And I’m asking her, “How did you do?” She said, “Great, I tackled him to the floor and ate his face.” And I’m like, “Did they tell you to tackle him to the floor?” “No, but I just did it. That was great.”