Monthly Archives: May 2014

Atlanta Movie Tour, The Real Deal. Part 2 of Walkers & Zombies & Zeds, Oh My! @ATLMovieTours

My previous blog grew into an extremely long preamble to introduce what I had intended on writing about, my experience at the Atlanta Movie Tour “Big Zombie Tour, Part 2” in May 2014. I got a bit off track, as per usual, when I started talking about why I started to watch “The Walking Dead”. Oops.

My brother developed three rules for life and I like to keep two of the rules in mind, see if you can figure out which of the two I mean:

1) Shit Happens
2) Bring Beer
3) Know someone who works there

Now that I think about it, my big brother taught me about the importance of networking with his Rule #3. Lucky for me, my friend Grace lives in the greater Atlanta area. Luckier for Grace, she works on “The Walking Dead” as a “Hero” or featured zombie on a fairly regular basis. In fact, all of you Norman Reedus fans may remember a “blonde zombie” in the background of one of his production stills in a magazine. Daryl Dixon despondently sat on the ground in the tombs and feared what he would find behind a door that erractically open and closed. Would he find a “Walker Carol” or worse? That dead blonde zombie was my friend, Gracie Lou!

Gracie Lou background

Grace and I planned to hang out and visit Woodbury/Senoia when I came to Atlanta on business. She did a bit of research and mapped a route to quite a few Season 4 locations like Terminus, which is at the old Atlanta Motor Shop, right outside of Downtown Atlanta. Terminus was once the original name for Atlanta, the capital of Georgia. The word, “terminus”, means “the end of of the line.” When that is referring to a railroad, no one has an issue. However, when your survivor group reaches “the end of the line,” that becomes a huge problem. If you’re a fan of the show, you know that last season made mention of Terminus as a safe haven for survivors. “Those who arrive, survive.” In the season finale, that quote did not seem to be true, as Rick and his fellow survivors found themselves rounded up and trapped in the “A” car.

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While at that location, we found the “A car”

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We wandered towards the security guards’ perch near the gate, scanning the location for signs of production gear. This was May 5th, the day that production of “The Walking Dead” was scheduled to begin. The actors had been tweeting the week prior about arriving in Georgia to get back to work. Grace and I spotted a burned out car but little else. I approached the security guard and said, “Hey there, how are you? Staying cool in this heat? I’m with Bald Move and they cover The Walking Dead on their website. Any chance I can sneak on to take a really quick photo of the “A” car for my blog entry?” He stared at me for a moment and asked if I worked on the show. It became obvious that he didn’t want to refuse my request as I stood there, smiling sweetly. If I had five more minutes to chat him up, I think I could have convinced him to let me sneak on the property for a quick photo. Instead, he called his mean ole boss over to be the bad guy. The big boss security guy did not even make eye contact with me and shook his head while repeating, “I am just doing my job” over and over. Once I knew they wouldn’t let us on the set, I smiled and thanked him nicely and turned to walk back to our car. As I turned around, Grace laughed out loud. We took a few steps up the hill and she said, “He TOTALLY checked out your butt when you turned around.” What a shame, no eye contact from the guy, he looks at one of my biggest assets (see what I did there?) and we were still denied!

At least we had our tour guide and mascot, Wayne, to comfort me.

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Guided by OnStar, Grace and I headed out to a couple of different locations from Season 4 on our way to Senoia. Here are some pics from the house where Carl consumed 112 ounces of chocolate pudding. The house is located in a quiet neighborhood and on that Sunday afternoon, it sat empty with a “For Sale” sign posted in the front yard.

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Not far from the pudding house, Grace found the house Rick and Carl find shelter before the claimers stomped through to take over. We saw a landscaper working in the front yard. For some reason, I felt no shame in running across the street to pose for photos. That behavior is so unlike me, the heat must have gone straight to my brain. Even though it was only early May, the temperature crossed 80 degrees with a heavy blanket of humidity.

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Actually, I wonder if I have those two locations confused. Can you tell which is which? Here are some more photos:

Smoking patio

wayne smoking

Interior of the house where the Claimers came in and disturbed Rick’s nap.

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Me, on the porch

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Before we headed into Senoia, we drove out to Big Jake’s, yet another Season 4 location. This restaurant looked like they could grill up a juicy ribeye for you.

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Grace had the brilliant idea for us to experience the Atlanta Movie Tour “Big Zombie Tour 2” together. These tours are expertly hosted by actors who have played multiple walkers on the show, so I had an almost double dose of “know someone who works there.” Grace had worked on “The Walking Dead” with our tour guide, Michael, and he found it surprising that Grace wanted to take the tour at all. Michael also asked if she wanted to talk about her experience on the show to the tour group. Although Grace seemed a bit shy about doing that, I basked in her celebrity status.

The Big Zombie Tour 2 leaves from Downtown Senoia. Shrewdly, the tour begins behind “The Walking Dead” store. Apparently, this new space is much larger than the original store and it houses a museum on the bottom floor. I went a bit nerdy on taking photos inside the store.

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The store sells the usual t-shirts, key chains, and various trash and trinkets with quite a few “I ❤ Daryl Dixon” items. I found a nice dart board for the Bald Move HQ studios, hopefully you’ll see it in their video podcasts next year. But the best part of the store, in my opinion, was the museum downstairs.

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Life-sized cutouts of Rick, Daryl and Michonne could be found in various corners of the store.

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What a nice family portrait of the Governor, his wife and Penny.

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Obviously, I enjoyed snapping selfies and iPhone pics before we even boarded the bus for the actual Big Zombie Tour 2. Thankfully, the bus was equipped with air conditioning and Michael wore a wireless mic to narrate the audio portion of the tour. Our first lesson was on the status and various levels of zombies extras on the show. Michael explained to the group that Zombie School, as run by Greg Nicotero himself, is the real deal. For those of you who watch “The Talking Dead” hosted by Chris Hardwick, you may have seen the segment where Nicotero talked about the rigorous training that he puts hopeful extras though during Zombie School to learn how to bring the characters to life. Or how to demonstrate we once were. At the beginning of each season, the production does a mass audition via “Zombie School.” There could be anywhere from 150 to 200 extras enrolled. Nicotero uses two different criteria as he is auditioning potential walkers: how they look and performance. Zombies should be thin, emaciated, and look starved. Skinny extras have a leg up on getting hired. If they have to apply prosthetics to the extra’s face, it is best to begin with a thin person. The second critical part of the audition is their performance. The actor has to bring it to un-life. Nicotero has high standards for his walkers to meet to appear genuine and authentic.

The most prestigous level of zombie is to to be a “Hero,” or featured zombie. I feel lucky to have met three people who have achieved the highest level. These actors will have their make-up carefully applied by one of the four key make-up artists, with great attention and detail because they will be featured on camera. The key to a featured zombie’s appearance are the milky white contact lenses that Nicotero has them wear. Apparently, you really can’t see out them because of the opacity. These contacts cover more than just one’s iris and are meant to give the zombies an appearance of being completely without a soul. Grace and Michael both attested to the fact that one is rendered practically blind when wearing these. Some of that stumbling you see in a Hero zombie is because they are disoriented from suddenly having impaired vision.

After the “hero” zombies, there are “midground” extras. The make-up or paint jobs, are merely highlights and shadows on their faces to make them look dead. But they’re not intended to get too close to the camera so full make-up and contact lenses are not a requirement for these zombies. When you see a large crowd of zombies or walkers, the viewer will notice that many of the extras have their heads down. These background zombies may be wearing masks along with their tattered wardrobe. Chances are that they will be so far away from the lead actors and hero zombies that these background zombies may only see their arm or the back of their head on camera. Regardless, I feel like it would be a thrill to be an extra on the show.

The tour stopped at a wide variety of locations and I didn’t note which happened first so I will share with you some of my photos and commentary.

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One location that will no doubt look familiar is this one:
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Remember the Woodbury arena where residents would “fight” walkers for entertainment? It served as a stadium where, as the Governor put it, allowed residents the “blow off steam” by watching staged fights between humans and walkers in chains. This became a HUGE red flag waving in Andrea’s face, as she realized just what a nut job psychopath her boyfriend the Governor was in Season 3. In addition, Merle and Daryl Dixon were pitted against each other and walkers in a brother-on-brother-on-walker fight to the death match. Acdording to our tour guide Michael, this location gained fame before the TV series because it was where the famous water tower at Disneyworld was built.
Another location on the tour was from the season finale of Season Two, Episode 13, “Beside the Dying Fire.” After Hershel’s barn went up in flames, the last few survivors, except for Andrea, ran off into the woods and found themselves in a make-shift campground. There was a tiny fire and Rick dares the group to leave. He says, “If you’re staying, this isn’t a democracy anymore,” and declares the new Ricktatorship with him at the helm.

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The final scene revealed a prison off in the distance but at the actual location, we saw this:
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which was part of the closing scene of S2Ep13 and had the prison inserted via CGI. Remember that? Can you hear Bear McCreary’s score in the background?
and to our left, we found a stream
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This part of the tour was during the second half. I remember that we made a pit stop at a convenience store to use the restrooms and buy snacks or drinks. The nice young man at at the check out counter said that cast members pop into this store for gas and snacks all the time. It seems that fans could potential “run into” a current cast member at this convenience store. And perhaps that run-in could result in a selfie posted on Instagram?

At one point, we drove slowly through a motel parking lot. Michael cautioned us that we wouldn’t be stopping here but he did point out an area on the exterior of the motel. There was a patch of fake blood near a post. We were in Newnan, GA at a one-floor motel where Merle stopped with Michonne during Season 3, “This Sorrowful Life.” Merle captured Michonne to deliver her to The Governor and create peace between the prison group and Woodbury. Michonne was tied to a post while Merle tinkered with an old car in the parking lot. Of course, he triggered the car alarm, which alerted a group of walkers to their location. Bad ass Michonne makes a martial arts maneuver with her legs and somehow is able to use the wire restraint to bring the walker down. As they load into the car and drive towards Woodybury, a herd of walkers follows behind. Eerie close to an exciting and gruesome scene.

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Can you see the fake blood?
As we approached the end of the tour, Michael decided to introduce an audience participation bit. We pulled over at one of our last stops and Michael asked the group to do their best walker shamble. It was a delightful way to engage the tour group. Luckily enough, Grace also joined the group and showed them what she learned at Zombie School. Wayne approved.
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This last stop brought back a lot of memories from seasons past and cold opens:
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(Hershel’s bar!)
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As a woman who lives in Los Angeles, I became very interested as to why so much film and television production moved to Georgia. In the early 2000s, Georgia offered big tax incentives to entice the film industry to produce projects there. Even if it was a slow start, additional incentives were introduced in 2008 and from there, Atlanta has become the Hollywood of the South. It doesn’t hurt that there are ample plots of land available for sale at much more reasonable rates than in Southern California. Studios are building sound stages, numerous production companies have established themselves, and of course, Turner Broadcasting’s stations are headquartered there. This all translates to lots of new jobs in the area and huge boosts to the local economy. This does not bode well for my friends in the entertainment industry here in LA but it is great for the people of Georgia.

All in all, I recommend the Atlanta Movie Tour Big Zombie Tour Part 2. “The Walking Dead” viewers will delight in seeing familiar locations. The tour guides are hero zombies and fellow fans of the show. Our tour guide, Michael, shared behind the scenes stories and insider information with us. He didn’t share spoilers but Michael definitely made the tour personal and customized to our tour group’s questions. This tour is good for all Zed Heads of all ages. Our group consisted of families enjoying this activity as part of their summer vacation and a few couples rocking matching zombie t-shirts. Grace and I had a great time together, bonding over our love for “The Walking Dead.” If you’re in Georgia, make your way to Downtown Senoia to take the Atlanta Movie Tour Big Zombie Tour Part 2.

You should tell them that Grace sent you.

Gracie Lou walker with Michonne

Zombies & Walkers & Zeds, Oh My! Why I Watch AMC’s “The Walking Dead” May 2014

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Let me start off by saying that I am not paid by the Atlanta Movie Tours and I am definitely not paid by AMC. This blog post is an example of the “nerd” in my “DiversityNerd” self. My name is Pi’ilani and I am a big fan of “The Walking Dead”. I don’t obsess (not really) and I don’t read the comics.  But I watch the series for a multitude of reasons. I enjoy the family drama elements. Note that the first reason I listed isn’t because of the horror or gore, which I do find to be delightfully disgusting, it is because the show portrays a story of survival and relationships. When the Zombie Apocalypse happens, the remaining survivors must start over. They find themselves forced to create a new society, with new mores and social norms. That becomes an exciting foundation for a TV drama, ripe with endless possibilities for conflict. Who will make leadership decisions? What will drive those decisions, good intentions or self-preservation at all costs? What parameters will you use to determine who to trust? How will they develop the skills to defend themselves? How do they determine their weapon of choice? Where will they find ammunition for weapons? Food? Clean water? Shelter? Maslow’s basic hierarchy of needs will be tested and not everyone will have the capacity to cope. Do we revert back to prehistoric gender roles and what sort of tension will arise within survival groups because of that? Will surviving humans procreate? How will they innovate to create new technologies or imitate old ones? Will they be able to “reinvent” electricity? And all of these questions come before the survivors are dealing with the impending threat from the undead. The possibilities are endless. And so far, they feed some endless good fun!

One of the other reasons why I started watching the show may not surprise you, if you’ve read my blog postings before. “The Walking Dead” has an Asian American character on the show and the production staff has wonderful ethnic and gender diversity, top to bottom. For example, Gale Ann Hurd serves as an executive producer on the show. Her producer and writer credits in film and TV are quite impressive, take a quick peek at her IMDB page. My interest in a show that has an Asian American lead character may not make any sense to some of you but seeing Asian faces on TV and in movies delights me. Especially when those characters do NOT embody Asian stereotypes. In 2014, the scarcity of ethnic diversity in media has abated. I consumed a lot of TV as a teenager in the 1980s and people of color (not just Asian Americans) did not play lead roles. More often than not, these characters exemplified overinflated stereotypes. Some of that stemmed from the lack of diversity behind the scenes in the writers’ room, director’s chairs or production offices. That is slowly changing and the shifting demographics of the U.S. drives that, as well. Not that long ago, Asian Americans could aspire to load supply trucks on “MASH,” be the dry cleaner speaking in broken English, or stand in the background as hooker wearing bright red lipstick. Those are the images I recall of Asians on TV in the 1980s. In “The Walking Dead”, Steven Yeun plays “Glenn” who is a handsome young Korean-American man who used to deliver pizzas in Atlanta. Not only does he become a badass warrior during the Zombie Apocalypse, he also wins the heart of a beautiful young woman named “Maggie,” a hot little boss with a gun. And by the way, Maggie is not Asian American. Their interrracial relationship doesn’t raise an eyebrow, which is just as it should be.

My interest in the show started during season two. When that season ended, I binged-watched S1 on Netflix and sought out a way to talk to other fans about the show. My iTunes introduction to a variety of different podcasts on the show has literally changed my life. Because of these podcasts, I have met other nerdy fans and podcasters who are now some of my dearest friends. I will name the four podcasts that I listen to, with special emphasis on two. “The Walking Dead’cast” became my refuge during the hiatus between S2 and S3 and you can find them at http://www.walkingdeadcast.com or @jasonandkaren on Twitter. That podcast is hosted by Jason and Karen, two bright and energetic fans who enjoy talking to us and each other about the show. In fact, they are big enough fans that they figured out how to play zombie extras and Jason has had major screen time getting killed as a walker on more than one occasion, much to delight of their listeners. Jason and Karen have become my friends. Honestly, we actually hang out in person, not just virtually. I appreciate how they take care in responding to fan emails and comments on Facebook. Another differentiator of “The Walking Dead’cast” is that they provide an opportunity for fans to chat with each other in real time while J&K record the podcast. Two fellow fans have also become good friends of mine, Gracie Lou and Mr. Blahg. Grace and Mr. Blahg have been a part of the “The Walking Dead’cast” community longer than me, they’ve both guest-hosted episodes and are extremely active in the chat room. Jason and Karen also interview people from both the cast and crew. In fact, if you check out Episode 117, you can hear me and Jason interview writer/producer Angela Kang. That was a treat for me!

iTunes also introduced me to “The Watching Dead” hosted by ARon Hubbard and Jim Jones of Bald Move, whom you can find at http://www.baldmove.com or @baldmove on Twitter. Much to my delight, the Bald Move network encompasses a wide diversity of podcasts. All of the hosts discuss their content with candor and wit, occasionally fueled with beer, wine or whiskey. ARon and Jim personally host a number of podcasts on a variety of television shows such as “Fargo,” “Game of Thrones,” “House of Cards,” “Mad Men,” and “24 Live Another Day”. Their style in covering “The Walking Dead” feels direct and blunt, with no excessive fawning or fanboy-ing. “The Watching Dead” is definitely not a love fest for the show, just two hosts providing a brutally honest and quite humorous account of their opinions. In the spirit of full transparency, I must divulge that “Jim” is the man who I have written about in previous blogs. We met at a Walking Dead convention and much to both of our surprise, felt a connection that can only be described as #nerdlove. However, even if he and I were not in a relationship, I would still recommend baldmove.com. They are THAT good. Side note, Jason and Karen attended the convention to moderate panel discussions and I would not have gone if they, along with Grace and Mr. Blahg, weren’t there, so Mahalo Nui Loa to them all!

In addition, I listened to “The Talking Dead” with Chris and Jason and “Walker Stalkers” with James and Eric. Each podcast delivers content with a different personality so there is something for everyone. In addition, I’ve met all of those hosts and they’re just real people who are fans of the show. Thankfully, all those hours and hours content helped me train for a couple of half marathons and listen to opinions on “The Walking Dead,” a win-win situation for Pi’ilani.

All of this an extremely long preamble to introduce what I intended on writing about, my experience at the Atlanta Movie Tour “Big Zombie Tour, Part 2” in May 2014. Keep an eye out for another blog to cover that, complete with nerdy photos.

One photo from Terminus with “Jim” from BaldMove.com.

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Lt. Dan Choi, Opening Keynote at #LinkageInc Diversity & Inclusion Institute

May 2014

Lt. Dan Choi. I said his name out loud and my boyfriend laughed. It made him think of “Forrest Gump” and the character that Gary Sinise played. That was Lt. Dan Taylor, a proud soldier from a long lineage of soldiers who had died in battle. Lt. Dan was a leader and fully expected to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. When Lt. Dan and his platoon fell under attack, he protected many of his soldiers, like a true leader. While under a bombing attack, he lost both legs and was waiting to die a hero’s death. However, Forrest Gump saved him.

This blog isn’t about a fictional hero named Lt. Dan, I’m going to write about Lt. Dan Choi, an American hero and leader.

Dan Choi grew up in Southern California, the son of a Korean-American Baptist Minister. That fact was evident when I heard Lt. Dan Choi address a room of 500 or 600 people for the opening keynote at the Linkage Diversity and Inclusion Institute. Even though it was 8:15am, the room was at attention to hear this speech. Lt. Dan Choi commanded the room, not like an officer in the US military but more like a preacher. He told a story that felt authentic and compelling, with more than a few life lessons weaved throughout. I didn’t want to miss a single word.

His opening words included a photograph of Afghanistan, from the mid 2000’s. Choi had graduated from West Point with degrees in Arabic and environmental engineering. There were only a handful of military officers who spoke Arabic. Choi became a highly valued member of the army and quickly aided in sorting through bad intelligence by translating conversations of insurgents and locals alike, real time. That, in and of itself, is leadership.

But Choi didn’t expect what was to come. He told the room what changed for him. He shared what had happened that gave him so much courage to speak his truth. It wasn’t a message from above. It wasn’t a life or death event. The simple truth was that Lt. Dan Choi fell in love. He stated that when he finally experienced what it felt like to put someone else ahead of himself, it changed him. Falling in love and having so much emotion and care for another human being sparked a new fire of courage and leadership. Choi realized that he could no longer hide from the fact that he was a gay man. This led to Choi coming out, in a rather public manner. He came out on TV, on “The Rachel Maddow Show” and began a fight against the questionable morality and wisdom of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In a letter to Congress and President Barack Obama, Choi wrote that the policy is a “slap in the face to me. It is a slap in the face to my soldiers, peers and leaders who have demonstrated than an infantry unit can be professional enough to accept diversity, to accept capable leaders, to accept skilled soldiers.”

Because Lt. Choi showed such courage in standing up for what he believed in and not disparaging the US military,
I think he is a leader. Love is a force that brings bravery to the forefront. It helped Lt. Choi fight for what he deemed right. He attended the very prestigious military academy, West Point. He served proudly in the US Army. He didn’t find it fair that he had to cover up or “not tell” the military that he was gay. And eventually, the US government would agree.

What really struck me as I listened to Lt. Choi centered around his love and commitment to his faith. Choi continuously quoted the Bible. He spoke of his father’s service and commitment to his congregation with respect. My favorite moment was when Choi mentioned that his father was specifically a Southern Baptist minister (the ballroom in Atlanta did catch it’s collective breath.). When he asked his father why Southern Baptist was his denomination of choice, Choi lovingly imitated his father’s Korean accept with the reply, “because we are from South Korea, of course.” That drew quite a laugh from me. I think I almost snorted.

Despite his authenticity and candor, Choi seemed tired of the speaking circuit. He mentioned a desire to find a job and to live a quiet, settled life. Living in the public eye for so long, fighting against the system for what he believed in, these were both completely counter culture to his upbringing. Although he never directly came out and said it, I also got the feeling that his parents did not appreciate his activism. I understand that. Most Asian cultures place high value on protecting the family and saving face. And being gay is frowned upon by many Christians, including Southern Baptists. For Choi to step out in such a public way, it really must have felt like a threat to his family.

But the nugget of wisdom that struck me the hardest was a simple statement that Choi said. He said he listened to his father’s sermons growing up. Choi learned about the concept of unconditional love. He said that regardless of the conditions that his father might put on it, Choi will always love his father. That is both courage and leadership.