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!
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.
While at that location, we found the “A car”
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.
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.
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.
Actually, I wonder if I have those two locations confused. Can you tell which is which? Here are some more photos:
Interior of the house where the Claimers came in and disturbed Rick’s nap.
Me, on the porch
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.
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.
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.
Life-sized cutouts of Rick, Daryl and Michonne could be found in various corners of the store.
What a nice family portrait of the Governor, his wife and Penny.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This last stop brought back a lot of memories from seasons past and cold opens:
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.