Outrage Watch: Frank Darabont's 'Walking Dead' wrath gets a full public airing
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Frank Darabont's famously contentious relationship with AMC is now receiving a full public airing thanks to an unsealed deposition in which the ousted Walking Dead creator blasts network executives for slashing the show's budget despite massive ratings success, being inattentive during visits to the set, and making false claims about his leadership in order to justify his firing, among other grievances. The deposition, which was held last May, was conducted as part of a lawsuit Darabont and his CAA agents filed against the network over their reduced profit participation in the series following Darabont's dismissal.
Here are the main charges outlined by Darabont in the deposition:
1. Despite "breaking viewership records," AMC slashed the show's budget from $3.4 million an episode to $3 million an episode, and even went so far as to pocket a 25% tax credit earned for filming in Georgia instead of putting it towards the show.
"I remember Joel Stillerman [president of original programming and development for AMC], in a meeting in my office, when we were all discussing the issues of the upcoming season, we said to him, 'Surely that the success of the show, which, by the way, you guys are bragging about because we keep getting e-mails saying, 'Hey, we're breaking viewership records in 120 countries around the world by hundreds of percent, in some countries by over 1,000%,' at the same time we're hearing how successful the show is for you, you're telling us that this, this budget issue is not going to budge at all. And he said, 'The success of the show has no bearing on this discussion,' in a rather icy manner."
2. AMC executives rarely visited the set, and when they did they barely engaged.
"When they did rarely show up on the set, [they] would ... drive in from the airport in their air conditioned car, race into the air conditioned tent we had there so the actors could have a break and not pass out from the heat, poke their heads out on occasion, and half an hour later jump back in their car and fly back to their air conditioned office in New York. I had a tremendous lack of respect for them."
3. One upper-level AMC executive denied ever having a conversation with Darabont regarding a "crisis-level problem" that arose at the beginning of filming Season 2.
When the footage Darabont turned in for the season's first episode was deemed subpar, the then-showrunner claims he got the okay from AMC VP of Scripted Programming Susie Fitzgerald to step away from the writer's room to shoot additional footage and focus on the edit -- a conversation she later denied, according to Darabont.
"Absolutely I agree with your assessment," Darabont recalled Fitzgerald saying "You have to do the crisis management. I understand that that's going to delay those scripts coming in by three weeks. ...So, she out and out just lied to my face in front of everybody."
4. AMC "concocted" a reason to have him fired.
"They accused me of not having directors tone meetings," said Darabont, referring to critical meetings that take place between a showrunner and the director of each episode prior to shooting. "And I said, 'That's absolutely not true, I have had a directors tone meeting with every single director this season.'"
In response to Darabont's claims, AMC provided the following statement to The Hollywood Reporter:
"Frank Darabont has made it clear that he has strong opinions about AMC and the events that led to his departure from The Walking Dead. The reality is that he has been paid millions of dollars under the terms of his contract, which we honored, and we will continue to vigorously defend against this lawsuit." Darabont's deposition isn't the only testimony to go public."
Darabont's successor Glen Mazzara, meanwhile, stood up for Darabont during his own testimony, saying he believed AMC treated the showrunner unfairly -- though he admitted on cross-examination that he also felt Season 2, Episode 1 was a "show killer" for the series.
"I believe that Frank was executing his responsibilities and duties as showrunner and there was a personal rift between ['Walking Dead' co-creator Robert] Kirkman and Darabont and between Darabont and the AMC executives," began Mazzara, "and that when the material for the finale came in and Frank said 'I need some time to figure out a plan of how to pursue this and what we're going to re-shoot and what it will take to do this', AMC was unwilling to give him that time to solve the issue and they let him go without notifying him...that if he did not appropriately solve these issues, he was about to be fired."
Mazzara also indicated that despite Darabont being terminated midway through Season 2, his influence could be seen throughout the rest of the season -- an important point in Darabont's lawsuit, which claims that his profit participation was unfairly reduced from 10 percent to 7.5 percent despite the fact that he did substantial work as showrunner throughout the entirety of Season 2.