Suffice it to say, former “Walking Dead” showrunner Frank Darabont is not a fan of what his AMC zombie series has become.
The writer/producer/director has filed a lawsuit against the cable network, alleging that he and his agents were denied rightful profit participation from the show. He also sent some pretty rough emails to executives, which are posted below.
The emails, which are from 2010 and 2011, follow Darabont during a challenging time for the show. After the show premiered in Oct. 2010 to 5 million viewers, AMC slashed the budget of the second season.
For those who remember, Season 2 took place primarily on the Greene Family Farm. Darabont, who is the Oscar nominated writer and director of “The Shawshank Redemption,” attempted to save money by utilizing a single location for the bulk of the season. However, this prompted AMC to demand it see the scripts beforehand.
Later in a 2015 unsealed deposition, Darabont accused AMC executives of slashing the budget of the show while pocketing a tax credit for the series. He also claimed that they were rarely on set.
“I had a tremendous lack of respect for them,” Darabont said at the time, adding, “They had no sympathy, they had no compassion.”
Darabont continued to clash with AMC executives and colleagues during the production, feeling a distaste for footage coming in.
In a July 14, 2011 email to members of “The Walking Dead” crew, Darabont relayed his frustrations about shooting and what he called the incompetence of some of his workers, claiming that certain shots weren’t being done as written.
“F— you all for giving me chest pains because of the staggering f—ing incompetence, blindness to the important beats, and the beyond-arrogant lack of regard for what is written being exhibited on set every day,” he wrote. “I deserve better than a heart attack because people are too stupid to read a script and understand the words.”
Many of his other expletive-filled rants were included as evidence in the lawsuit, which paints a picture of a set where people were constantly in conflict with a showrunner who felt he wasn’t being given the proper resources.
AMC said in response that Darabont and his agents at Creative Artists Agency were “trying to rewrite their contracts through the courts.”
“We released him because it soon became clear that his film talents did not translate to running a television show — one of the most difficult jobs in entertainment — and because he was repeatedly abusive and threatening to those working around him and under his direction,” an AMC spokesperson said in a statement. “He made the set and writers’ room a threatening and toxic work environment.”
Besides the Darabont emails containing harsh language, they also feature intense imagery.
“If the director tries to NOT SHOOT what is written, the director is beaten to death on the spot. A trained monkey is brought in to complete the job,” he wrote in one.
“I have never been a screamer, but I am now,” he wrote in another. “The work being done on this episode has turned me into one. Congratulations, you all accomplished what I thought was impossible. You’ve turned me into a raging a–hole. Thanks a lot, you f—ers.”
These days, “The Walking Dead” is the network’s most watched program, the Season 7 premiere bringing in 17 million.
Here is AMC’s full statement on the matter:
“We have always respected Frank Darabont and admired his work in film, which was part of the reason we hired him to adapt ‘The Walking Dead’ for television. We released him because it soon became clear that his film talents did not translate to running a television show – one of the most difficult jobs in entertainment – and because he was repeatedly abusive and threatening to those working around him and under his direction. He made the set and writers’ room a threatening and toxic work environment. Through the ensuing lawsuit, Mr. Darabont and his agents at CAA are trying to rewrite their contracts through the courts, to capitalize on the success of the series in the years after Mr. Darabont was removed. Frank Darabont did not create ‘The Walking Dead,’ Robert Kirkman did, and Mr. Darabont and CAA have already been fairly compensated for his work on the show and will continue to benefit from their ongoing financial participation. Contracts are not screenplays, they can’t be rewritten just because one side doesn’t like the way they turn out, which is what Mr. Darabont and CAA are attempting to accomplish through this lawsuit.”
And here are excerpts from the emails:
7/21/2010 – Exhibit KK
Email to Ben Davis, AMC programming executive
“Hey, I’m taking everybody out of the cc loop for a moment. I think you and I can talk candidly, but I don’t want to rattle everybody thinking there’s dissention or rancor. I promise you there isn’t, at least not from me toward you or anybody at AMC. But there sure is some f—ing rancor aimed in another direction that I need to share with you.
Please let’s stop invoking ‘the writers room.’ There IS no writers room, which you know as well as I do. I am the writers room. The f—ing lazy a–holes who were supposedly going to be my showrunners threw that responsibility on me after wasting five months of my time.
If it were up to me, I’d have not only fired Chic Eglee and Jack LoGuidice when they handed me the worst episode 3 script imaginable, I’d have hunted them down and f—ing killed them with a brick, then gone and burned down their homes. I haven’t even spoken to those worthless talentless hack sons-of-b–ches since their 3rd draft was phoned in after five months of all their big talk and promises that they’d dig deep and have my back covered.
They didn’t have my back, they rammed knives into it.
Professional courtesy is something one earns, and those douchebags have not earned mine. I don’t want to see them cc-ed on ANYTHING any more. They renounced that privilege by not even trying to live up to their job descriptions, by instead leaving me dangling in the wind like a hanged man. Calling their 103 ‘phoned in’ would be vastly overstating, because they were too busy wasting my time and your money to bother picking the damn phone up. Those f—ing overpaid con artists.”
“That responsibility lies with Chic and Jack, the guys with all the supposed experience. And because they don’t give a f—, because they’re too busy kissing AMC’s ass and cashing AMC’s checks and otherwise just jerking off to Internet porn or whatever it is they actually do, none of what I specified was even attempted. NOT EVEN F—ING ATTEMPTED!”
“This is not me yelling at YOU, though. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that. You’ve been an ally and I know you’re on my side.
I just have to f—ing yell, period. I’m near the end of my rope, and those faux showrunners put me here.”
7/13/11 – Exhibit LL
Email to Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Gale Anne Hurd, Denise Huth, David Boyd, Tom Luse, Hunter Via
“And the operators MUST be told to HOLD THE F—ING SHOT! Goddamn it, I am sick of tired of seeing these a–holes pan away and/or re-size before the shot even has a chance to work.”
“Did A cam have an epileptic seizure? This footage exhibits no instinct AT ALL … Utterly demented and unusable s—. That operator is no longer allowed to touch his zoom, since he doesn’t know how to use it. I want you to tell him I said so.”
“Tell these operators that if they cannot provide us footage that works, we need to replace them with people who can. What the f— are we paying them for? Ray Charles could operate better.”
“Another example: Andy tumbling down the slope. The camera misses him COMPLETELY below frame, yet I hear the operator say, ‘Wow, that was fantastic.’ (Words to that effect.) Fantastic? Really? You missed the f—ing actor, you blind f—ing moron!”
“I am profoundly let down by some of this footage. I’m boiling mad.
YOU NEED TO PAY ATTENTION TO THE MOTHERF—ING SCRIPT! I EVEN CHOOSE MY GODDAMN COMMAS FOR A REASON! WHY AM I WORKING SO F—ING HARD IF YOU’RE SHOOTING EVERYTHING SOME OTHER WAY THAT DOESN’T WORK?”
7/14/11 – Exhibit MM
Email to Gale Anne Hurd, Denise Huth, David Boyd, Hunter Via, Jeffrey January, Gwyneth Horder-Payton, Tom Luse, Greg Nicotero
“I am in a state of absolute boiling rage right now.
I just kept Denise on the phone for 20 minutes making her listen to me scream. I hope she conveys to you what the tenor of it, because you need to grasp my fury. I have never been a screamer, but I am now. The work being done on this episode has turned me into one. Congratulations, you all accomplished what I thought was impossible. You’ve turned me into a raging a–hole. Thanks a lot, you f—ers.
Everybody, especially our directors, better wake the f— up and pay attention. Or I will start killing people and throwing bodies out the door.”
“I don’t know how you can read that very precise description in a script and then NOT F—ING SHOOT IT THAT WAY. I don’t know how mistake it for something else unless you’ve had a f—ing stroke and can no longer understand or interpret words on a page.”
“Yet another scene that doesn’t work. Why? Because neither you, nor anybody on set with you, is apparently bothering to read the f—ing script I worked my ass off to hand you.
The C-camera angle flirted with a closeup on Rick, but of course panned away in each take to Sara Wayne Callies so Rick’s line is off camera. Congratulate that C-cam operator for me, and invite him to look for another job. He exhibits yet again the same f—ed-up instinct for shooting the exact wrong thing at the exact wrong moment, just as he did in the herd sequence. I want that guy replaced. He’s done enough damage. We are paying him to fail every single day and give us no usable footage. He is an idiot. He needs to leave and take his seeing-eye dog with him. Because even his dog is blind.
And on a personal note:
F— you all for giving me chest pains because of the staggering f—ing incompetence, blindness to the important beats, and the beyond-arrogant lack of regard for what is written being exhibited on set every day. I deserve better than a heart attack because people are too stupid to read a script and understand the words. Does anybody disagree with me? Then join the C-cam operator and go find another job that doesn’t involve deliberately f—ing up my show scene by scene.
Here’s how it’s done from now on, and I mean on every episode, WITHOUT MOTHERF—ING FAIL:
1) The crew goes away or stands there silently without milling or chattering about bullshit that doesn’t apply to the job at hand. The AD needs to tell everybody to shut the f— up and focus.
2) The director, Gale, Denise, David Boyd, the AD and the actors involved with the scene stand there and CAREFULLY READ THE SCENE OUT LOUD WORD FOR WORD. ESPECIALLY AND INCLUDING ALL THE DESCRIPTION. Then you go back and re-read all the description AGAIN in case you missed it the first time.
3) The important beats are identified and discussed in terms of how they are to be shot. In other words, sole creative authority is being taken out of the director’s hands. It doesn’t matter that our actors are doing good work if the cameras fail to capture it. Any questions come straight to me by phone or text. If necessarily I will shoot the coverage on my iphone and text it to the set. The staging follows the script to the letter and is no longer willy-nilly horses— with cameras just hosing it down from whatever angle. The physical staging and beat-by-beat action follows the script to the letter.
“4) If the director tries to NOT SHOOT what is written, the director is beaten to death on the spot. A trained monkey is brought in to complete the job.”
7/16/11 – Exhibit NN
Email to Denise Huth, Gale Anne Hurd, Tom Luse, Hunter Via, David Boyd
“Oh my God, do we have problems.”
“I’m pretty sure Gwyneth just f—ed up my chances to direct 213, because my having to compensate for the damage she’s done on 201 only pushes the writing effort further down the tracks…”
“Denise, I’m putting my anger and disappointment at Gwyneth aside when I say this. I promise I’m not being a hyperbolic wiseass.
Remember our experience with Allen Garfield on The Majestic? We were all so shocked because it was like he had no grasp on the basics of his craft? And it turned out later that he’d had a stroke he was unaware of? And a few months after we wrapped, the massive secondary stroke happened that put him permanently in the hospital?
I am honest-to-God wondering if Gwyneth hasn’t experienced the same thing. That’s how fundamentally f—ed this footage is. It’s as if she’s totally lost her grasp of what to do. It’s like we yanked some kid with no experience out of high school and put her in charge of directing a show. And what’s really weird is that she doesn’t seem to know it.“
“I honestly think we should recommend to Gwyneth that she go get a brain scan and see if she’s had a problem. She may be in real danger. It’s that bad.”
[Pamela Chelin contributed to this report]