Greg Nicotero — co-executive producer and special effects king of The Walking Dead — sat for a panel discussion with Walking Dead fans bright and early on Saturday morning, November 2, 2013 at the Peachtree Westin Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia to talk about the zombie makeup, directing episodes, his co-workers, and other makeup jobs he’s loved over his 30-year career. Nicotero appeared onstage with Walker Stalkers convention organizers James Frazier and Eric Nordhoff, facing an audience of hundreds. Fans were invited to approach one of two microphones to ask questions. Following are some excerpts of that panel discussion. Keep checking back for more.
Greg Nicotero learned his craft under special effects expert Tom Savini. He began as Savini’s assistant on Day of the Dead in 1984 and four years later joined with Robert Kurtzman and Howard Berger to found a special-effects workshop, KNB, that has worked on more than 400 films. Nicotero himself has worked on more than 150 films and television projects.
Greg: You guys are up early today.
James: How was your night?
Greg: Well, see, there’s this little show we work on called The Walking Dead. We were filming until 2 o’clock in the morning. So it’s been a long night. I know I’m not supposed to talk about stuff. I’ll talk about a little bit of stuff. So we’re on our second-to-last episode, we’re almost done with season 4, and we’re, yeah. It’s kind of all a little bit of a blur right now. But I just want to say I was the first person here this morning. All those other actors who didn’t have to work last night? Still beat them. I’ll try not to swear because I’m sure there’s kids here. But if I swear once, sorry.
James: Well Greg, you were the first person from The Walking Dead to commit to our podcast. I just want to say thank you for taking that time, because without that – it’s turned into this giant snowball that is Walker Stalker Con. And that is why you are the guest of honor this weekend. (applause)
Greg: Aw, thanks. If I had known, I would have come way earlier. I mean we could have done this last year, and you guys would have been all “oh, another convention, oh god.” But listen, congratulations to you guys. This is a big deal. The fact that they got – it was very smart to do it while we’re still filming. Because all the actors are here. You know, this is the first thing – time – Andy’s [lead actor Andrew Lincoln, who plays sheriff Rick Grimes] ever come to one of these. So we have to go check on him afterward and make sure he’s still sane.
Eric: I kind of want to ask you before we get into some really amazing photos that we’re gonna go through, and all kinds of insider stuff, did Andy – was there any talk, did Any ask anybody “what is this Walker Stalker Con? I’m hearing everybody’s going except me.” Cause he was like the last one to come. I was wondering –
Greg: We told him he wasn’t invited. (laughter) He was like, “Hey, you guys doing this convention?” and we were like, “No, there’s no convention next weekend.” (more laughter) No, I think he talked to Norman [actor Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl Dixon] about it. Norman, who does quite a few conventions. But if I’m not mistaken I think he’s donating his money that he makes on his autographs to charity. So I’m gonna donate mine to the makeup effects crew’s beer tab tonight. (Shouts from the audience) You guys all please buy autographs from me today, or else I’m screwed. (laughter) I’ll drop the price. All my guys are here, so the amazing guys who do the makeup for the show – guys, stand up so everybody can – come on. (applause, woo-hoos) Where’s Andre? Andre, come on. So Jay back there was the walker that Andy shot in season two through the mouth. And Andy there, that guy, I didn’t want to say the guy with the white hair because — the white haired guy, he was Michonne’s first kill at the end of season two. So they’ll be charging $90 for each autograph. (laughter) But they’re only autographing body parts. (More laughter) And all these guys are amazing, amazing makeup artists and the magic that is done on The Walking Dead would not be done without them.
James: 25 years of KNB effects now. When I say that, what goes through your mind?
Greg: You know, there was a documentary – this Canadian filmmaker did a documentary called Zombiemania and they borrowed a bunch of my footage from Land of the Dead. Of me on set with George, and she said, this stuff is great, this footage is amazing, have you guys ever thought about doing a documentary about KNB? It’s like, well, you know, the rights are a little tricky and on Day of the Dead, Savini was a very big tech guy. So he always had a video camera with him, and because I was his assistant, he sort of handed the camera off to me. So I filmed everything on set of Day of the Dead. So when I moved to LA and started in the business, I just thought that’s what everybody did, that everybody videotaped stuff. So Evil Dead 2, Army of Darkness, every movie that we did, I had a video camera with me. So for me, what I love about that, is when you go and you buy the DVD – I don’t get any money from that – when you go and buy the DVDs, you see all the footage that I shot. The closest that you ever get to experiencing what it was like to be on set when we were torturing Bruce Campbell every day. (laughter) Dumping blood on him, you know, we were shooting in Day of the Dead, chopping the zombie’s head off with a shovel, all that kind of stuff is now accessible to fans. So that’s really really important to me. So this documentary – it’s called Nightmare Factory – has a lot of that footage. And it’s weird to think that I started in 1984 so next year will be 30 years for me, and we started KNB in ’88. So it’s pretty amazing.
Eric: Congratulations, Greg. Incredible accomplishment already, and you really, you’ve got at least another 30, 40 more years left in you, so really, I was just curious –
Greg: I know, I gotta start doing a lot of drugs. (laughter) To just keep going for the next 40 years.