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Did TWD losing its budget actually HELP the show?


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So, I am often too lazy to change the channel, and since AMC is the last one I watched, I caught the beginning of their TWD marathon last night.

 

And man, the show looked noticeably better. The action sequences, the music and sounds, the gore/dead (mostly) and sets (to an extent), the lighting and photography -- no obvious corners cut, and you could just tell it was a big production-- at least for a cable TV show.

 

I knew TWD had its budget cut by a fair amount after the first season, but it's been a long time since I've seen season 1, and I forgot that it actually looked cinematic, if not downright lush at times when it first came on the scene. It looked great!

 

Another thing I forgot was just how painfully trite the characters and dialogue could be.

 

Oh, Glenn you spunky quipster! Merle, you racist -- why can't you play well with others? Carol, you silly victim, you! Rick, oh look at the lion who is crying inside. And don't get me started on the Transformers-level action dialogue.

 

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Now, before we go any further, I want to make it clear I'm not saying we have Breaking Bad writing and acting on TWD now -- not even close, and we still get the occasional laughable moment. This is more like pointing out how good Admiral Kirk was in Star Trek II compared to most TOS episodes (yes, much improved, but it's still Shatner!). But I think it's fair to say the show has gotten a lot better in that regard over the years, even if the plot itself sometimes loses its way. In particular, Steven Yeun and Carol McBride have improved to the point where it will really hurt the show if/when they die.

 

So my question, assuming you agree with my premise that the acting/dialogue has improved on TWD, is: Do you think the fact that there was less money to pay for action, aesthetics, etc. played into its improvement in other areas (i.e. forced compensation), or do you think it is primarily just the natural maturation of the actors, writing, and series itself?

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In general, I think reduced funding can stimulate greater creativity. I see it in laboratory work all the time. If you don't have the money to buy all the top-line equipment, you build your own (sometimes ending up making a better piece of equipment than the one you would've bought).

 

In The Walking Dead's case, I think maturation of the cast and crew has been the defining factor. They have the comic books to guide their plots. Would they have spent an entire season on Herschel's farm if they had the budget to move on? I doubt it. I believe the general consensus is that Season 2 is the worst season (so far). Would the writers have even written a story around Herschel, his family, and his farm if the comics hadn't? A search for a missing kid that takes half a season? That's not very creative, except in how long they dragged it out. I credit the cast for making what could've been very thin plots watchable. Now they have experienced actors and good stories to follow, so it's a winning combination. The budget isn't limiting them creatively.

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Yeah, it's a bit of both. Less money forces you to get creative-- and the cast has certainly matured. That said, their budget isn't al that bad, and they like to shoot outside a lot. The cast has also slimmed down considerably.

 

They picked up on the fact, (after we all did) that the show was better when it was juggling fewer characters and storylines.

 

Also-- fun fact. Nicholas Meyers wore Shatner THE EFF DOWN on TWOK. The over-acting and the booze mad Shatner a mess apparently, so Meyers did 20-30 takes sometimes just to exhaust Shatner to get a subdued performance.

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Yeah pavonis, agreed about Season 2. While there were definite lulls (and lols) in seasons 3, 4, and 5, season 2 was what I was thinking about when I said "even if the plot itself sometimes loses its way." That said, I probably would have loved it had it been 7, 8, maybe even 9 episodes. It just dragged on way too long as it found its way.

 

I think your theory about the maturing actors, storyline no longer being as married to the source material, etc. works just fine. At the same time, I wonder if the general bombastic dumbness (for lack of a better term) of the characters would still be around if the show could afford to have more fights and effects and such?

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If I recall correctly they didn't have a budget at all in series 1 and they spent what little they had on effects.

 

It was only when the show was picked up for a second season that they got any money to spend. A lot of what you think looks lush in series 1 are just mattes.

 

I read that the idea was to make the gore sell well enough and hope that the acting was strong enough to carry it.

 

I'm not sure when, if ever, this show had its budget cut seeing as it became a headline show after season 1. I may be wrong of course.

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Ok so I'm reading that TWD had £3.4mil per episode for season 1 (6 episodes). And £2.7mil per episode for season 2 (13 episodes).

 

Is that a budget cut??

 

That's £20.4mil for Season 1 and £35.1mil for Season 2. On a per episode basis that is a reduction but over a whole series it's not. If you factor in that they would have saved money from having everyone on location and being able to re-use props and assets then I think they were actually a little up.

 

The only drag I can see from my non-professional background is that the actors would have commanded higher fees in series 2 due to popularity.

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If I recall correctly they didn't have a budget at all in series 1 and they spent what little they had on effects.

Season 1 budget was $3.4M per episide, Season 2 was $2.75M per episode.

 

The reason it might seem larger is that there were 13 episodes in Season 2 ($35.75M total), while there were only 6 in Season 1 ($20.4M total). It's not like there is an appalling difference in quality btw. As Driver points out, it's not that it looks bad or has a tiny budget now. It's just that from Season 2 onward, we get a lot of scenes that look like they could be BBC productions... just with walkers, and a lot of recurring sets and scenery that conveniently serve both the story and the budget (Farm, Prison, Woodbury, Church, etc.). I'm sensitive to visual and auditory cues, and it's really apparent in action/science fiction/fantasy television shows when they're trying to save a few bucks, 'cause the wider angles start going away, we start seeing a lot more of the same sets, hearing the same sound effects (and not in a "cute" or self-referential way like in Doctor Who), etc...

 

EDIT: looks like you snuck in and addressed the budget!

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Would they have spent an entire season on Herschel's farm if they had the budget to move on? I doubt it. I believe the general consensus is that Season 2 is the worst season (so far). Would the writers have even written a story around Herschel, his family, and his farm if the comics hadn't? A search for a missing kid that takes half a season? That's not very creative, except in how long they dragged it out. I credit the cast for making what could've been very thin plots watchable. Now they have experienced actors and good stories to follow, so it's a winning combination. The budget isn't limiting them creatively.

Tight budget or not, season two is one of the best, IMO. With season 1 being so short, you needed that farm time to explore the all-important Rick/Lori/Shane triangle, letting it build to a fever pitch, where all characters' hands were forced. If the farm was skipped over, or truncated so they could move to the prison, there's no way the growth which established Rick as a troubled hero, and Lori as the fallen woman would take place with the Governor arc crash landing right at the start of the prison storyline.

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Guest El Chalupacabra

 

So my question, assuming you agree with my premise that the acting/dialogue has improved on TWD, is: Do you think the fact that there was less money to pay for action, aesthetics, etc. played into its improvement in other areas (i.e. forced compensation), or do you think it is primarily just the natural maturation of the actors, writing, and series itself?

My 2 cents is that it is probably a bit of both. I agree that when budgets get cut for FX, writers have to compensate with better writing and focusing on character stories, and both the directors and actors become responsible for executing that in a convincing way. In fact, to take your Star Trek II analogy further, TWOK had its budget cut significantly from TMP, so much so, they had to recycle some Enterprise scenes from TMP, but they certainly upped their game in the writing department and focusing on Kirk-Spock-Khan as characters.

 

As to maturation, if you watch any good show, it often has sort of a bell curve: it starts out good, gets great, and if you are lucky, stays great, but more often than not, starts to suffer in quality towards the end, especially if actors leave, or writers take things in a direction that they aren't sure how to handle the next move. But that point where the show goes from good to great is the point where writers have a definite direction, and the cast start to really click because they now know each others' acting and how to play off one another. using another Star Trek analogy would be Star Trek TNG...it was OKAY in season 1, got better in season 2 but had cast changes, but season 3 is where it clicked and the writing and performances got really good.

 

This is all sort of like(and Pong you will get this) when you have a band assembled: you have a good drummer, good singer, a good guitarist and bassist, and maybe one or more of them write songs decently. Individually, they are all good on their own, but it takes time for them to perform and click. Once they know each other well, it takes them all as musicians to a new level of good. And once that is figured out, the one(s) writing the songs are familiar with them all as a band and can write songs even better, because they know the ability of the band itself.

 

That's how I see it, anyway.

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