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Before zombies truly took mainstream television by storm
with the unquestionable success of THE WALKING DEAD, Kc Wayland (pictured left)
saw a void in undead culture that could only be filled by “a serial show involving
a group of survivors.” Thus, the audio-drama podcast WE’RE ALIVE was born.
Having launched WE’RE ALIVE in May 2009, Wayland has
functioned as the writer and director of the podcast. Each hour-long episode is
broken down into three parts and released monthly—functioning as, essentially,
a movie you can listen to (go to www.zombiepodcast.com to do so). The 25
installments thus far have posed one question: “Who can survive in a world
overrun by zombies?” Wayland took the time to discuss the podcast’s origins,
the overall creative process and what the future holds; “Zombies seem to stick
in people’s brains,” he says, and pun intended or not, they do indeed.
FANGORIA: Could you give us a brief summary of WE’RE ALIVE’s
KC WAYLAND: On a quiet Wednesday morning in May, Army
reservist Michael Cross is settling into his World Cultures class at Santa
Roja College near Los Angeles when he hears an explosion in the distance. He
rushes out to discover on television that riots have broken out across the
county. When the Army recalls them to active duty, Michael and fellow
reservists Angel Tenudo and Saul Tink believe their job will be to put
down the uprising and restore peace to the city. But while heading to their
base, what they find sends them reeling in shock and struggling for
survival: These rioters aren’t looting or setting fires, they’re ripping
Armed with only what they can carry, the three set out to
secure “The Tower,” an apartment building where they hope to rescue and shelter
the survivors scattered amongst the remains of the concrete jungle. Those who
take refuge in “The Tower” find out that there is no real safe haven, and every
day brings a new threat. Who can survive in a world overrun by zombies?
FANG: Briefly walk us through your creative process. How
does each episode develop from merely an idea to the finished product?
WAYLAND: Writing the series required me to do a lot of
outlining of the story before the first episode could be produced. I thoroughly
plotted the details of the first two seasons, and then roughly sketched the
third and possibly fourth season. The intention was to figure out the path from
the beginning to the end, so that there wouldn’t be much straying from the path
and that important details for the fourth season would be planted early.
Since the main outline only covers big events, more detailed
outlines are then required to block out six chapters at a time, which is half a
season. After that, the script for each chapter is written, and this is done
progressively along with the audio production. This allows more flexibility and
to be adaptive to whomever might be cast in a role.
The actors then record two chapters, roughly an eight-hour
session for 120 pages. They all gather in a soundstage and interact with each
other, going through the scenes. If we were to record them separately, we
wouldn’t get the kind of energy needed for some of the intense scenes that take
place. From there, the producers do a voice cut of the recordings to choose the
best performances and edit down only the lines intended for use. The cut is
then divided into three parts per chapter and sent to our first-line sound
editors, who do a pass at the audio design, and then forwarded to a supervising
sound editor for the last cut and polish. From there it gets released for
everyone to listen in podcast form, each episode being anywhere from 15 to 25
FANG: How do you create the sound FX?
WAYLAND: Those come from a variety of sources. Some of them
are from purchased sound effects libraries; others, individually from on-line
databases; and lastly, from our own foley work. Typically, the best sound would
be from the foley sessions because they are so specific to the scenes, but
recording those take more time. For things like gunshots and explosions, we
have little choice but to use sound effects libraries.
FANG: Do you find voice casting particularly difficult,
especially in comparison to face casting? Do you pre-imagine voices for
characters as they are developed?
WAYLAND: Voice casting can be very tricky, because most
actors don’t have a voice reel to reference when trying to narrow down choices
on casting sites. Sometimes the voice will match the face you’re looking at,
and sometimes it’s very different. Even if they have a distinct voice, you
never know if they can pull off the emotional peaks our series requires until
you meet them face to face in the auditions. The worst that happens is when we
find someone with a great voice who gives an amazing performance, but they are
too close vocally to someone already cast in the series. Typically, once a
character is cast, I can spend time with them and then go back and make small
changes in the script so the character matches the voice. Other times, a
pre-imagined voice completely changes.
FANG: What inspired you to start the podcast?
WAYLAND: It was the ambition to be the first zombie
television show. When the podcast began in 2009, there was no WALKING DEAD on
TV. I looked around and saw this particular void could be filled by a serial
show involving a group of survivors. All the movies I had seen were short-form
structurally, and never established characters with the emotional attachment
like that which was possible with a TV series.
The idea of creating an audio drama came from two areas.
When I was 16, I worked at a books-on-tape store, and someone saw me and cast
me as a kid in a short radio play. I had little experience acting, but learned
all about the process along the way. My second and more recent exposure was the
audio-only recording session I did for my animation thesis in college. I
arranged a large group of actors gathered around in a circle and let them read
the script and engage each other. The results were amazing. The accompanying
animation, unfortunately, was not as good. It lacked the realism that was
attained by just using voices and sound. I quickly learned that there was no
limit to what could be done without picture.
FANG: What can you tell us regarding the future of WE’RE
WAYLAND: The future of WE’RE ALIVE is limitless. Good
stories leap mediums and open up doors of possibility, and we have that
potential. Whether it’s video games, film, books—there are endless
possibilities. Some of those could come about soon, but I have a feeling most
of the attention will happen once the series comes to a close at the end of the
fourth season and the story is complete. The ending of a story is often more
important than the journey.
FANG: What are some of your personal favorite horror films?
WAYLAND: Growing up, I loved the PREDATOR and ALIEN series,
often acting them out with my neighbor. As for all time, the early HALLOWEEN
series, THE MIST, THE RING scared the crap out of me, THE DESCENT, SIGNS, just
to name a few. I could go on all day.
FANG: Lastly, why zombies? The undead have developed from a
simple horror staple to pop-culture icons in and of themselves. Why do you feel
zombies have found a new home in mainstream media?
WAYLAND: People always ask, “Why tell a story about
zombies?” but really, WE’RE ALIVE isn’t just about zombies, it’s more about the
people trying to survive, hence the second line of the title, A STORY OF
SURVIVAL. But zombies in whatever variation—fast, shufflers, enhanced, etc.—are
still big because the potential threats to humans are other humans. Given the right
circumstances, people can become very real monsters. Vampires, dragons, swamp
things, werewolves; the possibilities of those antagonists are minimal, but
zombies seem to stick in people’s brains as being the most plausible. The
number of people in this world alone is scary enough. Can you imagine if they
all turned against you?
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