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Warning: This story contains explicit language.
The history of Hollywood is littered with legendary freak-outs — think David O. Russell’s berating of Lily Tomlin on the set of 2004’s I Heart Huckabees or Christian Bale’s Terminator Salvation tantrum in 2009. Now joining that ignominious list is Frank Darabont, whose spectacularly abusive emails to AMC executives and crew during the fraught production of the first season of The Walking Dead have surfaced amid his $280 million lawsuit against the network.
Darabont, who co-created the blockbuster cable hit, was fired as showrunner from the series early in its second season. He and his CAA team are suing AMC, claiming the network squeezed him out of tens of millions of dollars in profits by negotiating a sweetheart licensing deal with itself. In its defense, AMC has released a cache of shocking emails sent by the Shawshank Redemption writer-director during production — vituperative missives meant to bolster their case that Darabont was justifiably terminated.
Reading through them, it’s easy to see why. In what is arguably the most level-headed of the emails, sent on July 21, 2010, Darabont, 58, tells a creative exec at AMC whom he considers “an ally” to “stop invoking ‘the writers room'” in their exchanges. “There IS no writers room… I am the writers room.”
The failings of the show’s writing staff and crew — and in particular the camera operators — are a repeated theme of the rants. In the same email, he singles out one pair of writers as “fucking lazy assholes” and “overpaid con artists.” After receiving what he felt was a woefully subpar script from a pair of writers, Darabont tells the exec, “If it were up to me, I’d have not only fired [them], I’d have hunted down and fucking killed them with a brick, then gone and burned down their homes.”
“I told those assholes at least half a dozen times,” Darabont continues. “Why don’t they listen when I TELL them the way to do it? … [I]t’s in one ear and out the other… It’s almost as if they’re intentionally telling me to fuck myself.”
The rhetoric gets even more heated in a series of emails sent to the show’s core below-the-line team one year later, as the delivery date rapidly approaches and Darabont is frantic, feeling the footage is unusable.
In the first, dated June 13, 2011, Darabont is furious over what he deems to be an overreliance on handheld footage. “You MUST calm down the camera operating,” it begins. “This is turning out WAY more shaky-cam than I want. When I said please limit the handheld, it wasn’t a random suggestion… And the operators MUST be told to HOLD THE FUCKING SHOT!”
He goes on to wonder if the camera operator had “an epileptic seizure” and deems his footage to be “utterly demented and unusable shit.”
“Tell these operators that if they cannot provide us footage that works, we need to replace them with people who can. What the fuck are we paying them for? Ray Charles could operate better,” Darabont writes.
He goes on to complain about spotting the “same group of idiot crew” visible in the background of shots “having a circle jerk” and is rendered “boiling mad” at a character who fell out of frame while tumbling down a slope. “The camera misses him COMPLETELY… yet I hear the operator say, ‘Wow, that was fantastic.’ … Really? You missed the fucking actor, you blind fucking moron!”
The email ends in an all-caps paragraph: “YOU NEED TO PAY ATTENTION TO THE MOTHERFUCKING SCRIPT! I EVEN CHOOSE MY GODDAMN COMMAS FOR A REASON! WHY AM I WORKING SO FUCKING HARD IF YOU’RE SHOOTING EVERYTHING SOME OTHER WAY THAT DOESN’T WORK?”
The next day, Darabont sends the group another email.
“I’m in a state of absolute boiling rage right now,” it begins. “I have never been a screamer, but I am now… You’ve turned [me] into a raging asshole. Thanks a lot, you fuckers.”
The source of his ire this time is the show’s directors, whom he feels are not following his script direction and who “better wake the fuck up and pay attention. Or I will start killing people and throwing bodies out the door.”
Singling out one key moment in his script — “ANGLE CLOSES ON RICK, seething with fury” — Darabont asks, “What does that suggest? An important moment? It does to me. That’s why I fucking wrote it that way. I don’t spray random shit on the page. So why is it shot like random shit?”
He goes on to demand that the director responsible for the “boring-as-shit” scene be “replaced… He is an idiot. He needs to leave and take his seeing-eye dog with him. Because even his dog is blind.”
“Fuck you all for giving me chest pains because of the staggering fucking incompetence,” he closes his correspondence, before warning that any director that fails to shoot the scenes as he’s written them will be “beaten on the spot.”
In his affidavit, Darabont defends the emails, saying they were composed in the heat of a deeply troubled production and that his complaints were well founded.
“Each of these emails must be considered in context,” he says. “They were sent during an intense and stressful two-year period of work during which I was fighting like a mother lion to protect the show from harm — not only on my own behalf, but ironically also on behalf of AMC.
“Each of these emails was sent because a ‘professional’ showed up whose laziness, indifference, or incompetence threatened to sink the ship,” Darabont continues.”My tone was the result of the stress and magnitude of this extraordinary crisis. The language and hyperbole of my emails were harsh, but so were the circumstances.”
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