Even as The Walking Dead continues to deliver record ratings and high drama for its viewers, a compelling behind-the-scenes story is weaving a drama of its own: the lawsuit filed by former showrunner Frank Darabont against AMC over whether the network unlawfully reduced his profit share from the show, which he developed and brought to the network.
We've known for a while about Darabont's suit, but things got much more interesting today when the deposition he gave in the case was unsealed, giving us new details about his claims against AMC and the animosity that developed as he worked on The Walking Dead's second season.
You can read the full document HERE, but the crux of the argument is this: Darabont (pictured above with producer Gale Ann Hurd) claims that, as he tried to solve crucial story and shooting issues with the second season, AMC executives slashed the show's budget, lied about previous permissions they'd given him for extra shooting and writing time, and then cut his share of the profits after he was fired. For their part, AMC claims that Darabont is receiving the profit share he's rightfully owed based on the time he left the series during production on Season 2.
First, there's the issue of the budget. According to Darabont, AMC cut the per-episode budget for Season 2 by $400,000, and then kept the tax credit given by the state of Georgia, rather than putting that money back into the show. As a result, the series was working with 75 percent of the money it was expecting at the start of production.
Then there are the production problems, which Darabont calls "crisis-level." When footage from the Season 2 premiere wasn't to his satisfaction, Darabont left his work in the writers' room to do reshoots, which in turn would delay completion of the season's final scripts by three weeks. Darabont claims he asked AMC Vice President of Scripted Programming Susie Fitzgerald if she agreed that he should spend extra time making the premiere, and she did, even acknowledging that she was OK with the scripting delay. Later, Darabont claims, she denied ever voicing her agreement.
"So, she out and out just lied to my face in front of everybody," he testified. "I can prove that because after the meeting I went back to the editing room to tell my editor to finish up a few things there that day anyway that needed finishing and to tell my editor what had happened."
Now, we get to the major argument of the suit: Darabont's profit share from the series, which was reduced from 10 percent to 7.5 percent when he left the series in July of 2011. The argument AMC makes is that Darabont did not provide full showrunner duties for the whole of Season 2, and since he only did three-quarters of the work, he should only get three-quarters of his profit percentage. Darabont argues that he performed his full showrunner duties for the whole season and that AMC "concocted" a reason to fire him.
"They accused me of not having directors tone meetings," he said, referring to the way in which a showrunner is supposed to sit down with each director of each episode to go over the script — scene by scene — and convey the tone of the show. "And I said, 'That's absolutely not true, I have had a directors tone meeting with every single director this season.' "
At least one of Darabont's collaborators is siding with him: Glen Mazzarra, who stepped in as showrunner after Darabont's firing. According to him, Darabont did fulfill all of his duties as showrunner for the second season.
"I believe that Frank was executing his responsibilities and duties as showrunner and there was a personal rift between [Walking Dead co-creator Robert] Kirkman and Darabont and between Darabont and the AMC executives, and that when the material for the finale came in and Frank said I need some time to figure out a plan of how to pursue this and what we're going to re-shoot and what it will take to do this, AMC was unwilling to give him that time to solve the issue and they let him go without notifying him that he was, that the issues were that series. That if he did not appropriately solve these issues, he was about to be fired."
According to Mazzarra, Darabont's contributions to the season included shaping the crucial story beats of the second half of Season 2, as well securing the Hershel Greene farm as a location by convincing the reluctant owners.
As for AMC ... well, they're not budging.
"Frank Darabont has made it clear that he has strong opinions about AMC and the events that led to his departure from The Walking Dead. The reality is that he has been paid millions of dollars under the terms of his contract, which we honored, and we will continue to vigorously defend against this lawsuit," the network said in a statement.
So, the lawsuit continues, and it's getting uglier. When asked about the conduct of AMC executives, Darabont had this to say.
"When they did rarely show up on the [Georgia-based] set, [they] would ... drive in from the airport in their air conditioned car, race into the air conditioned tent we had there so the actors could have a break and not pass out from the heat, poke their heads out on occasion, and half an hour later jump back in their car and fly back to their air conditioned office in New York. I had a tremendous lack of respect for them."