Interview: Director Sydney Freeland on Fear the Walking Dead 514

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 19: Director Sydney Freeland attends the Day One Press Conference during day 1 of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival at Egyptian Theatre on January 19, 2017 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Sundance Film Festival)
PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 19: Director Sydney Freeland attends the Day One Press Conference during day 1 of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival at Egyptian Theatre on January 19, 2017 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Sundance Film Festival) /

We had a chance to break down all of the action from Fear the Walking Dead “Today and Tomorrow” with director Sydney Freeland.

This week’s episode of Fear the Walking Dead features a trip inside the Pioneer compound and a chance for Grace and Daniel to bond over music. It’s a very important episode as momentum builds toward the end of season 5. We had a chance to talk with director Sydney Freeland about her experience bringing “Today and Tomorrow” to life.

“Today and Tomorrow” begins with a sequence of interviews with Morgan that take place over several days, judging by how many times Lennie James wore a different outfit. Freeland explained that getting those handheld shots are a lot more complicated than it might seem. “From a technical standpoint it’s a lot of work to get it to look like a handheld camera because we actually shoot that on our A Camera.” Freeland noted that though fans are seeing Al interviewing Morgan on a handheld camera, it’s actually being shot on the big rig and made to look like a video camera in post-production.

One of the upsides of being able to utilize the handheld camera POV in Fear the Walking Dead has been the ability to get inside the characters’ thoughts. “I thought it was a great storytelling device as a writer. Lennie [James], as Morgan, is a more reserved character who never really shows his cards and this gives away a little bit about what he’s thinking about.”

Filming the underwater sequence was a particular challenge, both in preparation and in execution. Maggie Grace continued her streak of performing stunts in season 5, from being strapped upside down in the plane crash to dangling on the side of the cliff with Isabelle. “We had a stunt person there, but [Maggie] was there. She was definitely in the water with the actor.”

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The fight itself was another challenge. “One of the conversations we had going into the underwater scene was that walkers don’t breathe oxygen, therefore walkers don’t float. They would literally fall on top of Maggie and sink to the bottom while still on top of her.” They ended up using weighted vests to keep the actor at the bottom of the pool. “Because of this we could only shoot in 20 or 30 second increments because the actor couldn’t get back up to the surface on his own.”

Some of the pool scenes were filmed on location in an actual pool while others were done on a pool set. “I took a photo of the pool before we shot the sequence and I took a picture after we wrapped and everyone had cleared out of it, and the pool went from pristine blue deep water to just blood red, like a big bloody pool.” Like an actual murder scene? “Yeah, exactly!” she laughed.

Paradise Ridge came to life on location at an existing condo complex outside Austin. The production designers built the Pioneers community around a complex and the people who live there. Everything from the stables in the car ports to the above-ground gardens were built for these scenes.

“When Morgan goes into the apartment, we wanted to embrace the geography of the place. That led to this tight shooting that was a little more suspenseful. You can have stuff around every corner of the room, and there’s no electricity. And so we tried to shoot it in a way that hopefully comes across as more suspenseful as opposed to pure action.”

One of the highlights of shooting “Today and Tomorrow” was definitely filming the scenes of Grace and Daniel singing together. Freeland said that Fear the Walking Dead’s producer-director Michael Satrazemis came to set that day to watch them film. “I have to say that both Ruben [Blades] and Karen [David] had to put a lot of effort into that performance. Karen is also a gifted musician, and so the performance is kind of an evolution because they first time they did it, it was perfect. It was too good. So a lot of work went into making sure they weren’t as good as they were.

Freeland noted that there was another moment that really stood out for her during that scene, which will no doubt become one of the iconic moments of the series. “I remember smiling behind the monitor when Ruben has a line when he’s about to get on stage, and he says ‘What makes you think I can sing?’ And I love how he delivers that line, with a half-smile and it’s a bit mischievous. It’s a little bit of a wink to people who know he can sing, but it’s also in keeping with his character and I think he did a wonderful job.”

Be sure to vote for The Walking Dead at the 2019 People's Choice Awards. light. Related Story

Freeland has worked on a number of shows including Grey’s Anatomy, Station 19 and Heathers, and she has a number of projects still to come in 2019. She also wrote and directed the short film Hoverboard and the movie Drunktown’s Finest. You can follow her online on Twitter and Instagram.