Q&A: Film Expert Explains Why Hollywood Banks on the Zombie Feeding Frenzy

  • Zombie
    (iStock photo)
  • Chris Hansen
    Chris Hansen, M.F.A., independent filmmaker and chair of Baylor's film and digital media department
Aug. 11, 2015

‘It’s about the enemy within,’ Baylor professor says as world waits for new Fear the Walking Dead

Media contact: Eric M. Eckert, office: (254) 710-1964, mobile: (254) 652-0398

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WACO, Texas (Aug. 11, 2015) – For some, it’s difficult to understand how a herd of rotting corpses with insatiable appetites for human flesh can have such mass appeal.

But millions of people around the globe are eating it up … so to speak.

On Aug. 23, AMC will roll out its new series, Fear the Walking Dead, a companion series (a prequel of sorts) to the mega hit, The Walking Dead. Expectations are high, as a second season of the brand new series has been ordered prior to its debut.

Chris Hansen, M.F.A., independent filmmaker and chair of Baylor’s film and digital media department, explains what fuels the feeding frenzy for zombie and apocalyptic storylines.

“I think a lot of it has to do with fear,” Hansen says. “We fear the unknown, and the future is always unknown. During the Cold War era, we could imagine the world after nuclear warfare decimated the planet. In this era, nuclear war isn’t as much a fear, but terrorism is. And terrorism strikes in a much different way. It’s not traditional warfare. It’s about the enemy within. The current interest in zombies lines up with that. Zombies are us. We have turned against ourselves.”

Q: How does The Walking Dead franchise satisfy that ‘fear’ appeal?

Hansen: It does so by serving as a sort of release valve. Viewers can funnel their worst nightmare scenarios into a story that serves as entertainment, and they can root for characters they believe represent the way they would handle certain situations. Or they can root for characters who represent the viewer’s fantasy of how he or she would like to respond. In that way, it’s sort of a wish fulfillment within the context of a nightmare. You are asking yourself, ‘If this happened, how would I respond? Could I survive?’ And playing that game internally makes us focus on that instead of the real situations in the world that terrify us, at least for a while.

Q: As a filmmaker, do you feel that interest in this subject is harmful in any way?

Hansen: All stories require conflict. It’s the key element in what makes something a story in the first place. So I’m always hesitant to call something out as a danger just because it has a different sort of conflict. It’s interesting to ask this question at this moment because another summer 2015 film, Tomorrowland, posed the same idea, that the culture’s focus on negativity in the form of violent and post-apocalyptic media was a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, that it was ultimately going to lead us to that end because we are so focused on it. And while I wouldn’t take it that far, I do think your media consumption should be more diverse than just a steady diet of visions of a post-apocalyptic future.

Having said that, I watch The Walking Dead myself, and I find these shows interesting because they examine our social structures both through the decline of those structures and our attempts to rebuild them. They say a lot about us as people and how we function and fail to function within a society, about what we value and what we're willing to discard.

Q: From a story perspective, what interests you most about Fear the Walking Dead?

Hansen: I’ve not seen it yet, but based on the descriptions that AMC has provided, as well as early reviews, it seems Fear the Walking Dead is going to focus on the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, as seen through the eyes of a few characters in Los Angeles. So instead of seeing how people are surviving after things have already gone down the drain (which is what The Walking Dead offered us through the eyes of Rick Grimes, who awakens from a coma in a world already overrun with zombies), we’re going to see people struggling to come to terms with what’s going on. I believe we’re going to see a vision of what it looks like for our social order to completely break down in light of this event.

Q: Does Fear the Walking Dead offer a fresh approach to the apocalyptic zombie story?

Hansen: In The Walking Dead, we’re watching people try to survive and pick up the pieces. Fear the Walking Dead is going to show us what people are forced to do as it’s all falling apart. Often, post-apocalyptic movies and television shows skip that part. We see the aftermath and might hear some stories about what happened, but here we’re going to see that breakdown in society occur. That should provide for some interesting conversations about how we would handle such events.

Other news featuring Chris Hansen:

Back to the Past: Why Movie Studios Keep Recycling Stories, and Why We Keep Paying to See Them

Film Expert Discusses Gender Bias in Hollywood, 2015 Oscar Nominees

ABOUT CHRIS HANSEN

Chris Hansen, M.F.A., chair of the film and digital media department in Baylor University’s College of Arts & Sciences, is an award-winning writer and director. His feature films have been screened at festivals throughout the United States and Canada, released theatrically in Los Angeles and New York and reviewed in the Los Angeles Times, Village Voice and LA Weekly, among many others. His films include The Proper Care & Feeding of an American Messiah, Clean Freak, Endings, Where We Started and Blur Circle.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

ABOUT BAYLOR COLLEGE OF ARTS & SCIENCES

The College of Arts & Sciences is Baylor University’s oldest and largest academic division, consisting of 25 academic departments and 13 academic centers and institutes. The more than 5,000 courses taught in the College span topics from art and theatre to religion, philosophy, sociology and the natural sciences. Faculty conduct research around the world, and research on the undergraduate and graduate level is prevalent throughout all disciplines. Visit www.baylor.edu/artsandsciences.

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