The Walking Dead is composed of countless talents that make the series have – and maintain – its high level of quality. One of these professionals is the Director of Photography, who is currently the incredible Duane Charles Manwiller.
For those who do not know, the direction of photography is one of the many functions that involve the creation of a series or film. Its purpose is to bring the definitions of the script to life and produce something cinematic, with visual qualities that reinforce the aspects already explored in the narrative and guide the viewer’s gaze.
Duane talked to us about his work on The Walking Dead, how he started in this area, what it’s like to work with various directors and writers, about the impact of the pandemic on the series’ recordings and what we can expect from the final season of the zombie drama.
Without further ado, check out our exclusive interview with Duane Charles Manwiller:
1. First of all, let’s get to know you and your story a bit more: how did your passion for photography started?
Duane Charles Manwiller: Hey Rafael. I’m so very happy to sit down and answer these questions about TWD. I’m truly always amazed by what great fans our show has, and I must say the Brazil fans are absolutely incredible!!
As a kid I always had some sort of camera in my hand, whether it was a toy or when I was old enough, a small cheap film camera. Always looking for an excuse to take photographs, I started taking pictures for a very small local newspaper in the town I grew up in Oregon. I was still only about 16 or 17 years old. Never really doing more than a few college courses I decided it really wasn’t for me so when I was old enough I packed up and made the move to Southern California, where I had visions of getting into the film industry.
2. In what moment of your life did you realise this is what you wanted to do for a living?
Duane Charles Manwiller: A bit of a funny story here. When I was maybe 12 years old my parents decided to take us on a family vacation to southern California to go and see Disneyland and Universal Studios. So, we packed up the car and made the 13 plus hour pilgrimage to Los Angeles. Disneyland was obviously cool, but when I went to Universal Studios and saw all the behind the scenes shows as well as real movie sets, I was hooked. I literally couldn’t think of doing anything else except somehow finding a way to get involved in the film industry. As soon as we got back home I wrote a very serious letter (for a 12 year old) to Universal Studios, and explained why I though they just had to hire me once I was old enough and that I was the future man for a job at Universal Studios. Well, I never heard back. I think about that these days every time I shoot on the Universal lot 🙂
3. How did the opportunity of working on The Walking Dead come up? Can you share with us how this experience has been so far?
Duane Charles Manwiller: The Walking Dead has been on my radar since it’s pilot episode. Mainly because I have several friends in the camera department that have been involved since the beginning. So I’ve kept tabs on them over the years. Before I was a Cinematographer, I was a Steadicam/Camera operator and several times during their first couple seasons they tried to get me to come out and operate but I was always working on something so the schedule just did’t work out. On season Eight they called me to come out and do a few episodes and that was that. I was hooked and have been on the show ever since. We are about to start up the final two seasons back to back!! Very stoked.
From my first days on the show it has been a very good experience. “The Walking Dead Family” as the production calls themselves, excepted me with open arms and has allowed me to have a huge amount of freedom when it comes to the shows photography.
4. Even though the show is set in a very suspenseful and horrifying context we always see pictures of cast and crew very happy and laid-back on set. How is it to be on the set of The Walking Dead?
Duane Charles Manwiller: Being on the set of TWD is unlike any other show I’ve been on. Day one was very surreal. I walked on the studio backlot to meet a few of the cast and crew before my first episode. They were in between shots and there was a very large group of Walkers just hanging out chatting and having a break in full on zombie attire. It must have showed on my face I was a newbie because everyone was waving and welcoming me to the set. Very bizarre. Working on the set itself is a fun and rewarding experience as well. It’s a bit like a bunch of kids that just don’t want to grow up. Blowing stuff up, crazy cool real old school VFX make up, hordes of Zombies. Quite the experience. And the cast and crew is fantastic. So many of the original cast and crew have stayed together over the years it’s a bit like an extended family. We do of course have some tough and very difficult shooting days but for the most part it’s a total pleasure to work on. That’s the reason I’ve kept coming back.
5. The photography of The Walking Dead is impeccable and we can see why when we take a look at your other projects. What’s the secret to succeed in this field?
Duane Charles Manwiller: You are very kind, thanks. I’ve been very fortunate to have worked beside some very talented Directors and Cinematographers through my career. And although when I first started out I was making a lot of coffee’s and loading film cameras, I was still soaking up knowledge like a sponge. Every day I set foot on a set, I’m still learning as well, especially because the film industry is a constantly evolving.
6. The Walking Dead has many directors and each of them has particularities. Do the different styles of direction make it harder for you to work? Do you have to adapt in each episode depending on the director? How does that work for you?
Duane Charles Manwiller: You are very correct. We have a talented pool of rotating directors as well as constant new additions , and each one wants to put their mark on the show. Each director that comes in has a lot of freedom but still has to direct their episode with the overall vibe the show has created since the pilot. The producers would never hire someone who thought they could come on the show and try and reinvent it.
7. We miss dearly the show and our favourite characters. How has this moment been for you, being away from the show?
Duane Charles Manwiller: Well, It’s been very strange on the entire TWD family just as it has been for everyone. When you originally sent me these questions I believe I was on a movie in Puerto Rico and then the shit really hit the fan with Covid to everything with the TWD was uncertain. Since then we have already shot an abbreviated season (Which is going to be super cool) And now, in about two weeks, I’ll head back to Georgia and we start prepping for the two back to back seasons to wrap up the series. Bitter sweet, but very exciting as well
8. How have you been taking care during the pandemic? How has your life changed?
Duane Charles Manwiller: Tough question. Just trying to get by like everyone else. Truly tough times globally. I feel very fortunate to be on a show that is taking every precaution possible to keep everyone safe and healthy.
9. We know the main impact of the pandemic on the show was the delay of the last touches on the season finale and the start of the filming of the 11th season. What else have been affected in the production of The Walking Dead?
Duane Charles Manwiller: Yes, Once Covid hit it changed everything. Season 11 never happened in 2020 but we did shoot an extension of season 10 and it was actually more of a bridge between season 10 and the true season 11 which we start shooting in March of 2021. Does that make sense ? It even confuses me. On the camera slates we simply put Season 10 CV.
10. The show is critically acclaimed all over the world, but here in Brazil the fan’s love is usually especial. Does this love get to the crew? How do you see the reaction of the Brazilian fans?
Duane Charles Manwiller: It’s funny you mention that. I’ve always heard from the cast as well as some crew that there was a huge Brazilian following. I guess you guys are as crazy as us. It does indeed make me very happy to hear. I’ve had so many fans from Brazil reach out on my instagram as well. VERY COOL!! Keep it up BRAZIL 🙂
11. Besides The Walking Dead you have worked in a lot of other productions, for the small and big screens. Which of them do you prefer to work on? What is the favourite movie you worked on?
Duane Charles Manwiller: Well, I used to do mainly movies and would say I preferred them to most TV. This being mainly because some of the TV I did, with the exception of a show called LOST, felt like a bit of a factory. It’s not like that anymore though. With all the original content on TV now, the good shows have more of a movie vibe. And the walking dead has just that. They still write the shows with the viewers and fans in mind and not just to make the cash.
Tough call on the favourite movie I’ve worked on but I would say fairly recently would be BABY DRIVER or any of the JOHN WICKS. I love doing the action stuff.
12. Which actor is the most photogenic actor of The Walking Dead? And which one is not very fond of the lens? How is your relationship with them?
Duane Charles Manwiller: Well, I would say they are all photogenic and love the lens. That’s what they do right 🙂 Each one has their favourite thing about it I’m sure. And each one excels in different directions. We all miss having Andy Lincoln around though. He was a bond between everyone. As a DP it’s important to have healthy working relationships with the cast and on the walking dead that comes very easy.
13. We know you’ve been on the show for four years now, so we’d like to know… What was your favourite episode to shoot? And what about a favourite season?
Duane Charles Manwiller: Wow, you do sling some tough questions. I was fortunate enough to shoot the last episodes of Michonne, Carl, and Rick, as well as many others that were eaten or just disappeared. However, Ricks final episode on season nine was quite special for many reasons.
14. What can you tell us about this final phase of The Walking Dead with the extra episodes and the 11th season?
Duane Charles Manwiller: I will say that the small season we just shot is a very very cool bridge to the final two seasons we’re about to kick off. And these final two seasons are going to be INSANE. Especially for fans of the TV show and Graphic Novel.
15. To wrap it up: can you send a especial message for the Brazilian fans?
Duane Charles Manwiller: Brazil fans!!! It truly is very special to know that we have such a DEADicated following in the South. We all know how passionate you are about sports, food, love and now The Walking Dead!!! I’m going to shoot this last season with all the Brazil fans in mind every day we roll those cameras. WE LOVE YOU BRAZIL………The Walking Dead Family DP…..DC
REDES SOCIAIS DO DUANE CHARLES MANWILLER:
– Instagram: @duane_charles_manwiller