By Jami Philbrick
Cinemax is hoping to emulate AMC’s success with The Walking Dead by adapting Robert Kirkman’s comic Outcast for TV. The series follows Kyle Barnes (Patrick Fugit), a man who has been plagued by demonic possession since he was a child, and he is now on a quest to find out why. In addition to Fugit, the series will also star Wrenn Schmidt as his adoptive sister Megan Holter, and Phillip Glenister as an alcoholic West Virginia preacher named Reverend Anderson. The series will have its own on-going mythology that connects episode to episode, while still being a stand-alone series.
Unfortunately, the great Robert Kirkman was unable to attend Comic-Con this year because he was at home recovering from throat surgery. However, he was did send a video greeting that opened the Outcast panel on Saturday in Ballroom 6 at San Diego Comic Con 2015. In the video, he explained the world of Outcast and said, “Like The Walking Dead, we come at things from a different angle.” Following Kirkman’s video introduction, the first trailer for the 10-episode series was revealed. The tone is very dark and creepy, and the footage opened with a demonically possessed boy violently banging his head against a wall before disgustingly licking a smashed bug. The rest of the trailer sets up the series, the characters, and their journey.
While Kirkman was there in spirit only, physically present were the show’s stars, Patrick Fugit, Wrenn Schmidt, and Phillip Glenister, as well as showrunner Chris Black, and Adam Wingard, who directed the pilot.
The new TV series was developed concurrently with the comic book, and Black discussed the challenges of that process. “We didn’t have 200 issues of The Walking Dead, so we were waiting on Robert a lot of times,” he explained. “We would sit in the writer’s room telling him we have this idea or that and he would say, ‘Well, the next issue is out on Friday.’ In adapting a comic to a television show it needs to become its own thing. There are simply not enough ideas in one comic book to fill 60 minutes of a premium cable show and you end up burning through the story pretty fast. Beyond that, on a creative level, you want it to take on a life of it’s own. You don’t want to just transcribe it. It needs to be transformed from a comic book into a TV show because they are different mediums.”
Black went on to talk about his experience collaborating with Kirkman. “The great thing about working with Robert is that he is so respectful of that process. He’s committed to the stories he wants to tell, and if you stay true to those characters, that’s what is very important to him. When he pitches something, he wants to do what he pitched. But on the other hand, if you pitch something that he didn’t think of, he’s totally open to that. But we tried to respect Robert’s clear narrative track that he wants to tell. He knows where the story is going and he knows the mythology that he wants to tell. He is one of the most collaborative guys that I’ve ever worked with.”
Director Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest) talked about adapting the comic book into a pilot. “I was excited about that because it did give me a template going in,” he said. “Ultimately it also becomes kind of frustrating because sometimes there are elements of the comic book that you really like but to actually bring it to reality might not be possible. That was the great blessing and curse, because it gave us this great template, but we wanted to stay true to the realistic version of the comic.”
While actor Patrick Fugit was recently seen in the gritty Gone Girl, he is probably best known for his role in Almost Famous, which is a far cry for the dark tone of Outcast. The actor discussed what attracted him to this type of material. “I think anything that is different than what I’ve done previously is pretty attractive in terms of working on,” he said. “When I initially got the script, they told me that it was based on a Robert Kirkman comic about demonic possession. I read it and what Robert is really good at is shifting the perspective, and also making it feel really interesting based on the character development in the context of the world and how they interact.”
The actor also talked about what it has been like for him to portray a character that was originally created in another medium. “When I first got the script I had three or four issues of the comic out. Comics have to communicate a lot with just very little. The words and the images have to go together for a very specific reason,” Fugit explained. “Whenever they put a panel there, that shot is telling you something that you have to pay attention to. So I got a lot of ideas from the comic about physicality and the choices that Kyle makes. But really, Robert has created the characters through his writing, and if you are paying attention then you can instinctually feel what is going on. Its really cool reading the comic, watching the pilot and reading the scripts because you get these little moments in the comics and there is all this new material behind those moments on the show. But it’s really Robert’s storytelling and his writing that is fun to create a character with.”
While the pilot has been completed, and Cinemax has picked up the series for 10-episodes set to premiere in 2016 and air in over 100 countries, the cast and crew won’t begin shooting the rest of the show until next month. Finally, the panel took a few questions from the audience, including one from a fan that was curious if the series will also have an after show hosted by Chris Hardwick, similar to The Walking Dead follow up, Talking Dead. “That would be great,” Black replied. The festivities ended with a second viewing of the pilot’s trailer, as well as the announcement that Academy Award-winner Atticus Ross (The Social Network), who made a brief appearance on the panel, will compose the music for Outcast.