The Walking Dead Cast Interviews
Interviewee: Nick Herman
Role: Director (Episode 4) & Voice Actor
Nick Herman started life in the industry with TellTale as an intern and has stayed with the company rising from poster roller to Cinematic Director. Nick who has previously directed for TellTale on Sam and Max got to direct episode 4 of The Walking Dead, one of the more twisted episodes in the series. The group have just got to the first big population center and meet the one thing worse than the increased numbers of walkers, living people.
Nick also voiced the character Glenn in the first episode so has experience on both sides of the mic, but we are most interested in his role as director and especially his career path to get to this point. It was a real pleasure to chat to Nick recently in one of the most interesting interviews we have done.
A very broad open question to get us started but can you give us a little introduction to your background?
Sure! I got started acting on stage when I was around 12 at a local theater. From there I started getting into shooting dumb little shorts with my friends and eventually started taking film classes in High School. I struggled for awhile with choosing between being behind or in front of the camera and ended up not going to college because I couldn’t make up my mind. In hindsight, it was probably a mixture of fear and being stubborn that kept me from going straight to a university, but it didn’t make sense to me that I had to go to school to study acting or filmmaking, when it seemed that I could just do it all on my own or take specific classes locally.
How did you get into the video game industry?
Well, I’ll be honest and admit I got lucky. Jared Emerson-Johnson was one of my musical theater instructors growing up and had been composing the music for a little indie studio called Telltale Games. He told me they were looking for an intern to roll posters and such, and as I had no job and wasn’t going to school, I couldn’t turn it down. I was/am a huge video game nerd and had played all the old Lucas Arts SCUMM titles growing up, but had no clue I was going to be working with people like Dave Grossman until I walked in the door. Working in the video game industry had never crossed my mind before then, as I figured you had to go to school for 3D modeling, be a writer, or know how to code. To a certain degree, that was true at the time (2006), but I think I joined the industry at the right time and with the right studio to be able to contribute more.
How does one end up as a video game director?
When I first started, I was doing the classic intern stuff (rolling posters, a little bit of tech support, going to trade shows, etc.), but after a month or two they asked if I’d be willing to cut a trailer together for episode 2 of our first S&M season, since they knew I had editing experience. Making trailers became part of my job and I got my first taste at owning a piece of material that the public was going to digest and tear apart. Eventually they started to teach me how to make cutscenes for our games. It was the most exciting opportunity I had ever been given and it made me realize that my passion for performing and filmmaking was actually applicable in this industry.
Getting into directing just sort of happened one day. Our games were getting more complex with each new acquired franchise and season, and the studio realized we needed to have someone who was paying attention to all departments and aspects of the game. I got asked to be the “Cinematic Director” of the first episode of Sam and Max Season 3, and that eventually got paired down to just Director for episode 2 and on. I like to joke that I’m Telltale Games’ Cinematic Director, since I’m the only person who ever had that title.
Do you play video games? If so which genre is your favorite? If not do you play or at least watch someone play the games you have starred in to see how they turned out?
(Do you get a free copy of the game?)
I’m a huge gamer! I’ve been a PC gamer all my life as I wasn’t allowed consoles growing up, but now I play them all (take that, Dad). My life is currently being destroyed by the DOTA 2 beta and I don’t see an end in sight. I’m waiting for the day that I get sick of it and can go to bed without playing a match, but I’m in love with how complex it is and fascinated by how much I suck in comparison to the pros. You really think you’re good at a video game until you watch one profession match. Ugh.
As far as the games I work on, I see them for 6 weeks straight 10 hours a day, so by the time it’s shipped I have no desire to play them. But watching someone else play is a whole other story. Especially with Walking Dead, where so much enjoyment (at least for me) is derived from watching people agonize over their choices and talking about why they made them.
(And yes, I have a special steam code that gives me all TTG titles from now until the end of time. Sweet deal, I know.)
We have been talking all week to the excellent cast of the Walking Dead. Do you think Voice actors get the recognition they deserve?
It seems like they certainly are starting to. We began noticing the shift to talking with and about the actors once Nolan North started making a splash, and now everyone wants to know who’s behind the mic. I think that’s great, especially for the actors who do work for Telltale, since so much of what makes our games good are their performances. And not to brag, but we have some of the best in the business! It makes everyone’s job so much easier to work with the talent that we get.
Having now worked on both sides of the mic as Glenn in episode 1 and then as director of EP 4 which do you prefer or are you comfortable swapping between both?
When I’m not at work, I’m frequently in a local stage show or producing something with Trevor Hoffmann (Ben in Walking Dead), so any chance I get to perform and grow as an actor is exciting. Doing theater at the same time as directing or being a lead is incredibly difficult, and I’m hoping to be able to manage that better in the future by making a transition to doing more VO, at least for awhile. I would not only say I’m comfortable swapping between director and actor, but I prefer it!
What other projects have you worked on that our readers might be familiar with?
As far as VO is concerned, Glenn is my first gig. But I’ve been making games with Telltale since 2006 and have been involved in some capacity with every game (except Puzzle Agent 2) since then. Sam and Max has always been my favorite franchise; when I’m working on depressing, soul –sucking games like WD, I begin to miss the two leading characters and how fun they are to work with. Because it’s comedy, and because it’s Sam and Max, it’s easier to slip in your own personal touches that make the game a hilarious work of art. One of my most memorable additions was the Banang gag in S2E4. Bottles of Banang are now hidden as Easter eggs in all of our franchises.
We are huge fans of pretty much everything Telltale has made and every time we do get to meet them (which isn’t often enough) they are lots of fun to be around. What has it been like working with them?
Everyone here joined the studio because they want to make a different type of game; which means we have a lot of passionate people who are inspiring to work with. The vibe has definitely changed over the years though. When I first started, there were around 15-20 people in the studio, and we were making comedy adventure games. Now there are around 120 employees, and we’re in the business of destroying souls and making people slowly rock back and forth in a corner. But the excitement for making different types of games has always been at the core of what everyone wants to do here.
How much pressure was there on you to deliver in episode 4 after the brilliant start to the series?
There was a decent amount of pressure; about 63 pounds per square inch. Roughly.
I gotta say, I was Lead Cinematic Artist on episode 2, and I think the Director (Dennis Lenart) and I felt more pressure making that one that I did on 4. On 2, we were in the middle of making the game by the time 1 released, and had no clue what people were going to react to. So once the game was received as well as it was, we were in a pretty scary position.
The only anxiety I had with making 4 was that we knew up front that we were making a very different game than the one before it, and we weren’t sure if people were going to be into that. Episodic gaming is new to most of our audience and every part of the season always has its own unique feel and style going for it.
Before starting on a project such as The Walking Dead what do you to prepare?
Telltale gave the whole team a copy of the compendium, so almost everyone had read a ton of the comic before we started making the game. Besides that, I would spend most weekends in my panic room drinking my own urine and duct taping kitchen knives to tech nines; the usual apocalypse stuff.
How much freedom did you have to put your own stamp on this episode?
Directors at Telltale have an amazing amount of freedom when it gets down to the details. You obviously have to stick to the script and story once it’s all laid out, but there’s a lot of fun to be had in the process. One thing I focused on early in development was the size and vastness of the spaces you explore. It was clear that this episode had a chance to feel big in scale compared to the rest of the season just through the environments alone. Crawford is a great example of a place that had a story to tell, but most of it was going to be done with the world and the state it was left in. The feeling of walking alone through an empty school, slowly unraveling the mystery of what was once a fairly successful attempt at a new way of living, was one of my favorite things to watch come to completion.
In most games the main characters are all clearly defined quite early on but when it comes to a game like TWD it is much harder to nail down the specifics of the characters as so much is dependent on the players own choices. Does this make it much harder to direct?
I’m sure Gary painstakingly crafted every branch of every piece of dialog, and he’d tell you it was a nightmare coming up with what the “silence” option would mean. But I think that in a game about choices, it’s easy to think that worrying about things at a micro level is the right way to go about solving problems, but I think if you just step back and approach it from the macro, all the little things start to come easy and you realize that these characters, no matter what the player’s decisions were, are always going to be true to who they are at their core. And luckily, by the time we were making episode 4, we knew the characters so well that we almost always knew how they’d react to any given situation.
So when it actually comes to putting it all together do you work with the voice actors or are you very much in the editing booth putting it all together?
Both Gary and I were in the booth for almost all the voice sessions to give direction and context to the actors. The hard work of recording and editing it all is done by the awesome guys at Bay Area Sound. We give them, something like 3000 lines an episode to edit and master, and they turn it around super quick.
We know that the team at Telltale have been recording each episode only a few weeks before it launches does this make the recording process more exciting or would you prefer to have more time working on the project?
The funny thing is, that “a few weeks” refers to our entire production cycle for an episode, so everything is moving that fast. It’s just sort of the pace of life we’ve grown accustomed to. Now that Walking Dead is over, half the office is sitting around in a sort of shell shock state. It looks like the rec-room at an old folk’s home.
What’s next for you? Have you any other exciting projects coming up?
I’m directing something up and coming. I know it’s been talked about publicly, but in a very quiet way, so I’ll continue to do the same until some explosion of trumpets makes it clear that I can refer to it by name. Besides that, I’m also hoping to be a part of Season 2 of TWD, but that’s still pretty far away and a thing like choice of directors is even farther still.
To finish up as we are Ireland’s biggest Independent Video Game publication we do like to ask everyone if you have any connection to Ireland? Ever been? Or planning any trips soon?
I sadly have yet to visit that half of the globe, but my girlfriend’s name is Erin! Which she says means Ireland or something? So I guess Ireland and I hang out all the time. Your country smells great!
If you would like us to include any contact details so our readers can keep up to date on your latest projects?
Feel free to contact me on Twitter at @ItsMeNickHerman, and thanks again Bone-Idle!