Everyone knows that AMC’s monster hit, The Walking Dead, is based on a graphic novel by Robert Kirkman. But what everyone does not know is that Kirkman built that TV show with the help of David Alpert, his partner and CEO at Skybound Entertainment.
Skybound launched with The Walking Dead at its foundation, but it has also produced many other shows over the past few years, including Walking Dead spinoff Fear the Walking Dead; Outcast, also based on a graphic novel by Kirkman; BBC America’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, based on the book by Douglas Adams; and several other projects.
For Skybound, it starts with TV, but no platform is off-limits, whether it’s YouTube, Samsung VR or Snapchat. “So much of what we work on takes years to get up and running, so they have to be things we are psyched about spending that much time on,” Alpert told B&C contributing editor Paige Albiniak. Here’s an edited transcript of their conversation.
How did you meet Robert Kirkman and how did Skybound Entertainment begin?
I met Robert in 2000 at a comic convention in the suburbs of Chicago. When he first put The Walking Dead together, he pitched it to Image Comics and they said, ‘We don’t want to do a zombie story.’ He said, ‘It’s not really about zombies, it turns out later that they are aliens.’ They started publishing the book and a couple of issues in, the publisher said ‘I don’t see any hint that these guys are aliens.’ Which, of course, they weren’t.
When we sold The Walking Dead to AMC, Robert had reserved a bunch of rights. We wanted to build a platform to empower creators and help people do interesting things they might not do otherwise.
Is sci-fi/fantasy/horror your main genre, or is Skybound open to anything?
For us, it’s about great creators and creative. Our taste gravitates towards science fiction and fantasy but we’re working on comedies, docu-series and other things, including Dirk Gently for BBC America, which Entertainment Weekly called “the weirdest show on television.” I took that as a badge of pride.
We’ve picked up the rights to a book series called Chronicles of Amber. We’re also working on a half-hour animated comedy in the vein of Archer.
The Walking Dead is a good example of a property you’ve taken multiplatform. Is that part of your overall strategy?
We want to meet our fans where they are. We find that if you don’t cry at the end of season one of the Walking Dead video game, you aren’t human. Some people love the comic, while others only watch the show. We want to make you care. We want to make sure the characters feel real and you connect with them.
You created the virtual-reality film Gone for Samsung Milk VR. How do you feel about working with brands?
We’ve worked with several brands and we love it. It comes down to whether there’s an organic way into the story, if there’s a story worth telling. If there is, then we’re on board; if not, no amount of money makes it worth it.
What do the next three to five years look like for Skybound?
The phrase we use to describe where we want to be is “Mo Bigga Betta.” We want to do more projects, and do them bigger and better. I like working on emerging platforms like YouTube, Twitch and Samsung VR. I love making film and TV, but I also like the idea of going back and questioning first principles.
We get so boxed into formats. Why are dramas 42 minutes? Why are comedies 22 minutes? The idea of creating a four-minute-per-episode show for Snap is really exciting. Eventually, I’d like us to become fully platform-agnostic.