CENTURY CITY — Clovis native Matt Negrete wasn't a big fan of zombie movies while growing up in the central San Joaquin Valley. But he's found a new appreciation for them as a co-producer and writer on the current season of the AMC mega-hit series "The Walking Dead."
The second half of the fourth season begins tonightwith the survivors on the run from the hoards of walking dead after the prison where they had taken sanctuary was destroyed. Negrete wrote one script for the first half and another script for the episode that will be broadcast Feb. 16.
New episodes begin airing with fans not knowing the fate of one of their favorite characters. If you have not watched the first half of season four, skip the next few paragraphs. In the first half, fan favorite Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) got into a car with enough supplies and guns to deal with a small zombie army and drove off into the sunset.
It was Negrete who wrote the episode where the show's central hero, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), sent Carol packing. But he's not to be fully blamed for the departure.
"Big, tent-pole moments on the show are mapped out in advance. Before anybody puts pen to paper, we spent a month or two mapping out the arc of what the season would be and what the big moments would be," Negrete says just days before returning to Atlanta where work on the fifth season of "The Walking Dead' will start.
Negrete chose to write the episode because of the drama.
"There are not a lot of characters left from the first season and to be able to tell this cool, emotional story between two of the original characters, I thought it would be really, really interesting," Negrete says. "What I liked about what happens in the episode is that there's no right or wrong.
"It's important to remember we don't do things like this with a major character without there being a good reason for doing it as far as the story is concerned."
After the episode aired, Negrete was happy to see there was a huge debate about the decisions made in the episode. He'd never had such a massive conversation about one of his past writing jobs.
"Walking Dead" writers are on the set for the eight days of pre-production and eight days of filming for the episode they have written. Negrete spent extra time in Atlanta during the first half of the season to supervise episodes that had been written by series creator Robert Kirkman.
Negrete's trek to being part of one of the biggest productions in television started in the Film Studio class Ramon Pecina taught at Sanger High School. Negrete, who lived in Clovis but was in the Sanger school district, participated in speech and debate and was leaning toward a law career. That all changed with the Film Studio class.
"I just took the class on a whim," Negrete says. "I was always a big movie and TV fan growing up and so when I saw the class on the schedule, I thought I would give it a shot."
Pecina remembers Negrete as a great student willing to go beyond what the class required. The project he remembers the most is a music video Negrete and his group taped at Fresno's Chaffee Zoo.
The class gave Negrete his first hands-on experience shooting, editing and producing programming. It was such a positive experience, Negrete decided he would pursue a career in film and TV production at USC and had to pick between writing or production.
Negrete decided that because writing is the foundation of any good film or television show, he would pursue that part of the program. He was one of only 22 students from the thousands who applied who got into the writing program that year.
"It was really great in terms of meeting people with a common interest. Even today, we are really good friends because we are all working in the business. So, we can trade stories and hang out," Negrete says.
And, they can help one another land writing jobs. Negrete met Scott Gimple, the supervising producer and writer for "The Walking Dead," through his USC studies.
Even with that connection, Negrete didn't jump directly into the world of zombies.
After graduating in 1994, he had a variety of odd jobs, including as a tour guide at Universal Studios and delivering muffins.
It took him three years before another USC connection, Nahnatchka Khan, hired Negrete to write for the animated series "Pepper Ann." Gimple was also a writer on the show.
Negrete's credits since then include a lot of children's programming: "Timon & Pumbaa," "Kim Possible," "American Dragon: Jake Long," "The Penguins of Madagascar" and "Power Rangers R.P.M." His big move into programming for an older audience came when he joined the staff of the USA drama "White Collar" in 2011.
" 'White Collar' was the first live-action, procedural show. I loved writing the banter on that show. We would have a full page of the script with no action, just all dialogue," Negrete says.
After three seasons on "White Collar," Negrete got a call from his agent asking if he would be interested in joining "The Walking Dead" staff. He had been a fan of the series since it launched, and despite his love of working on "White Collar," he made the move to the AMC show to work on the current season.
Negrete's cautious when talking about what's to come on "The Walking Dead." All he will offer about the second half of the fourth season is that it will "feel very different than the first half because of the way the first half ended." This will be the first time since season one that the survivors have been on the road and not taking refuge on a farm or in a prison.
Negrete will be a part of how life on the road plays out.
"The Walking Dead," Airs 9 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 9, AMC
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.