Daybreak: Can The Netflix Show Beat Zombie Fatigue?

By breaking convention at every turn, the producers of Daybreak hope they’ve created their own post-apocalyptic genre.

Daybreak on Netflix

The producers behind Netflix’s latest genre entry knew standing out amongst a sea of post-apocalyptic shows and films would be tough. So when everyone else went with zombies, they countered with “Ghoulies.”

Set in the near future, Daybreak, which is now streaming, follows Josh, a high school student who is thriving after a nuclear bomb wiped out most adults… and the few surviving elders walk the earth recounting the last thing on their mind in a zombified state. Kids vs. “Ghoulies” is only a jumping off point. The series is a genre-bending look at the apocalypse as a metaphor for high school, drawing on a pastiche of inspiration from samurai films to John Hughes (Ferris Bueller himself, Matthew Broderick, plays the principal) to Mad Max.

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read more: Daybreak Review (Spoiler Free)

Based on a graphic novel by Brian Ralph, the project was originally conceived as a feature film by Brad Peyton (Rampage). Through the eyes of Josh, the world of Daybreak expands over the course of its 10 episodes. Several tribes, including The Jocks, The Gamers, and STEM Punks, are introduced and episodes vary wildly in tone and structure. Daybreak can’t be pegged to one genre, and executive producers Peyton, Aron Eli Coleite, and Jeff Fierson shared some of the influences for the new series during two rounds of interviews with Den of Geek at New York Comic Con. Below you’ll find a condensed preview of the series. We’ll update with a link to the spoiler-filled discussion of season one for the thoroughest of bingers.

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DEN OF GEEK: How did the graphic novel metamorphosize into a Netflix TV series?

BRAD PEYON: Seven years ago, I optioned the graphic novel with my own money, and then met Jeff [Fierson] when he wanted to work on it as a feature. So I wrote it as a feature, could not get it made, then went off and made San Andreas. When I came back from San Andreas, he said, ‘Why don’t you make this into a show?’ And I was like ‘because you know the thing with adapting anything is you have to cut all these parts out,’ and that was what I was complaining about endlessly. I do not have much experience in television. He has a lot.

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ARON ELI COLEITE: I have some experience in television. Brad and I were actually meeting about another comparable property altogether, and our agents sent me the script for Daybreak, the feature version. I read it and fell in love with it. So when we started talking about this other comparable property, I was like, ‘Can we not talk about that? Can we please talk about Daybreak? What is going on with Daybreak?

BP: That is what we call the hijacking meeting.

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AEC: It was the start of a really great friendship and a great collaboration. The graphic novel is so amazing because it really does something that a lot of things do not do, which is to involve the reader. It really reaches out to them. It breaks the fourth wall in that way and it also has something that I think is really important, which it has a protagonist that was actually excited about the apocalypse. It had somebody who looked at the apocalypse and said, ‘This is the best thing that ever happened to me. High school sucks. The end of the world is the best place, and let me show you why it is so cool.

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It’s very easy to relate to. It’s how I felt in high school. High school is the apocalypse. It sucks, and surviving it takes all your friends and everything to come together. So we found the allegory of the show right when we began talking about it. And so we really start to dig in and create this world. I was really influenced by a movie that played in the ‘80s all the time on HBO called Night of the Comet. It was like: ‘I wish this happened to me. Oh my God. If all of the parents just went away, I would live my best life. It would be incredible.’ And so we started getting really excited about building the school where only the teenagers survive. The adults would have died or turned into Ghoulies, at least not zombies, because we were playing around with them being slightly different, and having our own fun with that. But then from there, but it was really easy to start building out this world.

Did you look at more recent post-apocalyptic fare, shows like The Walking Dead or The Last Man on Earth, when looking at how to differentiate the world you were building for Daybreak?

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AEC: We talk more about things like Friday Night Lights and Buffy than we did about Last Man on Earth. It wasn’t because it was close to it that we didn’t want to step in that place. We were really trying to tell a coming-of-age story, and tell a story that had this metaphor at the core of it, that surviving high school is like surviving the apocalypse. And we wanted to create this condition of all the stakes are super high, and how are you going to get through this?

Those were bigger influences on us, and especially about how to craft the season. We talked more about that, or Rick and Morty, or The Simpsons, or Monty Python, and Two Broke Girls. Two Broke Girls has an amazing arc [laughs].

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When writing this show, do you focus first and foremost on developing the characters and storylines before sketching out the post-apocalyptic world?

BP: Well when you think of the shooting style, I watched Spiderman: Homecoming. I didn’t watch an apocalypse thing. That’s the world creation. That’s like the wallpaper, in terms of like how to use the camera. I want something that’s about kids, that’s inclusive, and had a fun tone to it.

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AEC: We’re big fans of most every single genre. We reference almost everything. So, that basis of knowledge as is able to give us A, homage, and it’s a love letter to everything that came before us. But it was also an opportunity to do it differently. How are we not The Walking Dead? How are we our own show? And that goes into how we create ghoulies instead of zombies, and it goes into making sure it’s not really a zombie show. It’s not a typical zombie apocalypse.

It’s much more about Mad Max in a fashion, about these different tribes as the cliques of your high school. How are you going to survive this with your friends? If anything, those two, Spiderman: Homecoming and Mad Max, were the [influences].

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A big reason why Spider-Man: Homecoming was celebrated was it felt authentic to today’s high school experience. How important was casting age appropriate actors for Daybreak to capture some of that same charm?

BP: To make it authentic, it’s critical to get that right. And the other thing too, is that when you’re getting kids that young, you want to get someone who’s in the zone of what you’re looking for, so that their attributes allow them to shine. You’re not forcing them to go over here and be something that they’re not. They get to explore the character and bring new things out about them.

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JEFF FIERSON: When we cast Colin, he came in to read for two roles, Josh and Turbo. At the drop of a hat he transformed into both, and it was kind of amazing. He had the muscle. He could go one or the other way, which spoke to where we could take his character.

This generation of high school kids have a self-awareness and a sense of humor about the problems that plague society, but also an optimism outlook on our potential to fix it. How did you work that into a story where the world is crumbling?

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BP: If you hated high school and you did not feel like you belonged, you get to hit the reset button. You are allowed to ask a question like, ‘Who do I really want to be?’ So the optimism comes from like, ‘I do not want to be this person anymore. I get to reinvent who I am.’ That was one of the things totally attracted us to it.

The biggest insult that, that you can have them say to you is that you are a hater. They are so optimistic. I grew up in Canada and Newfoundland, which is really sardonic and sarcastic and almost taking the piss out of each other. If you know any British people, it was like they would just jab each other for fun. And I did that on set, and it was terrible! Because they were like, they were like, ‘Are you a hater?’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God!’ They said it with such vile. They are so optimistic. These kids really see the best in everything. 

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Want to learn more about Daybreak? Here’s everything we know about the series.