With more than 30 years in the filmmaking world behind her, writer and producer Gale Anne Hurd has been one of the creative forces behind some of the genre world’s most beloved projects.
Hurd quickly rose to fame in Hollywood after penning and producing the 1984 sci-fi/action classic The Terminator; soon after, she produced several more projects alongside James Cameron including Aliens, The Abyss, and Terminator 2: Judgment Day as well as countless projects like Bad Dreams, Alien Nation, Tremors, The Relic, Dante’s Peak, Armageddon and the underrated cult comedy Dick.
Hurd’s days now are consumed by zombies as she is currently one of the executive producers on AMC’s wildly successful series “The Walking Dead.” During the recent 2012 San Diego Comic-Con convention, Dread Central had the opportunity to sit down for an exclusive chat with Hurd. During our interview we of course spoke to Hurd in-depth about “The Walking Dead”: what fans can expect going into Season Three, more on the new and returning characters that fans of the comic series should definitely look forward to and the lowdown on the animatronic zombies that KNB will be using during next season.
Hurd also reflected on the film that put her on the map -The Terminator- and gave us her thoughts on a potential Terminator 5 if indeed the project ever does move forward with a new director at the helm (Justin Lin exited the project to focus on the upcoming Fast & Furious sequels).
Check out Dread’s interview with Hurd below and look for more coverage on “The Walking Dead” from SDCC 2012 coming this way soon!
Dread Central: Do you feel any pressure going into the new season of “The Walking Dead” where maybe you feel like you have to exceed what you guys managed to accomplish with the first two seasons which were both so incredibly successful?
Gale Anne Hurd: How we look at it is as an opportunity, an opportunity to do things a little differently. The first season we were getting up-to-speed, establishing the world and establishing the characters; the second season we wanted to delve even more into character and have a bit of a respite from the running. On the other hand, by the end of the season we had to establish that there is no safe harbor and we’re not going to just stick with the farm.
I mean, there we were able to explore more of the love triangle aspect and let that develop while they were there because if you’re on the run, you definitely have more critical things to be worrying about like survival. So that really allowed that whole maelstrom to fester. And now they’re on the run again, which gives a whole new set of opportunities.
Of course we’re sad to say goodbye to some of the beloved characters and yes, even sometimes the not-so-well-loved characters, too. But now we can introduce new characters like Michonne and The Governor and bring Merle back, too.
Dread Central: Is it a challenge for you to balance out the series to meet the expectations of the built-in fanbase from the comic series and still keep it open and accessible enough for mainstream audiences?
Gale Anne Hurd: We look at it from the point of view of how can we tell the best character-driven story that can take place within a zombie apocalypse? Plus we have Robert Kirkman, who is not only an executive producer but he’s in the writer’s room, too; he’s working closely with Glen Mazzara and the rest of the writers, and he’s really the litmus test for us. Our feeling is that if he’s happy and he’s proud of the work, then we’re good; he’s the fan we need to please the most.
Dread Central: Can you talk more about how Michonne and The Governor will play into the storylines for Season Three and more about the actors you chose to bring them to life?
Gale Anne Hurd: They’re both really critical, absolutely critical. The thing is, we never do anything for stunt’s sake. You hear people talking about stunt casting, and that’s not part of what we do at all. That’s not our show- there won’t be stunt cameos, there won’t be stunt guest stars. These are two characters who are important to the comic book series and will be equally important in our show but in different ways because we do like to keep people guessing.
Our show is very much actor-driven, and we always want to keep it that way; sometimes we luck out and the actors look a lot like the characters, which is always good, but sometimes the actor may only have a few physical similarities to the character in the comic. In the case of The Governor, David Morrissey looks nothing like the character really, and Danai (Gurira) happens to look somewhat like Michonne but she doesn’t have the dreads; it’ll be that she’ll have to wear a wig actually.
Dread Central: I heard you guys are doing some animatronic zombies this year; is that something we’ll be seeing a lot of in Season Three?
Gale Anne Hurd: We’ve done one already actually! If you look closely at the promo, you may be able to figure out which one. We do have a little more money to spend this season, yes, but Greg (Nicotero) has it down, and his team and KNB have it down so well that because we can break the season so well in advance, they have sufficient time to prep and build everything properly.
Dread Central: I’d love to talk about The Terminator/i> for a bit; it is interesting that it is still this movie that everyone knows regardless if they’re 8 or 80. That has to be pretty amazing for you to look back at something you created early on in your career and see how influential it has been on pop culture over the last 28 years.
Gale Anne Hurd: It really is amazing; it’s always surprising to me when I meet 12-year-olds who say, “I love The Terminator.” I mean, this came out in 1984, and that was a long time before any of them were even born. It has this legacy that far exceeded anything that Jim (Cameron) and I could have ever possibly expected to happen.
It was even chosen as part of the National Registry in the Library of Congress, which is wonderful; but when we first made the film, one of the marketing executives there said that he was embarrassed that they even had to release the film. They said it was a down and dirty exploitation film and they didn’t even want to screen it for critics because they thought it was so terrible.
And that was the first feedback that we had; obviously we were crushed. But it turned out that the fans and the critics felt quite differently about it.
Dread Central: Was it ever a struggle for you back then because you were a woman writer working within the male-dominated genre in the early 80’s; other than Debra Hill, I can’t think of too many others really off the top of my head.
Gale Anne Hurd: You know, Debra was my idol. She is missed every day. Contrary to what a lot of people may have heard about the industry, I’ve always had women as mentors who reached out and helped me in my career, and Debra Hill was one of them.
Dread Central: In regard to Terminator and all that negative feedback from the studio- how did you guys respond to that? How did you manage to get the film out there in front of people after all?
Gale Anne Hurd: You know what really helped was the late agent Ed Limato, who was everything an agent really should be. He represented Michael Biehn, and he also represented at the time Mel Gibson, Richard Gere and a number of other actors who were doing films with Orion also. He saw the film and he loved it. He thought it was fantastic so he said to Orion, “You either screen this for critics or I’ll have to reconsider whether or not my other clients will be working with you in the future.” That was the only reason The Terminator ever got screened for critics, and as it turned out, it made Time Magazine’s 10 Best List of that year.
There are very few people that will put themselves on the line like that, and I miss those people a lot. Debra was one of them and Ed Limato was one, too.
Dread Central: It seems that over the last few years that the industry has truly felt the effects of our economy in some major ways; how does that affect your job as a producer? Are you finding it harder and harder to get original projects up and running as well?
Gale Anne Hurd: That’s why I love television. Obviously, people take risks there, and I have to give full credit to AMC and Fox International for not just wanting a pilot; they wanted six episodes right out of the box. I mean, it could have bombed and they would have been out all that money. There’s really not much you can do with six episodes when you think about it so this is really due to the teams at both places for understanding something that no one else did. It had been passed on by all the other broadcast and cable networks before this.
Dread Central: Does AMC ever send back episodes for changes because of the material or the gore you guys have on “The Walking Dead”?
Gale Anne Hurd: We have never had a single thing sent back to us by AMC. Not once. They don’t censor us; they’re always very clear with us in advance about what the limits are, and I don’t think the fans can ever complain that we pull any punches either because there is a good amount of gore to our show. I also think because AMC has their annual FearFest in October, this isn’t a new culture to them; they love the horror genre as much as we do.
Dread Central: I know that there were some fans out there who said that you guys spent too much time on the farm in Season Two; what do you say to the fans who were looking for less character stuff and more zombie-related stuff? Personally, I loved it, but that’s mostly because I love Scott (Wilson) from Behind the Mask so I was happy to stick around Hershel’s farm for as long as we did.
Gale Anne Hurd: I love Scott, isn’t he fantastic? Again, he’s another one who doesn’t look anything like his character; he looks nothing like Hershel, and yet, he’s a brilliant Hershel. But you know, it’s fine; everyone is entitled to their opinion. We just never want to be the show that the only thing the fans have to look forward to is the weekly unique zombie kill; that’s not what the show is. I mean, we do provide a lot of that, but you are only going to be invested in someone’s death if you have enough time to develop their character so you can miss them when they’re gone.
We were really happy with the way the fans responded overall, especially when Sophia was revealed in our mid-season finale, which was directed by the fantastic Michelle MacLaren. That’s another fantastic thing we’re able to do on “The Walking Dead”, feature a lot of women directors. We have two more terrific female directors on board this season- Lesli Linka Glatter and Tricia Brock.
That’s another thing for us- diversity. We have a pretty diverse cast, and it’s even more diverse now. Plus, we also have an African-American director, Ernest Dickerson, who has directed quite a few wonderful episodes for us, and considering the lack of opportunities still for minorities in feature films, I believe that television can be a wonderful opportunity for everyone.
Dread Central: Because you are so busy these days in television, do you still look at film scripts to produce? Is that hard managing both worlds simultaneously?
Gale Anne Hurd: I do, and in fact, I have a film currently shooting right now called Very Good Girls, which is an independent movie that I’m executive producing. Naomi Foner is writing and directing it, and it stars Dakota Fanning and Elizabeth Olsen.
I also have a project in development that I’m very excited about; Neil Marshall would direct it, and it’s called Hellfest. We’re hopeful it will be in production later this year.
Dread Central: When you’re looking at scripts to produce, what kinds of things are you looking for then? What catches your eye when considering a potential project?
Gale Anne Hurd: It has to be a story that I would want to go see in the theater or watch on TV; it has to be the kind of project that I’d want to really spend a lot of time and effort working on because I never just put my name on a project. I want to invest in the characters, I want to invest in the world and I don’t want it to be a retread of something that someone else has already done.
Dread Central: Since this is my last question, I want to go back to The Terminator for a moment; taking into consideration how underwhelming the last two sequels were and really abandoned a lot of the core elements that made the first two films so good, what do you think it would take to get things back on track if Terminator 5 goes ahead?
Gale Anne Hurd: You know, it’s hard to say anything when you don’t have the rights to a property anymore. I do think it’s important to remember what grounded the first two films, which was the characters. Everything else can be fantastic, but if you’re not rooted in the characters, that becomes tough for audiences.
Special thanks to Gale Anne Hurd for taking time during her hectic SDCC schedule to chat with Dread Central!
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