Interview Date: 10/14/2010
Run Date: 10/29/2010
AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is one of the most anticipated new series of Fall 2010, so when Bullz-Eye was offered the opportunity to sit in on a series of roundtable interviews with members of the cast and creative team, you can imagine that we jumped at the chance. Producer Gale Ann Hurd is more than a little bit familiar with comic book adaptations, having produced two “Hulk” films, two “Punisher” films, and as far as her sci-fi cred goes, it would be fair to say that she’s got plenty, putting her production stamp on “Aliens,” “Alien Nation,” “The Abyss,” “Tremors,” “Armageddon,” “Aeon Flux,” and just about everything ever released with the word “Terminator” in the title. (Not, I suspect, that she’s losing any sleep over the absence of her name on “Terminator: Salvation.”) Hurd jumped at the chance to produce a “Walking Dead” series, and based on her comments, it would seem to have lived up to her every expectation.
Gale Anne Hurd: Four people? Have I scared everybody away, or have people run out of interesting things to ask?
Journalist: Not with you. Never.
Bullz-Eye: So what was your knowledge of “The Walking Dead” prior to coming aboard? Had you read any of the comic books at all?
GAH: I had. Not only was I a fan of it, but I was, you know, one of those people… I will admit that I had people in my office buy the issues. (Laughs) I’ll tell the truth. And the compendium. They decorated my coffee table for awhile in my office. And I’m one of those people who, on airplanes, it’s, like, “Okay, who’s this weird woman sitting next to me and reading a comic book?” They’re reading Nobel Prize-winning literature, and I’m reading a comic book.
BE: Hey, some of them have won prizes, too.
GAH: Well, yes, “The Walking Dead” won Eisners. It won quite a few. And, you know, it’s New York Times bestselling. So I don’t think we have to hide anymore.
Journalist: How did you hook up with Frank Darabont for the project?
GAH: Well, I’ve known Frank for a long, long time. He’s one of my husband’s best friends, so we’ve known each other socially for years and years. And after I read the comic book…you know, I found out for awhile that it had been under option and it wasn’t available, so we kept tracking it. “Okay, when is it going to be out of option? When is it going to be out of option?” And through that follow-up, I found out that, at one point, Frank had the rights! So I was, like, “Wow!” So the great news is, I called him up, I said, “Frank, ‘The Walking Dead.’” He said, “Yeah, what about it?” I said, “So you want to do this?” He said, “Yeah, but you know what? It doesn’t seem to me like TV’s ready for this.” And I said, “You know what? TV doesn’t really like to create something new. They like to be second. They like to be the ones that have followed someone else’s successful formula.” And I said, “You know what? I want to approach cable, not the regular broadcast networks. I want to go to cable.” He said, “Okay, good luck.” I said, “Okay, so if we get a bite, are you there?” He said, “If they don’t want to turn it into the sexy vampire version of ‘The Walking Dead’ and if everyone’s onboard.” So I put a call into AMC, and…they weren’t the obvious choice until you think about the fact that they have the best programming. It’s one of the most successful blocks of programming. They’re genre geeks. The first phone call, I said, “Okay, now, this may seem like it’s coming out of left field, but…‘The Walking Dead.’“ “You mean the Robert Kirkman series of graphic novels? Rick and Lori Grimes, Shane Walsh, etc., etc.?” I went, “No way. How is this possible?” They said, “No, big fan. Big fan of zombies. Big fan of zombie movies.” And so it took a little while, you know. There were other companies that were very interested in this. It all seemed to come to a head at the same time. But when it was free and clear, we went in and met with AMC, and Frank said, “Look, this is where I’d like to go, and this is the pilot story.” They weren’t coy. They said, “Yes.” And from that point on, they read the pilot, they liked it, they commissioned five more scripts, and they read the second one and said, “Okay, we’re not going to go just shoot a pilot. We’re going to order six episodes.” And that’s pretty unusual.
Journalist: Do you think…I mean, I’ve seen the first two episodes, but do you think the series will satisfy fans? Because I called my dad, who’s a big “Walking Dead” fan, and I said, “I have the first two episodes in my bag,” and I’m not kidding, he started screaming at me on the phone.
GAH: (Laughs) And he was, like, “Are they okay?” He was worried, right?
Journalist: Yes! And I assured him that it was okay. Because he had walked around my brother’s wedding, saying, “What are you doing on October 31st? You need to be in front of AMC for ‘The Walking Dead.’”
GAH: You’re kidding!
Journalist: I was, like, “All right, I’m coming here today, and I have to tell the story to somebody.” (Laughs) So do you think the series will satisfy these hardcore fans?
GAH: Well, first of all, I think it’s really important, because from the very beginning, we said, “Robert Kirkman’s going to be involved in this.” It’s not just going to be, “Robert Kirkman has his name on it.” And as Frank will say, and maybe already did, he’s adapted Stephen King’s novels, and the first and foremost person he wants to make happy is Stephen King. The first and foremost person Frank wants to make happy is Robert Kirkman, so to us, he’s the ultimate arbiter of whether or not we’ve succeeded…and he’s been involved in every casting decision, he’s signed off on all of the storylines, all of the scripts. He wrote the fourth script. So in my mind, if the Grand Poobah is happy, then I think the fans can relax and enjoy.
Journalist: Yeah, it’s definitely one of the most anticipated shows coming out this fall season.
GAH: I hope so.
Journalist: On the production side, Gregory Nicotero is an excellent choice, but how did he come onto the project?
GAH: If you go on IMDb and you go to Frank Darabont and Greg Nicotero, you’ll find that there’s a perfect match-up. They’ve worked together multiple times. I worked with Greg and KNB on a couple of shows as well. And let’s face it: he’s also done a lot of George Romero zombies. He is perfect casting and a wonderful thing for us, and why he’s a consulting producer on this is the level to which he and KNB committed themselves to this. He was on set every day, and that’s a long commitment. We started shooting on the first of June and we didn’t finish until the middle of August, so…he wanted to be able to tell the zombie epic, and the only way to tell a zombie epic, really, is in a continuous series.
Journalist: You made a career out of genre films. What is it that keeps you so successful?
GAH: The most important thing is to keep it fun. I mean, I love what I do, and you don’t want to always have to repeat yourself. You want to do something new. I’ve never done a zombie project before. And, also, you want to work with the best people, so when you think about having the opportunity to work with Frank, to work with Robert, and to work, honestly, with a cast that is accomplished as any cast I’ve worked with on any film, and to do it day in and day out for months and have the opportunity, hopefully, to do it for many seasons to come…that’s what gets you excited. And, you know, you’re on set…and I’m on set almost every day…there’s excitement being there. There’s excitement because everyone who’s working, either behind the scenes or in front of the camera, is just as enthusiastic. That’s what feels good.
Journalist: I’ll take what she said a step further. I think you’ve helped define genre films. The films you’ve produced…half of the films that are being made today would not have happened had you not come along.
GAH: Thank you. But, you know, there are films that defined my childhood. I mean, I have loved speculative fiction in all media from the time that I was a kid, and going back and watching…they called them chiller and thriller films, which was the equivalent to a weekly Fest Fest when I was going up. I watched every one of them. So did Frank. And then watching “2001: A Space Odyssey,” and then “Star Wars,” and then to be able to go work for Roger Corman…? I mean, honestly, I still have to pinch myself, thinking of how terrific it is to be able to follow in their footsteps. And then to meet with a collaborator like Jim Cameron before he had even directed and realize that we shared the same love and respect for the genre, and to try and do something new. That’s what keeps it interesting. You keep trying to do something new. And I think “The Walking Dead” is definitely something new.
Journalist: As a producer, how do you convince people that, yes, this is a zombie show, but it’s very commercial?
GAH: Well, I think the most important thing is that you suspend disbelief, because it’s dead real to the characters. This isn’t a send-up. Yes, there’s humor. Of course there’s humor. I mean, in the bleakest, darkest situations, there’s always humor. I mean, I think that’s one thing that I love about “Terminator,” about “Aliens,” about “T2.” That there’s always humor in the darkest situations, but you still take it dead real. And it’s through the character journey that people will connect with this. They will fall in love with the characters. They will want to see what happens with the characters and how they respond to the situations in which they find themselves. And that, for me, is what expands this beyond something where people might think, “Oh, it’s just a zombie of the week.” It’s not that at all. In fact, there will be some weeks where they might not be zombies at all, and what will keep it compelling viewing is the cast and the characters and the drama.
Journalist: It seems to me that there are a bunch of people who are literally fighting for their humanity on so many different levels, and that’s what’s going to hook me to come back every week.
GAH: And it is. And sometimes they lose it. And sometimes the unlikeliest person will turn out to be the most humane, and not in ways that you can predict. And at the root of all of this is that the thing you have to fear far more than the zombies are your fellow human survivors.
Journalist: How far have you thought ahead? I know you mentioned that you want to do this for some seasons to come. Have you planned out how many seasons you want?
GAH: Well, I think Robert had said that he’s hoping to beat “The Simpsons.” (Laughs) So I think that’s a good goal. We’ll see if we can beat “The Simpsons.” But, you know, he told us that he has more than 250 issues in mind for the comic book series…and he’s not even up to 100 yet. So at 13 a year, I think we can keep it going for awhile!