GALE ANNE HURD
In an exclusive interview, Richard Edwards talks to legendary producer Gale anne Hurd about Fear The Walking Dead and her glittering sci-fi career
The woman behind some of the biggest sci-fi of the last 35 years on why she’s now a telly addict.
The Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss… Not a bad way to launch your career in movies. And since producing that trio of James Cameron-directed classics, Gale Anne Hurd has continued to make her mark as one of the most successful producers in Hollywood, with the likes of Armageddon and Hulk among the standouts on a glittering CV. These days, however, she’s best known for what she’s doing on the telly, as one of the key creative forces behind The Walking Dead and its spin-off, Fear The Walking Dead. SFX sat down for a chat with Hurd to talk about blazing a trail in Hollywood – and of course, zombie invasions in Los Angeles… The California/Pacific/Mexico setting of Fear The Walking Dead’s second season couldn’t be more different to the parent show’s Atlanta backdrop. Was it always the intention to play with the format?
Yes, it was important to distinguish the show completely. This is building out another part of that universe, seeing what was happening before in another city as the world fell. And there were lots of opportunities with Los Angeles, city of reinvention, a city of immigrants. It’s very multi ethnic and it’s surrounded by both mountains and the ocean. Many fans have said, “There’s one safe place, I know where I would go and that would be out to sea.” So now we get to show them whether that was the right idea – and once you’ve seen the episodes it’s maybe not so much.
You also didn’t start out with obvious analogues to characters in the parent show...
No, because it was important we had fractured families. We have an immigrant family, the Salazars, who ostensibly came to LA to escape violence in El Salvador, and then we pull out the rug from Ofelia, the daughter who finds out that her father was not an innocent victim, but he was a perpetrator of the violence. So that’s something completely different. And then we have no police officers, we don’t have anyone who’s used to a position of authority or law enforcement, or a crack shot with a gun.
Given The Walking Dead’s massive success, were you concerned about messing with a winning formula?
I think what we did embrace was the rules of Robert Kirkman’s zombie universe, but that was
intentional because this is building out another part of that universe, seeing what was happening before in another city as the world fell. But they’re never going to be super fast zombies, they’re not going to have super strength – that’s the one thing we’re keeping within the rules of the universe.
Your CV is dominated by science fiction. Have you always been a fan?
Always, oh my goodness! From the time I could read I was reading comic books, science fiction and fantasy and horror, and that was long before it was fashionable – and especially long before it was perceived as something that girls should be doing. Now there are comic cons for all of us. There weren’t back then, but I didn’t mind being an early geek, and I was very lucky because – to quote The Hangover –I found my wolf pack. I started working for Roger Corman in 1978 and he was making B-movies back then, but those movies have become the tentpoles that are saving the studios today.
What was it that appealed to you about the genre as a kid?
If we look at the history of science fiction, it’s predicted every kind of chaos, threat, invention that the world has experienced since those great writers were writing – whether it was Jules Verne or Ray Bradbury or Heinlein or Asimov or Philip K Dick, you name it, they envisioned it. I think it’s so hilarious that a few months ago Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk and a whole lot of people came out and said, “You know, sentient robots and AI could be dangerous.” And honestly, Jim [Cameron] and I called each other and said, “Didn’t they just see
The Terminator in 1984!” That’s the funny thing, that science fiction is often so far ahead of science, and it takes science so long to catch up. But we should be thinking about these things. We should be thinking about the lessons we can learn from the great science fiction, fantasy and horror writers.
Did you suspect that SF could become as dominant in popular culture as it is now?
I wish I could say I was prescient. All I knew was that I loved the fact that there was money available to make more and more of the movies that I liked. But I didn’t see it as, “Oh, now I can cash in.” The problem is that it also allows people who don’t love and respect the genre to make really crappy movies. People are always predicting the genre’s demise on television and in films, and it hasn’t happened yet. Because there have been really great movies – even ones not made for a huge budget like Ex Machina, which I thought was a tremendous movie. So people keep saying that genre is dead, that the pendulum’s going to swing the other way, but as long as there are great movies from great creators that’s not going to be the case.
Of course, you got in there early with the explosion of comic book movies, when you
produced Hulk back in 2003…
It was so funny when we started out on Hulk. That was the first time people said that comic book movies were dead! The development of visual effects has really helped since then – the costs are less, you can turn the shots around faster and you can do more – but I’ve always really liked grounded science fiction. We needed CGI to bring the Hulk to life, but we didn’t need it for The Punisher.
Your career was mostly movies before The Walking Dead. What prompted the move to the small screen?
It’s interesting because right now television allows you to tell far more character-driven stories than features. You have two and a half hours maximum to tell a story, so – if it’s an original – you have to set up the world, build up the characters and then have a resolution. Well, with Fear The Walking Dead we have almost 15 hours of character-driven story, we can really get into each character and that’s not something that feature films allow you anymore. So in the time that it takes me to make one of the bigger feature films, which is two years, I can tell 30 hours of Fear The Walking Dead.
Does the speed of shooting TV echo the pace of some of your earlier movies?
No, gosh… An episode of Fear The Walking Dead, that’s 43 minutes, shoots in eight days.
The Terminator was less than two hours, and we shot in 58 days – and that was considered fast! Aliens was 75 days, The Abyss was 113, so what I think is being achieved now in television is absolutely remarkable. And we all know that shooting on the water, as we did on The Abyss, it’s not easy, and we’re turning around these episodes in eight days!
Science fiction is often so far ahead of science, and it takes science so long to catch up
Hurd on set making Fear The Walking Dead.
Taking a break from killing zombies…
With James Cameron promoting Aliens.