On January 31st, as part of Canadian Film Centre Test Pattern series, the TIFF LightBox hosted an evening with Gale Anne Hurd, a 30-year veteran of the film industry, most of which working as a producer on a wide variety of genre projects. While the discussion hit on many areas, its prime focus was the start of the next session of AMC's THE WALKING DEAD.
In response to a paraphrased quote of Kirby that kids who read comics would grow up and rule the universe, Hurd presented her geek cred:
1) She confirmed that yes she as a child often was under the covers with her flashlight and stack of comic books;
2) One of her top university choices was San Diego because they offered courses in Science Fiction and Comics, but she ended up going to Stanford;
3) She goes to San Diego ComiCon even when she isn't on any panels.
4) And yes, she does have her Zombie Apocalypse plan.
When asked what movies scared her, Hurd replied that the first one that scared her was JAWS and that for years she DIDN'T get back in the water. However, when she worked on THE ABYSS, she had to overcome that fear to be scuba qualified (she now owns two scuba-tour boats). ALIEN scared her so she was pleased to be able to work on ALIENS. She saw a number of Roger Corman's old school horror films, like THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, and enjoyed them so much that her first job in movies was working for Corman's company "New World Pictures," where she did everything, including emptying chemical toilets. Her parents were not impressed with the use she put her Stanford degree, but it was show biz.
Fast forward to late 2000s. The Walking Dead comics started in 2003 as a monthly comic, which still continues. It was first optioned by NBC and Frank Darabont wrote up a treatment for them. One of the notes that came back was, "Does it have to be zombies?" Given that attitude it is not surprising that it didn't even make it as far as a pilot. Gale, having read the graphic novels, checked into the rights, and they were available. During a pitch meeting with AMC, she asked what they were looking for. They responded that one of their top ratings period was FearFest leading up to Halloween, so they were thinking maybe more genre shows.
"Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead?" was the response and she knew this was going to be a good fit.
The writers' room, including Kirkman for overview, was pulled together in March, 2010, and they had to shoot in June in order to make the October launch. The fact that the series started with six episodes was due to time constraints, not a lack of faith by AMC. (Note that season two was picked up for 13 episodes and season three has been green lit for sixteen episodes.)
They auditioned hundreds of actors for the roles. The first person cast was Jon Bernthal as Shane Walsh, whose character grew to diverge from his role in the comics. They needed someone who could physically embody the changes. The last person cast was Andrew Lincoln for Rick Grimes. She had only seen in him LOVE, ACTUALLY, but he had a haunted "Gary Cooper" quality needed to hold an audience's attention even when there was little dialogue, as was the case in the first episode.
Hurd said that AMC has been very supportive. Thus far they haven't been asked to edit anything for violence and the notes that come back on the scripts focus on characterization rather than negative items. At the Q&A they showed the last aired episode "Pretty Much Dead Already" on a big screen, and Hurd said she wished she could watch all of them that way. (It did look good, even the zombie make up! )
She is proud that the show has won recognition on many fronts, but especially the sound and make up. They've taken steps to have the second season "walkers" look more desiccated than those in earlier episodes. An example of the care the Foley crew is taking is that they had groups come in just to make the zombie growls and sounds. It's these details that keep the fannish types tuning in.
And tune in they did – AMC and Fox International launched the series on Halloween 2010 in 120 countries. When they checked the numbers, everyone checked again as they were so high, breaking all cable show records. Its second season premiere had an even stronger showing. All of which means, we'll have more Walking Dead to enjoy!
The Walking Dead midseason premiere is on tonight at 9/8 C.