With AMC’s extremely popular The Walking Dead returning with new episodes tonight, I recently landed an exclusive interview with executive producer Gale Anne Hurd. She talked about what it’s been like watching the show become a worldwide phenomenon, pressure from the fans, having a bigger budget for season 3, the status of season 4, deleted scenes, and a lot more. In addition , we talked about Tremors (which she produced), the success of comic book movies, and I got updates on Gaiking and her USA Network pilot called Horizon. She says it’s “set in the 1940’s and it’s about a woman whose husband disappears in the Pacific and she begins to wonder if it has something to do with an alien spaceship.” Hit the jump for more.
Gale Anne Hurd: Well it’s really nice to be able to jump into television and have something like this that resonates in a way that – coming from features I had a couple of films that were the top grossing films at the box office, but this is an even bigger deal. The audiences are even that much more invested. And you get to tell sixteen hours of stories in the amount of time that you’re able to tell a two and half hour feature film story.
For me, it’s one of my favorite shows that’s on television, it’s something that I can’t wait to watch every Sunday night.
Hurd: Oh, thank you. Even though we make it, those of us who are lucky enough to be involved have so much fun watching it air as well. It’s funny. When I watch it I follow what the fans are saying on Twitter and Facebook.
That’s another thing, a lot of the show runners and producers that I’ve spoken to they talk about how they sort of like airing when fans can be interactive so you can sort of hear what they’re saying and possibly adjust accordingly, but with you guys, you’ve already wrapped the second half.
So you’re probably nearing the end of the season when people are first watching the beginning so what that like?
Hurd: Well we hope we made all the right decisions [laughs] because the fans certainly let us know if they feel differently. But, no, I love that it’s so much a part of the cultural zeitgeist right now.
Hurd: You have to put that all to the side. I’ve found that if you just start with the fantastic underlying comic book from Robert Kirkman and think about what great stories and characters from the book inspire the new season, how we integrate the characters that are unique to the TV series from the comic books, and in what ways we can deliver the same kind of character stories and twists and turns that the comic book does, that’s how we approach our storytelling.
I’m curious about the pre-production process for each season, how much has changed form when you first sat down to arc it out to what actually ended up on TV screens, is there a dramatic changes? Is it that you have the big beats of the story, but you’re kind of figuring out the little things while writing?
Hurd: The second thing. We map out the large character arcs of the season and the key dramatic and plot beats and the rest develops as each of the writers begins to tackle their own episode.
It seems like the show has gotten a little more money to play with in the third season, at least it looks that way to me as just a fan, can you talk about the balance of trying to make it look huge while also working within the set budget? And also, did you have a little bit of extra pocket change to play with in the third season?
Hurd: Yes, we did have more, but remember we also had sixteen episodes instead of thirteen, and because of that not only did we have more in the overall budget but we were also able to amortize it because for the first time in the history of the show we were able to buildstanding sets of the prison interiors. But we also for the first time had two completely separate locations and groups of survivors. We have Woodbury and the prison…the storytelling and the scope of having those two locations it was more expensive.
Hurd: Our writer’s room is just beginning to open so we haven’t even examined where the stories are going and everything starts with the stories, those locations, and the characters as opposed to a particular budget figure.
Hopefully it will be easier to go in and sit down with AMC saying, “We need to build these two things” and them saying, “Sure”.
Hurd: [Laughs] They certainly understand, and they’ve given us everything we’ve needed to pull of what we think are individual hour long movies every week.
I’m curious about deleted scenes and things that never got aired, has the third season had a lot of deleted scenes? Or is it just a few things here and there?
Hurd: It’s just a few things here and there. You really want to make sure that you’re not overwriting to the extent that there’s a lot of footage on the cutting room floor. You’ll always have some, but not a huge amount and hopefully a lot of it will end up on the third season DVD.
I know were only in February right now, but comic-con has become such a huge part of pop-culture, are you guys already talking about coming back this year? Is that a conversation that’s begun?
Hurd: We hope to make comic-con an annual appearance, but it’s too early to say for sure.
Hurd: We have to. If you look at the amount of time it takes to gear up the writer’s room, create the stories and write the scripts, you pretty much fall into the same schedule. The first year we shot starting in June and we did, I think, in the second season and then in the third season we started in May and we hope to start the fourth season in May as well. Because we’ve got sixteen episodes we go right up until Thanksgiving.
I know you can’t talk much about what’s coming in the next few episodes, and honestly as a fan I don’t want to know because I hate spoilers, but what can you tease people about what might be coming? It’s a delicate balance, I know.
Hurd: You’ll find that once again alliances are challenged, that people that you trust may not necessarily have earned that trust, and people that you might not feel you could ever trust might actually surprise you.
I think that’s the best I can get. I’m going to switch gears completely, you’re also working on something I’m incredibly excited for which is Gaiking, I grew up with that, can you tell people what the status of that is right now?
Hurd: Sure, we just closed the deal and we are out to writers as we speak.
Are you aiming to make it look or feel like something that’s been done? Can you talk about what your ideas are for the film?
Hurd: Its early on, I’d hate to do that before the writers have an opportunity to look at the material and sit down with me. I don’t think we want it to look like something you’ve already seen on screen before. As you know, if you know Gaiking, it’s really the character driven part of it that’s so compelling to all of us.
Sure, I guess my question is, is there like a timeframe of where you guys are hoping to be in a year?
Hurd: No, it’s more important to get the right writer and the right take than it is to do something in a particular timeframe.
I definitely want to ask, Warner Brothers recently announced that Robotech is in development. In the 70’s and 80’s there were a lot of robots that hit animation, I’m a fan of everything, is there any competition between Robotech, Voltron and Gaiking, trying to make sure you’re first?
Hurd: No, I’ve been first and second. I did Armageddon, there was also Deep Impact and we ended up being the most successful movie at the box office that year in the world even though we were second. I also did Dante’s Peak. There were three underwater films released when we made The Abyss. I think the most important thing is to make the best film you can.
I completely agree with you. It’s something I’m really looking forward to. Have you guys looked at what special effects can do now, after Iron Man and things like that, are you sort of looking at well this is really possible to make this photo-real now?
Hurd: Oh, absolutely. You don’t want people to look at something and think that was a fantastic special effect. Visual effects now you really feel as if you can reach out and touch, whether it’s a creature’s face or a machine.
Your production company Valhalla is teaming up with Toei and Al Nippon Entertainment to do the project together, is it one of these things where each party has to agree on something, or are they trusting you to hire the right writer? Can you talk about the collaboration?
Hurd: We’ve all agreed on which writers we’re going to go out to and I always like my partners to be happy but I think they will support the direction that we want to go.
Obviously you’re working on The Walking Dead and Gaiking, what else are you guys trying to do at Valhalla in terms of upcoming TV or movie projects?
Hurd: We have a new series that we’ve got a pilot ordered on called Horizon at USA, which is set in the 1940’s and it’s about a woman whose husband disappears in the Pacific and she begins to wonder if indeed it has something to do with an alien spaceship.
That is definitely a twist on what USA has typically been doing in terms of the “blue sky” shows.
Hurd: Yes, it’s period and has aliens.
That’s definitely different. Are you doing this pilot right now in this pilot season?
How far along are you in terms of script, director, and stuff like that?
Hurd: The script is by Bridget Tyler and we are in the process of bringing on board a director and we’re in the midst of casting.
So this is stuff I’ll be hearing about real soon.
Was this one of these projects that you guys have been developing for a while or did it come together very quickly?
Hurd: It came together really quickly; television is much faster than features that way.
Yeah, I’ve definitely noticed that. I’m going to go backwards a little bit. You’ve been involved in some comic book movies, you’ve been involved in a lot of big motion pictures, I’m curious your take on what you think it is about the comic book genre right now that is causing it to be such a huge- probably the biggest genre on the planet.
Hurd: First of all I think that the people who are most likely to go to the movies these days grew up on comic books. It’s part of great American literature and it’s finally being treated as the kind of great literature that it is. So A-list movie directors and stars are now making films that were considered, at best, B-movies in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s.
A movie that I absolutely love that you executive produced is Tremors.
Hurd: That’s one of my favorite movies too.
I love that movie, I really do. Talk a little bit about making that thing and when you were making did you have any idea that it would stand the test of time?
Hurd: No, because it was a huge bomb when it came out.
[Laughs] Which is funny when you look back on it now.
Hurd: Yes, it has probably the lowest test screenings, you know, national research group focus group screening of any film I’ve ever done and it led Universal, who made the film, into believing it was a flop so they didn’t put a great deal of marketing behind it. But what shocked them was every time it would air on television the ratings would go through the roof and it’s found now tremendous life on, not only TV, but DVD with sequels.
There have been a number of sequels, and I rarely say films should be rebooted, I do say it once in a while, but what are the chances of Tremors ever getting a second life in terms of a hardcore reboot?
Hurd: I have no idea because I actually don’t control the rights.
That’s one of those things I’m very, very curious about. Jumping back into The Walking Dead if you don’t mind, talk a little bit about your day to day when you’re on the show, are you on set 24/7?
Hurd: The first season I was on set almost 24/7, but that was because we didn’t really get heavily into post-production until after it was done because it was only six episodes. From that season on I’ve gone back and forth between Los Angeles, where post-production and the writer’s room is, and outside Atlanta, where we shoot.
I’m not sure if the tax breaks have changed at all in Atlanta, are they still the same?
Hurd: Yes, they’re the same.
Because I’ve heard a few productions moved from Atlanta back to L.A., I was curious if that was something that would even be considered, or is the landscape-?
Hurd: The landscape is such a part of this and even in the comic book they travel up to the DC area, but it’s still the South or the South East.