With genre pictures like “Aliens” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” to her name -Â not to mention plenty of comic book movies such as “Hulk” and “The Punisher” -Â it’s hardly surprising to find Gale Anne Hurd walking amongst the dead in the AMC network’s television adaptation of “The Walking Dead.” But just because the executive producer has plenty of experience doesn’t mean that filming the Frank Darabont-helmed TV series is an easy task.
CBR News had the opportunity to speak with Hurd alongside a small group of reporters last week at Comic-Con International in San Diego. During the interview, Hurd discussed the origins of the “Walking Dead” television adaptation, the differences between big and small screen work, how much violence they’re able to get away with and the certain types of divergences from the source material that fans can expect from the series.
CBR News: This show is a pretty crazy endeavor in a lot of ways. The comic book has always been a zombie movie that never ends, and now this is presumably the zombie television show that never ends.
Gale Anne Hurd: We certainly hope so. [Knocks on wood]
How did the project come together for you?
The genesis of it started with the relationship between Frank Darabont and Robert Kirkman. Robert, from the very beginning, was very vocal about the fact that he didn’t see this as a movie. We’re up to issue #75 [in the comics] and he thought that the characters and their journey really needed treatment in a TV series. It’s pretty unusual. You’ll find that most comic books [go to the big screen], but truly, the small screen is much more intimate and it’s actually a very intimate comic book.
So, there had been an initial development that didn’t pan out, and we’re all very happy about that! That was going to be at NBC, and that was really not quite the home for this. It was actually at last year’s Comic-Con that Frank, Robert and I were sitting at a restaurant that is unfortunately no longer around. We sat down and I said, “I’ve been in touch with AMC. They’re really eager to do this as a series.” Initially, people said, “AMC? That’s ‘Mad Men.'” That’s what people thought initially. Then “Breaking Bad,” [which] is a series about meth dealers. But what a lot of people aren’t aware of is their Fearfest programming, which is in October. It’s actually their highest rating block of programming in terms of viewers, with classic genre films. We’re launching in that window and it’s actually the perfect time.
They were completely on board with the fact that this is character-driven. It’s not just a matter of what’s the killer zombie of the week going to do, you know? It’s about how the humans – the survivors – are going to react in any given situation.
How different is this from producing film?
It’s much harder! [Laughs] Wow. I thought at this point, I’ve been doing this for 30-some odd years and I thought, “Okay, TV. It’s little!” But it’s really hard. It’s hard because every day, you’re essentially making a mini-movie and it has to be just as good and you don’t have as much time to turn things around. You have new directors coming in. That’s why we’re so blessed to have both Frank Darabont and Robert Kirkman intimately involved in everything. This is not just people putting their names on something.
We haven’t spoken with Frank yet, but is this a long-term thing for him, or is he just kicking it off?
No. You’ve never seen someone as committed as Frank is to this. We have to get through these first six episodes and then we’ll take a breath, the series will launch, and hopefully we’ll get extended to a second season, in which case we get the opportunity to take it to thirteen episodes. He isn’t directing them all – he isn’t directing all of these, either. There’s really no time to do all of that on this kind of schedule, because he’s very heavily involved not only in the writing but also in the editorial process. In fact, the episode we just shot was written by Robert Kirkman. We’re in the middle of shooting that.
At what point was Frank actually brought in?
Frank was involved from the very beginning, way before AMC. Frank – you’d have to ask him – but he’s been to twelve or fifteen Comic-Cons. He’s a huge comic book fan. Tomorrow I think at 4:00, there’s a special poster that Drew Struzan created. If you know Drew Struzan, he kind of retired and he came back and did a special poster for us. Frank knows -Â I mean, Bernie Wrightson is one of his closest friends. We’re both really good friends with Tim Bradstreet, who I saw over at the Con this morning. The artists and the medium, I think it truly to me seems like the way that bluegrass is kind of an indigenous American medium. Comic books, to me, also very much capture that.
For AMC, I’m surprised with how much blood you’re being able to get away with.
But they were very up front. We came in there and said, “It’s about zombies. Zombies kill people and people kill zombies – it can’t happen off camera.” And they said, “No, we understand.” They actually showed us footage of movies that had been aired unedited during Fearfest, ones that been slightly edited, and honest to God, we went, “Oh my God! We hadn’t been planning on going that far, but okay!” [Laughs]
They get it. They absolutely get it. They are fans of the genre and it’s not something where they’re pandering or they think they can get an audience. This has been part of their programming from the very beginning and they’re fans as well. We were actually shocked when we came into our first meeting that they had seen all of the classic films in the genre.
The violence is obviously translating well, but there are some things like the book’s language that can’t cross that barrier.
That is true.
Story-wise, I know [the show] is staying pretty faithful, but there are certain divergences from the comic book material. Were there any elements that you felt had to stay true to the core of what Robert wrote in the book?
There’s a lot of that, actually. But at the same time, Robert said to me from the very beginning, “Listen. I don’t want the fans to sit there and know exactly where each episode is going and what exactly is going to happen to each character and when it’s going to happen.” There’s no fun in that. You don’t want people to have the blueprints and basically say, “You know, that wall is five inches off.” You want people to be surprised, and I honestly think that fans do want to be surprised. They also don’t want this – we’re not out there trying to create something that no longer feels like it has the genesis that this has, which is why Robert Kirkman is so involved on the set, in the writer’s room and writing it.
Were you a fan of the comic book series before this?
Oh, absolutely! How can you not be? It’s great. The fun thing, too, is it’s a big cast. Pretty unusual for a TV series to have a cast as big as this. We actually couldn’t bring everybody because Comic-Con wouldn’t let us have that many people on a panel. Hopefully we’ll be back next year with even more of our cast members.
“The Walking Dead” premieres on AMC in October as part of the network’s annual Fearfest program. The series comes from director-writer-producer Frank Darabont and executive producers Gale Anne Hurd and Robert Kirkman.