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Gale Anne Hurd Brings 'The Walking Dead' To Life
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Producer and PGA Board Member Gale Anne Hurd may be best known for such feature films as Aliens, The Incredible Hulk and the Terminator franchise, but she makes an eagerly-anticipated foray into series television this weekend with The Walking Dead, which premieres on Halloween night on AMC.  Gale was kind enough to chat with PGA contributor Jesse Gordon to provide an exclusive inside account of the challenges that come with producing a "human drama set against the zombie apocalypse.”


What drew you to this project? You haven’t done a lot of horror before…

I actually want to disagree with you. The Walking Dead isn’t horror, I don’t think. Drawing from Robert Kirkman’s comic book series—which is also an award-winning series of graphic novels—it’s human drama that happens to be set against a zombie apocalypse. I think when you talk about horror, you generally don’t think of "character-driven” in the same sentence. And that’s what distinguishes this material. And of course, everything that Frank Darabont brings to this project as the writer, executive producer and director of the pilot.

So you’ve got a template here in terms of what the graphic novels lay out. How closely are you following that template? Or are you spinning this off in your own direction?

The source material is very important to us, and that is why Robert Kirkman is so closely involved as an executive producer, as the writer of the fourth episode, and he also has approved all casting and all story lines, and is involved on set and in post-production. Early on, Robert, Frank and I met to discuss whether this was going to be a panel-by-panel representation of the comic book, or were we going to explore things that the comic book has not delved into as deeply. It was Robert Kirkman’s belief from the very beginning that these are two different types of media and it was important to be able to both veer off the path that he trailblazed, and yet always come back.  So that meant we had the freedom to invent new characters, to extend the lives of a few characters that die very early on in the comic book, possibly to even kill people off a little earlier, and to also explore new story lines that have never appeared in the comic book at all.


                         Gale Anne Hurd on the set of The Walking Dead
Every zombie story has a slightly different zombie, or a slightly different way of imagining the zombies. What can we expect from the zombies of The Walking Dead? How did you go about bringing the zombies to life?


[laughs] So to speak. Well, the first decisions one has to make are not only what are they going to look like, but how are they going to move? And we hearkened back to the original George Romero Night of the Living Dead. So our zombies might be able to get up to a fairly good jog, at best, because their muscles and organs aren’t exactly in perfect working order. They are not Usain Bolt. But the most important decision was who we would tap to bring our zombies to life. That decision was a foregone conclusion; Frank has an ongoing relationship with Greg Nicotero from KNB Efx. We brought him on very early on, before we had even received the green light. We wanted to make sure that if we were given the green light that he would be available and that he could commit to being on set for the first six episodes. We did a number of early zombie makeup tests, in conjunction with camera tests. We wanted to make sure that the selection of the camera would be the best fit for the make up. We ultimately chose super 16. So we are shooting on film rather than HD.


Hurd with actor Andrew Lincoln, who plays the character of Rick Grimes
That is a departure, especially for TV, these days. What was it about super 16 that appealed to you in terms of the look you were trying to create?


We wanted a "film look” as opposed to something that looked like tape that was super sharp. It didn’t feel as real. There is also inherent grain in film, which worked. You want this to feel gritty and real as apposed to shiny and surreal. In addition to that, you get a much truer representation of the color palette than you do with HD. We found that when shooting HD outside- most of our first six episodes are exterior daylight, of all things- everything went slightly green. And the makeup went green, and that wasn’t what we were looking for. We wanted much more in the gray tones. But in order to remove the green you had to take the green out of everything. And shooting in Georgia in the summer, everything is green…there’s all this rich foliage and then that all would have looked different when color-corrected and would have looked somewhat gray. So the perfect choice was really super 16.

So, where in Georgia did you shoot?

We shot in and around Atlanta, in a place called Mansfield which is up near Covington. And then in a few other areas, but mostly in Metro Atlanta.

What was that like?

It’s hot! It’s humid! [laughs] I am so grateful to our incredible zombie extras, who wore all that makeup and layers of clothes, and never complained, and brought it, regardless of whether it was the first hour or the twelfth hour. You really felt like you survived the zombie apocalypse at the end of a shooting day.

I can believe that. Does Georgia make it easier for producers through some kind of budget incentive?

Yes, they do; they give a thirty percent tax credit. But also, Atlanta is a very significant character in the first few issues of the comic book. It was nice to be able to film where the story was actually set. Atlanta was incredibly conducive to filming. We were able to shut down at least five or maybe six streets in the downtown core area around the federal court building. That is a pretty big area to have shut down, and dress with the undead as well as tanks and burned-out buses and a number of very large set pieces.

We’re really looking forward to it. You got a nice day to premiere it, with Halloween.

Yes. And I am also very happy because our line producer has recently applied to join the Guild.

Excellent! We look forward to welcoming him into the ranks.

I think it is important you know. Everyone should be part of the team.