Roger Corman, feminist?: Five things we learned at the AFF interview with ‘Walking Dead’ producer Gale Anne Hurd
You might remember the name of producer Gale Anne Hurd from such projects as co-writing “The Terminator” and producing a gajillion flicks from “Aliens” to “The Abyss” to the insanely underrated “Dick” to those pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe Hulk movies.
These days, she produces “The Walking Dead”; midwifed “Mankiller,” a documentary on Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of a Native American tribe, which is screening at the Austin Film Festival; and is executive producing a new semi-documentary series via Amazon called “Lore” based on the popular podcast of the same name.
Here are a few things she had to say during her interview with Austin Film Festival executive director Barbara Morgan.
Be decent to everyone you work with. It’s the right thing to do and, as Hurd put it, “you never know who in your circle of contacts will be the person who can help you make it to the next stage of your career.” James Cameron was making props on Roger Corman’s “Battle Beyond the Stars” when Hurd met him. Soon he was art directing the picture and the two (who were married for a spell) were putting together “Terminator.”
Working for Corman was a great film school for both men and women. “Roger thought women had unlimited potential,” Hurd says. When she headed into his office for an interview after college, she thought she was interviewing for a secretarial job with him. Hurd practiced her typing and shorthand.
Nope -- Corman asked her, “What do you want to do for the rest of your career?” She said she wanted to produce, so she learned how to do it all -- plotting, breaking a story, scripting, all of it.
“(Corman) had women writing, directing, art directors,” Hurd said. “(At Corman’s New World Pictures) I saw a Hollywood that doesn’t even exist now, and this was 1978.” For Corman, it was completely equal opportunity.
“I think he favored women,” Hurd said, and not just because women worked for less money (which certainly works against the whole feminist thing). “We are more tenacious and I think he thought more loyal,” she said. So, um, it’s complicated.
This just in: Women like horror, fantasy and sci-fi. Hurd has produced literally dozens of genre pictures and doesn’t mind being known for it. “I love sci-fi fantasy and horror, I think it’s fantastic,” Hurd said. “To this day I still (encounter people) who say that women or girls aren't interested or good at it. Between 45 and 50 percent of the audience for my (genre films and TV series, including “The Walking Dead”) are women. So it’s an important misperception to be corrected.”
A producer must have both the details and the big picture in mind. Hurd noted that she sees herself as someone who is very good at “bringing a shared vision to life,” noting that a producer must be godmother and drill sergeant as well as someone who sees “not only the trees but the forest.”
There was a specific reason AMC ended up being the perfect place for “The Walking Dead.” After every network passed on “TWD,” AMC reached out. Frank Darabont, the show’s eventual first season show runner and creator, couldn’t see a violent zombie show on the “Mad Men” network.
Turned out their most successful block of programming was the “Fear Fest” of classic horror movies leading up to Halloween and they were looking to capitalize on that audience. A few deals later and a VERY rushed production throughout 2010, “The Walking Dead” was on the air Oct. 31 of that year. The rest is undead history.