Gale Anne Hurd may now serve as executive producer of AMC's mega-hit “The Walking Dead,” but one of the first jobs she held in the entertainment industry — cleaning chemical toilets — wasn’t exactly glamorous.
“If there is a zombie apocalypse, that may be the most important skill I’ve learned in my life,” Hurd joked, as she took her seat on stage in an auditorium of the Richard B. Russell Special Collections Libraries.
Her visit to the University of Georgia, titled “A Conversation with Gale Anne Hurd,” was sponsored by the UGA student broadcasting society DiGamma Kappa.
With the help of interviewer Nate Kohn, a Grady telecommunications professor and associate director of the Peabody awards, Hurd discussed her lengthy career in the entertainment industry, the future of television and film, and — of course — everything “Walking Dead.”
A Stanford graduate, Hurd produced and co-wrote 1984’s “The Terminator,” 1986’s “Aliens,” “The Abyss,” “Aeon Flux” and both “The Incredible Hulk” in 2008 and “The Hulk” in 2003.
Sometimes described as the "Queen of SciFi", Hurd is a governor on the Board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a 1998 recipient of the Women in Film Crystal Award.
In 2012, Hurd received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
She began her career in 1978 while still at Stanford University when she was recruited to be an executive assistant to Roger Corman, the cult filmmaker who still stands as one of the most prolific film producers to date.
“The only recruitment letter in the history of the motion picture industry, I have,” Hurd said.
Corman taught Hurd everything to do and not to do in the entertainment industry, including the value of preproduction, the importance of knowing what you’re doing and coming in on time and on budget.
“You are only as good as the people you work with,” Hurd told the audience. “You have to believe in the project, in the team you’ve put together, and that at end of the day it’s worth making and is commercially viable.”
Hurd also discussed her work with AMC and the shifting paradigm between cable and network entertainment.
“In the case of AMC, we’ve never gotten stupid notes,” Hurd said, referring to the studio’s involvement with "The Walking Dead."
She also discussed the choice behind filming the hit zombie drama in Georgia, citing several iconic scenes from the original comic book as well as the lessened cost thanks to tax breaks for the film and television industry.
“If there hadn’t been the tax incentive, we would’ve shot somewhere else,” Hurd said. “Regardless of what anyone else will tell you, those are the facts.”
She also addressed the cheapening of the film industry, a downhill process which many critics blame on too many explosions and not enough character development in most, if not all, American feature films.
“One of the reasons I’m in television now, and you’ll find that a lot of people have gravitated, especially writers, towards television, is you get to create in our case what I think to be 16 hours of character-driven stories in the amount of time it would take me to shoot half a feature film,” Hurd said.
For anyone searching for a good, character-driven film, Hurd advises audiences to look outside current studio fare.
“The independent films that are available are remarkable, the breadth of topics, stories and characters,” Hurd said. “But it’s unsustainable if they don’t make money. Everyone who cares about these movies needs to encourage people to go see them, to download them and not pirate them.”
When discussing what UGA students can do to begin their careers in the film and television industry, Hurd debunked the myth that knowing someone is the only way to get your foot in the door.
“Hard work and talent are rewarded,” Hurd said. “It’s more a meritocracy than any business. The only impediment will be how much elbow grease you put into it.”
In addition to her many other talents, Hurd clearly knows how to live by her own advice.
“The first job I had included emptying chemical toilets in motorhomes, and this is where I am now,” she said.