Fanboy Hero Gale Anne Hurd: From Roger Corman P.A. to 'Walking Dead' Producer
The veteran TV and film executive, who just received a star on the Walk of Fame, recalls the moments that stood out in her career.
This story first appeared in the Oct. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Over the course of nearly three decades as a producer -- for which she will be recognized Oct. 3 with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame -- Gale Anne Hurd has assembled an enviable dossier. She has launched such fanboy-friendly hits as the Terminator franchise, Armageddon and AMC's zombie fest The Walking Dead. And she has worked closely with a pair of ex-husbands (James Cameron and Brian De Palma) as well as current spouse Jonathan Hensleigh while nurturing young rising talent such as Billy Ray, John August, Mike White, the Weitz brothers, Michelle Williams, Kirsten Dunst and Ben Affleck. Hurd, 56, remembers several moments that stand out.
1. Coming clean: Hurd's first on-set experience as a production assistant on the 1980 Roger Corman-produced sci-fi horror film Humanoids From the Deep was literally crappy. "I was emptying chemical toilets in the motor homes and questioning my own sanity," she laughs. "That's why I have enormous respect for Teamsters. Unless you've done all those jobs that Teamsters do, it's impossible to know just how difficult the job is. Unfortunately, the toilet job was a lot of trial by error. We'll leave it at that. Splashing. Oh, yes."
2. Story points: Three weeks before 1984's The Terminator was scheduled to begin shooting, Hemdale Films chairman John Daly called Hurd and Cameron in for a meeting. Daly started off by saying he was concerned about the script and would like to have a story meeting. "He had already given the film a green light, so theoretically, he had read the script," she says. "He said, 'You know, in rereading the script' -- which I think was code for 'Now that I've read the script' -- 'I think audiences are going to be confused because you never say what planet they're from.' " Hurd and Cameron assumed it was a joke. "I said, 'John, it's a time-travel story,' " recalls Hurd. " 'They're from Earth.' " Hurd and Cameron ended the meeting abruptly, explaining they had a movie to go make.
3. Midnight madness: On the opening day of Aliens in 1986, Hurd and Cameron hit several screenings to gauge audience reaction. At a midnight showing on Hollywood Boulevard, "it seemed like an interactive screening with so many viewers talking back to the screen, cheering and screaming," recalls Hurd. "One woman yanked up the armrest between her seat and was hitting her boyfriend over the leg with it every time she got nervous. There was one gentleman, every time the film got tense, he had to come up to the lobby -- huff, huff, huff --and catch his breath and go back in. That was the most fun thing I ever experienced."
4. Nailing a landing: Working with Hensleigh on the set of The Punisher, Hurd held her breath at one super-daring car stunt. "For this particular camera angle, it had to flip and land exactly at a predetermined spot," she recalls of driver Donna Evans' feat. "Anything can go wrong. You hire the best possible people and hold your breath. But it was picture-perfect. The car flipped exactly where it should, it landed exactly where it needed to, and most importantly, she was fine."
THE NEWEST MUST-HAVE: A SOCIAL MEDIA PROFILE: Her love of sports, especially soccer, led to Hurd's mastery of Twitter
Since the rise of social media, Gale Anne Hurd has morphed into one of the most active posters among the producer set, attracting more than 22,500 followers on Twitter, where she frequently offers photos, insight and bon mots about her often genre-oriented projects.
But it all began as an adjunct to her sports obsession, not as a way to market movies and TV shows. Her Twitter handle, @gunnergale, offers a shout-out to her favorite soccer team, England's Arsenal Football Club. "There was some overlap between Arsenal fans and fans of Walking Dead, but most couldn't care less about soccer," she concedes.
How big is the AMC series' social media footprint? During season two earlier this year, The Walking Dead's website became the number-one-visited show site in all of broadcast and cable, according to ComScore. The series has more than 10.3 million Facebook followers, and Facebook's Walking Dead Social Game attracts 930,000 monthly users. More than 579,000 fans follow tweets from @WalkingDead_AMC.