Producer Gale Anne Hurd is having a big weekend with the second season of the AMC series The Walking Dead, based on Robert Kirkman and Charles Adlard's popular comic book, starting Sunday night, and 24 hours earlier, they brought a bunch of the cast and some footage to New York Comic-Con.
Coming off a very successful first season which got them a number of accolades and the shake-up of original showrunner Frank Darabont leaving just before the start of the second season, the zombie survival show is tackling 13 episodes, split between the Fall and next February.
Hurd is certainly a producer who is familiar with comic conventions, having worked on a lot of high profile genre projects over the course of her career, beginning with the very first "Terminator" movie, then producing multiple movies based on the Marvel Comics characters The Punisher and The Hulk. She also has two actual comic books at Aspen Comics, "The Scourge" by Scott Lobdell and Eric Battle, and a new one called "Dead Man's Run", written by Greg Pak with Tony Parker as artist.
The Saturday night Comic-Con panel played to a packed audience at the IGN Theater, with Hurd, Kirkman and Emmy-winning make-up FX Artist Greg Nicotero talking about the new season before showing an extended scene from the first episode of Season 2, which has the group of survivors on a freeway cluttered with abandoned cars when a throng of walkers head their way. Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln) runs to tell the others while Jeffrey DeMunn's Dale lies flat on top of his camper. Rick gets to the others and has them hiding underneath the abandoned cars and trucks as the walkers approach. IronE Singleton's T-Dog tries to hide behind a run-down car and he somehow rips his arm open on a car door and starts bleeding profusely. Meanwhile, Laurie Holden's Andrea is in the camper having not heard Rick's warning and she sees the walkers go by and hides. Then a rather ghastly zombie with a lot of the skin on his face walks into the camper and Andrea hides in the bathroom as it roams around inside. Andrea tries to assemble her gun an the noise gets the zombie's attention as it tries to get into the bathroom and Andrea puts her feet up against the door trying to keep it out. Dale who is on the roof looks down into the bathroom and sees her predicament so he drops a screwdriver in through the grate. We're then back to T-Dog who is losing blood fast as a zombie in overalls closes in on him but then Daryl comes up behind the zombie and stabs it in the back of his head. At the same time, the zombie finally breaks through the door and Andrea stands up and stabs it in the eye with the screwdriverâ€¦ her first zombie kill!
After showing the footage, they brought out some of the cast including Jon Bernthal who plays Shane, Laurie Holden (Andrea), Steven Yuen (Glenn), Chandler Riggs (Carl), Norman Reedus (Daryl) and new cast member Lauren Cohan, who plays Maggie Greene. The questions from the audience were fairly innocuous, but the 12-year-old Chandler stole the panel with his innocently clever quips, but many in attendance were interested in the chemistry between Steven and Lauren, being that Glenn and Maggie have one of the central romances in the comic book series,
A day before the panel, ShockTillYouDrop.com got on the phone with Hurd to ask her a couple questions about the upcoming season.
ShockTillYouDrop.com: Congratulations on the success of the series, the first season.
Gale Anne Hurd: Thank you.
Shock: I'll admit that I was one of the skeptical fans of the comic not sure if it would work as a television show, so I was really pleasantly surprised that it does. Since we've never spoken before, how did you get involved with "The Walking Dead"? Was it always going to be as a TV show?
Hurd: Well, I started checking the rights I guess maybe now it's about three years ago. I found that they were actually potentially available and that as it turned out, one of my closest friends, Frank Darabont said he had the rights for quite a long time and had written a pilot that did not go forward at NBC. After finding that, my phone call to Frank to say, "Frank, â€˜The Walking Dead'?" He said, "Eh, forget it. I tried. It didn't work out." I said, "You know what? Maybe it's time to do it a little differently and go to the places that aren't obvious," and one of the places was AMC with whom my company, specifically one of my executives, Ben Roberts, had been talking about doing genre material.
Shock: I think one of the things about the concept of zombies on television is the fact that most people like the movies because of the amount of gore. You didn't really skimp on it in the first season, but I've been hearing it's going to be even gorier the second season.
Hurd: Oh yeah, yeah. Definitely. If you've got a cast iron stomach you're set for this season. (Laughs)
Shock: I'm really shocked by that because other than "Nip/Tuck", you don't really see that level of gore even on basic cable, so how do you work with AMC to know how much you can show in terms of the gore? Is there a lot of back and forth?
Hurd: No, we have never gotten a note to change any sequence that involved violence or gore, not one. We have never been asked to remove that or tone it down.
Shock: So it was always understood that that's going to be the show?
Hurd: Yeah, I mean, there are requirements. We were familiarized with what their standards and practices are, but remember, this is the channel that shows two weeks of classic horror films during Fearfest leading up to Halloween, so they wouldn't have been able to continue that program block if they had censored to the point that those horror films were turned into Disney movies.
Shock: Your first season was only six episodes, which must have been hard since you got things going and then people have to wait for the new season. How has it been going working on a longer season and will the 13 episodes air weekly starting Sunday?
Hurd: Well, we take a hiatus after the seventh episode, so that people can enjoy Christmas, (Laughs) and football playoffs and the Super Bowl without having to make a "Sophie's Choice" with what they're going to watch. We pick up again in February after the Super Bowl. We've got seven episodes now, and then six starting in February.
Shock: There's already a lot of choices on Sunday night. It's obviously done well, but how was that decided?
Hurd: I think that's the night when AMC's original programming is, so it works for them, and I think there are so many great shows on Sunday nights. It's almost like it's the night where you have to make some difficult decisions on what you're going to watch when you've got "Dexter" and "Boardwalk Empire" and "The Walking Dead." I have to promote my show, so the first among equals.
Shock: How has the season been going and how involved is Robert Kirkman these days? How much has the comic been playing a part in the extension of the story?
Hurd: Well, Robert's even more involved this season than last, because last year he still lived in Kentucky, so he would fly back and forth. This season, to be a part of the writer's room and that experience every day, he and his family relocated to Los Angeles. So the show that you're seeing has not only his blessing, but his deep and daily involvement.
Shock: I know things are moving out of Atlanta for the second season.
Hurd: Yeah, but we shoot it in Georgia. We shoot about an hour south of Atlanta.
Shock: Is it going to be really obvious this season that it's a different season? Like, when you put on an episode in mid-season will it be really obvious that it's outside Atlanta?
Hurd: Yeah, because if you've read the comics, one of the major locations in the first two issues is Hershel's Farm, and we spend a significant amount of season two with Hershel, his family on his farm. It forays out from there. But, it's very much transitioning into a little more rural environment.
Shock: One of the things about the comic is that it's sort of neverending. There are arcs when they visit different places but it's just one ongoing story.
Hurd: We really hope ours is never ending also.
Shock: The fact that you have seasons makes it difficult to have that level of continuity.
Hurd: Yeah, it's harder to have seasons when you're shooting 13 episodes and it's 99 degrees out and 99 percent humidity. But, as we get into the fall now and we're still shooting, we will be able toâ€”I know this is a disappointment to someâ€”but, some of the characters will be able to wear long sleeves and jackets.
Shock: It seemed that many of the shows in the first season had standalone arcs, though there was continuity between them, so do those standalone one episode stories continue into the new season as well?
Hurd: Well, if you think about episodes five and six last year, they each had quite a bit of the CDC, their decision to go to the CDC, arriving at the CDC and seeing what Jenner was doing and then an entire episode in the CDC. So we did have overall arcs that were a part of multiple episodes. But, you're right. Just I think by nature the fact that first we're introduced to Rick. We experience the post zombie apocalypse through him and then we're on the search for his family. With only six episodes, it did seem like they were very individual and rather separate. This season, we've got our group of survivors. While many episodes focus on each particular member of the group, it is maybe perceived as much more serialized.
Shock: Another thing about the comic that's kind of cool but also frustrating is that someone can die at any given time. How does that work when you're doing a television show with actors who have contracts and what's involved with that?
Hurd: Well, sadly for the actors, it's kind of up to us. (Laughs)
Shock: In the comics, key characters would get killed off at weird moments and you never knew about it beforehand. It's like, "Wait that person's very important. They're dead."
Hurd: Yeah, or they lose a limb. (Laughs)
Shock: So you're committed to that same kind of feel for the show and whatever happens, happens?
Hurd: Yes, I mean, that's why the stakes are so high on this show. It really is a life or death involvement. One mistake, one false move and you're zombie dinner.
Shock: Now that the story is out of Atlanta, are we assuming the show isn't going to have as many big zombie attacks anymore or are there going to be some bigger set pieces in this season?
Hurd: You know what? There are zombies everywhere in the world, so sometimes you'll encounter one or two and sometimes you'll encounter hundreds.
Shock: Is the cast going to expand a lot this season? Obviously you have Hershel and his family. Are different people going to show up over the course of this season expanding the cast? How is that going to work? Are they going to be trying to keep those survivors and adding the new family?
Hurd: They will potentially encounter some other survivors, and obviously as with Robert's underlying comic book, who can you trust? Who can't you trust? Sometimes peopleâ€”and actually, of the group of survivors we've got already.
Shock: Having read the comics, I'm coming at it from a different place from many people, because I know who everyone is in the comics and I want them to stay in their roles. At this point, having Robert involved, is the TV show becoming something different where you can develop what you've done on the first season where you don't really have to rely on the comics as much?
Hurd: The comics will always be the inspiration for the show. There will always be set pieces and sets that are directly from the comics, but this has given an opportunity for Robert and for our writer's room team and for Glenn Mazzara, our show runner, to kind of put everything in a martini shaker and shake it up and defy expectations.
Shock: I assume if you're going to bring more people in, what's the danger of getting into the guest star thing which happens with so many ongoing shows where better-known actors want to be involved and they have different guest stars each week?
Hurd: That's just not part of our show. There are a few people that may come through, but I think certainly at this point--and I don't think there's an intention to change it--you don't want fans to be thinking, "Oh, what really cool actor is going to be guest starring this week?" I think that's a distraction. It takes away from the characters that all of us who work on the show know and love. That should be the focus.
Shock: I guess the networks are a little more into that idea, and AMC doesn't do that, so there isn't that danger.
Hurd: Yup, but also since it's more difficult to encounter people that aren't already dead, and we're in a remote location this season. It's hard to be the guest star of the week.
Shock: I assume that you have no shortage of zombie extras down there? I assume you need different once on every show.
Hurd: We do, we do. You know, in Atlanta, there are a lot of fans not only of the show, but of horror with DragonCon and with a number of the Halloween parks that they've got there that many of our extras come with shall we say a leg up on zombie shambling?
Shock: What else are you involved in? Are you still developing movies and things like that?
Hurd: Yeah, I have a movie called "Hellfest" at CBS Films that we're expecting a new script in very soon and hopefully be forging along; we will announce the director on that. I've got "Port Royal," which is the series that's set in the richest and wickedest city on earth back in the early 1700's, Port Royal. It's a pirate series that hopefully we'll do for pirates like "The Walking Dead's" done for zombies. Scott Rosenbaum is the show runner on, and he is also a veteran of "The Shield" and most recently "V" and "Chuck."
Shock: "Hellfest" is straight up genre horror I imagine?
Hurd: Yes, it definitely is.
Shock: Can you share what the premise is of that?
Hurd: Well, let's just stick with, shall we say that it's inspired by something terrible happening on Halloween?
The Walking Dead begins its second season on AMC on Sunday, October 16 at 9 PM Eastern with a 90 minute season premiere.
Source: Edward Douglas