'The Walking Dead' Gets Green - Producer Gale Anne Hurd On How Zombies Are Saving The World
If you have read much of my writing or know anything about me, then you probably realize I’m a huge fan of zombie fiction in all forms — books, comics, films, and on television (check out my article on the very best of everything zombie-related!). So of course I’m a fan of AMC‘s incredible series The Walking Dead, as are many of you, judging from the show’s ratings. It’s among the best programs airing on TV, and possibly the greatest live-action zombie fiction of all time.
Imagine my excitement, then, when I had a chance to speak with The Walking DeadExecutive Producer Gale Anne Hurd, CEO of Valhalla Entertainment (which produces films, television, and comics, and which produces The Walking Deadwith AMC).
My excitement was magnified by the fact she was also involved with creating some of my favorite films, including the Terminator franchise, Aliens, The Abyss, and the recent superhero movie The Incredible Hulk (an excellent mash-up of classic monster/horror flicks and superhero stories, which made my list of the all-time best superhero films).
So read on for my discussion with Gale about her work on films and television, and the ways she has helped make The Walking Dead an environmentally clean program!
You are executive producer of one of the best television series on the air & possibly the best live-action zombie entertainment ever created, The Walking Dead. But you also put a lot of time into your passion for environmentalism, including with “Heal the Bay” in Santa Monica and “Reef Check.” Your work to protect the environment carries over into your television and film work, obviously, so I’d like to speak with you about the greening of Hollywood.
You’re a lifelong fan of comic book, and of zombie stories. Have you also been a lifelong environmentalist?
GAH: When it was brought to my attention that we were really poised on the brink of damaging the planet, yes. From that point on, I have tried to do what I can both at home and at work to lessen the impact.
How did this become something you felt so passionately about, particularly within film and television production?
GAH: Someone pointed out to me that people don’t think twice about recycling at home, because it’s fairly easy. Those of us living in California have had recycling for quite a while at home. But at the workplace, at least 15 years ago, it was very uncommon. And I thought that disparity made no sense. We certainly spend as much time at the office and may even create more waste. So that was the first thing. And at certain places it’s very easy.
When I was making Aeon Flux in Germany, it was unheard of, and I found that odd because there’s incredible residential recycling in Germany. You separate out your clear bottles, your brown bottles, your green bottles, and everyone there is very environmentally minded at home. But then you get to work and everyone’s like, “No, we don’t recycle.” So initially we had PA’s [production assistants] sorting the trash and taking it to recycling centers, up until we were able to talk to Babelsberg Studios and they were able to help us. It was just so clear that people who were environmentally minded at home didn’t take that sensibility to work.
The Incredible Hulk production is famous for being very green, no pun intended. It seems that very often, people and especially businesses tend to assume that doing things greener somehow means “more expense or more trouble”, but that’s not necessarily true. How hard was it to get everyone on board with making The Incredible Hulk an environmentally friendly production, and was there any initial any trouble convincing the studio that “going green” wasn’t going to cost too much money and be too cumbersome?
GAH: It was both, by the way. Both cumbersome and it cost money. But we decided that if we started off well into preproduction, we could minimize both the cost and the difficulty. I was helped by the fact that Universal — the studio that worked with Marvel Studios in making the film — had the motto “Green is Universal,” and it seemed like the perfect combination, one of the most well-known green characters in the world and “ green universal.” Plus, Edward Norton is a very committed environmentalist. And we happened to be filming in Toronto, which had just started its own green screen initiative. The team at Toronto Studios were also interested in lending a hand to green practices. So I think that without everyone’s involvement, from the top down, this wouldn’t have proceeded.
But our crew, and especially a lot of the leading department heads, were already interested in doing what they could. We had a meeting right after we set up our offices in Toronto. Kevin Feige, the head of Marvel, attended, as well as the director Louis Leterrier, Edward Norton, William Hurt, Tim Roth, and all of the department heads. We went around and first we threw out the challenge: “What are we doing now, what can we be doing, and what are the obstacles in achieving a greener footprint?” Then, we followed up with all of the departments separately. We brought on board a green adviser, who has a degree in environmental science, and he spearheaded the program and monitored the progress. And we also worked at the time with EMA, the Environmental Media Associated.
The Walking Dead uses the doddle app to send call sheets to people’s cell phones and their tablets. How much paper do you think this saves during an average season? We’re probably talking acres of trees, right, over the course of a year?
GAH: Oh, absolutely. I can’t even imagine. It’s also easier, and it’s better for security. People are less likely to leave their smartphone or tablet lying around for someone else to pick up.
You mentioned that it was more expensive and more cumbersome from the initial investment, but I imagine that once it’s up and running, in the long run it will save money. Of course the primary issue is the greening, but the selling point from a business perspective includes that over time you’re going to save money and it will be more efficient, right?
GAH: Absolutely. If you use vehicles that get better gas mileage, that are electric or hybrids, you’re going to pay a lot less in fuel. If you use compact fluorescent bulbs, you’re going to save a lot of money in utilities. If you recycle even your own sets, and use them again, that’s going to save money. You don’t have to buy new lumber. So there are cost savings, absolutely.
With studios trying to be budget conscious, particularly nowadays, is it surprising that efficiency and waste-reduction involved in greening hasn’t been more quickly embraced more by the industry? Is it a problem of awareness, or the nature of the slow-moving ship that takes longer turn?
GAH: It’s interesting, I think most all of the major studios have green initiatives. Certainly Fox does, Sony, Universal, those are the ones where I do a great deal of business. And they recycle, they are focused on flex fuels, and I do think it’s important to them. But it has to be embraced by the producers and the production. It really has to be a collective effort.
And the earlier you establish it as a mandate, the easier it is to achieve. We’re in a business where it’s hurry up and wait, and then literally hit the ground running. When it’s second nature it’s easy to do, but when it’s something people haven’t done before it’s much more difficult. That’s also why the Producers Guild has a whole green initiative. PGA Green on our Web site has not only best practices, but also resources available, so that there is one central clearinghouse for how to green your production and who can supply green supplies and materials.
Do you think the rise of low-budget horror presents an opportunity to expand the greening movement into that genre of production, where the smaller crews and trim budgets might make greening an easier sell, and where overall environmental impact is already comparatively lower but could be even more substantially reduced?
GAH: I certainly hope so, but once again it’s going to depend on who is at the helm, who’s producing, whether it’s a priority for them and for the director. There are some people who are completely committed to it, and other people who just think to this day that it’s too much trouble. Even though I’m a huge fan of film, with digital cameras now there’s a lot less waste.
One of my huge frustrations is just the amount of plastic refuse there is because everyone wants a new bottle of water. I have a stainless steel EcoUsable water bottle, and on a lot of my projects I give them as crew gifts before we start production, and have water stations available, but you can’t force people to use them.
My wife and I reuse bottles for water, and we bring our own bags, and once you do it it’s second nature and it becomes easier, actually. You don’t have to contend with throwing so much away.
GAH: People are resistant to change, but once they get into the habit [it's easier]. In 2004, I think, I was in Germany living in Berlin, and I went to the market. I didn’t have a reusable grocery bag with me. And after I got to the supermarket, the cashier was looking at me saying, “Okay, well where is your bag?” I said, “What bag?” and they said, “We don’t provide them here. If you don’t bring your own, then you have to buy them.” That was my first exposure I’d had to reusable shopping bags, and from that point on I was hooked.
Disposable hopping bags are my pet peeve. We have a whole industry that exists to take your bags from your house to the store for you, via an elaborate recycling system where you throw the bags out when you get home, then they get picked up and melted down or whatever to make new bags again, then shipped to the store where you get them again. It’s all so wasteful and expensive, and the ultimate purpose is just to get the bags from your house to the store without you having to remember to carry them with you.
GAH: So new we’ve learned. We adjust, we adapt. If you walk to the store, you take them with you. If you’re in your car, you just leave them in the car.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about greening?
GAH: I’m so impressed with the initiatives that so many producers and studios have taken to green productions. I would like to encourage people to check out the PGA Green initiative, because it’s a wealth or resources.