Interview: Producer Gale Anne Hurd On 'Falling Water' And 'The Walking Dead'

Falling Water makes four Gale Anne Hurd shows on the air. She's got AMC's The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead, Syfy's Hunters, and now this new show premiering on USA. Falling Water is from creator Blake Masters and his late partner Henry Brommell. Masters had to leave immediately after the Falling Water panel for the Television Critics Association to finish editing, so Hurd stayed back to complete more interviews.

Lizzie Brochere, David Ajala, and Will Yun Lee star in Falling Water. Tess (Brochere) has dreams about a child she apparently does not have in real life, until Bill Boerg (Zak Orth) offers her some concrete information... at a price. Burton (Ajala) is in love with a woman from his dreams, and Taka (Yun Lee) may be able to connect with his comatose mother via dreams. The three dreamers inevitably cross paths in this world where dreams impact waking life. 

Is Falling Water any more intense of a post than other shows?

It's pretty standard but the difference is with [Masters], in addition to co-creating the show and co-writing the pilot with Henry, since Henry passed away, he's been the showrunner. In addition to that, he directs some of the second unit sequences and he's directing our final episode. So he literally has to be in two places at once because we shoot in New York.

Since we lost Henry, how do you keep Henry's spirit in the subsequent episodes he didn't have a chance to work on?

We had a meeting with Henry two weeks before he passed away, our second meeting. We actually had a meeting scheduled for the day after he passed away. It was very tough on us, most especially Blake and Henry's family. So we put the show on the shelf. However, during that time, he went back and had an opportunity to think about all the things that he and Henry discussed while they were formulating the project. He's managed to keep all those threads alive, but all these characters, it really was always about these characters and the journey and the world. There's a very, very vibrant mythology that he and Henry co-created back then.

You spoke about Juan Carlos Fresnadillo directing the pilot and creating the template for the dreams. It really captures the surreality of dreams I have that are just off enough. Like you're in a public place that should be crowded and no one's there. Were there earlier concepts that might have been bigger or more visual effects before Juan Carlos came in?

Juan Carlos joined so early on. Juan Carlos was involved before we even pitched this. So he created a look book and visual references from the very, very start. Because he was so much a part of the creation of the pilot, we hadn't really explored anything else. Look, we still shoot The Walking Dead on film. There's CGI but not a ton of it. It's used to enhance and that's very much the way that Juan Carlos looks at this. It's always better if you can do it real. It's better for the actors. The post time on TV series is not significant. There's a time and place for it, like on The Walking Dead, Shiva the tiger is entirely CG. But we had a long time to create that. We started shooting in May. It doesn't start airing until October so there was plenty of time.

Is that still less time than Life of Pi had, though?

Yes, but luckily we're working with Rhythm and Hues so they've spent a lot of time creating tigers. They did Life of Pi.

So Shiva benefits from Richard Parker?

Yes.

Do empty spaces remain a big part of the dreams in Falling Water?

Very much so but at the same time, I think one of the compelling things is that because these characters can enter other people's dreams, they're not always by themselves. They can interact with other characters who are dreaming.

I feel like the dialogue in the dreams is dreamlike too. Was that designed that people speak with a different rhythm in dreams?

That was there from the very beginning. Perhaps the way that it's communicated, the fact that we have various frame rates in dreams and that they can change is something that Juan Carlos brought to the series. The dream world can have different frame rates if you saw the first two episodes. There are times that it's very dreamlike and there are times when things can be very, very fast. So we do have a different visual language for dreams. That's why they look different and the rules are different.

What frame rates did they use for dreams?

We've had 48 [frames per second]. We've had a lot of 48 frame rate.

Is the set dreamlike for shooting these sequences?

As you point out, they're very empty and we will see things that you would not normally see in the real world. Objects and set dressing that you wouldn't associate with particular spaces. Characters will show up and disappear, just like in our dreams. But we do shoot most of them, rather than in sets, in actual locations.

Falling Water

Who are the black suits with blurry faces?

You will find out. I think we all have certain things, mysterious and dangerous, in our dreams that haunt us. They're certainly representative of that.

How long will Bill Boerg hold the child over Tess?

I can't answer specific plot questions but what's interesting is that he's the first person who said to her, "You're not crazy."

It's okay. He has reason to manipulate her and dole out information as he needs things in return from her.

And he's a very powerful character as we learn from her agent in the pilot. He's someone you may not want to get on the wrong side of. We've seen the power that people have. We've seen very wealthy individuals use their resources to put news companies out of business. Look what happened to Gawker. It's a different world we're living in now. If she has something that he wants, he has something that she needs.

Is the water a metaphor?

Yes. I mean, water is a permeable barrier. It's not like a wall. We can't put our hand through a wall. We can put our hands through water. Water can exist not only in its liquid form but as rain, as steam and as ice. So it's really very, very interesting and it connects things. It's why New York is a perfect place to shoot the series because Manhattan is an island surrounded by water, connected by bridges and bridges are another big visual metaphor that you'll notice in the series.

Is water a signifier for every dream?

It's not a signifier for every dream. You'll notice that we see characters, their eyes opening up. We'll see people either going to sleep or waking up and that's a signifier as to whether we've been in the dream world with them or not.

At Comic-Con you shared dreams you used to have making The Terminator that helped you in the following production day. Did your dreams evolve as you were making Aliens and Terminator 2?

You know, I still have those kinds of dreams. They're not to the point where I get three different possible solutions to problems that may crop up in the next day, but I do find that I work out a lot of things and it helps me de-stress. It's always a moment of deja vu. Oh, I've been through this before. I haven't been through it in real life but I've been through it in my dream. So I can relax because I've already experienced a problem and come up with a solution.

Sometimes I dream that I'm at a junket.

Isn't that funny? Our dream world so influences our waking world and that's one of the messages of the show. If someone can volitionally enter our dreams, how does that change them and how does that change us in the waking world?

And it's not like a Freddy Krueger or boogeyman entering your dreams, or even the agents in Inception, but is it more about entering your dreams cooperatively?

We explore what it's like to volitionally enter someone's dream, and experiment to try to do that. Some people can, some people can't. People who can are considered good dreamers. That doesn't mean they're good dreams necessarily but it means they're good at exploring the dream world.

Is it always with an agenda, or sometimes just to experience someone else's point of view?

There's no limit to what you can do in the dream world if you're a good dreamer. Obviously, the worry is that someone could enter your dreams malevolently, but it's a very different conceit than Inception.

Does having three largely separate leads allow you to schedule episodes more easily than when you have large groups all together?

Like in Walking Dead? Yeah. It's also wonderful because all three characters are interwoven in each episode. I think it'll be interesting for people to go back and follow, in re-watching the series, one particular character all the way through. That's what I love about the opportunity to see a show over and over again, is that you can explore it and enjoy it in different ways. It's been interesting, especially when our characters find that they can connect in the dream world as well as the waking world.

With four shows on the air now, are you pulled in four different directions?

Luckily, there isn't that much of an overlap in terms of when they shoot, but I am racking up a lot of frequent flyer miles. I flew in here from Georgia but it's a much easier commute between Georgia and New York than from Los Angeles.

Are Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead sort of like the same show?

Oh, they're very different. Everything about them is different. Obviously the last season of Fear shot in Mexico. That cast is very different. We shoot that in HD. There's a lot more CGI. Obviously, we didn't actually have a boat that they'd actually go out to sea, which is why we shot in the tank down in Baja. Up until the introduction of the character of Shiva, so much of The Walking Dead, which is shot on film, is shot on Super 16. So the whole approach is very different.

Are you still developing films?

Yes, I'm still developing films. None that I can talk about but I have directors attached to a number of projects. I unfortunately can't talk about them until the studios want to announce them.

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Falling Water premieres Thursday, October 13 at 10PM on USA.