‘Walking Dead’s’ Gale Anne Hurd forges path with Kickstarter to make ‘Mankiller’ documentary

By Randee Dawn

Gale Anne Hurd

Gale Anne Hurd

Gale Anne Hurd has made her bones over the years by producing movies with kick-ass female protagonists – think Aliens and Terminator – and more recently as an executive producer on AMC’s The Walking Dead, which has no shortage of take-charge women. Her latest powerful female project? A documentary for PBS that will profile the true story of Wilma Mankiller, the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation (she was elected in 1985). But financing for documentaries, even for one of Hollywood’s best-known producers, can be scarce – so Hurd has turned to Kickstarter. Why? As she told Cynsiders, it’s part money … and part savvy marketing decision.

Cynopsis: Why go with Kickstarter to get your funding?
Gale Anne Hurd: Part of success in documentaries is first being able to make it, but also to create an invested community – not just because they’ll invest money, but because they care deeply about the subject matter. We have over 400 followers now, and they’ll tell their friends. So not only do they have a personal investment but they will want this to be a success, and they’ll make sure their friends and family see it on PBS when it airs.

Cynopsis: So it’s as much as about creating buzz as it is raising money. Have you received funding from other sources?
Hurd: We’ve got over 20 hours of footage, and once we raise all the funding it will air on PBS; we have a grant through VisionMaker Media/Native American Public Television.

Cynopsis: You’re hoping to reach a $150,000 goal with Kickstarter. Have you been pleased with the results so far?
Hurd: It’s as challenging as raising funds through other sources, but far more rewarding since it connects us directly with our 400-plus Mankiller supporters. We are over halfway to our goal [the Kickstarter ends on April 8 and now has nearly 600 supporters] and currently on target, but we have to keep up our momentum if we are to succeed.

Wilma Mankiller

Wilma Mankiller

Cynopsis: I imagine getting the word out about the Kickstarter takes up a lot of time.
Hurd: It is a full time job in and of itself, and certainly not for someone who isn’t willing to dedicate all of their waking hours to meeting the target. I hope I haven’t become a broken record with my friends, family and colleagues, but Mankiller is so important to me and to so many people, many of whom don’t have the financial wherewithal to pledge.

Cynopsis: It might surprise some people out there to think a producer of your caliber and expertise needs Kickstarter to get funds. Should it?
Hurd: Although I am a successful producer, most financiers know about my science fiction, fantasy and horror projects like The Walking Dead, The Incredible Hulk, Aliens, and The Terminator, so it’s just as difficult for me to branch out as it would be for a well-known documentary producer trying to produce genre narrative films. [But] it’s absolutely a money issue; it’s not something studios do. This is not a full-length documentary.

Cynopsis: Why is Wilma Mankiller a subject you wanted to focus on in a documentary?
Hurd: She was elected three times to be the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, and it’s surprising that almost no one knows that we have already had a woman elected head of state of a sovereign nation within the United States. That should be something everyone is aware of, [yet] almost no one knows her name, or legacy, or contributions she made to the Cherokee tribe. Louise Erdrich, the novelist, nominated Wilma [in March] to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill as part of the “Women on 20s” movement – because it would be a fantastic irony to have a woman whose nation was sent on the Trail of Tears, where 25 percent of that tribe died, replace Andrew Jackson on the $20.

Gale Anne Hurd and Norman Reedus

Gale Anne Hurd and Norman Reedus on the set of “The Walking Dead.”

Cynopsis: Is this basically the future for smaller, independent projects no matter what your level of expertise in Hollywood?
Hurd: I think there are more options than ever, which is a wonderful thing indeed. There may be more financing but theatrical distribution is more challenging than ever.

The Cynsiders column is a platform for industry leaders to reach out to colleagues, followers, and the public at large. In their own words and in targeted Q&As, columnists address breaking news, issues of the day, and the larger changes going on in the ever-evolving world of television, video and digital. Cynsiders columns live on Cynopsis’ main page and are promoted across all daily newsletters. We welcome readers’ comments, queries, and column ideas at RDawn (@) accessintel.com

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