When Gale Anne Hurd was recommended for a job at New World Pictures by a professor at Stanford U. in the late ’70s, she was willing to tackle the grunt work required of an entry-level applicant. But what she really wanted to do was produce. Lucky for her, she had two things going her: She shared an alma mater with her prospective boss, Roger Corman, a Stanford man; and, having a double degree in economics and communications, she had all the poise and smarts he was looking for in an executive assistant.
“I was aware very early on that she was highly intelligent, thoughtful and extremely modest in describing her accomplishments,” says Corman. “So hiring her was a very easy decision.”
Once on the job and working with the man who had mentored Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, James Cameron and Ron Howard, Hurd realized she’d be learning — quickly — about everything that went into making movies from her legendarily efficient boss.
“In 1978, when there were not role models for women to follow in this business, Roger gave you every opportunity to learn,” says Hurd. “One day I’d be answering phones and working on letters and the next day he would come in and say he needed me to take location photos for a new movie that was starting. He’d have me break down the script and go out and get what he needed, even if I’d never done it before.”
Corman believes he was practical as much as anything else in promoting Hurd.
“I didn’t have time not to have the right person in the right position because what I needed was a talented, smart and hard-working person there with me, and that was Gale,” says Corman.
Hurd also credits Corman with an open, less-structured environment that encouraged fresh ideas.
“I thought it was important for everyone to be heard,” says Corman. “We didn’t have a lot of hierarchy in those days and it was possible for everyone to contribute and have an opinion, because I wanted people around me to disagree if I was wrong about something, or if there was a better way to do something.”
While Corman focused on films with smaller budgets and tight production schedules, the benefits of working at New World didn’t just extend to Hurd’s smaller-scale productions like “Tremors” and “The Waterdance.” Hurd believes she was better prepared for even the tent-pole franchises — from “The Terminator” to this summer’s “The Incredible Hulk.”
“The idea was that no matter what your budget was,” says Hurd, “there were some things that you might not be able to afford. So you had to be creative and smart about how you used the money. It’s the same process no matter what the size of the movie.”
Years later, Corman was delighted and surprised by what he saw when Hurd and Cameron invited him to view an early cut of “The Terminator.” As he watched the movie, it was apparent that his philosophy of efficiency helped create a sci-fi classic.
“It was the perfect example of the students surpassing the master,” says Corman. “I’d shown them everything that I knew and made a point of being innovative in how we used what we had. And they’d made this movie that used all of that and went beyond what we’d done.”
Hurd is quick to credit Corman for a crucial element in this and all her successes afterward.
“Roger’s perspective was always that if you were smart, you could do it and you would figure it out,” says Hurd. “So you believed it and you did it.”