Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Seth Grahame-Smith on "Dark Shadows," "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"

Writer Seth Grahame-Smith sat down with for an extensive interview (click here for the full interview). The novelist and screenwriter talked about numerous projects, but here is the excerpt in which he discusses the adaptation of his own novel, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, his script for Dark Shadows, and collaborating with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.

As a writer, is there a difference for you, in writing a script for something like Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, where you didn’t know who would be cast in the roles, as opposed to something like Dark Shadows, where you know Johnny Depp is playing the character and that’s who you’re writing for?

GRAHAME-SMITH: Yeah, there is a difference, sure. The challenge with Lincoln was adapting my own book. I had to cannibalize and just give up all ownership of the book, in my mind. What makes a good book and what makes a good movie are totally different things. Someone told me that the best adaptations are merely inspired by the book, they’re not dictated by the book. That took awhile to learn. It took me awhile to get to the point where I could say, “Okay, maybe this movie does need a villain,” since there’s no villain in the book. And then, it was, “Who is that villain?” It was a huge learning experience for me. At the same time, working with Tim [Burton] and Johnny [Depp], I could meet with Johnny and sit down with him and hear him say these lines and talk to him about how he’s going to perform this character. That absolutely dictates the way that you write because you have a basis in which to imagine these words being said. It actually makes it easier and it makes it a little more fun to write in that situation. You’re like, “This is a Johnny Depp movie. This is a Tim Burton movie. I know what the pallette of that is and I can draw on it.”

Was there anything specific that you wanted to bring to Dark Shadows, both from your own sensibility and so that you made it familiar to fans?

GRAHAME-SMITH: My job on Dark Shadows was to make it fun and funny, first and foremost. It can still be dark and it can still even be gory and gothic at times, but it also needed to be fun and it needed to be an experience that people would enjoy having. I came at it from, “Let’s not be afraid to be funny. Let’s make Barnabas funny. Let’s see this movie through his eyes and really see a man who is trying to come to terms with what he is, where he is and when he is.” I think we really got there with the script. We’re still making some tweaks, and there are rehearsals coming up in a couple weeks and there will be some tweaks after that, but I think everybody is really excited, me included, about where we got. They’re filming Lincoln right now, which is exciting. And, they’re going to be filming Dark Shadows in May, which is also really exciting. It’s hard to believe. For me, thinking that these movies are going to be in theaters in a year or so, it’s just astonishing.

What’s it been like to collaborate with someone like Tim Burton, who is such a visual filmmaker?

GRAHAME-SMITH: It’s just another amazing experience, and a learning experience for me. Honestly, the last couple of years have been like going to film school all over again, times 100. It’s been amazing to watch the way that his mind works, and how he collaborates with Johnny, and how Johnny’s mind works. Also, getting to work with a producer like Richard Zanuck, who did Jaws, Planet of the Apes and The Sound of Music, is just incredible. It’s having living legends, all around you. It was intimidating at first because you’re walking in with these iconic people, but that goes away pretty quickly, and you get comfortable and realize that everybody is just a normal person.

In adapting your own material for Abraham Lincoln, were there things that you added to the script that you wished you’d have thought of for the novel?

GRAHAME-SMITH: Oh yeah, absolutely. The book deals with slavery, in a very delicate way. In retrospect, I should have had an African American point of view in the book. In the book, the slaves, until the very end of the book, are just victimized. That’s something that works, in terms of a book that’s purporting itself to be historically accurate, but at the same time, in a movie, you need all points of view. But, the real thing with Lincoln was that the book didn’t really have a cohesive central villain. The villain was all vampires and it was this thousands of years old movement that led them to the Civil War. You need an embodiment in a movie, much more than you do in a book. That’s something that we realized, along the process. We kept having all these conversations about making the threat more palpable, but what we were really saying was that we needed a person. So, as I’m writing my new book, which I’m doing now, the things that I’ve learned from the experience of doing these movies has just taught me so much about writing books. Not just because I want these books to go on to be movies and I want the process of adapting them to be easier, which is also true, but it just makes the stories richer, it makes them easier to tell and more fun to tell when you have people to say the things that you’re trying to get across. That’s definitely on my mind now.

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