EXCL: Seth Grahame-Smith on Adapting Dark Shadows

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Opening in theaters today: Dark Shadows, directed by Tim Burton.  On writing duties is Seth Grahame-Smith, not necessarily a newcomer to the genre, but a writer making his feature debut with this adaptation of the supernatural soap opera.

Shock first met Grahame-Smith when his book, How to Survive a Horror Movie, hit shelves.  We later crossed paths during the interview sessions for His Name Was Jason, the Friday the 13th documentary (which Grahame-Smith is all over talking about his love for the franchise).  His real success took off with the Jane Austen mash-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which launched not just a novel but a movie deal.

This summer, audiences get a one-two punch from him with Dark Shadows and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, an adaptation of his novel, produced by Tim Burton opening June 22nd.  So, yes, we’ll be hearing much more about the writer in the coming months.  For now, we spoke to him about all things Burton/Johnny Depp.  Head inside for our chat about bringing Dark Shadows to the screen.

Shock Till You Drop:  How’re you feeling?

Seth Grahame-Smith:  I feel good, I feel anxious.

Shock:  You’ve got so much in the pipeline, but this is the first thing coming out…

Smith:  Yeah, the first thing to be judged.

Shock:  Do you feel good knowing Dark Shadows is the first thing to represent your writing?  Or, would you prefer it was one of your original works…?

Smith:  It’s a good representation.  I’m proud of this movie.  It’s cool, it’s weird, I like it.  It’s very Tim Burton.  The movie is great.  It’s just, you never how it’s going to do or how it’s going to be received.  So many critics and so little screen space.  And, of course, in the wake of The Avengers tsunami, I feel like I’m standing on a beach watching the tide go out suddenly before the deep impact wave comes in.

Shock:  Your task, adapting-wise, isn’t enviable to delve into Dark Shadows.  I saw John August got a story credit in the film, but you wrote the script.  How did you guys crack the egg?

Smith:  For me, my marching orders from Tim and Johnny were…  August had written a draft and he’s great.  But he had taken it in a different direction.  Tim and Johnny wanted something Barnabas-centric, not afraid to be fun.  Those were my only two orders.  The three of us talked a lot amongst ourselves.  What would Barnabas do in 1972?  We talked about music and all of these crazy things that were going into the script.  I never felt like we were making a drama, I didn’t feel like we were making a comedy, I felt we were just making a weird movie that stood on its own for its weirdness.  For me, coming into the process as a fan: What are my favorite Burton movies?  And not just Burton/Depp movies, but Burton movies.  The thing was, the normal people are the dangerous people, the crazy people.  I thought a lot about this creepy, gothic creature in normal-ville and how he’d react to that.  I thought about Barnabas touching objects and being weirded out…

Shock:  The lava lamp scene.

Smith:  The lava lamp.  And we took that scene further.  Johnny came up with the line “pulsating blood urn,” that’s him.  He also came up with the line “curious terrain” when he runs his fingers along the asphalt.  That always cracked me up.  There’s just a lot of that.  I totally acknowledge that, when the trailer came out, people freaked and asked if we were doing a broad comedy.  It’s a mixed bag.  It’s certainly not broad.  There’s blood, there’s horror.  It’s a soap opera.  But it was a hard task.  Tim and Johnny love the show to death and you do want to do right by the fans and be cool and gothic and creepy.  But, you know, you need a lot of people to relate to the movie who don’t know the show.

Shock:  On a narrative level you were juggling a lot, catering to so many character.

Smith:  You have all of these great actors in the movie and they all need to have their own moments.  I’m not sure if I succeeded on that level.  I encourage people to really look at the deleted scenes when this Blu-ray comes out because there’s like a whole movie that was cut because it ran so long.  You have all of these weapons: Jonny Lee Miller, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloe and you want to have fun with all of them, but you only have two hours.

Shock:  Wow, how long was the original cut?

Smith:  I don’t remember how long it was.  By the time I started to see the film, they had already cut some of the David and Barnabas subplot and things like that.


For more on the writer’s upcoming projects, including Beetlejuice 2check out this story.