Screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith on the Challenges of Adapting Dark Shadows; Tim Burton on Possibility of a Sequel
05.09.12 by Ryan
Director Tim Burton's upcoming Dark Shadows won't be the first TV series to move to the big screen, but it is one of the few to boast more than 1,200 episodes. Screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) was tasked with turning the TV show's many characters, plot twists, and tone into a single script. During the Dark Shadows press conference over the weekend, Grahame-Smith admitted that he hadn't exactly pored over every single minute of the show. "You can't sit down and watch 1250-some-odd episodes," said Grahame-Smith before Burton interrupted: "Without wanting to kill yourself." Luckily, for Grahame-Smith, he had some help.
When I came into it, there had been materials that were given to me, DVDs of compilations that actual Dark Shadows experts had put together, like, these are the seminal moments. I was given book of characters and plot lines and just studied them. And then, I remember we had our first meeting — Tim and Johnny [Depp] and I — [and] just sat around a table and started talking about the things that they loved about the show and talking about moments that would be fun to explore.
Interestingly, Depp's character of the 200-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins wasn't originally in the Dark Shadows TV show when it first aired. The character arrived "300 episodes in" by Grahame-Smith's count, but the character, played by the late Jonathan Frid, quickly became the central figure on the show and, subsequently, the movie adaptation. Grahame-Smith said that Depp was already had an idea of how to play the character during their first meeting.
I remember, that first meeting, Johnny was already getting up from the table, sort of pantomiming the rigidity of Barnabas and Tim was already talking about, "Well what if your fingers were a joint longer," and Johnny started to then mime touching things... So a lot actually was born in those early meetings early on and what I needed to know about the tone I relied on them because they were there watching the show as kids and loving the show and they still had that knowledge of it and that love for it.
For Burton, the challenge was interpreting the tone of the series, which, while it tells stories involving vampires, werewolves, and ghosts, was still a soap opera.
Well, I mean it’s a tricky tone and we all recognize that. When we all talked about Dark Shadows, part of its appeal was the weird nature of all the elements that went into it. You know, very serious, but it was on in the afternoon, you know, on a daily basis. So, there were certain elements why we loved the show, but you couldn’t necessarily adopt to a film. So, it was the weirdest challenge which was to get the acting tone, the sort of soap opera nature of the tone, which, like I said, is a weird thing to go for in a Hollywood movie. So, it’s not like you go to a studio and go, "We want to do, like, kind of weird soap opera acting." Like, they'd go, "Oh, great — whatever that means." So it was an odd challenge to get, but that’s why I was so grateful to all of the cast because even the ones that didn’t know the show, kind of got into the spirit of it, which was what made it Dark Shadows. Trying to capture the spirit of what the show was.
It's too soon to tell whether Dark Shadows becomes a box office success, but Burton was still asked at the press conference about whether he would consider a sequel. While the source material certainly wouldn't run dry after one installment, Burton said that, despite the ending opening the door for the possibility, that he wasn't planning for a franchise.
Because of the nature of it being like a soap opera, that was the structure, it wasn’t so much of a conscious decision. First of all, it’s a bit presumptuous to think that — if something works out, that’s one thing, but you can’t ever predict that. So, that had more to do with the fact of the soap opera structure of it. Like I said, you know, there's Dark Shadows fans, and then there’s everybody else and you can’t really make it with projecting what you think it’s going to be. First of all, we make a movie that we wanted to see, and you just hope for the best.