Seth Grahame-Smith is one busy gothic drama writer. Well known for his two New York Times best-selling novels, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the 36-year-old New York native recently adapted Vampire Hunter into a film version. Scheduled to hit theaters on June 22, the film was produced by Tim Burton, with whom Grahame-Smith just collaborated on this week’s Dark Shadows. He’s also finished scripting his first animated film, Night of the Living, and is working on a Beetlejuice sequel.
Movies.com had the opportunity to talk with Seth Grahame-Smith about Dark Shadows, working with Tim Burton, the pressures of creating a Beetlejuice follow-up, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and much more.
Movies.com: Dark Shadows seems to mark a lot of first moments for you. What has the experience been like?
Seth Grahame-Smith: It’s all weird, intimidating and fun. This is the first big movie I’ve ever had come out in theaters and so there are a lot of firsts. I don’t know what it’s going to be like opening night, how I’m supposed to feel at the premiere. I’m just trying to navigate my way through it and not become too anxious about how are we going to do? How are we going to be received? What does it all mean?
Movies.com: Is this experience similar or different to when you published your first book?
Grahame-Smith: What’s cool is driving around L.A. and seeing all the billboards. It’s so surreal but it’s kind of an exaggerated version of what I remember when I first walked in to a bookstore and saw my books there. I used to go to bookstores just to watch people pick up my book so I’m not above admitting that at all. Friday night, I’ll probably just go to a bunch of theaters and sit at the back of a couple of shows and hopefully everyone will laugh at the right times. It’s an interesting time, we are definitely the other movie because Avengers is so huge but I do really feel proud of the movie and I feel that we are something really different. Hopefully it all translates really well.
Movies.com: Will you be watching Avengers?
Grahame-Smith: Yeah, of course. I’m a genre fan, I’m a geek. I’ll give them my $17.50 or whatever it is. Not like they need it but I’ll give it to them.
Movies.com: What were some of the challenges in creating Dark Shadows? Did you find yourself disagreeing with Tim Burton?
Grahame-Smith: With Dark Shadows, we ran up against a few things. Interestingly enough it was with the amount of smoking in the film. We had to tone down some of the smoking. For the most part, I just thought about trying to infuse a sense of fun into it. The challenge for me with this script was that it’s such a mixed bag of gothic-horror, weird, funny, dramatic and soap-operatic. It’s trying to balance all that and also balance the characters. The touchstone that I kept coming back to was blood is thicker than water. Family, family, family, we hit that note over and over again.
I really like Tim personally, obviously, I still idolize him. What’s weird is when you’re collaborating and sometimes that means disagreeing. It’s not easy to look at Tim or to look at Johnny and go, “I’m not so sure about that.”
Movies.com: What are you working on next with Tim?
Grahame-Smith: I just wrote another script for Tim, not Beetlejuice 2, it’s a script called Night of the Living. It’s an animated piece. Tim is waiting for me to come up with a Beetlejuice sequel that is going to get everybody to say, “Yes, we’re doing this.”
Movies.com: Have you written anything?
Grahame-Smith: I have but it’s not something I’m ready to share. The original movie is very important to me, Tim, and Michael Keaton and in order for everybody to come back and not just feel like we’re doing it as an exercise in vanity or as an exercise in commercialism, we need a story that makes sense and that feels like a worthy successor. That’s not easy to do.
Movies.com: What’s your writing process for Beetlejuice?
Grahame-Smith: First you go back and look at the original movie, listen to Danny’s score again and again and you try your best to capture what was special. In that movie, though, there was a lot of accidental genius in it as well. I hope we get to do it and bring everybody back but I rather not do it then do the bad- just-because-we-can version of it.
Movies.com: Are you worried about diehard Beetlejuice fans?
Grahame-Smith: I don’t want to face the fans. I already write things that make people mad; some things are already controversial enough. I don’t want to face my fellow fans and apologize for having made the bad Beetlejuice sequel.
It’s all very exciting but intimidating all at once. You asked for the ball, now it’s yours, and what are you going to do with it? If I don’t get it right, I would rather be honest and say, “Let’s not do this.”
Movies.com: You got big names in Dark Shadows. Do you feel added pressure for your next film project?
Grahame-Smith: Sure. I mean there so different and they are vampire centric in a way. I call Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter a B-movie with A-level production values and execution. Dark Shadows is a prestige piece with a huge cast and director. With Vampire Hunter, I feel a little more personal responsibility and connection because it came from my book and we don’t have the big huge stars so the movie is going to have to speak for itself.
Movies.com: Vampire Hunter is rated R. What sort of crazy antics can horror fans look forward to?
Grahame-Smith: It’s a scary movie. It has some scary stuff for sure. It’s rated R for a reason. It is a superhero movie set in the 19th century, completely different than anything else this summer. It’s a sort of ridiculous concept that is done in a completely unapologetic, straight forward, muscular fashion. There is never a moment in the movie that we look at the camera and say, “Ha ha, just kidding, wink wink.” We play it straight and dark and heavy the entire way through. Like Ben Walker says, who plays Lincoln, the joke ends in the title.
Movies.com: Where does your fascination with vampires come from?
Grahame-Smith: I do love writing about vampires. They’re just very interesting to me. I always think, what is the personality of a person who’s been the same being for thousands of years? What does that do to a mind and what would it be like to see that much history go by? They fascinate me in a lot of different levels.
Movies.com: Twilight fan?
Grahame-Smith: I’m a Stephenie Meyer fan. Twilight is not for me.
Follow us @elisaosegueda and @moviesdotcom