In 2015, Seth Grahame-Smith is basically planning to rebuild your childhood.
The Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies author is also a screenwriter, producer, and soon-to-be director whose slate of projects reads like a list of dream properties for anyone who grew up in the ’80s or ’90s (and still is a kid at heart).
It’s also terrifying for him, since he tends to think the same thing fans are: Don’t screw these up.
A Beetlejuice sequel, a Ray Bradbury remake, a handful of Stephen King projects, and a pair of LEGO movies are just a few of the projects Grahame-Smith has in the works. When EW sat down to talk with him about his latest novel, The Last American Vampire, we also picked his brain for status updates on his film and TV work.
Here’s what he had to share.
THE LAST AMERICAN VAMPIRE
First up on his schedule is this sequel to to his 2010 history/monster mash-up Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The central figure in The Last American Vampire is axe-wielding Abe’s supernatural sidekick from the first novel, noble bloodsucker Henry Sturges, who leads readers through a post-Civil War chronology littered with corpses that—like the Confederacy itself—keep threatening to rise again.
“The germ of the idea was just wanting to know more about Henry Sturges, and the intervening years between 1865 and 1963, when we last saw them in the first book,” Grahame-Smith says. “What happened in that century? This book is the answer.”
From the lone-wolf slayings of Jack the Ripper to the mass murder and madness of Nazism and totalitarian Communism, every noteworthy act of cruelty, madness, or greedy thirst that can’t be slaked is revealed to be the handiwork of undead creatures. If that seems disrespectful, the author sees it as part of a long tradition of satire by way of horror. Anywhere society is inhuman, “we find vampires,” Grahame-Smith says. “It’s always been that way, ever since Bram Stoker. Or even back to the folk tales about vampires. They’ve always taken the place of other fears humans have, other evils.”
Status: The book hit shelves Jan. 13 and is available now. Check out the trailer above, at the very least for a very unconventional Mark Twain.
Some of Grahame-Smith’s other forthcoming projects are as a screenwriter; some are films or TV shows he’s producing with David Katzenberg, his partner in KatzSmith Productions. And one is the movie he hopes will be his directing debut. Here’s the rundown:
Next page: By the pricking of my thumbs …
SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES
Ray Bradbury’s novel was about two boys who tangle with a malevolent carnival that has come to their town to collect souls, and Grahame-Smith is counting on making it his directorial debut. It was previously made into a movie in 1983, starring Jason Robards as the aging father of one of the boys and Jonathan Pryce as the sinister carnival ringleader. (See the poster above.)
Grahame-Smith hopes to retain more of the original novel in his film, although he’ll be updating its 1930s setting to a different era of nostalgia: the 1980s.
“I can’t help but think of this in sort of Amblin terms,” he says, referring to the Steven Spielberg-produced films of the ’80s like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and The Goonies. “Boys riding bikes, out on their own, exploring and having to face an unspeakable evil by themselves. You want the boyhood aspects of it to be authentic, and the most authentic time that I know how to represent is my own boyhood.”
Status: “A great writer named David Leslie Johnson is going to write the script, based on a treatment I am just about to finish now,” Grahame-Smith says. “I hope to get a draft from him in the early spring and then start trying to make it real. The fast track, I would love to shoot in the fall of this year—if the draft came in really strong, if the studio liked it. It needs to take place in the autumn. I always say it’s a movie that you need to be able to smell the chimney smoke in the air.”
Next page: Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!
This follow-up to Tim Burton and Michael Keaton’s 1988 “ghost with the most” film has long been a passion project for Grahame-Smith, who is writing and co-producing with Burton—with whom he worked on 2012’s Dark Shadows. “[Burton] was doing press for Big Eyes right before the holiday, and was getting the Beetlejuice question, and sort of tipped people off that Winona [Ryder] would be back. Which yes, she will be back,” Grahame-Smith says.
“I think we landed on the right idea, landed on the right approach. It’s just now making sure that—for me—I don’t want to shit my pants in front of the entire world making a sequel to one of my favorite movies.”
Status: He has completed a few drafts of the script, and received interest from all the principle players. “I’ve emailed with Michael Keaton. I know he’s excited about the idea. I know Tim is excited about the idea. Where it stands now is Tim’s got to get ready to make [Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children], and then hopefully we are set, deals are done, and we’re waiting in the wings ready to go right after Peregrine’s wraps up. The ideal timeline is we’re really getting into it toward the end of this year.”
Next page: Dueling LEGO movies
THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE
The nice thing about telling a Batman story in the world of LEGO is that you get to ask, “why so serious?”—and mean it.
Grahame-Smith is putting together the building blocks of two animated theatrical releases, including writing the 2017 The Lego Batman Movie, a spin-off of the toy Caped Crusader (voiced by Will Arnett) from last year’s The Lego Movie. Don’t expect, um, Nolan-esque heaviness.
“The character is very different and the tone is extremely different,” Grahame-Smith says. “It’s obviously much more overtly, well… much funnier. It is a comedy. Yes, there’s action in it. But we’re trying to be funny. We’re not doing The Brick Knight.”
LEGO is basically an opportunity to take a character whose every comic book backstory is well-known, then go crazy with a story that doesn’t connect to any of that. “The sky is the limit in terms of the situations we can create, the villains that we can have come in. We’re not really limited by people you’ve seen in Gotham City before or situations Batman has found himself in before, so that’s exciting,” Grahame-Smith says.
Status: A draft is in, and Grahame-Smith is currently working on a rewrite. That won’t involve sitting at a laptop. “In reality, I’m going to be over at Bricksburg, which is the LEGO building, I’ll be over there later this afternoon sitting with [director Chris McKay] going through, scene by scene, idea by idea. It’s a very intensive process. How can we make this act better? How can we make this joke better?”
Grahame-Smith’s second LEGO movie is a feature film about the martial arts masters of “spinjitzu.” It’s pronounced Nin-JAHGO, although out-of-touch moms and dads may be tempted to call it “Ninja-Go.”
Grahame-Smith is helping to produce this tale of a team of ninjas who master a group of ancient, supernatural weapons. The toy series was introduced in 2011, and Ninjago has turned up in a few cartoons and games, although never before on the big screen. “They brought me in just to be a producer keeping an eye on story, basically. Working with the writers and the board artists and the director to focus on making the story emotional, making it big, making it interesting and new and fresh,” he says.
Status: On Ninjago he describes himself as part of a braintrust: “I look at cuts of animatics, re-drafts of scripts, and give notes and suggest changes,” Grahame-Smith says. The movie is on track for release in 2016.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES
Grahame-Smith made his mark as a pop-culture reanimator with this 2009 novel, which set Jane Austen’s 1813 comedy of love and manners within the context of an undead epidemic. That proved to be a stepping stone to Grahame-Smith’s other passion: movies and television. (As a teenager growing up in Connecticut, he once hosted a public access TV show that screened homemade films he made with high school friends.)
Studio executives loved his sense and sensibility: easily accessible pop-candy storytelling fused with reverence for bygone eras, be they centuries past or just a few decades. But he’s barely involved in this movie adaptation.
“When Natalie [Portman, the producer] optioned it in 2009, I was an unknown quantity in screenwriting, so it wasn’t a consideration,” Grahame Smith says. “Plus they got David O. Russell to adapt, so that was good,” Grahame-Smith says of the American Hustle filmmaker, who contributed a draft. “My to do-list regarding that film is ‘show up at the premiere and smile.'”
Status: Screen Gems plans to release the film, starring Lily James as Elizabeth Bennett and Sam Riley as Mr. Darcy, sometime this year.
“My swashbuckling nativity story that we are still trying to figure out,” Grahame-Smith says, with a sigh in his voice. This project is based on his own 2012 novel, which reimagined the Three Wise Men from the Nativity story as fugitive thieves who come to the aid of a couple and their newborn, who are also hoping to escape the lance of King Herod.
“It probably didn’t help that Exodus: Gods and Kings didn’t work,” Grahame-Smith says. “About three months ago, I got a call from Warner Brothers saying ‘hey, we really got to regroup and rethink Unholy Night because we think there’s a big movie there. It’s just in terms of how we approach it.'”
If Warner Bros. ends up moving forward, it could be a memorable alt-Christmas story—think of it as Die Hard at the Nativity. “That’s a good way of looking at it,” Grahame Smith says. “Balthazar as John McClane.”
Status: “It definitely went into sleep mode for a while. I’d written a few drafts. We’d gone out to some directors. We’d gotten some interest, but then hadn’t been able to find a director that the studio was going to roll out an $80 million budget for,” Grahame-Smith says.
But it’s still a possibility for the years ahead. “It’s going to be a matter of me going back into the script and re-focusing, and basically taking what was the first half of the book and making it the movie. Instead of the midpoint of the movie being the Star of Bethlehem, perhaps them riding off to the star of Bethlehem is the last image in the movie,” Grahame-Smith says. “It’s a project that’s going to require some radical surgery to get back on the top of people’s lists.”
STEPHEN KING’S IT
Grahame-Smith is producing this two-film adaptation of King’s epic 1986 novel about a shapeshifting evil that feeds off the fear of children—most often in the form of a bloodthirsty clown known as Pennywise. Cary Fukunaga (True Detective) is directing and co-writing the first installment, which will focus solely on a group of kids who join forces to fight back against the malevolent force. A second film would pick up with the same characters as adults, returning home to discover It has resurrected.
The novel was previously adapted into an ABC miniseries in 1990, starring Tim Curry as the deranged, sharp-fanged clown (pictured above, floating).
“I think that if anything, [the new film] will bring back some of the viciousness of the book that they couldn’t do with the miniseries because it was for broadcast,” Grahame-Smith says. “I think it’s going to be very scary, but I also feel like you’ve got Cary who is going to direct these kids—and he’s incredible at casting, incredible at shooting. He’s incredible with tone and atmosphere. One of the things I wanted to do is be a part of one of the really good King adaptations. As we know, there is an echelon of King adaptations that are classics. There are some that are okay. There are some that we’d rather forget.”
Status: “We’re going to get a draft, what is supposed to be the shooting [script], any day now from Cary and his writing partner,” Grahame-Smith says. “We’re doing a deal for them to write the second movie. Our hope is to prep sometime in the next few months and shoot in the summer. That one is as much on the runway as we can possibly be. I know New Line is ready to go.”
THE THINGS THEY LEFT BEHIND
Grahame-Smith is writing another adaptation of a King story, a TV series based on this short story about a World Trade Center worker who evades the 9/11 terror attacks only to find relics of his friends and colleagues mysteriously appearing in his home. The TV drama, which Grahame-Smith will co-produce with Greg Berlanti (Arrow, The Flash), drops the 9/11 element and instead has the hero discovering random objects from people who died before their time, leaving unfinished business for him to help resolve.
Status: “I thought this could be a really cool X-Files, Stephen King-centric procedural show,” Grahame-Smith says. “We sold it to CBS. I just finished the first draft of the script and I’m doing notes now. Hopefully we get to make the pilot in the spring. Then, hopefully we get ordered to series and get to be on CBS next fall.”
Next page: An ill-fated Gremlins reboot
“It was a completely different cast of characters, but acknowledging the events of the first two movies,” says Grahame-Smith, who brought the story to the original film’s producer, Steven Spielberg, and screenwriter, Chris Columbus.
Status: These Gremlins must’ve gotten a little too close to sunlight, because this one burned out. “I think we just ran out of steam,” Grahame-Smith says. “It’s one of those things where everybody got busy doing other things. It’s something I would love to come back to, but right now Steven’s making two movies back to back and Chris Columbus is busy. We’re all taking a five-minute break on that.”
NIGHT OF THE LIVING
This was an original idea planned as a stop-motion animated feature that Grahame-Smith was writing for Tim Burton—something fit right in with his other macabre-yet-lovable fiends from The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Corpse Bride, and Frankenweenie.
“It’s about a peace-loving community of monsters—vampires, zombies, creatures from the black lagoon—all living together in this little village,” Grahame-Smith says. “One night, a group of teenage monsters wanders off into the woods and stumbles into a human village. The humans come with their pitchforks and their chainsaws and their torches and come attack the peaceable monster village. Night of the Living is basically the horror-invasion movie flipped on its head.”
Status: Like Halloween decorations, this one has been packed away for a while. “We had to put it away because of Hotel Transylvania,” Grahame-Smith says, citing a rival friendly-monsters hit from Sony Pictures Animation. “I think we’re just going to be waiting on the sidelines for a while. It might morph into something animated with Tim that I can’t talk about yet, which would be awesome.”
This is another planned TV drama series, based on a sci-fi book by Robert Jackson Bennett. “It’s basically kind of a sci-fi Twin Peaks,” Grahame-Smiths says. “It’s about a town in the New Mexico desert where some strange things are going down. One woman wanders into town and finds that she can’t leave. They need, over the course of the series, to figure out what exactly is going on in this strange town where people may or may not be people and where there may be some nefarious world domination schemes happening.”
Status: KatzSmith is partnering with BBC Productions, and Amy Berg (Da Vinci’s Demons) is adapting the teleplay.
THE DAY I TURNED UNCOOL
More TV: KatzSmith Productions is also developing a project called The Day I Turned Uncool, based on a book by Dan Zevin. “It’s basically a series of essays on what it’s like to give up the last vestiges of youth and buy your first pair of khakis and your first pair of loafers for your job, leave your rat infested, cockroach infested apartment, and try to make a respectable home for yourself. What it’s like to get married,” Grahame-Smith says. “It’s a sort of coming-of-age comedy.”
Status: Currently in the early development stage with writer Lauren Miller.
Next page: The Scorpio Races and two mystery projects
THE SCORPIO RACES
“It’s a young adult story with a beautiful love story at its center, and [a] beautiful race at its climax that could be the YA version of Ben-Hur,” Grahame-Smith says of this planned adaptation of the 2011 Maggie Stiefvater novel. The alterate-universe story is set during an annual contest on a fictional island, with competitors mounting mystical creatures known as “water horses” for a potentially deadly race along the shore. The main characters are two orphans—a girl named Puck, and a boy named Sean—who see winning the race as a chance for a better future.
Status: Grahame-Smith is producing, and screenwriter Jack Thorne has already delivered a script. “We’re getting close to going after directors because the draft is really, really good now,” Grahame-Smith says. “Once we get a director locked up on that, we want to get going.”
SPEC 1 and SPEC 2
Although he does a lot of work reanimating other franchises, Grahame-Smith has two original ideas percolating on his computer. “There are two movies that I’m desperate to write for myself. I’ve had ideas for them for a long time and I just need the eight weeks for each one to sort of bang out a draft,” he says. “One is definitely more of a genre piece, a good, old fashioned heist movie. The other is a very particular and very offbeat way into the typical alien invasion movie.”
Status: “I have two folders on my desktop, which are Spec 1 and Spec 2,” Grahame-Smith says. “There are documents in there that are just rambling on ideas, scenes and pieces of dialogue. I’ll start putting them all together. I’m slowly cobbling.”