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A book about a city of graves could be getting new life on the big screen.

David Katzenberg and Seth Grahame-Smith, the partners behind KatzSmith Productions, have picked up the movie rights to Alive in Necropolis, a noirish detective story set in the real-life cemetery-filled town of Colma, Calif.

The 2008 debut novel of Doug Dorst focuses on a rookie cop who begins encountering restless souls while pounding the nighttime beat in the Northern California city. Colma is famous for being the Bay Area’s go-to place for burials, with 73 percent of its land dedicated to graveyards. About 1,600 people live there, while the underground population soars to around 1.5 million. (The town’s slogan is “It’s great to be alive in Colma.”)

Dorst’s novel was praised for taking the naturally eerie setting and fusing it with both supernatural elements and a by-the-book approach of a police procedural. The producers are aiming to give it a Chinatown or Se7en vibe, joined with the creepiness of The Sixth Sense.

Here’s what hooked the producers:

Starting in the 1920s, “[Colma] was founded when people in San Francisco realized they were running out of real-estate,” says Grahame-Smith, screenwriter of Tim Burton’s upcoming Dark Shadows, and author of the books Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. “They exhumed all the bodies and graveyard markers to this town, making it basically a kind of city of the dead.”


“The book is about a murder mystery, told through the eyes of a young detective who may or may not be going crazy, and may or may not be seeing ghosts that are helping him,” Grahame-Smith adds. “It’s a very rainy streets, brooding, straight-forward supernatural thriller.”

He and Katzenberg have an ambitious slate of projects, with their KatzSmith Productions having recently signed a high-profile first-look deal with Warner Bros. That includes numerous original screenplays and TV concepts, as well as acquisitions like Alive in Necropolis and potential spin-offs of existing franchises they both love, like a sequel to Beetlejuice they are developing in the hopes of luring Michael Keaton back to the character.

“We’re definitely drawn to character-driven ideas. It starts with the characters and starts with the writing,” says Katzenberg, who previously worked as a producer with reality guru Mark Burnett on Survivor and other shows before making his mark as a director with MTV’s Awkward and the raunchy high-school comedy series The Hard Times of RJ Berger, which he created with Grahame-Smith.

The kind of production deal they signed with Warner Bros. is increasingly rare in Hollywood, especially for producers so early in their careers. (Katzenberg is 28, and Grahame-Smith is 35.) “On Warner Bros. part, and [development and production chief] Greg Silverman’s part, and [vice president of production] Sarah Schechter’s part, it just shows they really believed in us. So it was a big vote of confidence that they trusted us,” says Katzenberg.

“We’re determined not to screw it up,” Grahame-Smith adds with a laugh.

On Twitter: @Breznican

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