Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Kattomic Energy Interview: John Harrison

 John Harrison began his career directing rock videos and working as 1st Ass't Director for famed horror director, George Romero (Night of the Living Dead/ Creepshow). Harrison wrote and directed multiple episodes of Romero's classic TV series, Tales From The Darkside before helming Tales From the Darkside, The Movie for Producer Richard Rubinstein and Paramount Pictures which won Harrison the Grand Prix du Festival at Avoriaz, France.
Harrison has written and directed episodes of Tales From The Crypt (HBO), Earth 2 (NBC), Profiler (NBC), and Leverage (TNT). He has written and directed world premier movies for the USA Network and Starz/Encore.
Harrison’s six-hour miniseries adaptation of Frank Herbert's monumental bestseller, Dune, which he also directed, was an Emmy-winning success in the U.S., then internationally both in its broadcast premieres and subsequently in home video.
Harrison’s children of Dune, another six-hour mini-series encompassing the next two novels of Frank Herbert's mythic adventure series which he wrote and co-produced, was another Emmy winner for the SyFy Channel.
Harrison co-wrote the animated feature, dinosaur for Disney. He also wrote the adaptation of Clive Barker’s fantasy novels, Abarat, also for Disney. In the Fall of ’06, Harrison reunited with mentor George Romero to produce Romero’s film Diary of the Dead. His action suspense thriller, Blank Slate, for producer Dean Devlin, which Harrison wrote and directed, aired as twenty episode micro-series on TNT in the Fall of ’08. Clive Barker’s Book of Blood, which he wrote and directed, was released in 2009.
Between 2010 and 2012, Harrison has continued his relationship with TNT directing episodes of the series Leverage and, most recently, with his adaptation of the Cornell Woolrich story, Rear Window, for Executive Producer Michael Douglas.
Harrison has written screenplays for Robert Zemeckis , Richard Donner, Will Smith and Dean Devlin among others, and he has directed such diverse talent as William Hurt, Julianne Moore, Tim Roth, Annabella Sciorra, Peter Fonda, Debbie Harry, Steve Buscemi, Eric Stoltz and many others.
He is currently in the U.K. filming the webseries Residue.
Destiny Gardens is his first novel.

KT: You’re a successful television and screenwriter/director/composer--what made you decide to write a novel? Is this a story that’s been percolating for a while?
JH: Like many moments in my career, the decision to embark upon this new endeavor called Destiny Gardens was as much accidental as deliberate. For example, I never intended to write music for movies, but I was the guy with the piano. So when my partners and I needed a score for our first film, that job fell to me. That led to my doing the music for several of George Romero’s films, and some of my own. I never intended to be a screenwriter, but when I came to Hollywood I quickly realized that the only way I might get directing assignments was to write my way into them. So I learned the craft of screenwriting.
Destiny Gardens took an equally circuitous route. It was a story I had been carrying around for a long time. Certainly not as fully developed as the novel is now, but a story with themes and characters and moments that are all there in the novel. I originally tried to develop it as a TV series with two producer friends of mine, Robert Heath (Hot In Cleveland, Mad About You, About Jim) and Mark Waxman (Beakman’s World, Sweet Justice). We never got it off the ground, so I decided to write a screenplay and mount it as a low-budget independent film. That, too, fell by the wayside as other work intruded.
Finally, while directing Leverage episodes for producer Dean Devlin and TNT, I was searching for a new project of my own to start. I kept coming back to DG. Every writer has a story he or she can’t shake, and this one was mine. So I decided to use my time off between Leverage episodes to see if I could finally get the entire story down. I began by writing what I thought was a traditional film treatment but soon realized I was, in fact, novelizing it. So I decided to keep going. Got about a third into it before, once again, other work intruded. Some screenplay assignments and more Leverage episodes. Work on DG was fitful.
During the Summer of 2012, though, I finally hunkered down, and between directing gigs I finished it.

KT: Your love for your hometown of Pittsburgh permeates Destiny Gardens. How many of the places you describe are based on real places? Was there a real “Destiny Gardens?”
JH: Though I’ve lived in LA for over 30 and have raised my kids here with my wife, I still consider Pittsburgh my home. It’s such a diverse and beautiful city, and it’s where my career got started. And being true to the old clich√© “write what you know”, it was only natural that my story would take place there. All of the primary locations do or did exist there. The Strand bowling alleys, the street and alleys of South Oakland and the Hill District, Forbes Field where the Pirates played. Some places are contrivances of real locations for dramatic purpose. The Evergreen Social Club on Larimar Avenue is a composite of several places I know, although the Larimar Avenue district (and its reputation) really exists. The Strip District still exists, although it’s quite a bit more trendy now than in the ‘50’s when the story is set.
There never was a Destiny Gardens, but there was the Duquesne Gardens. In Oakland where my family lived until I was 12. Like the fictional DG, it was an all-purpose public hall where the hockey team played, where they had boxing matches and political rallies. It’s gone now, replaced by rather non-descript and soulless apartment towers. The Destiny Gardens of the book has been conjured from my memories of that building and then moved to the Strip District where the kids in the book squat.
As with any novel, I’ve taken certain liberties with locale, and any real Pittsburgher will recognize them instantly. But the changes I’ve made are for dramatic purposes, and I’ve tried to remain true to the times as much as possible.
KT: Any chance you’ll revisit the characters from Destiny Gardens? Is there a sequel percolating as we speak?
JH: I’m not sure I’m ready to answer that. I will admit that Veronique has left a door open just a crack when she tells her grandkids that Patch “went away” for a while after the time at Destiny Gardens. But as Patch quickly adds, “Well now, that’s a complicated tale for another time.” And I’m not sure I’ve been told that tale. Yet.
KT: Concept to finished manuscript, how long did it take you to write Destiny Gardens?
JH: Again, the concept for the book had been percolating for years. And since I wrote DG in fits and starts, it took about a year. But if I actually calculate the time during which I only worked on it and added that up, maybe six months.
KT: How different was the process of writing a novel from the process of writing a script?
JH: Interestingly, not that much. At least for me. Yes, of course, the format is totally different. A good screenplay must always end up as a presentation of visual moments. And mine are notoriously terse. A screenplay must always live in the present tense. Backstory, internalization, the detail of setting, of mood, of character’s motivations and behaviors, all of these have to be shorthanded and passed off to other creative (hopefully) collaborators who can read between the lines and bring them to life.
Having said that, when one reads a really good screenplay, one can sense that the writer has already done that work in his mind. It’s there in the subtext. The story can’t move forward, the characters can’t behave the way they do without endless attention paid to those details in advance, even if they never end up on the page.
So from my experience, it’s only the form that is different, not the process. It’s all story-telling, after all.
KT: Many of your films have been horror or sci fi, is there a genre novel in your future?
JH: Entirely possible. That is if I can find the right story in which to invest that kind of time and energy. The project I’m presently working on could be one. It’s a supernatural thriller, and I actually wrote a good portion of the major story as a novel before I got diverted into the cinematic version we’re now developing. Because there is so much interest currently in the transmedia approach to material, I think there’s a good chance I’ll return to the book version.
KT: Speaking of the future, tell us about Residue. What’s it about and where will it be shown?
JH: I mentioned the current intrigue with what’s coming to be known as transmedia. That is, the simultaneous presentation of IP across all platforms, literary, graphic, TV, film and most importantly these days, the Internet. My producers at Matador came to me early and suggested this approach, but they didn’t want to co-opt the original idea that I had pitched and that they’d optioned. They asked if there were strands of the mythology that could be developed initially for the web as a means of jumpstarting the project. They believed something like that could be fully financed for production now if I could find a way into my story that way.
Well as soon as you hear the words “we have the financing” in this business, you damn well better jump through whatever hoops to get going.
In this case it was easy for me to conceive of a prequel story to the one I had originally pitched which I could write according to the smaller confines of the budget Matador had in mind. As I mentioned above, I had invested a lot of thought already in backstory, in characters that would never be seen but had set things in motion etc. So it was relatively easy to imagine a full story built around them, and that’s what we’re doing.

So, at present Residue consists of several parts: an initial 10-chapter web series of 10-minute episodes (“Paramentals Rising”), which will then comprise a full-length movie for DVD and VOD. This will hopefully excite enough people to carry on into a full-blown TV series (Residue, “Dark Pursuit”) with ‘digital extensions’ expanding on key elements of the story’s mythology and characters that can be accessed on-line, or in graphic novels or even books.
Can’t hurt to dream, can it?
KT: Could you see Residue as a novel? A traditional television show? A film? All of the above?
JH: All of the above. I think this is a growing trend these days. Especially in the areas of genre material.
KT: There’s a lot of talk these days about the impending doom of blockbuster movies and network television. Do you share that pessimism? Or do you think the industry is simply undergoing a paradigm shift in the way it delivers entertainment?
JH: I’m both pessimistic and optimistic. (But hey, I’ve always been a ‘cake-and-eat-it-too’ type personality). I would hope that the collective dreaming we all know and love as “the movies” will never completely vanish. There are some stories for which the big screen is the only way to appreciate them. Can you imagine “Lawrence of Arabia” on your Iphone!? The problem is…will anyone be brave enough to make such a film anymore?

My argument with current thinking is that studios and distributors can’t seem to figure out how to monetize anything marketed to audiences that aren’t small children or the 14 – 30 year old cohort, mostly boys. Creatively this well is starting to run pretty dry. We find more and more extravagant and hypnotic ways of devising spectacle, but the storytelling that holds it up is getting threadbare, repetitive, and increasingly meaningless. So guys like Lucas and Speilberg predict fewer movies at massive budgets that are sold for Broadway-type ticket prices. That would seem to imply that our future movie-going is destined to become an elite experience one enjoys on tourist holidays to LA or New York or even just to one’s downtown. In my humble opinion, this will shrink audiences even more.
I see TV slightly differently. Two developments have actually contributed, I think, to the improvement of television programming (and, ironically, to the dire straights the movies are in). First, the evolution of home entertainment centers and things like DVR which make the viewing experience so much more customized and enjoyable. The second is the proliferation of ‘channels’ that want to do original programming. These create competition, for talent, for ideas, for eyeballs. And I have no problem with the fragmentation of the audience. Why not have a lot of choices? Why not be able to find the kind of programming that appeals to you? “TV Everywhere” is going to become the norm because that’s they way young people view the world. “I want it when I want it on whatever device I happen to have at hand at the moment.”
I’m not smart enough to know how studios and producers will monetize this. But I’ve no doubt incredibly smart people will figure it out. Some of it will be advertising, some of it will subscription, some of it will always be free. As long as there are consumers, people will figure out a way to get them what they want. To me, that presents a lot of opportunities for creatives. 

Buy Destiny Gardens here 

 Find John on Facebook
Follow him on Twitter: @harbrobeanboy
Connect with him on his website
View his credits on IMDB
Watch the Destiny Gardens trailer here

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