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DF Interview: Tony Lee dramatizes Dracula writer’s life in film, Stoker’s Monster: Before Dracula
By Byron Brewer
[NOTE: This interview was conducted shortly before the beginning of the San Diego Comic Con last week.]
Many and diverse have been the rewritings, adaptations and plain thievery of Bram Stoker’s immortal Dracula novel, including the classic Universal film.
But what of the man himself, the scribe behind the Lord of Vampires? With an incredible historic backdrop married to fictional elements, this is something screen and graphic novel writer Tony Lee explored when he put together a film for Boxfly: Stoker’s Monster: Before Dracula.
To find out more about this rich history of Stoker and how it came to be a film, DF sat down with Tony Lee for a most fascinating chat.
Dynamic Forces: Tony, you are working currently on a film for Boxfly called Stoker’s Monster. Does this stem at all from your 2009 graphic novel, Harker? And if so, what is the connection aside from the Dracula-rooted obvious?
Tony Lee: Funnily enough, this is a “yes” and “no” answer. Stoker’s Monster: Before Dracula doesn’t have anything to do with Harker (a screenplay of which is also doing the rounds with producers), but does stem from it, as it was working on Harker that put me in touch with Dacre Stoker, Bram's great-grandnephew, who wrote an introduction on Bram for us when the GN came out. We became good friends, and he would always try to meet with me and my wife when he was in the UK, and likewise if we were in the same U.S. town together -- and over the years we'd always talked about working together on something. Then a year ago, we were talking on Skype and an idea I had matched with some documents of Bram's that Dacre had found, and we started talking about ideas and “what ifs”, and suddenly we realized we had something. I was in a meeting with Haydn Pryce-Jenkins of BoxFly the following week (I'd been hired to re-write their Also Known As screenplay a few months earlier), and by chance Dacre was in London, and we could arrange a pitch meeting ... every step felt like it was supposed to happen.
DF: What is the film about? Is it a biopic of the great writer who brought the King of Vampires to life, or is it somewhat fictionalized?
Tony Lee: Again it's a “yes” and “no” answer -- the settings, the characters and the locations are all based on historical fact. We know that Bram Stoker, Henry Irving, Ellen Terry and the Lyceum Theatre were in New York in February / March 1888 performing plays at the Star Theatre, performances that included Irving's own adaptation of Goethe's Faust. We know that people like Mark Twain, Teddy Roosevelt and Buffalo Bill knew Irving and Stoker at the time, and were in New York approximate to the time. We know that Bram brought his wife Florence on this tour, the only time that he ever did this. We also know that a week into the New York tour dates, the theatre next door to them burned down in flames, a blazing inferno that Bram actually found himself inside, and that a week before they left, New York suffered the worst blizzard in history, blocking out the sun for three days and leaving two hundred New Yorkers dead in two-storey-high drifts.
This small period was so filled with activity, it seemed a shame to not look closer -- especially with the fact that within a few months, even weeks of returning to London, Stoker starts to plot out his greatest creation after having repeated nightmares. So the question becomes “What happened during this eventful time that inspired Stoker to write Dracula, and what gave him the nightmares?”, which is where the fictionalized aspect comes in. Because we've created a mystery in the theatre, something not quite “vampire” but enough to change everything Stoker's ever believed, as he and his friends fight for their very lives.
DF: Is research into your characters, especially in this instance, something you enjoy? Were you a fan of Stoker’s book Dracula, or perhaps the great Lugosi’s film portrayal?
Tony Lee: I am indeed -- both my wife, Tracy Lee, and I are members of the Dracula Society, a literary society with strong connections to Bram and his creation, and Tracy even used Dracula in her University dissertation, she was my main researcher for Harker and has also researched things for Dacre before. Therefore she's been involved as a consultant on Stoker’s Monster as we researched it, and I can honestly say that some of the things she researched were influential in turning the story we had into the screenplay I completed. Because we're looking at a very specific time, it's hard to find things that match -- Stoker talks briefly of this time in his memoirs of Irving, there's some diary entries, a couple of news clippings, letters from Irving to various people that the Irving Society has in its archives, diaries about the blizzard … all these things get thrown together so we can confirm that Stoker says 'x' about Irving doing something on this date, but we know that Irving writes to 'y' about something a day later, so the date must be 'z' instead, etc. And of course every revelation gave us more to play with, sometimes even leading to excited Skype conversations where we changed entire chunks of fictionalized story because the newly-discovered facts fitted so much better!
DF: I have heard a bit, but share with our readers some of the fascinating discoveries you made during your research for writing this film please.
Tony Lee: Well, many of the discoveries lead to spoilers, but things that can be mentioned include a newspaper clipping warning of vampiric goings-on in New England that was published right before the troupe arrives; that Florence only made one journey abroad with Bram and the Theatre, and that was this one; that Irving's version of Faust had many lines within that linked incredibly strongly with the novel Dracula itself; and a variety of things that made me realize that certain real life characters just had to be the inspiration for the mythical characters of Harker, the Count, Lucy, etc.
DF: Did you also research the real-life Vlad Dracula, aka The Impaler?
Tony Lee: Luckily, we didn't need to, because the connection Bram makes with Vlad is in Whitby months, even years later.
DF: What state is the film in now? Still in the writing stages? Script finished and being shopped around?
Tony Lee: As I write this, I'm packing for San Diego [Comic Con], while Boxfly producer Haydn Pryce-Jenkins is already in Los Angeles, discussing this project with studios and following on from a round of meetings in February. So hopefully, there'll [soon be] good news.
DF: Tony, any other works you’d care to discuss?
Tony Lee: So many! Obviously the main one right now is the GN adaptation of Also Known As with BoxFly, which will be launched at San Diego Comic Con at the Arcana Booth … The film is also moving on and we have a couple of meetings once Haydn joins me in San Diego.
It was announced back in February that I've been hired to write a futuristic Robin Hood film currently called Outlaw: Robin Hood 2040 for Gianni Nunnari's Hollywood Gang, they of 300 and The Departed fame, and the director of the film, Hasraf “Haz” Dulull and I are working on the final draft right now. I'm also working with Haz's production company on another film, going into production at the end of the year called Flight 342 -- I've been brought on to write the script for it and it's pretty much the most fun I've had for a while, as the gloves are off within reason on pretty much whatever I can bring into the story. It's an incredibly fantastical, very X-Files style science fiction thriller set on a plane -- and that's all I'm saying for the moment. But I'll be writing the screenplays of that and Robin Hood pretty much most of San Diego, when I'm not in meetings or collecting Pokemon ... (laughs)
I've also got a modern day Thirty Nine Steps adaptation that's gone into development, my In the Ring wrestling comedy is doing the rounds, there are a couple of TV series in development with both UK and U.S. producers, and finally I've got a film in production with Unstoppable Entertainment that I believe is being directed early next year by Noel Clarke. I'm not sure where we are on that, or even how much I can say, so let's stop there.
As for comics, I've been away for a couple of years, but I have a few meetings at SDCC, so we'll see what happens ...
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Tony Lee for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. Keep watching this space and DF News for more on Stoker’s Monster: Before Dracula and Mr. Lee’s other projects.
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