The First Time Warren Ellis Wrote A Castlevania Animation, Ten Years Ago
Yesterday, it was announced that Netflix were to launch a Castlevania TV show this year written by Warren Ellis. and produced by Adi Shankar, Fred Siebert and Kevin Klonde
Well, it's been a long time coming. The production blog, now deleted from the internet (but saved in an old e-mail of mine), for what was then an animated direct-to-DVD movie based on Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse written by Warren with James Jean on visual design gave us some titbits.
What relation this project bears to that, is unknown.
Ellis wrote back then, in March 2007,
My name's Warren Ellis. I mostly write graphic novels and comics series. My first prose novel, CROOKED LITTLE VEIN, is out this summer, I've written a little bit of animation before, and I've been story consultant and cut-scene writer on a few videogames. And, until they fire me, I'm the screenwriter for the CASTLEVANIA D2DVD film.
The film is, of course, set in Wallachia in 1476. We've worked with Koji Igarashi to get the film solidly inside the Castlevania timeline, and he's approved everything I came up with, including some new embroidering to the timeline. To make it work as a film, I had to introduce new backstory, and I went through five drafts of the premise and three of the full outline to get the material where IGA wanted it. He remains absolutely passionate about Castlevania. After eight rewrites of pre-production material, I remain absolutely passionate about beating the crap out of IGA in a dark alleyway one day.
IGA is original Castlevania producer Koji Igarashi who consulted on the project. He continued,
Sypha Belnades is in the film.
Grant DaNasty is not.
So… am I going to get lynched?
What use is a pirate in a landlocked country anyway?
(Wallachia was cut off from the Black Sea by the Ottoman Empire by 1420 or thereabouts)
Yes. I cut Grant DaNasty out of the film. The reasons were:
* Grant DaNasty is a stupid name that I cannot take seriously. (When he does turn up, I'll probably use the alternate spelling of Grant DiNesti.)
* I only have 80 minutes. And in that 80 minutes I need to set up the backdrop, the history, the themes and five major characters to tell the story I want to tell. Because this isn't going to be the usual kind of videogame adaptation, the kind that just transposes the least challenging parts of gameplay to the screen. This is going to be an actual goddamn film with an actual goddamn story. But I only have 80 minutes. To try and shoehorn Grant in there, when I'm already trying to create the space for Trevor, Sypha and Alucard to breathe and fill the screen (not even mentioning Dracula, Lisa or the Bishop for the moment)…no. I'd end up doing a bad job on all of them, and giving up whole chunks of the plot. At which point you might as well just call Uwe Boll, you know?
* Seriously, what use is a pirate on dry land? "Avast, ye swabs, and push me fecking cart! Arrr!" No. Just no.
* Did you see that thing I did in the first reason there?
One thing that I don't think has been made clear thus far: the CASTLEVANIA film is not, as it were, for children.
What brought me onboard, beyond the word CASTLEVANIA, was producer Kevin Kolde telling me upfront that he did not want this to be a kids' movie. The freedom of d2DVD meant that we could tell the story without filters, in whatever way we deemed best.
I said something like "thank fuck for that." Not only because I basically have no manners, but because animation on tv has a shedload of weeiiirrrdd rules. I've been involved in tv animation for the US a little bit — developed a series that didn't go anywhere, wrote an episode of JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED — and had a taste of that. I'm not saying I wouldn't do it again, but I'm very well aware of what I'd be letting myself in for, and the idea of writing 80 concurrent minutes that had to adhere to Standards & Practises just makes me shudder.
CASTLEVANIA is, therefore, Not For Children.
What does this mean in practise? Does this mean blood up the walls, people hitting each other with heavy sacks full of abortions, the leathery flap and unf of vampire skullfucking and seemingly unending scenes of tentacle rape?
Well… what's it worth to you? Let's see some money. The line forms over there on the right.
No, you're not getting it.
We want to do three films.
Kevin and I have had the conversation about voice actors, yes. American actors? British actors? Eastern European actors? Any of the above doing Eastern European accents?
My own preference is for British actors, but that's because I'm English. And besides, you know the American rule — any accent not American must automatically be English. HBO didn't bat an eyelid at ensuring that everyone in ROME spoke with an English accent (aside from the slaves, heh). Note how HBO's DEADWOOD cast an Englishman as the hero of the Wild West.
(Yes, Al Swearengen was the hero. Anyone who disagrees with me is no longer Human and must turn their membership in at the door. The Walking Wombshit Club is just down the road, watching reruns of THE OC and weeping and masturbating at the same time. They'll take you.)
There's also the Sean Connery Effect to take into account. The Sean Connery Effect states that an accent that isn't American can automatically convey any ethnicity the script requires. Russian? Egyptian? Arabian? The Edinburgh accent can be any of these things, usually accompanied by a Thespian Hairpiece.
The thing about using actors from across Europe is that… and this is something that often seems poorly understood… there is no single Eastern European accent. You can have all kinds of fun watching the otherwise pretty good CHILDREN OF DUNE, which did use actors from many countries, and trying to work out how a culture that seems to be about thirty miles wide produced twelve different bloody accents. It's like the United Nations formed a desert gang. (Run by scene-chewing English nearly-man Steven Berkoff.)
If it were up to me, I'd wrestle things down to the point where there were only two or three different accents in the film, just for internal logic.
But, of course, it's not up to me.
There's another question from comments answered. Aren't you glad I'm spreading my wisdom here for you? Like spreading manure, yes.
Why a trilogy?
I spent a month or more pacing around the central problem of this film. Which is the format.
80 minutes. I knew, coming on board, that this was the format, and I liked it, because it was a technical challenge. But Kevin knew, when I came on board, that I wanted to write a film, not some by-the-numbers videogame adaptation. I wanted it to have some depth to it. I wanted to explore the environment of medieval Wallachia somewhat, I wanted the ordinary people to speak, I wanted a hint of feudal politics. And I wanted a vein of strangeness to it (also, an element of springpunkyprochronism, which I'll get to later).
(Also, people getting whipped. With Devo playing in the background.)
So what, in real terms, does an 80-minute runtime mean? It's a third of THE GODFATHER II. Half a SPIDER-MAN 3. The shortest cut of Woo's THE KILLER is still a hundred minutes or so. It's a hair under two episodes of a standard American network tv drama.
That's not a whole hell of a lot. And while I could have gone balls-out and crammed the beats of the source material into the film, going from introducing Trevor to beating Dracula inside 80 minutes… I don't think it would have made a very good film. In fact, what I found was that stopping a third of the way in, while obviously not telling the entire story within the source material, actually made a better film. Trevor to Sypha to Alucard carries a solid classical three-act structure, in fact, with actual resolution at the end. It's a self-contained film. The film obviously has the intention of a sequel, but doesn't require it to be a whole thing: it resolves its own plots and themes.
A trilogy lets us address the entirety of the source material, the uberplot. Each third of the source material has its own three-part structure lurking inside it. And if, you know, everything goes to hell and we don't get to do the trilogy? We've still got the best version of the film there, and it doesn't demand the presence of the other two parts for it to work as its own thing. It would just like them.
Current Blog Nemesis "Otaku-Man" asks, in comments passim:
There seriously needs to be a discussion thread or a blog entry about fan input about music.
So here it is.
There will be no fan input on music.
This isn't a crowdsourced collaboration, people. The production company enjoys and appreciates your enthusiasm, but this is just a production blog. You can tell by the way it says "Production Blog" in the category tags. If we decide that all the music will be played by one guy on the spoons — goth spoons — then that's the way it'll be. This site attempts to give you an insight into the production process, nothing more.
There you go.
There are probably two different kinds of screenwriters. The kind who start with a blank sheet of paper and just bull through to the end of the thing, and the expanders, like me.
People like me work as if they're applying coats of paint to the same surface. The only blank sheet of paper is the original premise document. When it comes to writing the outline, I paste the original premise document into a new file and start writing over the top of it: expanding it, rewording it, moving scenes around. And when it comes to the screenplay, I paste the outline into a new document, and start writing over the top of it.
It lets me control the shape of the thing exactly — which is vital when you're working to a hard runtime, as we are with CASTLEVANIA. Stops me getting too extemporaneous, and it also lets me see where I'm running short and might be able to lengthen a scene after all. (The trick to this kind of writing is entering a scene as late as possible and getting out as quickly as possible, which involves killing a lot of your darlings, as they say. So it's nice to be able to see where you might be able to bring one or two back from the dead.)
So, at the top of the outline, there is the line:
1475: DR LISA FARENHEIGHTS is working in her keep on the edge of WALLACHIA's CAPITAL CITY.
The outline goes straight from there to activation of the plot. But that's not how you write a story. For one thing, the top of a film is the only point at which you have time. You've got five minutes of the audience's indulgence, so you can take a little bit to look around. For another, story is not plot. Even the most superficial reading of Shakespeare will show you the characters doing things unrelated to the needs of the plot, talking, being people, being real, before they get around to activating their bit of plot.
So I start with that line, and I start making notes. This isn't screenplay. I put myself through two drafts of the official First Draft — I nail down the rough action and dialogue in note form, and then rewrite as I go back and convert everything into screenplay format. So that one line turned into a few pages of notes that started like this:
FADE IN:on rolling storm clouds, dark and evil.We push down through them, emerging into rain over EUROPE.SUPER
(date)We drop down with the rain, down over Eastern Europe, the dark forested territories of Wallachia.SUPER
WallachiaLIGHTNING crashes down past us, filling our POV with a WHITE-OUT:CUT TOOur vision returning as we find ourselves in front of LISA TEPES' HOUSE, a wooden structure outside a village. We see the rooves of the village in the mid-distance beyond the house, lit up by a lightning strike on a day twilit by heavy cloud. The rain drizzles down on the carefully-tended herb and vegetable garden at the front of the house.LISA (O.S.)
You stay right there, Mrs ***. I'm just going to get something for your cough.
SUPER denotes text superimposed on the screen, and O.S. denotes a voice issuing from off-screen.
How much of this survives to the screenplay? Well, despite the requests of people in the comments sections, I'm not going to be posting the screenplay to this production blog. As ever with this blog, we're just giving you a look at the process. And this is how a screenplay starts.
Things will be sparse here for a couple of weeks, now. I'm deep into the writing process, aiming to have the first draft of the script written by the end of the first week in June. It would have been done by now, but I lost three weeks to illness, which, given my other deadlines, put me solidly one month behind.
The outline, thankfully, is pretty much airtight, which speeds up the scripting process: I just expand it section by section, and then blend in the joins when I go back and turn it into screenplay format.
It also helps that I'd done the historical research already. Not that much of it will show up in the film, I'm sure, but I find it's good to have it in my head. 1370s Wallachia was, of course, an incredible shithole, with all the hallmarks of an energetic feudal society — beautiful buildings, constant internal strife and a life expectancy of about ten minutes.
I'd researched Vlad Tepes pretty thoroughly for another job some eight or ten years back, and I may apply some of his ideas on exterior decor to the Curse Castle. He did, after all, have very devious and knowing reasons for decorating the outside of his own keep with impaled bodies.
As I said before, all the changes and new stuff (including new characters like the Bishop of Gresit) have been approved by IGA. This also covers a new background for Sypha. I knew going in that I wanted to weave a richer backdrop for the story, essential for verisimilitude if you're writing something set in a near-Dark Ages feudal society, which is also defined by its clans, tribes, houses and peoples.
Which leads me to the themes of the work. Which I'll talk about later, as I need to work up the scene where Trevor gains entry to the walled city of Gresit now.
First Draft Excerpt:
(And, yes, I've chosen to show this excerpt for a reason. And, for the more rabid of our readership, please note this piece is not up for editing or rewriting. Thanks. — W)
EXT. VILLAGE – NIGHT
The village of MURDENU , as denoted by the wooden signpost hammered into the dirt track in front of an INN. Under it, a sign points left for GRESIT (15m) and right for TÂRGOVISTE (70m).
TWO WEEKS LATER
It's a cloudy night, no stars or moon. The only lights in the shot come from the lamps burning in the windows of the inn, from which we hear:
So I said to him, it's my goat, I've been tending goats since I was four years old –
INT. INN – NIGHT
And TREVOR BELMONT, the last of the legendary vampire hunters, sitting alone in the back of the drinking-house, wrapped in a heavy cloak and nursing a flagon of watery beer while, at the bar counter, BOSHA, a burly middle-aged farmer, blusters at KOB, a narrow man still wearing a blacksmith's apron. The INNKEEPER is trying hard not to listen.
– and I'd know if my goat was in love with you.
For God's sake.
And he says to me, I know your goat is in love with me.
So you said "how?", Bosha?
So I said, "how?" And he says, well, she fucks me, doesn't she?
Bosha pauses to down his beer.
And that's when you hit him.
Bosha clumps the beer pot down on the bar.
Right across the eyes with a shovel. And now the headman says I have to pay the bastard money because he went blind.—
From September 14th, 2007
Screenplay completed and delivered.
Historic Cinematic Innovations therein include coining of the phrase "snake-fuckingly crazy."
Now begins the real horror.
Then from November
Nothing new to report. I'm actually still waiting on a complete set of notes on the script from all concerned — I look at notes both from the producers both inside and outside the CASTLEVANIA production entity itself.
The "notes" phase is an entire production step in itself. I look at everything the various players at this point have to say, and address each of them in one of two ways. Either I agree with the change, and add it to the script. Or I disagree with the change and want to stab the person who suggested it with broken bottles until they die. Since I'm in England and they're in America, that gets difficult, and the bad exchange rate makes it harder, these days, to hire people in America who could do it for me. So I have to argue the point and explain in a coherent fashion why their note is bad for the script. And then they will tell me that I'm drunk and they don't recognise the language I wrote my argument in and could I please stop sending the weird little drawings of them being raped by hoboes?
So…yeah. A whole phase in and of itself.
Well, the notes on the screenplay came in this week. And I'm happy to say that they're minimal, and easily dealt with. (And no-one's said a thing about the swearing, the violence or the now-infamous Goat-Fucking Scene.)
In real terms, this means that we'll have a locked script in five weeks or so. And that's the point at which we commence the visual development in earnest. We all said from the beginning that everything has to emanate from the script, and our original conception of a videogame-derived film that was 1) a film for adults and 2) a good film first and a videogame-movie second.
Also, a film where bastards explode when they get whipped, people get set on fire, and Alucard has no clothes on. Because girls and gay men need fan service too.
Anyway, I'll be back next month after we've got the script locked, and I guess we'll get into the subject of visual development from there. Happy new year, and I'll see you on the other side.
In August 2008 the next year there was a production update saying "Sorry for the lack of updates. Warren delivered the revised draft of the script in early June. It has generated inquiries from some interested in releasing Castlevania as an animated feature film instead of a direct to DVD. Discussions are ongoing."
In August 2009, there was this image with a headline "Testing"
And that was it. The website went dead. And now? Netflix… what the script bears in resemblance to this, we don't know. Yet.