is responsible for the ongoing marketing and merchandise strategies
In 2004 he served as Associate Producer on the unsuccessful
Dark Shadows pilot and offers an insider's view of the
project's shortcomings, along with plans for the future...
we spoke for the site back in 2003,
you seemed a little pessimistic about the chances of a new
Dark Shadows project
horrified to hear I was pessimistic!
say you thought a new project was a long shot.
well there wasn't really anything brewing at the time - that
was before the Wells thing came out of nowhere.
As it's not really been discussed in detail anywhere else,
let's talk about how the John Wells connection was made.
There's a guy who works for John Wells who loves Dark Shadows.
John Wells, of course, is very powerful, one of the top television
producers at the moment with E.R. and The West Wing.
He has a big development deal with Warner Brothers, and so
this colleague of his is a big fan - he's been to a Dark
Shadows Festival - and made his case for Dark Shadows.
Wells' company then approached Dan Curtis Productions about
trying to do something with Dark Shadows. There had
also been some interest around the same time from some other
entities - there's almost always somebody wanting to do Dark
Shadows. Dan is very protective and cautious - he won't
just farm it out - so that automatically rules out a good
percentage of proposals. The Wells thing took a fast track,
it seemed an ideal arrangement, and The WB Network expressed
interest as a broadcaster.
first thing was to bring in a writer that was approved, and
Mark Verheiden of Smallville was recruited, because
he was a fan too. We're fortunate that there are a few fans
within the profession's ranks. So Dan started hashing things
out with Mark and after a couple of months, the script was
done and got the go-ahead. So by then the pilot season - which
is horrendous, a terribly antiquated process - was approaching
in January. Everyone in the business is suddenly trying to
get a cast and crew for their show, and it's dreadful because
the clock is ticking and virtually everyone on your list is
being wooed by someone else.
never collaborated for Dark Shadows before - what changed
an interesting point. Dan respected John Wells and knows he
has a great pedigree. And the fact that there was a passion
in the ranks also helped and the timing was good, too. Dan
has another couple of things happening - he's directing a
new Showtime feature and he's got another movie coming up
after that. So the combination of still having creative control
and a solid foundation to work with made it a good opportunity,
along with the assurances that he could have the control that
he's used to.
as of now, where does the project stand?
that the pilot has been made and turned down by the WB, there
is still a relationship with John Wells and there is still
interest in revisiting it, but there's really been no firm
decision made on where we'd go next. Dan's tied up and Wells
is busy, but we do hope to see if we can still get a series
out of it, maybe a feature film.
pilot had a very public post mortem when The WB's Garth Ancier
panned it during a press conference
Yeah. Fortunately we do have a few TV critics who are fervent
supporters of Dark Shadows, who've seen it and did
a good job of trying to push the project.
seemed to very squarely blame director P.J. Hogan for the
project's failure. Was that a fair assessment?
Unfortunately we did not end up with the director Dan wanted.
Everyone agrees now that P.J Hogan did not deliver what was
expected and hiring him was simply a mistake. You have writing,
cast and director - those are the big things. Everyone agrees
that the script was strong. The casting we had concerns with
- no one was completely satisfied with all of the actors,
but the expectation was that we could recast, so no big problem
there. So you come down to a conflict with the direction.
Bowman, who directed two episodes of the 1991 Dark Shadows,
was our original choice. When Dan passed on the baton of director's
chores in 1991, he wanted guys he really felt respected his
vision and Dan was particularly pleased with Bowman. He wasn't
satisfied with all the 1991 directors, but he liked Bowman
who went on to do The X-Files. So Rob was an immediate
choice for the WB pilot. He went on the first location visit
up at the Greystone Mansion - he was eyeing it and getting
some pretty good vibes, a lot of memories from 1991 too.
unfortunately Rob got a feature film deal [for Elektra]
and backed out, fate stepped in and the network liked and
suggested P.J. Hogan. P.J. had most recently done Peter
Pan - which I haven't seen - but it is what it is, and
Dark Shadows is what it is, and he took a highly stylised
visual approach. Along with the overall look, some of the
characterisation was a little off-centre. He used a lot of
red light and he didn't do the foggy diffused look that Dan
likes. Instead he went with a lot of red. I don't know really
what to say - it's just very red! There was one scene in particular
- the very last sequence - which didn't really work. I think
it ruined a great deal of the impact, because it's the last
thing you see. P.J. did his own thing and it really wasn't
what the rest of us wanted.
you think this experience would affect how any future Dark
Shadows project is approached?
time you put your faith in something which is betrayed, it
is going to make you more cautious, and I know Dan Curtis
is very disappointed this thing didn't work out. He still
wants Dark Shadows to be properly reborn, but doing
commercial television nowadays is just very restrictive overall.
This Dark Shadows pilot is a textbook example of a
sure thing gone sour. It shows how the wrong guy navigating
the ship can just sink it. P.J. Hogan just did not have the
right feel for this material. He was a feature guy who brought
some style and whimsy to it which was really not faithful
to the Dark Shadows formula. I think a lot of the actors
did a good job in rising above that misdirection, but there
are a couple of scenes which really got royally misguided.
did you make of the new cast?
key to Dark Shadows really is Barnabas, Vicki, Willie and
Julia - those are really the core characters, the ones that
are do or die. I think that Alec Newman as Barnabas and Marley
Shelton as Victoria had a great chemistry. I think Marley
had that doe-eyed innocence, but she also had a strength to
her. She probably reminded me more of Joanna Going than Alexandra
Moltke. Alexandra always seemed like such a virginal innocent,
whereas Joanna had a little more backbone, as did Marley.
Newman had that same formal eloquence. He had a little more
youth, but of course he was ten years younger than the other
guys to play Barnabas. He also had something we referred to
as 'Blue Collar Barnabas'. A little less polished, but he
came across as a strong actor. There was a feeling at the
network that he wasn't enough of a soap stud, but I don't
think that The WB completely understood the appeal of the
show or the essence of the character. But on the plus side,
I think the chemistry was good between our two leads.
Willie, we had Matt Czuchry. He's a very nice guy and he loved
meeting John Karlen on the set and had a good time. I think
he's a good actor and Karlen liked him - Johnny's hard to
please, he can really sum up an actor. I think there were
a couple of scenes where Willie just got a little too silly,
but I'd blame the director for that. Everyone agreed that
Willie should be a little more down to earth than in 1991.
Jim Fyfe is a great comedic actor, but with him Willie was
really too much of a court jester. So Matt was a real asset.
didn't really appear in the pilot much, so you didn't get
a feeling for her. Kelly Hu was a sweet gal and had a couple
of scenes, but really there wasn't enough to tell, so the
jury was out on that. I think we had a really good Barnabas,
Vicki and Willie. Of the remaining cast, Martin Donovan made
a great stuffy, aristocratic Roger. He only had a couple of
introductory scenes, so he didn't really have enough space
to flesh it out.
really liked Alexander Gould, the little kid who played David
- he was a really spunky little guy. He'd be sitting there
between takes reading his Harry Potter book, just a perfect
little boy. He had a great time. You did worry that he'd end
up some disturbed adolescent with some of the stuff he was
doing in the pilot! The girl who was playing Angelique, Ivana
Milicevic, was really excited with her role. She only had
a couple of small things in the pilot, but I think she was
going to work out.
seemed to be upgraded to pin-up status too!
Willie was made younger, and he and Joe were our two heartthrobs.
We had Jason Shaw play Joe, who I think was a model for Calvin
Klein. He'd not done much acting and didn't have much to do
in the pilot, but he seemed quite natural.
what were the main differences between this and the 1991 pilot?
pilot moved very fast, unlike the slower 1991 opening. We
cut down the characters for the one-hour format - Maggie and
Sam were taken out of an earlier draft. It certainly moved
very fast and you stayed busy with it. Our set designer Kurt
[M. Petruccelli] did a nice job of reinventing Greystone.
You didn't think of the 1991 interiors at all, so it was a
total transformation. We also did some digital work on the
exterior which gave the outside a different feel from before.
there was a lot more technology available this time?
over the last 13 years there have been so many advancements
in digital effects. We did a lot of green screen work. The
train in the opening sequence was just an interior set for
the cabin, with everything else green-screened in afterwards.
The Old House didn't even exist - we just had little Alexander
running out in Canyon Country, in the woods with a big green
screen, onto which we matted in the exterior of the house.
It was very 21st Century in that respect.
2004's other new Dark Shadows production. The Return
to Collinwood play has just come out on CD
I'm happy with that. The actors had a lot of fun and with
all the original music, it's just like the Dark Shadows
fans remember. We haven't really mapped out any other stories
yet. The writer Jamison [Selby] has been busy doing a lot
of stuff, and so have I, so it's taken a year to get the thing
out. At the moment, the plan is to let it incubate for a while
and then look to see if we can do something else in 2005,
or maybe for the 40th Anniversary in 2006.
else is happening on the merchandise front?
I'm always interested to find new ideas for merchandise. With
this WB Dark Shadows project we'd been talking about
doing some comics. As you know, the comic book market is very
driven by teenage boys, and the idea was to do something with
the new Dark Shadows to go into that market. We do
have a new novel coming soon, though, which Lara Parker is
Studios, who are doing the new action figures, are making
a Barnabas and a Quentin, along with busts of those characters
as well. If the response to their stuff is good, they hope
to do some other things. It's the whole trickle effect thing
- if those do well, we might be able to get some other companies
doing stuff too. MPI Home Video is equipped to do merchandise
to tie in with the DVDs too. It'd be nice maybe to do a board
game - something a little more sophisticated than plastic
of DVDs, there's been some dismay over some footage being
removed from the sets. What's happened and how is it being
addressed for future releases?
and Dan Curtis Productions have every intention of issuing
the original episodes in their entirety. Unfortunately, the
episodes were all digitally re-mastered a few years ago and
some of the engineers who worked on the project took it upon
themselves to do some fixes without being authorised, and
without informing anyone. These digital masters have never
been touched until now for the DVD authoring, so there have
been a few cases where trims have slipped by unnoticed.
can all live with a few frames missing out on a fade-out or
something, but there have been some unfortunate cuts, including
the famous scene with Bathia Mapes being prompted. We'll put
that one out uncut when we do the bloopers DVD. I can say
that quality control is being stepped up and we're trying
to stop that sort of thing from happening again.