Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Dredging up the past (and the future)


PATRICK McCRAY has spent the summer revisiting DARK SHADOWS, and crafting the story into an epistolary novel told, primarily, from the point of view of BARNABAS COLLINS. McCray more-or-less wrapped the project, which is the second phase of his DARK SHADOWS EXPERIMENT, and spoke with us about the challenges of crafting a linear narrative from lengthy television series. What follows in a transcript of a telephone conversation we had last weekend about THE COLLINS CHRONICLES.

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WHERE DID THE IDEA ORIGINATE? 
I had the idea for a long time. It was initially going to be an episode guide, or something I wanted to see as an episode guide. You've got this character and he travels through time and is vaguely immortal, and is in, what I thought at the time, most of the episodes. So I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if somebody did that?' This was years ago, maybe 10-20 years ago, when I was reading PHILIP JOSE FARMER's biography of DOC SAVAGE and stuff like that. I thought, 'Gosh, if you sewed together all his diary entries from the show, you'd almost have a biography of BARNABAS COLLINS. At least for a section of his life. Then I put the idea away.

Then I went through the "experiment" last year, and came away with a shifted perspective on who the protagonist was. Really, protagonist is the wrong word ... who the hero of the story was. When I look at story construction, I ask, 'Who makes the most important decision in the climax of the story?' Looking at DARK SHADOWS and considering JUDAH ZACHARY to be the cause of everyone's misery, then the person who makes the most important decision in all of that is ANGELIQUE. Strangely, it almost becomes Angelique's story.

I started to get the idea of the journals again, and thought I'd just do them for BARNABAS. I can handle that. It would not take that many hours a day, and I can knock it out in about four or five weeks. I did the count and figured out what the Barnabas episodes were, and through in the Angelique episodes. I thought that would be interesting because we'll get all the stuff the character doesn't know. We'll see it all very much from Barnabas' point of view. If there are ten episodes that go by with no Barnabas, when he shows back up, does he have readjustment as a character? Does it show up in the writing?

Journaling is a very powerful creative tool. I thought about what it would be like to have a literary character do journaling. I pride myself on taking on too much. I thought this was going to be an incomplete view of the show, at least of the Barnabas narrative. So I thought, what if I expanded it? At least as much as is possible in this meta-narrative that I'd set up. That's when I threw in the other episodes. I left out the part in Parallel Time when he's in the box, because what's he going to say? "Day Five: Still in the box?" And I left out the part of the series before he comes on. Conveniently, those are both parts of the series that I'm interested in, but I can do later.
 

WAS THE IDEA BEHIND THE EXPERIMENT TO FORCE A "THROUGH LINE" FOR DARK SHADOWS? THE SHOW DOESN'T REALLY HAVE A LINEAR NARRATIVE. IT HAS RECURRING THEMES AND IDEAS, BUT NOT SO MUCH A LINEAR NARRATIVE.
Yes and no. Had I the world enough in time, I would have done even moreso. There were some episodes that were just dogs, in terms of the fact that the most interesting characters weren't writers. Or they were somewhere where Barnabas couldn't have got any document tied to them. So creating a really comprehensive linear narrative was extremely challenging in some places. There are some entries that are almost non sequitur. There are some entries, such as in 1840, that are just emblematic of how hellzapoppin that storyline is, because it goes all over the map. It's tough to do something in a linear narrative that's based in letters because you only have that one character's perspective. I had to leave out giant, important swaths of plot because Barnabas wouldn't know anything about it, because major characters in the show wouldn't know anything about it.

Having said that, I really tried to plant as many seed as I could to lead us toward Judah Zachary. I even had Joshua mentioning him. And, in almost all of Barnabas's entries, he either damns Angelique with faint praise, or actually says something nice about her that gets mitigates by something else that he says. I'm a big fan of 1840 and defend it vigorously. It can be a major Whiskey Tango Foxtrot for viewers because it has some real about face going on in it. But I understood it and wanted to make that as clear and tight as possible. So there are some very strong through lines in there. I tried, at least.



WHAT IS IT ABOUT ANGELIQUE THAT MAKES HER THE HERO OF THE STORY?
She makes the most important decision at the end. You can attribute much of the chaos at Collinwood to Judah Zachary's curse. If that is the case, the person that makes the biggest sacrifice to remove it is Angelique. Barnabas comes to her and says, "Look, you can't stand on the sidelines anymore. You have to deal with this." She's really humbled herself in a big way. She's admitted that she loves him, but it doesn't feel inconsistent. When she hears Barnabas say this, agrees he's probably right, and says "This is probably going to kill me." That's what basically takes down Gerard and gives Desmond the opportunity to shoot him.

But she admits she's a witch, which she's basically never done, in front of a judge. She's got the head of Judah Zachary there. Even though it's a wild, outlandish story, in 1840 they're about to behead a man for witchcraft, so they're award of how outlandish things have become. In Collinsport in 1840, they're fairly well steeped in that. But that moment is basically Luke turning off the targeting computers and firing the torpedoes on instinct. It's any of those moments when a character makes that big decision, they don't know how it's going to go, everything they are is going to be sacrificed or challenged ... and that's the moment for Angelique.

WHY DO YOU THINK ANGELIQUE HAS BEEN INTERPRETED SO DIFFERENTLY IN LATER VERSIONS OF THE STORY? IN THE 1991 REVIVAL AND TIM BURTON MOVIE, ANGELIQUE IS SIMPLY CRAZY. SHE GOES FROM ZERO TO MURDER WITH NO REAL MOTIVATION.
The original TV show had excellent playwrites who really knew character. And they had a lot of time. They had 450 hours to develop these characters, so they didn't have to rush things. As much as DARK SHADOWS gets accused of being wild and ridiculous and over the top, there are a lot of subtleties. They unleash Angelique's "evil" pretty early, but to have had her as a mustache-twirling villain right from the start would have gotten old, and those writers were too smart for that. So they gave her a lot of ambiguity, because they had time to because of the format. This gave her a lot of dimension.

The other half of it is the unbelievably wise, enthusiastic turn of acting by LARA PARKER. I think because she was a tad older than the other ingenues on the show by a few years, it gave her a very interesting quality of reflectiveness. It gave her a sense of authority and confidence, but also a great amount of vulnerability. If you write DARK SHADOWS from the point of view that she's a binary villain, someone who's very black and white, and you've got to reduce it as much as possible, you're going to get what we've gotten since then. And it's a shame.

If you approach her as a very troubled heroine, this is CATWOMAN. She's Selina Kyle. She does lots of good stuff too. If you approach it that way, and have the right actress, you'll have a successful presentation of the character.

PEOPLE TEND TO FORGET THAT ANGELIQUE ACTUALLY DIED IN THE 1796 STORY TRYING TO UNDO THE VAMPIRE CURSE.
You're exactly right. It's even more heightened than that, because it's the one part of the curse she forgets to lift. The curse is "Anyone who loves you will die, so I'll make you a vampire." She forgets that part of the curse, which makes it absolutely Shakespearean.

HAVE YOU READ THE SALEM BRANCH?
I'm almost done with it. There's a chapter I finished a little while ago. It's the chapter where Antoinette has led David on and then dumped him. David's sitting on a ledge at Collinwood. He's got his window open, and Barnabas comes into the room and is doing what he can to bring him back in. David's not threatening to kill himself, but he's in a really dark, broken funk. And he and Barnabas sat on David's bed and talked. I was in tears. It was so accurate, and felt like a true extension of the characters. I wasn't expecting that from the characters.


WHICH OF THE CHARACTERS' VOICES WERE THE EASIEST TO CAPTURE?
The easiest were Barnabas, Stokes, Petofi and Willie. Those were the easiest to write. Julia was the mot difficult, and Angelique was pretty tough, also. I'm not very good at putting myself into a feminine space and thinking in feminine syntax, if that even makes sense. I was so scared of that that it took me along time to write a Julia entry. It wasn't until we the episode where she admits she realizes she's in love with Barnabas that I gave her an entry. I was afraid of messing it up.

There was one Julia entry, it's in 1897 and she's talking about Angelique ... Barnabas has this thing that's almost bigotry. In 1840, he says 'I won't be with her because she's not human, she's a witch.' And I wanted to set this up in 1897 and have Julia talk about her as if it were an entirely different life form. It's almost like she's a reptile or something. It's like that steak that JEFF GOLDBLUM teleports in THE FLY. It's the same, but it doesn't taste right. That entry basically sounded like Julia, but characters are different when they're writing to themselves than when they're speaking to others. We all shift a little bit in our tones. But I realized I'd written it pretty much as me, but I'd written it as Julia. After that, she became a little more easy to write. Which is good, because, after that, she became one of the protagonists and heroines of the show for a while. When Barnabas has the whammy put on him in the Leviathans, we go from him being the primary narrator ... and he's not going to be writing anything. And it had to be Julia.

WHO WAS THE MOST FUN TO WRITE?
Petofi. Stokes was a lot of fun to write but, without a doubt, Petofi. I did this crazy thing with the old format for the website where you can click on a characters name and it would give you all of their entries, but it would only give you the first sentence or two. Just looking at that as a series of non-sequiters was funnier than anything I did.

Petofi and Stokes gave me opportunities to be funny and not violate the tone of the show. Because I didn't want to do a parody; that would be the easiest thing to write. But, I lean toward satire and I lean toward irony, and I'll let everyone else determine whether or not it's funny. And Petofi and Stokes let me work that in whenever possible.

But Barnabas did, too. Barnabas has a very wry sense of humor when he's looking at things at the end of the day, and there's nothing he can really do about it.


DID YOU HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO EXPLORE THE IDEAS AND THEMES OF THE SHOW MORE OVERTLY?
I think so. I deal with the issue of immortals and their responsibilities toward the world, which is nothing for the most part, as far as their concerned. And humanity, why they're so detached from humanity. I'm having a tough time answering it. I deal a lot with the notion of responsibility, what it means to be a good person, and what it means to be a good Collins. When Joshua has his son sealed up, and have him write him a letter, which I call The Jor-El Letter. He says, 'Look Barmabas, you have this curse, but you can also do great things with it. So do great things.' But, by the time Barnabas comes back to it, he's in a very dark place. He's going to save the Collins family, but he's not going to do great things; he's going to do terrible things.

In the end, I tried to find within the show very serious reasons for why Angelique does what she does, and why Barnabas asks her to do what she does. And I've been building up to that for days and days. In the end, when they get back, I o just a little bit of an epilogue. Barnabas's final epilogue is about optimism, which is one of the lessons he learns in the show. Stokes's is about a spirit of adventure, and a spirit of service toward humanity. Julia's is about bravery. If you look at the core concepts of bravery, benevolence and optimism in situations where you should have none of those things, you sum up why and when the best things in DARK SHADOWS happen. And it sums up, what I hope, some of the best elements of those characters at their best.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with you, most adamantly, on the point of Angelique being the hero. First of all, what exactly is meant by "hero" is up for discussion. If it means protagonist, then no. That means only the main figure in a drama, which leads us with Barnabas since the majority of the show's plots center on him. The definition of hero means "the chief male/female character who is typically identified with good qualities." Again, not the woman who murdered half a family so she could force some guy to marry her.
What you really want to say is "Angelique is the hero of the 1840 timeline" which is all good and well, except that saying the decision made about Judah Zachary is the most significant in the show is more than a little opinionated. What about Barnabas, deciding take Dr. Lang's cure? What about Julia deciding to try and cure the vampire instead of expose him? What about...heck...Jeb Hawkes deciding he loved Carolyn more than the power of the Leviathans, which were just as much of a threat to the world as one warlock? Angelique, if anything, is portrayed the most inconsistently around the end. The character was very obviously softened for the use of the writers, much to many Angelique fan's disappointment. She goes from being willing to slaughter a woman she's hardly met (Roxanne) to gain Barnabas, to willing to take his rejection with little more than a trembling lip, in a few weeks time. Anyone can pick their heroes in a show like Dark Shadows, but Angelique caused far more of the suffering at Collinwood then Judah Zachary was ever blamed for.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with you, most adamantly, on the point of Angelique being the hero. First of all, what exactly is meant by "hero" is up for discussion. If it means protagonist, then no. That means only the main figure in a drama, which leads us with Barnabas since the majority of the show's plots center on him. The definition of hero means "the chief male/female character who is typically identified with good qualities." Again, not the woman who murdered half a family so she could force some guy to marry her.
What you really want to say is "Angelique is the hero of the 1840 timeline" which is all good and well, except that saying the decision made about Judah Zachary is the most significant in the show is more than a little opinionated. What about Barnabas, deciding take Dr. Lang's cure? What about Julia deciding to try and cure the vampire instead of expose him? What about...heck...Jeb Hawkes deciding he loved Carolyn more than the power of the Leviathans, which were just as much of a threat to the world as one warlock? Angelique, if anything, is portrayed the most inconsistently around the end. The character was very obviously softened for the use of the writers, much to many Angelique fan's disappointment. She goes from being willing to slaughter a woman she's hardly met (Roxanne) to gain Barnabas, to willing to take his rejection with little more than a trembling lip, in about a weeks time. Anyone can pick their heroes in a show like Dark Shadows, but Angelique caused far more of the suffering at Collinwood then Judah Zachary was ever blamed for.

Sandi McBride said...

Great interview

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