Tuesday, 5 August 2014

2010-2011: The script!

Once I had my mind set on writing Sherlock Holmes vs Frankenstein, I went through documentation again. I looked up more Holmes books, comic books and movies, re-read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein of course, and also went through countless Frankenstein films (although I can't say I learned a lot from watching Blackenstein).

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
One of the things that came out of my research was the existence of a real Franckenstein family. That's right, with a “c”. Their name is not a coincidence: Mary Shelley was visiting Europe with her husband and Lord Byron when she wrote the book, and they had been near Castle Franckenstein not long before. In the book, they're a Swiss family, whereas the real family is German.
The current Baron is Clement von und zu Franckenstein, who happens to be... an actor! Starting as a bit player in Mel Brooks' Young Frankenstein (of course), he went on to play bigger parts, with Jean-Claude Van Damme in Full Contact, Bruce Willis in Death Becomes Her or Michael Douglas in The American President (where Clement plays the French president, despite being a German raised in the UK!). He was also in another Mel Brooks film: Robin Hood, Men in Tights. My script features characters based on his father Georg, his uncle Clemens and his grandfather Karl. More on this matter later!

The script came together easily enough: I had a map of the characters, their relationships, the main plot and the subplots, and defining the sequence of events was a natural process. Oddly enough, several elements from Zorro vs Sherlock Holmes ended up in this story: two antagonist brothers (something that derived from The Sign of Four, my favorite Holmes adventure)

I had a first draft in June 2010 (the same month my first child was born, would you call it a coincidence?), and I handed it to my wife and to Jean-Noël. With their notes and a few new ideas I had come up with, I made corrections and invited ten friends to a group reading in September. We had a good talk afterwards, especially about the ending – it was almost unchanged since the time I was working on Zorro vs Sherlock Holmes, and it didn't feel quite right. The rest of the script everyone liked, but the ending was putting most people off. I came up with a new version within two weeks, and had another reading in October, with a group made of both people who knew the story, and people who hadn't read any version yet. This time around, the reactions were very positive, and it felt like the script was in the right place.


Time had come to think of how it could be brought to the screen. I had written the script in French (the exact title then was
Sherlock Holmes contre Frankenstein!), but when I was scanning casting ideas in my head, a lot of them were English-speaking actors – which of course made sense, Holmes and Watson being British characters. So I decided I should translate the script into English. I was familiar with the language, but writing 19th century dialogue is different from writing an e-mail or even a term paper. So I took my time, enlisted the help of a fat English dictionary and Conan Doyle's full Canon, and came up with a version that sounded English enough to me. A friend of mine introduced me to a charming British lady called Stephanie Campion, who made a lot of corrections and set up a public reading of the scripts with professional English-speaking actors. The reading took place in February 2011, in the parisian pub Carr's: it was a regular informal event where the small audience would discuss a play or a script with the author. The feedback was good there too, and it was great to have real actors read the script out loud. I felt the relationship between Holmes and Watson worked quite well, which was important to me – Dario Costa and Damian Corcoran played the detective and the doctor.

Damian Corcoran & Dario Costa
The next step was to reach out to actors, production companies, and put the project on tracks. Or so I thought. Remember, at that time I had no real idea of how the filmmaking industry worked, and I knew absolutely no one there. So I sent out letters, e-mails, to a few agents and French production companies. It took me some time to realize that no French producer would touch in a thousand years a project called 'Sherlock Holmes vs Frankenstein'. There are barely any genre movies made in France, and the few that are produced have a contemporary setting, or at least take place in France. A film with British characters investigating a supernatural matter in 19th century Germany is not something that the French financing system will support. But I was more lucky with my messages to agents: the first actor to express interest in the script was Shane Briant. I was leaping with joy when I heard back from him, and he said he would meet me (he lives in Australia, but was headed to London and we saw each other in Paris). Hammer fans remember him of course as Peter Cushing's assistant in Terence Fisher's Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell, and I had named the Burgermeister in my script after his character: Simon Helder. When we had this meeting in August 2011, we discussed the script, Hammer films, etc., and he said he would be happy to play the part and support the project. Not long later, Clement von Franckenstein also said he really liked the script, and wanted to be in the movie. It turned out nobody had ever asked him to play Baron Frankenstein before me – I guess I'm more candid than most!

At that point, I thought the best way to move things forward was to create the means to produce the film myself. But flying solo is a scary thing. So I contacted Jean-Noël, and asked him whether he would create a production company with me. He said yes, and in a way, this is where the story really begins!

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