HOOK VS. DRACULA AT 30,0000 FEET
So, what happens when the screenwriter [me] of these 2 films directed by 2 of the top
legendary directors in cinema history sees these titles pop up on inflight entertainment aboard
a transcontinental flight from NY to LA – [that is an irony in itself]
I mean, what are the odds of this happening? 30 years after the films were made? A double bill
that made my career?!!
As I settled into my seat on the flight to LA, I received a text from my wife, Judy, with this
screenshot attached. [she likes to sit in a different part of the plane than I do BTW]
This was not the first time I had seen a film I had written appearing on the inflight
entertainment system, but for some reason, that image of the Gargoyle vapor-locked me this
time. Coppola’s masterful vision of this iconic villain was produced and released 30 years ago.
Three decades!! -- which had somehow evaporated since I first sat down to adapt Bram Stoker’s groundbreaking novel that created an iconic misunderstood blood lusting creature. Wait, longer than that – 1977 was the year I was first introduced to Prince Vlad in literature. Not the pop vamp Christopher Lee of the Hammer Films Dracula, or Lugosi’s cold caped eliminator, but the elegant, charismatic, Knight of the Cross of Christ hero who became the blood-dependent creature of the night who had spawned a hundred films and as many books. That Dracula!
“Fasten your seatbelt, turn your mind off, and forget Dracula is waiting on the small screen for the next few hours in case you can’t resist.” The flight attendant did not really say that, but he/she could have. I couldn’t resist, “Love Never Dies,” in blood-red font underneath the gargoyle opened the memory floodgates. I had to watch the film.
Even as I write this entry, I cannot believe I wrote these lines in the film —
“The luckiest man who walks this earth is the one who finds true love.”
“I love you too much to condemn you”
“Take me away from all this death”
“I have crossed oceans of time to find you.”
– lines that came out of the zone this writer was immersed in while writing this adaptation.
And what kind of a tagline is “Love Never Dies” for a DRACULA film???
This perfect tagline, which represented the marked difference between Coppola’s adaptation and all other Dracula’s ever made, was actually written by that almost famous songwriting
team – Lennon and McCartney. Yep. Sid Ganis, the marketing guru at Sony at the time,
enlightened me when he showed me the marketing materials for the first time. See below….
From “Here There and Everywhere”
Knowing that love is to share
Each one believing that love never dies…”
Thank you, John and Paul.
As we climbed to 30,000 the temptation was potent. I decided to forgo the work I planned to do onthe flight and, instead, buckle up and sit back to watch Coppola’s mastery on a tiny screen –
And as my memory was not working in a linear fashion at that moment, my first thoughts were
not about the obstacles and challenges and the miraculous way in which Dracula resurrected
impossibly again from the dead in the capable hands of Francis Ford Coppola, but more to how
the entertainment business has drastically changed since 1992.
There were no streaming platforms, no Bluetooth, no viable internet entertainment channels,
no iPhones, limited cellular networks, no twitter [not such a bad thing perhaps], no TikTok or
Instagram. And no Marvel empire. The 1992 Cable Act put the big three broadcast networks
[ABC, CBS, NBC] at the further risk of being eclipsed by the likes of HBO and other “premium
cable channels, as they were called.
This meant that made-for-television movies with Hollywood-level stars, comedies with jokes
that could never be told on the networks, graphic sex and violence unleashed, heavyweight
championship fights, programs on politically charged subjects like abortion and AIDS, and, soon,
the programs addressing poverty and racial division could be viewed at home and not just in
the movie theatre.
Movies were still King, Directors ruled, and Movie Stars were still a key factor in getting a film
financed and guaranteeing that opening weekend.
Winona Ryder was the movie star who, at age 19, is the prime initial reason Dracula got made.
Her face filled that 11-inch screen at my seat when we first meet her in the film, as she sends
her Christian Knight, Dracul, [Gary Oldman] off to war to fight the Turks, never to see him again
then sends her fiance’ Jonathan Harker [Keanu Reeves] off to Transylvania never to see him the
Winona’s haunting porcelain doll appearance and her string of successful films made her a
force in the industry at a very young age. So much so that had she not read my script from
the bottom of a pile that was offered to her, the film may never have been made – and
certainly not directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
It was Winona who asked Francis to read my script to advise her on whether or not she should
do the role and….oh…by the way, would he be interested in directing?
No wall of agents to get through, no managers, no lawyers, just 19-year-old Winona Ryder
calling Mr. Coppola on the phone and asking him to read my script!! A script that nobody in town wanted to do by the way. Even with Coppola and Ryder attached.
That mini-screen with Winona’s face filling it suddenly got very big with unexpected emotions I
began to experience at that moment en route to LA where all of this suffering and success had
Seeing Winona’s first scene took me back to our first meeting in LA. Francis had invited the two
of us up to his bungalow he had maintained for years since the Godfather days. A modest small
two-bedroom cottage up one of the canyons as opposed to some lavish Hollywood mansion.
That was not Coppola’s MO in LaLa Land.
She arrived just after me and I remember seeing her exit her car and approach with her
haunting smile as we met for the first time outside Coppola’s bungalow. I was indebted to this
young force in the biz for making this meeting happen. For making this production possible.
And to Francis, who had the wisdom and foresight to show respect to those who had brought
him into the project.
Gratitude. An overwhelming feeling of gratitude filled me up at 30,000 feet. Not entitlement – that is a dangerous mindset too often present in the entertainment business or any vocation for that matter. Just look at politics and politicians for example. I was certainly guilty of this feeling of entitlement after years of struggling and failing and even being let go by my agents as I was writing Hook and Dracula back-to-back which would be DOA according to the experts. Instead, two legendary filmmakers resurrected those scripts and me with them.
Gratitude. Not entitlement.
Entitlement fosters anger.
Gratitude fosters grace.
This feeling of gratitude continued to be amplified as I watched Gary Oldman portray Dracula as
we had never seen in any adaptations of Stoker’s seminal vampire opus. His memorable performances of the many incarnations of Dracula in the film did not win him any nominations.
Recalling the academy race in 1992, Dracula was overlooked by Sony in the push for
nominations, rather favoring A Few Good Men for the Academy awards campaign. Men
received many nominations and won zero academy awards. Dracula was nominated in four
categories and won three Academy Awards including best costume design by Eiko Ishioka [we
lost this brilliant talent way too soon] and best makeup design by Greg Cannom who created
the big bat suit which is a whole other story.
And finally, as I watched the climax when Winona decapitates Gary and completes Dracula’s
redemption, and re-lived how this ending, which was not the original, came to be, there is the man himself, Francis-Ford Coppola.
He had the courage to declare that the film was not working in the throes of postproduction
just weeks before the release date. He had the confidence that he could fix the problem. He
enlisted my help as the writer to be part of those solutions by inviting me into the editing room
to identify and create pieces of the narrative and character moments that were missing or
incomplete. He had to stamina to convince the studio to spend more funds to shoot these
necessary pieces including bringing back Winona and Gary months after principal photography
had ended so she could cut off Gary’s head.
The film that had been labeled by Coppola doubters as “bonfires of the vampires” opened at
#1 at the box office in November of 1992 breaking previous U.S. weekend records, setting a
record opening in the UK, and grossed over 200 million worldwide in 1992 dollars not to
mention Dracula’s afterlife in television and electronic media.
Coppola’s “fever dream” forever changed the tone and portrayal of vampires in film. My
experience with Coppola transformed my writing forever and my career. What I learned from
Coppola about structure and character and the importance of the audience in the writing and
making of films has been incorporated into The HartChart story mapping tool including the key
3 questions Coppola gave me to jumpstart all storytelling which is used today by writers and
directors all over the world.
Watching the end credits of the hundreds of names of all the people and companies who were
employed to make this film as a result of my writing the script, Winona Ryder championing it
and Francis Ford-Coppola bring it to life with his mastery filled me with pride and an overwhelming feeling of gratitude.
Gratitude. Not entitlement.
In your own writer’s journey, when you receive a favor, a door is opened for you, you are
recognized or receive an award for your work, or your script gets optioned, even better when
actually produced, accept it, embrace it, celebrate it, be all in – and be grateful.
Brain blizzards to you in your writing life.
To a healthy and hopeful new year.
BTW: I watched Hook next on the flight and landed in LA as Robin Williams spoke the last line in the film. “To live will be an awfully big adventure.”