Frank Darabont: ODDER JOBS

Frank Darabont recently contributed the short story The Brotherhood of the Gun to the Dark Horse Books Odder Jobs collection.

You wrote a great introduction for ODDER JOBS. In it you mentioned, that a “sneaky” birthday present to Mike Mignola helped this book come to fruition. For the fans out there who don’t know the story, what was that present?
Well, my birthday present to Mike was to write my short story, “The Brotherhood of the Gun,” which appears in ODDER JOBS, and send it to him. I think he was pretty surprised.

After I’d gotten to know Mike a bit, I asked him if there might ever be a sequel anthology to the first book, which I loved. Some terrific stories in there. I’d been kicking a story idea around at that time (based on an old teleplay of mine) and thought it might fit in nicely should a follow-up book happen. Mike told me there were no plans afoot, nor were there likely to be…there’d been some vague talk with Dark Horse at one point, but vague talk was all it had amounted to. However, I was so excited by the idea of writing a story featuring Hellboy that I went ahead and wrote it anyway and mailed it off to Mike for his birthday. Basically, I sent him a submission for what, at that point, was a non-existent book…but my hope was that the story would get Mike and the folks at Dark Horse excited enough that it might kickstart their plans to go ahead. Happily, it did! Before I knew it, Chris Golden and Scott Allie were on the case and calling writers to get involved. I think they wound up with a terrific lineup, don’t you?

One other aspect of this that pleased me no end was that Mike and the guys warmed to my suggestion that the sequel book to ODD JOBS be titled ODDER JOBS. (If you ask me, there should be a third book entitled ODDEST JOBS…make it a trio of books. Hellboy’s world is so rich, the possibilities for cool stories is pretty much endless.)

[Ed. note: Darabont gives a BIG shoutout to our messageboard buddy Paul P in his intro. And by BIG I mean "Thanks him for the book's existence." Paul, you da man.]

“Brotherhood of the Gun” is kind of a “paranormal western”. Where did you get the idea of putting Big Red in with a bunch of gunslingers?
There’s a long and tortured history behind my Hellboy story…it’s a short story twenty years in the making! I had written it many years ago (without Hellboy in it, of course) as a spec teleplay for the TWILIGHT ZONE revival on network (CBS, I think) back in 1985. (That was actually the year before my writing career began; I was still a struggling wanna-be screenwriter in those days, nailing sets together to make ends meet. I have no idea if my script was ever read by them…probably not, because the series was canceled right about the time I sent them the script.) I think the Serling influence is pretty apparent in the ODDER JOBS story — in fact, both Chris Golden and Scott Allie made mention of that after they’d read it, both liking the “old-fashioned TWILIGHT ZONE feel” of it.

Anyway, the script sat in my drawer for years, until 1991. I was about six years into my writing career at that point, and I’d been hired by the TALES FROM THE CRYPT series to adapt a tale for them from their stack of available E.C. stories. The one I chose to adapt was my all-time favorite, “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy.” (In fact, I was lucky enough to be able to buy the original Graham Ingels art to that story, all seven pages, not long after. It hangs framed in my upstairs hallway for anybody who cares to stand there long enough to read it.) Dick Donner, one of the partners in the CRYPT television series, really dug my script and picked that one to direct, though I’ve always had mixed feelings about the resulting episode. Though I love Dick (no wisecracks, please) and think he’s one of the nicest guys I’ve had the privilege to meet in this business, I thought he missed the tone of the story in directing it. I had envisioned something that took the story more seriously and was hoping for somebody like Jonathan Silverman to play the young lead, but Dick went for an arch, silly “comic book” feel and cast Bobcat Goldthwait. Oh well, such is the life of a screenwriter…but I hit it off with Dick personally, so the experience was far from a nightmare. I’m delighted to know the man and to have worked with him, truth be told.

Anyway, that’s all backstory. Here’s the part that pertains:

In the last few days of shooting “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy,” Dick came to me on the set and told me that he and his partners (Bob Zemeckis and Joel Silver, among others) had just made a deal with Fox Network to do a CRYPT spin-off series based on the E.C. comic book TWO-FISTED TALES. It was intended to be the anthology action-series companion to CRYPT, and Fox had just ordered three episodes to be done as a pilot, but the deal was that it had to done quickly — as in immediately, if not sooner. Dick told me he needed to find something fast, and asked me if I had any ideas. I told him I had an old spec script for TWILIGHT ZONE lying around, a supernatural western entitled “The Brotherhood of the Gun.” Dick loves westerns (he’d done quite a few for television back in his early directing days; episodes of MAVERICK, for example), and asked me to bring the script in the next day. It was the easiest sale I ever made — Dick loved it, and literally within weeks we were down in Benson, Arizona, shooting the episode. Benson is pretty much the ass-end of nowhere (John Carpenter once wrote a song about Benson, if I’m not mistaken, which he used on the soundtrack of his first movie, DARK STAR), but the reason to shoot in Benson is that they have a really nice standing set of a western town maybe a mile out in the desert…great location!

Anyway, unlike “Ventriloquist’s Dummy,” I was delighted with the way “Brotherhood of the Gun” turned out…Dick took the story more seriously, and I thought he really nailed it. (I met two wonderful actors on that shoot that I subsequently wound up using myself in films I’ve directed: Neil Giuntoli was one of Morgan Freeman’s convict pals in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, and David Morse was Tom Hanks’ second-in-command in THE GREEN MILE.) The episode was re-titled “Showdown,” and was packaged with two other episodes as the pilot.

Now here’s the ironic part. Even though I loved the way my epsiode turned out, Fox apparently hated the pilot shows and never even bothered airing them as a pilot! They tossed them on the air a few years later, probably because they’d run out of reruns or something. The further irony is that the shows were glowingly reviewed in the press…in fact, I seem to recall Variety giving my episode one of the better reviews I’ve ever gotten from them. Yikes! Still, Fox never had any faith in the project, so that one indifferent airing is pretty much all they ever gave it. To this day, nobody’s ever seen my episode, as far as I know. It just got buried and forgotten, along with the other two TWO-FISTED TALES pilot shows. Again, such is the life of a screenwriter.

Anyway, in the last few years I started toying with the idea of writing “Brotherhood of the Gun” as a short story. I’d always really liked it, and thought that doing a prose version for publication might help it finally see the light of day after all this time. And as I was kicking that idea around, I was also becoming quite a big Hellboy fan. One day the thought of adding Hellboy to the mix of the earlier story occurred to me, and that’s when I got really excited and finally decided to do it. The whole thing struck me as a pretty seamless blend of things, sort of a “Mignola meets Serling” approach, especially given Hellboy’s paranormal detective status. I’ve always loved the stories (whether from Mike or other writers) showing Hellboy’s gentler and more thoughtful side (like THE CORPSE, for example…probably my favorite Hellboy story of all). Plus I loved the idea of adding a western element to the Hellboy mythos, to sort of broaden the tonality of what had come before. So I decided to take a week off from all my screenwriting deadlines and just have some fun writing “Brotherhood of the Gun.” The whole thing poured out of me in five or six days.

You describe Hellboy’s ride as a “red ’59 ragtop Cadillac with the biggest damn tailfins Detroit ever slapped on the ass of a car.” That’s a great line. You loved painting Hellboy’s world, didn’t you?
Absolutely. I had the time of my life playing in Mignola’s sandbox. And as iconic a figure as Hellboy is, I thought he deserved an equally iconic ride…not to mention one that he could fit in. One thing that might amuse you about my choice of a car for Hellboy is that I happen to own it…a ’59 Caddy convertible, red with a white interior, cherry condition. It’s like driving a parade float; people see you coming blocks away and stop to wave. So tell Big Red that if he ever drops by my house, I’ve got his car waiting for him. I’ll be happy to give him the keys and pink slip.

In your intro, you describe yourself as the “World’s Biggest Hellboy Fan.” As a huge fan, a filmmaker, and friend of Guillermo’s, what did you think of the Hellboy movie?
Loved it, loved it, I want more! Only this time I want a cameo, dammit! (You hearing this, Guillermo? Don’t make me come after you!)

You’ve worked a great deal on horror/fantasy storytelling, from The Blob to The Green Mile. What is it about that genre that you love?
That’s like asking somebody why they’re gay or straight, or bald, or have blue eyes, or why they like chocolate ice cream. It just is. I’ve loved the genre from earliest memory. I’d call it a genetic predisposition, except that I seem to be the only one in my family thus afflicted. I was always instinctively drawn to things like THE WOLFMAN and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON as a kid when they aired on television. I’d stay up till all hours on the weekends to catch whatever creature feature happened to be on TV. (This was in the days before video, which some of your younger readers might equate with the horse and buggy, but really wasn’t all that long ago.) The books I loved the most have always been genre fiction, everything from Bradbury to Ellison to King. I have vintage film posters all over my house, all of them horror or SF. I also have a lot of original art…Bernie Wrightson, Sanjulian, Bill Stout, Graham Ingels, etc. My library room in my house has a huge glass case filled with monster figures, everything from the early Billiken stuff to the latest Sideshow masterpieces…in fact, I call it “The Monster Room,” not the “library.”

If Dave’s Laser Disc was still open, and they just wheeled in a fresh case of new releases, what would you be buying right now?
Everything. Armloads of it. I’d probably be too busy standing around chatting with Guillermo or Mick Garris or Greg Nicotero to bother being choosy. Seems every time I walked in there, I’d bump into one of them…or all of them!

What projects can the fans look forward to from you?
I’ll definitely be getting back behind the camera to direct, and soon. I just last week finished adapting a project I’ve had the rights to for about ten years, THE MIST, from the novella by the very patient Stephen King. It’s definitely a genre piece, an intense horror movie, so as a director I’ll be getting back to my horror roots finally. In addition to that, I’ve got two other scripts stockpiled that I’m very excited about doing…one is my adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s classic FAHRENHEIT 451 (a movie I’ve wanted to make since I was 9 years-old and first read the book); the other is my adaptation of Robert McCammon’s brilliant thriller MINE. So all three are genre pieces, really: one horror, one science fiction, one thriller. All dazzling stories, a very exciting lineup. I’ve got my fingers crossed that I’ll get to make them all, but this is Hollywood after all, so who knows? Getting a film greenlit is like a Bigfoot sighting, or getting a great photo of the Loch Ness Monster…rare and difficult.

Oh, one last very cool thing I have in the works that’s worth mentioning. I’ve joined forces with my good friend Bernie Wrightson to publish a limited 25th Anniversary edition of his awesomely brilliant illustrated FRANKENSTEIN. It’s going to be an extremely high-quality book, with NEW reproductions of the art, which it certainly deserves after all these years. This project is a total labor of love on my part. The art Bernie did to illustrate the Shelley novel is legendary, the finest he’s ever done, but the earlier publications of this book were all done cheaply and poorly, so we’re going to rectify that. Anybody who’s interested in seeing what we have up our sleeves should check out our website: http://www.wrightsonsfrankenstein.com.

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