Premise: A young inspector in 19th century Scotland investigates a serial killer who may or may not be Dracula.
About: This project was getting a ton of buzz a couple of years back, as it had Russell Crowe starring and Leonardo DiCaprio producing, with an eye towards possibly starring in the project as well. I’m not sure where the project stands at the moment, however. It’s written by Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy, who created the Netflix series, Hemlock Grove. I do think a movie-star laden Dracula movie is due, so we’re going to get this story in one iteration or another. But who makes it and with what actors is still just as big of a mystery as the one at the center of the screenplay.
Writers: Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy
Details: 119 pages – undated
When you really boil it down, taking advantage of and managing buzz may be the key to making it in this business. For example, Shipman and McGreevy were able to use the buzz from their upcoming series (at the time), Hemlock Grove, to get this project onto the front burner at Warner Brothers. Yet when Hemlock didn’t maintain the following that some of the bigger Netflix shows nabbed, that buzz died down, and with it the buzz for this project, which now stands in limbo. Had Hemlock killed in the same way that House of Cards did? You better believe this movie would’ve been released already.
The reality is, Hollywood likes to bet on winning. When you’re winning – when you have stuff that’s going UP – they want to capitalize on you. When you’re even or going down, that’s when they start questioning any projects they have of yours.
It sort of makes sense and sort of doesn’t. But it’s how the industry works. And it’s something you need to keep in mind. The more ducks you can have in a row for when something of yours DOES create buzz, the more you can capitalize on that buzz, and keep climbing each buzz-cloud until you make it to the tippy-top. Every director, actor or screenwriter at the top of the Hollywood food chain rode a series of buzz-worthy projects to that spot. And everybody who had a chance to get there but didn’t? They ran up against negative buzz for something of theirs. It really makes you want to think about every single project you get behind.
Jonathan “The Hawk” Harker is the buzz of 19th century Scotland. The 30 year-old inspector is thrown into the hot seat when women start turning up dead and mutilated. The papers quickly turn on poor Harker, questioning just how safe the city is under his protection.
Harker’s finally able to nab the killer, a crazy dude name Renfield who keeps saying he’s doing this for his “master.” Harker’s fiance, Mina, happens to work at the nut house where they send Renfield, and becomes infatuated with helping him, to the tune of entering his cell unprotected to read him poems at night. Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.
Meanwhile, a hot new dude has just come in by sea. They call him Dracula. Dracula is high-class in every way possible (he can dance like a fool), and has all the ladies swooning over him within hours. So when these ladies start dropping like Hollywood sequels, Harker is once again put on blast by the newspapers. Yo Harker, why you keep lettin’ our ladies be treated like Carpri Suns*?? (*This is not a real line from the script)
Harker’s pretty sure that Dracula is the killer, but he’s so damn charming that nobody else believes him. He’s going to have to get someone to believe quickly though. When Dracula gets chummy with Harker’s fiance, inviting her to his ball, Harker will have to revert to violence to get the job done. Except there’s one problem. You can’t exactly kill Dracula. So how do you stop him?
Harker is a very sloooooo-ooooowwww reeeeee-eeeeead.
Everything from endless action paragraphs to dialogue lines that go on three times longer than they need to. Sorkin’s Molly’s Game, which clocked in at 200 pages, read twice as fast as this script, which tips the scales at 119.
Granted, this is a different type of story and you always want to cater your writing to the genre you’re writing in. So I get that we’re trying to create an eerie atmosphere here and that generally occurs at a slower pace. But even if the writing is slow, the story itself needs to move. And this story didn’t move at all.
For the first 70 pages, we’re desperately waiting for Harker to catch up with what we already know. That this is Dracula’s doing. The second scene of the movie is of the Demeter (the ship Dracula famously comes in on) sailing towards the coast. So we know this is him.
I suppose you could argue this is a case of dramatic irony (the audience knowing more than the hero), but sometimes, when we have to wait this long for our hero to wise up to what we, the audience, already know, dramatic irony backfires.
I was about to jump in the nearest coffin and take a nap on Harker when it finally came alive in its second half. The introduction of Van Helsing revved things up. He was much livelier and way more interesting than Harker, to the point where I wondered – why not just center the story around this guy?
I also liked the exploration of the British Class system and how it played into the investigation. Harker was marrying someone a class higher than himself. This resulted in his fiance’s parents putting pressure on her to ditch him (and possibly find a man like Dracula?).
Harker’s boss was also routinely stifling his investigation when it involved anyone higher up than working class. And finally, when Harker wants to take down Dracula, he can’t, because the man is too high up the food chain.
All of this may seem like old hat to you Brits, but it’s something us Americans never had to deal with. I also like anything that adds an extra layer to the investigation. If it’s as simple as “I want to arrest this man, therefore I’m going to arrest him,” that’s boring. You want other factors involved that make that arrest difficult (more on this in the “What I Learned”).
I actually think Harker and yesterday’s American Gods suffer from the same rotund error. They’re too confident in themselves. They believe they can waltz through their story at a snail’s pace and lure you in one elongated beat at a time. But 70 freaking pages before anything truly interesting happens is too long. And while the script gets a lot better from there, that’s not going to matter if everyone’s already mentally tuned out.
I would’ve cut the Renfield investigation in half and brought Van Helsing in a lot earlier. Remember that time moves differently between writer and reader. Writers think time is moving a lot faster in their story than it actually is. Readers think almost everything is too slow. I can count the number of times someone complained that a movie was too fast on one hand. I’d need a million hands to count the number of times people complained a movie was too slow.
With all that said, this isn’t exactly my cup of tea. So I’m probably seeing this differently than fans of the genre would. If you liked the recent release, Crimson Peak, there’s a good chance you’ll like Harker as well. They’re definitely cut from the same cloth.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: So what do I mean when I say that more needs to be going on in an arrest than just, “I shall arrest this person now?” Imagine that Detective Joe’s wife has a criminal brother who she loves very much. She’s convinced he’s getting better, that he’s going to turn his life around. And he has to. Due to past offenses, if he gets caught one more time, he’ll be in prison for 30 years at least. Later in our story, let’s say Detective Joe breaks into a drug den and cuffs the head dealer, only to realize that he’s… (drum roll please) his wife’s brother. Now it’s not as simple as arresting this person. There are other factors involved. That’s the kind of complicated situation you want to routinely put your characters in. Nothing they do should be easy.
What I learned 2: You are the initial buzz creator. You, the writers, are the only people in the business who are capable of creating your own buzz. Directors, actors, producers, are all dependent on finding a great script/book/idea to start their buzz. So take advantage of that power and write something that will get people excited.