Just back from the premiere of '30 Days of Night,' Steve Niles took a few minutes to speak with us about how happy he is with the film adaptation and what else he's working on.
C2F: Where did the original idea for '30 Days of Night' come from?
Steve Niles: It came from a news article that I had seen. They would run it pretty much every year, just saying there's a place in Alaska where it goes dark for this amount of time. I right away jotted "vampires" in the corner of a piece of paper and developed the story over time.
C2F: Before it was a comic, it was a film pitch, wasn't it?
Niles: Well, I had just had all these stories piled up. I pitched them as comics for a long time. I remember pitching it to Vertigo and places like that. Years later when I was out in LA, they wound up being movie pitches I took around. "30 Days [of Night]" was one of them and "Criminal Macabre" was the other that I pitched around for a couple years.
C2F: At the time you made the miniseries you had been working with Ben Templesmith on "Hellspawn," did you have any input or ideas about the visual scheme of the book?
Niles: As far as how to handle the vampires? Well, Ben came with the style. The stuff he was doing in Hellspawn was so cool, we just wanted to do more together. Basically I just encouraged him to do whatever he wanted really, go as dark as you want. And we both completely agreed on how vampires should be portrayed, which was to make them feral and scary again.
C2F: It is strange how they've become so unscary over the years.
Niles: We've humanized them. We've made them things we want to be or want to be seduced by or any number of things. The one monster we have really romanticized to the point of not making it bad, but certainly not scary. That's the thing, everybody misconstrues what I've been saying as I hate Anne Rice and I hate Buffy. No, that's not the case. For me, they weren't scary, and I wanted to see scary vampires again and so did Ben.
C2F: As far as the film, you wrote first draft of the script.
Niles: The first few drafts, two or three in the end. At that time, I was writing the screenplay before I even finished the comic series, so I was developing both simultaneously. And then this is what I discovered in the process. It was five years going, Stu Beattie wound up doing drafts and Brian Nelson did drafts, but nothing really gets solidified on a film until the director is on. Once David Slade came on, they had all these screenplays and they wanted to amalgamate them into one because they wanted to use stuff from mine and stuff from Stu's. And most importantly, they wanted to make sure it reflected the graphic novel. So Brian Nelson came in and did that for us.
C2F: How much were you in the loop on the film?
Niles: As much in the loop as I could be, considering that really all they had to do was let me write that one script and send me tickets to the premiere. They really didn't have to involve me in anything. I'm not a producer, I'm not a consultant, I don't have approval. And just between Raimi and David Slade and Mike Richardson, Ted Adams, Rob Tapert, who's Raimi's producer, they just kept me in the loop the entire time. They would give me daily updates once filming started. Once David Slade came on, we became buddies, and he was sending me pictures from the set and makeup tests and always keeping me posted. I can tell you that's very, very rare. If I'm lucky enough to have a second movie, I'm going to be spoiled rotten.
C2F: Everyone really seemed committed to the vision that you and Ben put forward in the book.
Niles: That's David Slade and Sam Raimi. If you read any interview with either of them that's like their mantra, it's gotta be like the graphic novel. And each for their own purposes. It's very funny. David Slade really liked the darkness of it all and wanted to see just how nihilistic and dark he could make this movie. Raimi really fixated on the love story and the characters. And between the two of them they managed to preserve the entire thing. It's really amazing. And I can just tell you from previous experience, man, Ben and I are lucky as hell
C2F: You mentioned you and David Slade are buddies, had you known each other before?
Niles: I'd never met him before. As a matter of fact, I got a call from Raimi who said, I think we found our guy, go see "Hard Candy." I had a friend down at Lions Gate and basically said can I see this? And he let me see it and I was blown away. I came right home and phoned him [Raimi] back and said yeah, you're right, we found the guy.
C2F: On the surface there doesn't seem to be much in common between the two films, but there's a darkness or perspective common to both.
Niles: There's a similar sensibility. I guess a similar worldview is the word we're both trying to figure out, but yeah, David definitely put his fingerprints on this and I love him for it. What I really liked about, and as dark as both films are, David always draws his darkness from reality. "Hard Candy," he kept it very, very real and the same thing now with "30 Days." Even with vampires involved, if there was an option between going supernatural and going real, he always went more towards reality and honestly I think that made it scarier.
C2F: That realistic, human aspect gives it a much darker feel than a fantastic one.
Niles: Exactly. Adding a little fantasy or doing what a lot of horror movies do and giving in to too much humor, becoming self deprecating. A lot of horror movies start parodying themselves and get too into the jokes or the action. He never gave into that at all, which was one of my favorite things about this movie. I'm so glad to finally see some vampires that don't know martial arts. They just punch and kick and scratch like the rest of us. They're just feral.
C2F: They didn't spend a few hundred years in a dojo training
Niles: Exactly. Evidently they've got a Jackie Chan camp. And I just love him for all those little details that he put into the vampires. I hadn't realized, honestly, until people started asking me, I didn't realize how silly vampires had gotten. I was sitting there and I'm not going to name any movies or any people doing it, but I was seeing something recently and that vampire's wearing a gun and he's doing flips in the air. Wait, that's "The Matrix." When did "The Matrix" and the vampire collide? It's just silly. It was getting really, really silly there for a while.
C2F: You mentioned David Slade's worldview, but yours in pretty bleak as well. There's a line in the comic "Dark Days" about the reasons most vampires are such assholes is because most are.
Niles: Yeah. Well. I mean, it's going to be interesting to see if we get to do more of these movies. How we deal with those. You know from reading the comics the vampires have a lot more lines. We just get much more of a glimpse inside how they work and how they think. It'll be very interesting to see how that works.
But yeah, I guess that's where my worldview and David's worldview sort of sync up.
C2F: Are they thinking about talking in vague terms about a sequel yet?
Niles: You know what, it all comes down to what happens this weekend. I think it's safe to say it all boils down to finances. So if it does good, we're probably in for some more movies. If it doesn't, probably not.
C2F: It would be worth it just to see them contemplating the end of "Dark Days."
Niles: No kidding! Wouldn't that be amazing? I know. That's a whole other--
C2F: A whole other thing, I know.
Niles: Have you seen movie?
Niles: Then you know. Movie continuity has been established. There's the books and the comics and those link up quite a bit and now we have to figure out what is the continuity with the movies. And I've had people come up to me and go, how are you going to do "Dark Days" now? And I think I've figured it out, including how to deal with the problem of not having Judith and the New Orleans story line. I was watching the movie the other night and I went, oh, I think I got it. It's just, David has set this tempo and how can we keep coming back to that.
C2F: What was the premiere like, your premiere?
Niles: Surreal. Just, surreal. No other way to put it. It was funny because they sent a stretch limo with a full bar and all that stuff. I don't drink, so it was like, yeah, it figures. It pulled up and he was like, is it just the two of you? I guess you're supposed to have this big entourage. We get there and I guess it was fifteen minutes too early so we drove around. I got to see it before we had to actually get out and I don't know if that made it worse or better.
Everybody kept saying, this will never happen again, so just enjoy it. And it's everything you think it's going to be. Being stressed out, having people yelling at you taking pictures. How funny that is, that they're taking pictures of you and your girlfriend on a red carpet and asking questions.
The best part was afterwards, there was a party and all I did was walk around and meet the cast. And that was so cool and so fun. I got to talk to Danny Huston. Andy [Stehlin], who played Arvin the really nasty vampire who gets it bad at the end. Ben Foster. Mark Boone. I even got a chance to talk to Hartnett and Melissa George a little bit. Everybody on the movie is so nice. And so into it and gracious and thankful to me and I'm thanking them. It was a really cool experience and I'd have to say it was one of the best nights of my life.
C2F: Very cool. You didn't get to visit the set, did you?
Niles: No, I didn't. It was scheduling and timing and all that.
C2F: And now you're also writing a new 30 Days miniseries with Bill Sienkiewicz. Am I pronouncing that correctly?
Niles: Sienkiewicz. Or Bill, just take the easy way out. We're doing "Beyond Barrow." We just finished the second issue and working on getting the third out. Bill's actually living here. We have a guesthouse--a little tiny guesthouse--in the back. He's out there painting in while he gets his own place set up out here.
C2F: Does your process vary a lot depending on the artist?
Niles: Definitely. I work differently with every single artist. I've had people ask me, when are you going to put out a scriptbook? My reaction is always, most of my comic scripts read like I'm just cheering on the artist. It's me just talking to each artist, trying to figure out how are we going the best out of what we're working on here.
Every single script is really different. With Ben [Templesmith], I tend to do absolutely full scripts, every panel, every page described. Then he would do his thing and then I would do another version. With Bernie [Wrightson] I write 22 pages of tight script but he does 26 pages of comics and then we adapt it. He needs that little bit of breathing space. And then with Bill I don't even write any formatting I just write 15 pages of descriptive text and dialogue and captions and then he goes crazy and then I come in and try to decode it.
It really is with every artist, finding what they respond to the best and what's the best way to communicate with them. That's part of the fun, really. But for most people I write pretty detailed full scripts. But I always encourage people to do whatever they think might work too.
C2F: You have a lot of other film projects, "Criminal Macabre," "Wake the Dead."
Niles: "Alistair Arcane," "The Lurkers."
C2F: Should I wait until next week to ask how all that's going?
Niles: If I had to guess, everyone's waiting to see what happens with 30 Days. I also have a script for "Bigfoot," we're looking for a director. "The Lurkers" I'm working on at Lions Gate. "Wake the Dead" I'm talking to a director about.
"Criminal Macabre" is probably the next closest to having something happen, but right now I'm just cautiously optimistic because I've had problems with Cal in the past trying to get him set up at studios. They just always seem to want to cut his balls off as soon as I sell him. So we'll see what happens. I don't feel like I exactly understand the system, but I understand it a little better, so I'm sort of anxious to see what happens on the next film. Even knowing that I don't think you could possibly repeat how cool everybody has been on 30 Days.
C2F: And you have a lot of comics coming out every month. "Bad Planet" is back.
Niles: Yeah, "Bad Planet" is finally back on track. Stuff happening with that.
C2F: There's a new Batman series with Kelley Jones.
Niles: What's really funny is that I'm probably doing less than I did four or five years ago, but now I'm doing longer runs. "Criminal Macabre" is ongoing, even though we do the four issue arcs. "Simon Dark," which is ongoing. "Batman: Gotham After Midnight" with Kelley Jones is going to be twelve issues.
I'm also doing a four issue thing with Bernie Wrightson at IDW called "Dead She Said" which is like a hard noir. And Bernie is inking. For the first time in twenty years or something. There's ten pages done and it's beautiful, absolutely beautiful. And it really does sound like I'm doing a lot, but when you spread it out over years, because it'll take a while to get it all out on the stands. But yeah, I guess I am doing a lot.
C2F: What's going on with "City of Others?"
Niles: Basically, we got the four issues out and we're ready to do more. We're waiting for Dark Horse to greenlight us on doing more. I think they want the trade to come out. Which is why Bernie and I hopped over to IDW to do "Dead She Said" cause I understand Dark Horse needs to wait and see before they can greenlight more. Bernie and I didn't want to wait so we've hopped over to IDW and we're going to do this four issue series and then when Dark Horse decides if they want to do more "City of Others" or not, we'll be ready to just hop right into it.
C2F: It was planned as an ongoing series?
Niles: Yes, but the way Dark Horse does it, with four issue arcs at a time. That was always the intention.
C2F: Back to the movie, I have to say there were certain elements in movie I liked better than the book.
Niles: Me too. It is that step towards reality. I think they did all the things that were necessary to make it a scary movie. It's really funny, I think fans are less forgiving than I am, so I'm curious to see. I might even like the movie more than the comic. I'm not sure yet.
Niles: When I pick up the comic, every time I read it it's hard to remove myself. David did such a good job of making an engrossing movie that sometimes I'm watching it and I forget that I had anything to do with it. Like I said, it's a step towards reality. It was there in the story, but it's a comic, you can only get so real. And there's nothing quite like having Danny Huston get in your face. That vampire he created.
C2F: He is one of great vampires of cinema.
Niles: If he's not up there with Christopher Lee and Bela Lugosi...